Washington, DC: Everything You Need To Plan For The Best Trip!
Once, my friend told me all about her weekend trip to Washington, DC and how much fun she had there. She couldn’t stop talking about the cupcakes she ate, and she still brings them up every single time we eat dessert.
As a California native, DC isn’t a place that I ever considered for a weekend trip. The flight takes more than five hours, after all. Usually, I stick closer to home for weekend trips.
Still, her story about her trip stuck in my mind, so I finally took the time to visit Washington, DC for a week. And it did not disappoint me!
My only goals were to see the sights and eat some delicious food! I made a rough itinerary, but I also left some time open to explore.
I’d love to tell you more about my trip, so I’m going to break down what I packed, what I ate, where I went, and how I prepared for this trip! If you have been thinking about visiting Washington, DC but haven’t made the trip yet, this is your chance to start planning!
Must Know Things Before Planning Your Trip: My Advice
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of how I spent my time in DC, I want to share with you some things that I wished I had known before my trip!
If you keep these things in mind when planning and preparing for your vacation, you’ll run into less unexpected problems than I did! None of these things were deal breakers, but it never hurts to have more information to help you plan.
Here’s what you need to know before your trip:
You Don’t Need A Car
I’ll cover more about cars, car rentals, and driving in DC below, but I want to say upfront that you absolutely do NOT need a car to travel in DC!
While DC covers a huge area if you include all the areas, chances are that your trip will be limited to a few, key areas that are easily accessed using affordable, public transportation.
I know that if you come from a place where you don’t use public transportation the idea of using the bus or train can be overwhelming, but it’s simple, and it’ll save you on time, money, and stress!
You Will Be Walking A Lot
Barring any situations that prevent you from being able to do walking tours, most DC visitors will be surprised by how much they walk while visiting the sights.
In the first three days of my trip when I was busy seeing some of the most popular places in the Capitol, I walked over 10 miles! Seriously. Boy, am I glad that I packed my most comfortable shoes.
Not everyone will walk this much, but the monuments and museums that you are interested in seeing are much farther apart than you realize, so you should be prepared for this.
Aim For The Off-Season
If there’s a special event going on in DC or it’s a popular time of year, you can be met with crazy traffic, crowds, and lines. I made this mistake for the first two days of my trip, but thankfully things cleared up after that.
Always check event schedules & crowd predictions before you make your travel arrangements!
Must-Pack Items For A Week In DC
I can’t give you a complete packing list because everyone is different, but I can tell you some of the essential things that I know you should pack. I forgot a few of these things and ended up buying them in DC because I needed them!
- Clothing (Pack Layers)
- Walking Shoes
- External Battery
- Dressy Clothes
- Sun Protection
- Reusable Water Bottle
Obviously, you need to pack clothes, but you also need to be aware of the temperature range that each day can be in DC! Particularly when traveling in spring and fall, the day can be very warm while the night is very cold!
I always recommend packing in layers. Bring some light layers that will keep you cool, as well as a sweater and a light jacket in spring and fall so that you can layer appropriately.
If it’s winter, pack layers for the cold because it will be cold!
As I mentioned, you will be walking a lot while traveling in DC.
While you might want to bring along a pair of fancy shoes in case you run into the President, what you need more than anything else is a pair of comfortable walking shoes that will get you from monument to monument without your feet hurting.
A great bonus item to bring along is gel shoe inserts, like these!
It will, in all likelihood, rain at least one day while you are in DC.
You can be like me and buy one when the sky opens up and starts getting you wet, but it’s better to just pack a small, compact umbrella and keep it in your bag so that you will be prepared if it does start to rain.
Bringing along your phone, tablet, laptop, camera, and more?
Make sure that you pack charging cables for each of these items! While some hotels may have chargers available, you cannot guarantee this, so you should bring all chargers that you might need during your stay.
Mobile chargers are one of my newest, favorite travel accessories!
These compact external batteries can be used to charge your phone on the go, so you never need to worry about running out of battery.
Having one of these was especially useful in DC. I was using my phone for directions, and the battery was running out quickly. There aren’t many places to plug in a phone, so this was a perfect solution.
Not everyone will need this, but I was so glad that I remembered to pack a fancier outfit!
I had scheduled tours at some important government buildings, and I realized that I should not wear jeans and sneakers to these tours. Having an outfit like this ready for important tours and a nice meal out can save you from being embarrassed or turned away because of your clothes.
It can get very sunny in DC, especially while touring areas where there aren’t many trees! Make sure to bring a sun hat or sunscreen with you.
I packed my facial moisturizer which has built in SPF and a big sun hat to keep my face protected from the sun. No sunburn for this gal!
Anyone who has traveled to tourist-heavy destinations before knows that buying bottles of water can be very expensive.
Pack a reusable water bottle, and fill it up before you head out for the day! You can then fill it up when you do find a water fountain or stop for a meal, and you’ll save money by not needing to pay for bottles of water.
Street Food Worth Finding: Food Truck Mania
One of my favorite parts of any trip is the food! A trip can’t be fantastic without a few fantastic meals, and some of the best food that I found in DC was actually found on the street!
Exciting food truck culture exists in many cities, and DC is no different. Make sure to check out these awesome food trucks while visiting Washington, DC! Don’t let them drive away without feeding you first!
Most people think of New York or Chicago when they think of quality pizza, but Washington, DC has its fair share of delicious pizza, too.
Location: Find their daily location on their calendar!
DC Slices offers basic slices like cheese and pepperoni, but they also serve up more creative pizza topping combinations such as buffalo chicken and meatball with gouda. It’s as delicious as it sounds! You can order by the (giant) slice, or you can order a whole pie, and it will be ready in less than 10 minutes!
They serve more than just pizza, too. I’m a potato lover, and their tater tot offerings are very exciting. You can order them with Old Bay or Cajun seasoning in addition to the plain variety.
Dessert Is Delicious
One food truck specialty that you will find in DC is dessert! From cupcakes to ice cream, there are tons of delicious trucks that are serving up dessert. These two were my favorites!
Captain Cookie And The Milkman
Location: Find it on their website!
Captain Cookie and The Milkman is here to save the dessert day!
This truck serves up cookies and milk, just as you’d expect, but the combinations available are to die for! Not only can you get cookies like M&M or chocolate chip, but they’re also served alongside milk or ice cream.
I opted to get a make-your-own cookie ice cream sandwich. The snickerdoodle cookies with vanilla ice cream inside were so delicious; highly recommended!
That Cheesecake Truck
I got lucky enough to get to try food from That Cheesecake Truck, a spinoff of the brick-and-mortar store Sweetz Cheesecake!
The mobile version of Sweetz offers small, individual cheesecakes and cheesecake pops to customers, and boy, are they delicious! I tried the cherry swirl cake, and it was so good that I still have food daydreams about it.
This truck only goes out for special events, but I was lucky enough to come across it at an event, so hopefully, you will be, too! Check their information on their website.
While DC might be the American capital, you can also find international cuisine on food trucks that rivals food you’ll find by traveling abroad!
There are SO many international food trucks in DC that it would be impossible to list them all. Here are the best ones that my friends and I sampled (we shared so that we could try them all at a food truck event!). Check their websites out for full menus and locations!
Holy Crepes Truck: Delicious, artisan style crepes with a huge variety of fillings. These crepes are seriously holy.
KBBQ BOX: A perfect fusion of Korean and American-style cuisine; often found in Chinatown!
PhoWheels: Vietnamese food right in DC. You’ve got to try the pork belly tacos!
Halal Kitchen: Serving up halal food like you’ve never had before. The white sauce is the best sauce!
Must-See Sights: My List
There is so much to see and do in the DC area. You could live there for years and still have more that you’ve missed!
Still, your trip is only so long, so you have to narrow down what you want to see! I certainly didn’t see everything I hoped to see, but that just means I’ll have to go back again.
Out of what I did get to see, however, a few must-see sights stood out above the rest. Make sure that no matter what you do on your trip, you work in these attractions!
1- Segway Tour Of The Monuments
The first thing I did was take a Segway tour of the monument area! While the time spent at each monument was brief, this tour helped me figure out where the monuments I wanted to see were located, and I was able to very easily come back to them later!
On this tour, you’ll ride a Segway and follow a tour guide who will give you brief information about each monument. I loved this, and it’s a great way to give your feet a walking break!
After your tour, plan out which memorials you want to get closer to. I recommend the following:
- Lincoln Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Washington Monument
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
- Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- The Constitution Gardens
2- Touring Government Buildings
A lot of government in DC have self-guided or guided tours that you can join! I loved this because I like getting to know more about the places that I visit, and seeing more aspects of the American government is a great part of visiting DC.
Here are the links to some of the most popular government buildings tour information that you may want to visit:
3- Dupont Circle Is A Must-Visit Area
Another great area away from the National Mall that you should visit is Dupont Circle! Here, there are a number of interesting things to see that you don’t want to miss.
1- Embassy Row at Scott Circle
Take yourself on a self-guided walking tour of the embassies of the world at Scott Circle. This two-mile stretch will serve you with impressive sights and gardens.
2- Explore The Woodrow Wilson House
Home of former President Woodrow Wilson, this house has fun events that you can join. Check out their website to see the schedule.
3- Brewmaster’s Castle at Heurich House Museum
The public tour of this museum will introduce you to the history of this famous home to brewing master, Christian Heurich.
4- Spanish Steps & Dupont Circle fountain
These two architectural landmarks are great places to sit down with a picnic or just hang out while taking a break from your sightseeing! I brought along a coffee to chill with.
4- Museums: Free And Paid
In addition to amazing government buildings, Washington, DC is home to dozens of world-renowned museums that would be foolish to skip. Some of them are even free!Here are the best of both categories, free and paid!
Free Museums (Worth Seeing!)
Paid Museums (Worth The Cost!)
5- Some Sample Itineraries
If you want to check out some sample itineraries, I really recommended this one from Six Suitcase Travel and this one posted by Dangerous Business! Both of these three-day itineraries will help you cover the main sites of DC. From there, use my list to find some more special locations to see!
My 3 Favorite Washington, DC Restaurants
You can find every type of food that you could ever want in DC. The variety of restaurants - from casual to fine dining - is huge.
I ate a lot while I was in DC, but these were the three restaurants that I knew I had to visit while in town!
1. Mitsitam Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian
This restaurant has been described for years as the best food on the National Mall, and while I didn’t try every restaurant there, I have to say that they might be right!
The food is reasonably priced for a museum, and it’s super unique. Every menu item is inspired by regional native cuisine for all over the country. How often do you get the chance to try real, Native American food? Take your chance with a meal here!
I tried the Five Region Sampler, and it was such a unique experience. The meal included fresh grilled bison and salmon paired along with a grilled apricot salad, a cheese potato bake, and wild rice. Can you say yummy? The full menu is available on the website.
2. Toki Underground on H St NE
This ramen bar is a fusion of Asian flavors that you will love. There might be a line at the door, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying it out! I was third in line and only had to wait about 12 minutes to get in!
The kimchi ramen is one of the best things I ate the entire time I was in Washington, DC! I love Korean flavors, and this dish was a fantastic blend of both Japanese and Korean ramen styles. Another favorite among my companions was the curry bowl, which had a delicious broth. I want to try the whole menu!
Note: the serving sizes here are huge! The bowl is gigantic, but don’t worry. They let you take the leftovers home!
3. Mangialardo and Sons on Capitol Hill
If you’re going to visit Mangialardo’s, you have to try the “G” man!
At least, that’s what I was told before my visit. So I listened. The “G” man is the sandwich of DC. Simply put, this is an Italian sub. It’s loaded with ham, salami, mortadella, pepperoni, provolone, fontina, and hot peppers, and it is so tasty.
Their menu also features hot roasted beef, corned beef, and pizza subs, but I’m more of a cold cut lover. No matter what you order, you can customize it to be just how you like it.
Where To Stay In DC
Another important thing to think about when visiting is where to stay!
If you’re coming into town strictly to see the sights, I highly recommend staying around Capitol Hill and near Union Station. From here, you will have lots of public transportation options, and the National Mall is within easy walking distance.
There are many affordable, high-quality hotels in the areas surrounding Capitol Hill.
The Hyatt Regency and the Mandarin Oriental are two of my favorites that are centrally located, but you can also try out the Holiday Inn Washington-Capitol or the Residence Inn Washington, DC /Capitol for a great deal!
There are dozens of options located near the Dupont Circle as well that are worthy of hosting dignitaries like yourself.
One important thing to remember about choosing your accommodations is that all hotels on Capitol Hill will be more expensive during tourist season! Be sure to check the prices for the times you will be traveling there, and call to see if you can get any special discounts before booking.
Also, look for a hotel that offers free shuttle services to popular tourist destinations and the airport, and make sure that there is complimentary breakfast to help fuel your day!
Staying With Friends
If you have friends in the DC area, it can be very convenient to stay with them. Chances are, they won’t live at Union Station, so make sure to do the math on transportation costs and make sure that it is cost-effective to stay with them.
Check the cost of going to and from your destinations on public transportation, and see how much it is going to cost. If it is going to take more than an hour each direction or cost a lot, you might be better off finding a more centrally located hotel.
Best Budget Busting Hotels
If you want to to save money, you can stay at a hotel a little bit further away from the National Mall to save a lot of money!
These are my favorite budget options:
Travel Tips From Travel Gurus!
I’m not the only one that has been to DC - there are dozens of travel gurus out there who have great advice on how to make your trip to Washington, DC the best trip ever.
What The Saints Did Next makes a fantastic point in her post about 10 things to see and do in Washington, DC: you can’t see everything.
Narrow your list down to the places that you and your travel companions want to see most. I regret not doing more of this before leaving for my trip!
The Price of Travel blog shared an interesting post about whether not an attraction discount card called the “Go Card” is worth it in DC. The answer is that it depends on what you want to do. Make sure you check out their post to find out if you should invest in this card or not!
I want to reiterate something I already said: you do NOT need a car to visit Washington DC!
There is good transportation available from the local airport into town, and your accommodations might even offer a shuttle. From there, you can use public transportation to get around to the most popular sites of town without any problems.
If you choose to drive in DC, remember a few important things about the traffic situation:
There is a lot of traffic.Parking is hard to find.Parking is very expensive.The roads (one-way streets, roundabouts) can be very confusing for tourists.
All-in-all, you don’t need a car to vacation in DC unless you plan on visiting some of the areas outside of the city proper such as Alexandria. Even in these cases, you may want to only rent a car for the days that you will be leaving DC because driving in the city is too stressful.
Trust me; it’s not worth it!
What’s The Weather?
Washington, DC has four distinct seasons that differ in average temperatures fairly significantly, so you should carefully decide what season you want to visit during!
The best times to come are during spring and fall. The temperatures during the day at these times is very comfortable, and it only gets a little bit chilly at night.
If I could choose any time of year to visit DC, I would come between March and May. During these months, the weather is mild, there isn’t too much rain, and you might even catch the flowers blooming, which is stunning!
May and October are the busiest months of the year, and you will find cheaper accommodations during July and August when the weather is very hot and humid. If you can brave this kind of weather and want to save money, visit DC during the heat of summer.
Still, any time of year can be the right time depending on what you plan on doing in town. Remember that while large snow storms are not common in DC, they do happen in the winter, and it can be bitterly cold. If you don’t like cold weather, don’t visit DC in the winter!
It’s Time Get Ready For Your Trip
That’s the end of my story about the trip I took to Washington, DC. I hope all the tips that I have included about my journey will help you plan yours! I had such a great time, and I’d happily visit the area again. Mostly, I just want to try more restaurants and visit a few museums that I didn’t make it to the first time around!
All-in-all, my week long trip ended up costing me just around $700, not including airfare! I was lucky enough to stay with friends for a few nights of my trip, and only had to pay for two nights in a hotel. I did eat a lot of food, and that adds up!
However you choose to spend your time in DC, you’ll have a fantastic trip. This capital city does not disappoint. It’s full of history, of splendor, and of culture. If you want an exciting trip down America’s memory lane, this is the city for you.
Do you have your own tips about visiting Washington, DC? Comment them below for anyone planning a trip! Then, share with those who have been dying to go - they’ll thank you for it!