Off the Beaten Path: 16 Things to do in Washington, DC

Updated on June 27th, 2023

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Beyond the iconic monuments and historic landmarks, DC offers a myriad of offbeat and unique things to do that will make your time here truly memorable. From exploring the vibrant Washington, DC neighborhoods and indulging in diverse culinary delights to immersing yourself in the thriving arts and culture scene, Washington, DC, is a treasure trove of unconventional adventures. 

In this Redfin article, we’ll uncover some of the best things to do in DC, so you can fully immerse yourself in everything it has to offer. Whether you’re in the market for a house in Washington, DC, or looking to rent an apartment in the city, get ready to embrace the extraordinary and dive into the lesser-known wonders of the nation’s capital that make DC a great place to live.

Capitol Hill historic community is a beautiful place to visit Washington DC USA

1. Book a one-of-a-kind experience with a Parisian formulator at Elodie’s Naturals

At Elodie’s Naturals, you can explore the enchanting world of creating organic skincare products, from hyaluronic serums to lemon scrubs, aromatherapy to exquisite natural fragrances sourced from France. You’ll have the opportunity to customize what goes on your skin under the guidance of an expert, and take home your very own face or body products.

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2. Republic Cantina

Republic Cantina in Truxton Circle serves high-quality Tex Mex food and drinks in a fun, laid-back atmosphere,” shares local photographer Katie Lewis Photography. “It’s a great spot for al fresco dining among cacti and succulents on a quiet street during patio season, and the interior bar and booths have retro design that takes you to another time and place. It’s fun for happy hour, late night drinks, or any meal! For breakfast try the chilaquiles or a breakfast burrito with an iced horchata latte. Weekday lunch specials include taco platters and amazing salads. Later in the day, I love to share a platter of nachos with friends and order a spicy margarita, or get wild with a pico back shot.”

Restaurant in Washington DC
Photo courtesy of Katie Lewis Photography

3. Shopkeepers

Another unique thing to do in DC is to check out Shopkeepers, a neighborhood retail shop, cafe, and event space in Northeast DC. Customers love the bubble tea, especially the Brown Cow which is made with earl grey, black tea, oat milk, and brown sugar drizzle. The pantry is stocked with Asian staples that can be difficult to find in major grocery stores. You can also rent out the space for private events like birthdays, graduations, bridal/baby showers, and more.

4. Rock Creek Park

“After moving to Washington DC in 1993 from the much more rural state of New Hampshire, one of my greatest joys living in DC is the easy access to nature in the heart of the city,” explains Lisa Maco, Owner of Lisa Maco Photography. “Called ‘An Oasis in the City,’ Rock Creek Park is a true gem. The park has many entry points for a quick lunchtime respite or a long bike ride on the weekends. It runs from the National Zoo in the south to the Maryland border in the north, repeatedly changing names along the way up to Gaithersburg as it connects with many other parks.”

Rock Creek Park in DC

5. Mount Vernon Trail

Another one of Maco’s favorite spots is the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18-mile multi-use trail that runs from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate up to Roosevelt Island along the Potomac River. “Then, when you’re tired from all your park exploration, I recommend Sequoia DC at the Georgetown waterfront for spectacular views of the Potomac River, Kennedy Center, and the Roosevelt Bridge, including the sports and leisure activities on the water,” says Maco. 

6. Enid A. Haupt Garden

“There are so many beautiful and unique places to explore in DC, but a favorite of mine is the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle during peak saucer magnolia bloom,” says Laura Nockett, a Newborn, Maternity and Baby Photographer at Precious Little Sprinkles Photography. “In early March the garden transforms into a sea of pink as the beautiful saucer magnolias burst into full bloom. It’s the first sign of spring in the DC area and leads into the iconic cherry blossom bloom around the tidal basin, a can’t-miss bucket list item.”

Photo of family walking through a park
Photo Courtesy of Precious Little Sprinkles Photography.

7. Mia Gemma

A unique gem of a place if you’re in the market for new jewelry is Mia Gemma, a fine artisan jewelry gallery that provides custom design and concierge services. Hand-crafted in precious metals and fine gemstones, their jewelry and custom design services allow you to explore and exhibit their individuality through creative design and sophisticated style. The gallery also hosts two live events each year that you can’t miss.

8. Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral

“My favorite thing to do in DC is exploring the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral,” states Mary Catherine Wickham of Mary Catherine Photography. “One step through its arched stone entryway and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a secret English garden. There is something in bloom nearly year round and it’s never crowded. If you need a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, come relax among the chirping birds and lush greenery of the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral.”

The National Cathedral and the entrance to Bishops Garden, a medieval style herb garden in Washington DC, USA

9. The Old Post Office Tower

A unique thing to do in DC, and one where you don’t need tickets, is visiting the Old Post Office tower. “Although the tower sits atop the Waldorf Astoria, it’s operated by the Park Service,” shares Susannah Stevens, photographer at Lifetime Lens. “The trip through the basement and up the elevator feels like a journey to a secret lookout. On the way, you can look down into the atrium of the hotel. The viewing deck is open to the air, and although the concrete and plexiglass are a little gritty, I think that adds to the charm.”

10. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

“As commercial photographers, and forever tourists, we’re in the Capital regularly, and have been able to enjoy so many great aspects of the city and its surroundings,” shares Sam and Kat of Edwin Photography in Tysons, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC. “The city is a superb place for hikers, bikers and sightseers like us, and one of our absolute favorite things to do is to visit the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. It offers a glimpse into the history of the United States, and combines it with an exceptional outdoor experience of its preserved nature. Easy for all ages, the canal path leads effortlessly to countless unique destinations, and brings endless enjoyment to families and anyone that loves an adventure.”

C&O Canal, a beautiful place to visit in Washington DC
Photo Courtesy of Edwin Photography

11. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Chocotenango

Chocotenango is the place to go in DC for quality artisanal bean to bar chocolate. Made from the highest quality organic cocoa beans, Chocotenango turns nature’s treat into delicious creations. Whether you are looking for chocolate bars, hot chocolate mix or bonbons, Chocotenango has you covered. You can find Chocotenango on Saturdays until noon at the Old Town Alexandria Farmer’s Market or Sundays until 1:30 at Bethesda Central Farmer’s Market. Or, pick some up at Shop Made in DC, Each Peach or Rare Bird Coffee.

12. The Smithsonian Gardens

The Smithsonian Gardens are one of our favorite places in DC,” shares Anji and Pete Martin of Potoks World Photography. “Comprising the Enid A. Haupt and Mary Livingston Ripley Gardens, they are simultaneously refreshing green spaces in the heart of the Nation’s Capital and are easy to miss among the monuments and memorials. The Enid A. Haupt Garden – essentially the Smithsonian Castle’s backyard – is a sprawling lawn with distinctive bushes crisscrossing it. Tucked away in one corner of the space is the Moongate Garden, an artsier spot that is great for creative wedding or engagement pictures. To the side of the castle is the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, a small and secluded area, perfect for getting respite from DC’s crowds.”

Smithsonian Gardens in WA DC
Photo courtesy of Potoks World Photography

13. The Salt Line

“My favorite thing to do in DC is go on incredibly long walks throughout the city,” explains DC-based photographer, Lisa Blume. “I often walk from Dupont Circle to Navy Yard, which is at least 5 miles. And recently, a close friend and I did that walk and then ended the walk at The Salt Line for frozen cocktails on their outdoor patio. And, during Cherry Blossom season, I find myself photographing on the tidal basin quite a bit but I always make sure that I make time to visit at sunset and lay on a picnic blanket underneath the beautiful pink blooms, It’s truly magical.” 

14. Escape to a unique dual-venue experience at THRōW Social & Kick Axe Throwing D.C. 

This is a dual-venue, where tropical paradise upstairs meets cozy cabin vibes downstairs, under one rooftop bar and patio. Upstairs, you can relax in cabanas, play fun games like cornhole, shuffleboard, and ping-pong, and dance to your heart’s content to live music. Or, head downstairs to Kick Axe Throwing D.C. and find a cozy lodge-like setting where you can try your hand at thrilling axe throwing. Compete with friends, challenge your skills, and experience the rush of hitting the bullseye.

Group of friends having fun at the venue
Photo courtesy of Kick Axe Throwing D.C.

15. Union Market

Union Market is a hip gourmet food hall located in the NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue) neighborhood, a former industrial district in Northeast DC,” explains travel journalist and photographer, Tykesha Burton. “The feasting hall features fare from 40-plus food stalls, including long-running Union Market staples and various pop-up shops. Altogether, they create a fantastic variety of global cuisines. Next to Union Market is La Cosecha, a Latin American market. This market features vendors that represent fare, wines, clothing, textiles, and home decor from countries across Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean.”

16. The Wharf DC

Burton also suggests visiting The Wharf DC, located just four blocks from the National Mall. “This revitalized strip along the waterfront in DC’s Southwest quadrant is a great place to enjoy the city’s waterways while grabbing a bite to eat, shopping, or catching a concert. This mile-long stretch along the Potomac River now boasts of more than 20 restaurants and bars, boutiques, a park, a 6,000-seat concert hall, and a few more intimate live music venues.”

Remember to venture beyond the well-trodden path and explore the unique things to do in DC that make living in Washington, DC, so great.

If you are represented by an agent, this is not a solicitation of your business. This article is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice from a medical provider, licensed attorney, financial advisor, or tax professional. Consumers should independently verify any agency or service mentioned will meet their needs. Learn more about our Editorial Guidelines here.

Julia Weaver

Julia is a part of the content marketing team and enjoys writing about real estate and design trends. Her dream home be a charming beachside home with lots of light.

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