24 Hours InTravel

24 Hours in D.C. with Emily Hilliard, Morgan Hungerford West and Elizabeth Graeber

by Stephanie

24 Hours in DC
Our 24 Hours in DC City Guide comes to us from a trio of ladies living, playing and working in the city. Emily Hilliard is a folklorist, food writer and the blogger behind Nothing in the HouseElizabeh Graeber is a freelance artist and illustrator who recently illustrated  An Illustrated Guide to Cocktails and a self published zine of Farmers Markets in DC. And Morgan Hungerford West is an artist and art director who has crafted handmade teepees (found at Anthropologie’s BHLDN) and interactive decor installations featured at the Embassy of France and the Textile Museum. She is also the co-founder of Topaz + Arrow, a monthly DIY workshop series, and the blogger behind Panda Head. Today these creative ladies have teamed up to share their perfect 24 hours in the city they call home – Washington, D.C. —Stephanie

Illustration by Elizabeth Graeber

Read the full guide after the jump…

D.C. is a unique city that has always navigated having both a national and local identity. Because of all the government and national organizations that are based here, it is also a highly transient city, and one that is swiftly evolving. The D.C. of 5 years ago looks drastically different than it does today. What’s consistently been at the root of the local D.C. culture though, from punk to riot girls to go-go, is a steadfast commitment to the homegrown and independently owned, and that value is only growing stronger. Artists are beginning to stay local instead of moving to New York, folks are starting small-batch food companies, and the DIY culture is as strong as ever. Another thing we all love about D.C. is that it’s a small city with all the benefits of a big city. This means for creatives like us that the artistic community is small and welcoming. This also means that there’s a lot to see and do, but because of the compact size, it’s possible to tackle a lot in a day.

A note about navigating D.C.: The city is divided into 4 quadrants: Northwest, Southwest, Northeast and Southeast. You’ll notice that most of our recommendations lie within the NW quadrant, though you’ll be happy if you venture outside of it.

24 Hours in DC photos by Morgan Hungerford West

8am: We start the day off with a cup of coffee and breakfast at Big Bear Café. We love this light-filled coffee house that straddles the Bloomingdale and Eckington neighborhoods, but there is good coffee to be had across the city, including La Mano in Takoma Park, Qualia, a local roaster in Petworth, and La Colombe, a new café in Shaw’s Blagden Alley.

24 Hours in DC
9am: Sufficiently caffeinated, we’re ready to hit the museums. All of the Smithsonian museums are free, so you can pick and choose between them, but there are other excellent museums to visit for a nominal fee, like the Textile Museum which is relocating to the George Washington University Campus, and the Frederick Douglass House in Southeast. Here are a few of our favorite spots to hit:

+ Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Julia Child’s Kitchen: As a food writer, Emily always recommends a visit to Julia Child’s reconstructed kitchen. It’s such an intimate experience to view how Julia arranged the most important space in her home and peer at her worn cookbook collection, pegboards of hanging pots, and quirky refrigerator magnets.

+ Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum entry and gift shop: If you’re pressed for time, you only need to step into the entry of the Air and Space Museum to be able to peep rockets and space shuttles hovering above you. The gift shop is also one of our favorites, where you can buy space ice cream and check out the original Starship Enterprise.

+Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian gardens and cafeteria: The American Indian museum is housed in a striking circular building surrounded by a garden of indigenous plantings that were both designed in collaboration with tribes and native groups across the Americas. Its Mitsitam Café is a hidden gem, serving fresh and colorful native foods cooked using traditional methods. If you find yourself hungry while on the mall, this is the place to go.

+Other suggestions: A bike tour of the monuments via D.C.’s Capital Bike Share, a walk through the United States Botanic Garden where Elizabeth loves to sit and sketch succulents, or watching the giant tortoises and Bao Bao, the new adorable giant panda cub at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

12:30pm: After all that museum hopping, we’ll have worked up quite an appetite for lunch. We’ll catch a late brunch (and maybe even a cocktail, if we’re feeling punchy) at Le Diplomate or Room 11, or warm up with a bowl of veggie pho at Pho 14. If we’re craving something fresh, we might opt for the monthly local salad at Sweetgreen, which got its start in the District.

24 Hours in DC
1:30pm Post-lunch, we might decide to browse some of the city’s galleries or go for some shopping at our favorite local shops.

For art:

+ Check out local art at Pleasant Plains, Hillyer Art Space, Transformer, and Honfleur Gallery. For bigger exhibitions we like the Phillips, the Freer Sackler, The Kreeger Museum, and the Corcoran.

24 Hours in DC
For shopping:

+Union Market opened in 2012 and is paving the way for artisanal food production and commerce in D.C. Visit houseware and dry goods store Salt & Sundry where you can pick up a jar of District-made Gordy’s Pickles, enjoy a late lunch at Rappahannock Oyster Bar, or grab a beer and meat-to-go at Red Apron Butchery.

+Record browsing at SMASH!, a D.C. institution which carries local label Windian Records, Som for jazz and soul, Red Onion for both popular and obscure vinyl and Joint Custody, which also sells clothes and decor.

+Clothes: Mutiny DC is a classic menswear collection that specializes in found objects, apothecary goods and handmade garments from local and national producers. Think wood piles, Moby Dick, copper flasks and fine plaids. You can find them at their workroom, or at their outpost in Redeem, an edgy independent boutique that also carries design by local knitwear designer, DeNada. If we’re on the prowl for vintage goods, we’ll stop by Meeps and pick up the latest copy of our favorite D.C. zines, like The Runcible Spoon, On Flora, and Popular Demand while we’re at it.

4pm: We’ll likely be a little worn out after filling our brains with creative inspiration and our bags with new stuff. We might go for a sit-down and snack at the skylit Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery, take in an indie flick at E St. Cinema, or grab coffee and brownies at Baked and Wired or a gelato at Dolcezza.

24 Hours in DC

6pm: Cocktail hour! There seems to be a new spot for craft cocktails in D.C. by the day, but some of our favorites are at Black Whiskey, The Columbia Room at the Passenger, or 2 Birds 1 Stone–we love their hand drawn menus and gin rickey (a D.C. signature!), made with local Green Hat Gin.

24 Hours in DC
7pm: For dinner, we dig Roses’s Luxury, a small plate and family style spot in Capitol Hill with wildly creative classic dishes, cool decor touches and a warm atmosphere (the restaurant is named after the chef’s grandmother). There are lots of other excellent options, though. D.C. has some of the best Ethiopian food in the country, and Dukem is the landmark place to get it. We also recommend ramen bar Toki Underground as well as Thai X-ing, for incredible, traditional Thai in a Shaw townhouse–it’s by reservation only, though, so plan ahead.

9:30pm: Though we all our love our home spaces and are often working on projects into the night (or let’s be real, Netflix-ing it on the couch), we all go out at least a few times a week. The 9:30 Club and Black Cat are old standbys for both national touring acts and local bands, or we might take in a live talk show by District comedian Brandon Wetherbee. St. Stephen’s Church is an amazing alternative venue, where you can catch everything from puppet shows to metal shows to the monthly D.C. Square Dance–the largest in the country. For more show listings, check out CapitalBop for jazz, DC Showspace for house shows and underground events, Showlist D.C. and Brightest Young Things for comprehensive lists.

24 Hours in DC

The mural at Showtime features DC musicians and record labels.

Afterwards: At this hour, we’ll probably just head home, but if we get a wild hare we’ll stop at Showtime for a nightcap and spin on the soul jukebox or the Satellite Room behind the 9:30 Club for a boozy milkshake. If we get a sudden pang of hunger, Ben’s Chili Bowl is the D.C. stop for late-night eats–namely, a half smoke. Then we’ll head home and plan on sleeping in after a jam-packed D.C. day.


Sites of interest: Hense Graffiti Church, tour NPR–maybe you’ll catch a Tiny Desk Concert!

Parks: Rock Creek Park, US National Arboretum

Furniture & Housewares: Miss Pixies, Trohv

Coffee & Tea: The Wydown, Teaism

Lunch: Comet Ping Pong, Julia’s Empanadas, SUNdeVich

Dinner: Chez Billy, Domku, Mintwood Place, Two Amy’s

Bars: American Ice Company, The Looking Glass Lounge

Late night eats:  Amsterdam Falafelshop, The Coupe

Entertainment: Kennedy Center Millenium Stage, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Arena Stage

Hotels: Tabard Inn, Capitol Skyline Hotel, Air BnB

Getting around: Metro & Bus, Car 2 Go, Capital Bike Share


Suggested For You


  • One of my favorite cities! Another great museum is the Hirshhorn which features modern and contemporary art. They also have a fabulous gift shop.

  • This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m heading to DC for a family wedding in March and am looking forward to exploring. I’m going to resist and wait until I get home to read this.

  • I leave for DC next week and am staying in the NW quadrant – what a helpful and timely post for me! Thanks!

  • A great place for global art & craft is Zawadi, an African Art gallery and gift shop on U Street, NW. Owner Irene Wallen’s design book collection, for in-store browsing only, is a treasure trove of information.

  • This makes me miss my old home! Two of my favorite museums not listed are Ford’s Theater and the Newseum. There is amazing food to be had around every corner!

  • love this post! i have to add good wood for amazing home goods and furniture, one of my favorite places in the city for inspiration and true shopping. i’d also recommend some of the new bars/restaurants in the shaw neighborhood – mockingbird hill, or the new right proper brewing company for hyper local beer and a killer mural.

  • I am a DC resident and I just love this. Two restaurants that I love are Hill Country in downtown DC and the Urban Butcher in Silver Spring

  • my hometown and I’d add Ford’s Theatre as well the Library of Congress that holds the Gutenberg bible, Thomas Jefferson’s library and Greshwin’s piano.

  • Bon Appetit voted Rose’s Luxury one of the top 10 new restaurants in the U.S. Guess I’ll need to try it out when I visit DC next month! Thanks for all the suggestions; though I’ve been to DC before, it’s always nice to get fresh ideas. Will have to check out Julia Child’s kitchen for sure.