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The Cool Side of Town: A Washington, DC Travel Guide

Besides the usual tourist traps, there are many cool places to visit in DC. Besides the usual tourist traps, there are many cool places to visit in DC.

If you haven’t visited Washington, DC, don’t let your disdain for politics stop you. Our nation’s capitol is a city of breathtaking vistas, stunning architecture and is home to many of the world’s finest art collections and museums. And contrary to what you’ve seen on CSPAN or Fox News, this multi-cultural melting pot boasts great shopping, a lively nightlife, fine cuisine and exciting hotels.

The most difficult part about visiting the District is whittling down your choices.

A few years ago, hip uttered in DC probably meant hip replacement surgery, not a groovy place to rest your head in between the city’s action. Today, however, there is ultra-cool and affordable lodging throughout the city. For those in the know, Kimpton means cool and the San Francisco-based chain’s DC offerings live up to their reputation.

The stylish Hotel Palomar, located just off Dupont Circle, is cool enough for the martini crowd and well-appointed with Frette linens and L’Occitane bath accoutrements pleasing the snobbish set. The $150/night price tag is surprisingly affordable given the rooms’ high-end fixtures and attention to detail.

A stone’s throw away is Hotel Rouge, a Kimpton cousin, a locale that puts the funky back in town. As its moniker implies, the hotel rooms drip in red and the mini bar is even stocked with red-themed treats. The downstairs bar cranks out the requisite thump thump thump music, spilling patrons and their libations out onto the streets. Rooms start at $120/night.

Must-see and Free


There are three museums that belong at the top of your to-do list: the National Portrait Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Phillips Collection, done in that order. A portrait gallery sounds like a real yawner but we think looking at pretty pictures is a great way to take in a history lesson. And the museum’s curators are not without a sense of humor; when Stephen Colbert asked to hang his portrait there, it was allowed. The fact that it hung over the water fountains in between the loos on the third floor did not deter visitors from making the pilgrimage, and attendance increased by 90%. Budget your time wisely and don’t miss the wing of folk art.

And the museum’s curators are not without a sense of humor; when Stephen Colbert asked to hang his portrait there, it was allowed.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is a perfect spot for those less enthusiastic about museums as it is not as vast as the other Smithsonian locations, which can prove overwhelming and exhausting. Modern art lovers will feel right at home amongst pieces by Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Stella, and Jackson Pollack.

Back over at Dupont Circle is the crowd pleasing Phillips Collection which not only recently celebrated its 90th birthday but is also known as the nation’s first collection of modern art. The museum's collection includes nearly 3,000 works by American and European artists—among them Degas, Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Klee, Whistler, Hopper, O'Keeffe, Calder, Rothko, and many others. Admission to the permanent collection on Tuesday through Friday is by donation.



Okay, yes, it’s a four-letter word, but that doesn’t mean it has to be unpleasant. The Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill section of the city is the oldest free-standing market in the city and is open seven days a week. On weekends over 100 vendors, hocking everything from organic produce to handmade jewelry, set up in the area outside of the historic brick structure. It’s a great place to pick a tasty sandwich or a unique bauble for the sweetie back home. When you’re ready to relax and browse or are in need of an afternoon caffeine jolt, Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle can take care of both needs in one swoop.

Eat, Drink, Be Merry


We know you’re ready for a bite and some cocktails. There are many watering holes lining the streets of DC so it’s easy to pop into a random pub for a meal and a pint in between gallery hopping. We like the selection of places in the U Street area as they are original and unique and guarantee a memorable topper to your day.

Named for the late singer Marvin Gaye is Marvin’s, a great place for rooftop cocktails or Sunday brunch. The menu is a charming collision of Southern fried chicken and waffles, and Belgian frites in five flavors.

After dinner and drinks, the famous 930 Clubis just steps away, where on any given night you can see the likes of Bob Mould, Cracker, Elbow or Grizzly Bear.

Late-night eats are found just a hop away at the ever-popular Ben’s Chili Bowl. Built in 1958, Ben’s survived the post-MLK killing riots of 1968 and weathers the storm of drunken tourists until four a.m. on weekends. The line that consistently stretches down U and 14th Streets speaks volumes.

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Last modified on Friday, 20 July 2012 17:55

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