Some people have a city they dream of relocating to—for friends, for relationships, for lifestyle or culture. None of these were originally in play when I accepted my first job in Washington D.C. after finishing grad school in January 2020. None of my close friends resided there, I was moving even further away from my boyfriend and family and I had never been a particularly politically-driven person. My previous experience with Washington D.C. could be summed up in a seventh-grade field trip.
A dream job offer and a Craigslist roommate interview later, I found myself moved into the nation’s capital by mid-February 2020. My 20-minute morning commute routine lasted all of two weeks before the pandemic changed everyone’s lives forever. Thinking I would return to the office in a week (...and then maybe by May, and then perhaps by July, and then by Labor Day, and now by… well, I’m not holding my breath), I have kept my residence here, trying to make the most of my new home during one of the strangest times in history.
Though the social aspect of moving to a new city is certainly lacking, I have found so many reasons to love being in the capital. From the historical markets to the towering monuments to the picnic-perfect parks that provide hours of dog watching entertainment, there is plenty to love about D.C. in a pandemic. My first ten months were spent living in the H-Street/Capitol Hill neighborhood. As of December 2020, I am now happily situated in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of NW D.C. Between the two areas, I have found little gems that keep me coming back. Check out my worth-a-visit favorites below—I am a local after all:
1. The Row Home Lined Walks
No doubt a D.C. trademark, the row home culture here is unreal—especially in Capitol Hill. Every block is lined with well-kept, colorful strings of brownstones, each with its own punch of character. I have found too many favorites to count—though I am personally a sucker for those with little free libraries. As the seasons change, so do the aesthetics. In the fall, pumpkin-filled stoops took the neighborhood by storm. The holiday season brought with it twinkling lights and merry touches up and down the streets. Soon, flowers will be poking their heads out of mulched yards and crawling along little fence lines.
2. The Markets
While residing in H-Street Capitol Hill, I frequented two of D.C.’s finest markets—the historical Eastern Market of Capitol Hill and the trendy, urban Union Market of the NOMA neighborhood. Both are packed with local good eats and artisans. I recommend Eastern Market for fresh produce, the largest array of crafters around and an easy way to browse an afternoon away. You’ll likely find musicians on the sidewalks and pockets of outdoor thrift shop setups to pick through. I have spent many a Sunday morning aimlessly enjoying the Eastern Market energy.
Union Market pops as a large, airy and industrial indoor/outdoor market, full of hip food vendors and upscale artisans. A modern terminal born from historic heritage, this market is a must-go for the foodie. The turfed picnic area and massive rooftop offer tons of outdoor seating, perfect for enjoying lunch. The sandwich that keeps me coming back? Buffalo & Bergen’s “Well-Dressed Rueben.” To die for.
3. The Monuments
This one may seem obvious, but it’s true. There is something surreal about the ability to ride my bike to the National Mall and picnic under the Washington Monument. Once you ride to the monument, you might as well continue on to the Lincoln Memorial and take a breather on the steps. No matter how many times you visit, it still feels larger than life. Taking runs to the Capitol Building and back became a routine—one that gave me an excuse to stop and take it in every time. A few times, I’ve been lucky enough to catch some musicians playing on the surrounding benches during sunset. It makes one proud to be an American.
4. The Waterfront
The D.C. waterfront is so very enjoyable. I frequent the Navy Yard, now developed with great restaurants, outdoor spaces and walking/biking trails. It has served as a peaceful background for coffee drinking, book reading and friend meeting. Grab a brew and burger at Dacha Beer Garden, some top-line seafood at The Salt Line, pour-over coffee from Philz, or waterfront pizza from All-Purpose Pizzaria.
The Wharf is also a developed area of the waterfront. More upscale, it is totally Instagram worthy and jam-packed with great restaurants and riverfront views. It is also home to the Municipal Fish Market and in non-COVID times, a handful of cool music venues.
5. The Parks
Outdoor spaces have clearly been a theme for me… but I mean, this is my 2020-21 D.C. experience, so. D.C.’s parks get me. Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill was my saving grace during a time when getting out of the house was rare. A large city block of picnicking space, dog park and historical statues proved to lift my mood every visit. Families abound here and typically the park is scattered with locals barbequing, celebrating birthdays or playing pickup games. The dog watching is top-notch and I highly recommend it. Directly east of the Capitol Building, you can spot the white tip from the park. Wine & Butter Cafe & Market is the cutest place to grab a cup of joe.
Now living in Adams Morgan, I have hunted down the surrounding parks and once again… have fallen in love. Across the street from my apartment building is Walter Pierce Park, complete with picnic tables, a playground, basketball courts, green space and a dog park. Meridian Hill Park is a short walk away as well, built directly on and into a hill overlooking downtown D.C. It is full of beautiful architecture, running trails, tons of green space and benches. I always see something new here—dance classes, boxing groups, musicians, wine dates, skateboarders and, of course, dogs.
Best of all, I am an easy walk into Rock Creek Park—more than 1,750 acres of greenery, hiking trails, bike paths, picnic areas, and a nature center. It truly is a respite from the city. Come warmer weather, my bike will be hitting every corner of the massive park.
6. The Energy
People in D.C. are passionate. As a person who is not particularly political, I have come to admire the clear enthusiasm that is felt by all who live here for creating a better world. From signs declaring loving sentiments in the front yards and windows of homes, to robust volunteer programs, and organized and powerful protests, the energy here is undeniable. Though very aware of the scary and traumatizing events of this past year, I have always felt the light shine through. People are resilient, and even more so, together. I am grateful for the resiliency of local businesses, those who support them and the people working to ensure D.C.’s vibrancy lives on, long past these pandemic years.
It continues to be an adventure navigating these times, this city. There are so many things to enjoy and discover, regardless of the underlying challenges. Notice museums weren't on this list? COVID has made that obvious benefit a tough one to take advantage of. What are other places and things you love about D.C.? I want to appreciate it all.