8 Tips for Seeing the Washington DC Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms

March 12, 2023 in Blog

Spring in Washington, D.C. is synonymous with the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms, one of the most popular and highly anticipated blooms in the world. Each spring, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the Tidal Basin to witness the beautiful cherry blossoms in peak bloom. The entire area transforms into a picturesque sea of pink and white. If you’re planning to visit the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms this year, this article will provide you with some useful tips and tricks to make the most of your visit and avoid the crowds. So, let’s dive in!

Tips for Visiting the Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms 🌸 Washington DC

Tip #1: Set Proper Expectations

The first and most important tip for seeing the cherry blossoms is to temper your expectations. While you will find many amazing photos of the Tidal Basin in full bloom, these images often don’t show the hordes of people who flock to the area at this time of year. If you’re expecting to have a quiet moment alone with the cherry blossoms, you may be disappointed. Instead, approach your visit with an open mind and be prepared for crowds. Understand that Instagram vs. reality very much applies here.

Tip #2: Plan for Crowds

If you’re going to head down to the Tidal Basin to see the Washington, DC cherry blossoms you need to prepare for heavy crowds. The dates during the National Cherry Blossom Festival are busiest of the year for tourism in DC. The areas on the Tidal Basin that get the most crowded are the Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, and MLK. However, don’t let the crowds discourage you from seeing the cherry blossoms. If you plan ahead and set realistic expectations, you can still enjoy the beauty of the blossoms without feeling overwhelmed.

Tip #3: Visit Early or Late

To navigate the crowds at the cherry blossoms in DC, consider visiting early in the morning or late in the day. Most visitors tend to arrive mid-day, so by going early or late, you can avoid the heaviest crowds.

If you choose to go early, prepare to see a lot of people dressed up for photos with professional photographers. Photographers like to take advantage of the morning golden hour and lighter crowds to capture stunning photos of the cherry blossoms, so be prepared to dodge a few photo shoots. Alternatively, you can visit the cherry blossoms after dark for a different but still beautiful experience. While they may not photograph as well in the dark, the cherry blossoms are still stunning to see in person.

Tip #4: Embrace Overcast or Rainy Days

If you want to avoid the heaviest crowds, consider visiting on an overcast or rainy day. While many tourists flock to the Tidal Basin to see the blossoms on sunny days, locals who live nearby are often deterred by wet weather. Don’t let a little rain discourage you from experiencing the beauty of the cherry blossoms. Bring a raincoat and umbrella and embrace the weather. Not only will you dodge the crowds, but you may also get a unique and memorable experience of the blossoms in the rain. Plus, the overcast or rainy weather can add a moody and atmospheric vibe to your visit.

Cherry Blossoms Reflection in a Puddle
Don’t be afraid of a little rain!

Tip #5: Know the Best Ways to Get There

Getting to the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom season can be a challenge, but with the right transportation tips, you can avoid the stress and enjoy your visit.

The best way to get to the Tidal Basin is on foot or via the Metro. The closest Metro stations are Smithsonian and L’Enfant Plaza. If you’re arriving on the Orange, Blue, or Silver line, use the Smithsonian station. If you’re arriving on the Blue or Yellow line, use L’Enfant Plaza.

Driving your own car is strongly discouraged during cherry blossom season due to limited parking and heavy traffic. Instead, consider using Capital Bikeshare or e-scooters to get around. If you use Capital Bikeshare, be sure to check the app for available docks near the Tidal Basin, as they can fill up quickly. If you opt for e-scooters, use the app to find approved locations where you can end your ride and leave the scooter. Keep in mind that some roads may be closed or restricted during the festival, so plan your route accordingly.

If you can swing a hotel downtown or at the Wharf you’ll be in great shape. These locations make it easy to walk back and forth between the Tidal Basin and your hotel.

Tip #6: Discover East Potomac Park

East Potomac Park is one of the best spots in Washington, DC to see cherry blossoms. Even though there is a huge concentration of cherry trees and even though it’s relatively close to the Tidal Basin, few people go here! East Potomac Park is southeast of the Tidal Basin and you may hear people refer to it as Hains Point (technically Hains Point is only the tip of the park). It’s a great spot for a light stroll or a bike ride. This is a popular spot for bicyclists year-round and a particularly amazing ride during the bloom.

Tip #7: Reserve a Paddleboat

Renting a paddleboat is a popular way to see the blossoms from a unique perspective. Paddleboats are small boats that you power by pedaling like a bicycle. The paddleboat dock is situated on the east side of the Tidal Basin, just a short walk from the Washington Monument. If you plan on paddling during this season, it’s highly recommended to make a reservation in advance, as far ahead as possible. Due to its immense popularity, the number of boats available is limited.

Tip #8: Discover hidden gems

When you visit the Tidal Basin to see the blossoms don’t miss some fun hidden gems! A favorite among tour guide is a little cherry tree called Stumpy. It’s located in an area that often floods during high tide, which has damaged its roots. Despite the odds, Stumpy still manages to bloom every spring.

Stumpy blooms every spring!

If you head over to the FDR Memorial, you’ll find the Japanese Pagoda, a gift from the mayor of Yokohama in the 1950s. Not much is known about its history, but it’s worth checking out. And the Japanese Lantern is a historic artifact over 300 years old and one of the oldest outdoor pieces in Washington, DC. It’s located near the spot where the very first cherry tree was planted on the Tidal Basin over a century ago. You’re not going to find many artifacts this old around Washington, DC!

Best Washington DC Cheap Eats

July 1, 2022 in Blog

Washington DC excels when it comes to the fast casual food scene. Fast casual restaurants offer elevated food and higher quality ingredients than traditional fast food. They operate counter-service where customers order and pay up-front, rather than with a server. Pricing is higher than fast food but less expensive than a sit-down restaurant. If you’ve ever eaten Chipotle you’ve experienced fast casual dining. However it’s not just limited to Mexican food. These are my favorite fast casual Washington DC cheap eats.


Korean food is delicious. Tacos are delicious. Korean food in taco form must therefore be delicious, right? Yes it is. What started as a single food truck has grown into a small local chain. Even if you aren’t initially sold on the concept, give it a try! It wasn’t until I had my first bite that I was hooked. 


I love Indian food. Butter chicken, tikka masala, rogan josh – I could eat it all the time. Typically when you order Indian takeout it comes in a bunch of containers that you need to unpack and then plate. It’s kind of a lot of work. Rasa is awesome because each bowl is a self-contained meal with big flavors. 

District Taco

While Chipotle may be the original fast casual Mexican spot, District Taco is the local favorite. A true American success story, District Taco was started by a Mexican immigrant who grew it from a single taco cart to a local restaurant empire. They specialize in Yucatan style Mexican food and the menu has plenty of high-quality vegetarian options (and some vegan too). 


Most of the restaurants on this list have solid vegetarian options but this one is a fully vegan, plant-based restaurant with items like burgers, sandwiches, salads and desserts. Items are based on traditional meat-based fast food (think burgers and fried chicken) but even if you enjoy meat you should give HipCityVeg a try because the food really is that good! 


You can’t have a list of cheap eats without a staple: burger and fries. The menu at Swizzler isn’t big but what they do they do well. A “swizzler” is actually a hot dog, but the revamped menu at this restaurant is now more sandwich focused. They have a regular burger, veggie burger and fried chicken sandwich. I’ve tasted them all and they are all excellent. 

Little Sesame

Little Sesame is named for the tahini (ground sesame paste) which is the backbone of hummus. If you’re really into hummus, get a giant bowl with pita and dig in! I’m not ashamed to say it’s so good I’ve eaten an entire bowl of hummus for lunch before. If you want a more rounded meal go for a pita sandwich which is filled with meat, peppers and other vegetables. 


You can’t have a list of “cheap eats” without pizza. Unfortunately pizza that’s fast is rarely fresh, and if it’s fresh it’s rarely fast. &Pizza is both. Each unique oval shaped pie is made to order, assembly-line style, right in front of you. Then it goes into the oven and in only a couple minutes you have a delicious hot pizza ready to eat. 

Rice Bar

Bibimbap is Korean for “mixed rice” but it’s different from a lot of other rice bowls out there. Bibimbap is served in a bowl topped with vegetables, chili paste, soy sauce and fermented soybean paste. I like to get mine with meat and topped with a fried egg. If you’ve never had it before, give it a shot. The combination of ingredients is really delicious. 


Cava is now a nation-wide chain but its roots are right here in Washington, DC. Cava’s menu offers a modern American take on Mediterranean fare. Design your bowl with either grains or lettuce, add your protein, Mediterranean-style vegetables, and one of many sauces. The combination of ingredients and sauces makes for some of the best flavors you can get for the price. 


Surfside’s claim to fame is that their Dupont Circle location is one of the only restaurants in DC open 24 hours per day. It’s great if you’re hungry after hitting up the nearby nightlife, but even if you visit during the day it’s a quick and delicious Mexican meal. On the menu you’ll find fajitas, quesadillas, and some of the best tacos in town.

Falafel Inc. 

This is one of the only true cheap eats in Washington, DC. In 2022 no item on the menu is more than five dollars. Order your falafel in a pita (sandwich form) or over greens (bowl form). The zaatar fries are a unique twist on the standard French fry. Make sure to try some of the signature sauces to take your meal to the next level. 

Good Stuff Eatery

Good Stuff is owned by Spike Mendelsohn, a local celebrity-chef who has appeared on several TV cooking shows. Good Stuff serves burgers, fries and top-notch milkshakes. The price point is low enough that it gives folks a chance to have a “celebrity-chef experience” without shelling out big bucks at a more traditional celebrity-chef restaurant. 

The 5 Best Local Washington DC Tours

April 22, 2021 in Blog, Trip Planning

The best Washington, DC tours are operated by small locally-owned businesses. If you’re a seasoned traveler this won’t come as any surprise. You know the best slice of pizza in New York City isn’t Pizza Hut and the best tacos in Los Angeles aren’t Taco Bell. Similarly, you wouldn’t expect the best tours to come from a big national chain.

One of the best things about visiting Washington, DC is that there are tours and experiences to fit every traveler’s interest. Here’s a roundup of five locally-owned DC tour companies we wholeheartedly recommend! Check them out on your next visit to the Nation’s Capital. 

1. Trip Hacks DC

Rob leading a Trip Hacks DC trivia tour.

Do you watch Jeopardy? Enjoy games of Trivial Pursuit? Or just like to compete with family and friends? The Trip Hacks DC Trivia Tour combines a classic Washington DC monuments tour with an interactive trivia game. Over the course of three hours you’ll get to experience all of the major monuments on the National Mall. Not only do you visit all the sites up close, but you’ll compete with fellow travelers to win prizes.

2. DC Design Tours

Carolyn leading a DC Designs Tours architecture tour.

Maybe it was your dream to become an architect, or maybe you just love beautiful buildings. Either way, come experience Washington’s architectural marvels and best kept secrets, while hearing about the conflicts, controversies, and personalities involved in the development of our capital. DC Design Tours leads tours of the Federal sites, as well as tours of neighborhood gems, like Georgetown and Embassy Row. From Neoclassical to Brutalist designs, hear the stories behind the brick and mortar!

3. A Tour of Her Own

A women's history tour in Washington, DC.

A Tour of Her Own is the first tourism company in Washington, DC focused exclusively on women’s history. Their mission is to elevate women’s stories into a more prominent place in American history. And their vision is to create a sustainable culture of women’s tourism in DC and beyond. Check out their lineup of upcoming events to see if any are scheduled during your trip. Or become a Tour of Her Own member to get access to live tours, virtual events, and other educational services. 

4. Historic America

A tour of Arlington Cemetery by Historic America.

If you want to take in the story of our Nation, sign up for a tour from a company founded by two self-proclaimed professional history nerds! Historic America delivers their experiences through dynamic, multi-sensory storytelling that are fun for the whole family. Join a walk through the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery – America’s largest and most famous military burial ground. Or book the Millionaires, Mansions & Moonshine tour and learn about a time when rivers of illegal booze flowed through some of DC’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

5. Blue Fern Travel

Blue Fern Travel operates food tours in Washington, DC.

For those who love to “eat their way through a city” – a food tour is a must! Blue Fern takes you off the National Mall and into the neighborhoods where real Washingtonians live, work and most importantly, eat! On the U Street tour you’ll get a chance to sample diverse cuisines of cultures that call DC home. On the Georgetown tour you’ll experience DC’s oldest neighborhood and taste everything from handmade doughnuts to socially-conscious street food that helps feed refugees. If you want to make a day-trip to Old Town Alexandria they’ve got you covered there too. 

6 Common DC Myths and Misconceptions

April 19, 2020 in Blog

Most visitors from around the world see Washington, DC in TV and movies long before they step foot in the capital city. Since we meet so many visitors, tour guides hear a lot of DC myths and misconceptions. Here are six DC myths we’d like to put to rest.

Misconceptions about Washington DC

1. DC is just a bunch of government buildings.

This one couldn’t be further from the truth. Typically I hear this one when someone has just arrived into town and hasn’t ventured out past the National Mall yet.

Washington, DC is the seat of the U.S. government, so of course there are a lot of government buildings, but there are a lot of other things, too! Even downtown you’ll find plenty of hotels, restaurants, and private office buildings. 

I do recommend checking out some DC’s many neighborhoods, because you’ll get to see lots of things beyond the big government buildings. 

And since we’re on the topic of buildings, one DC myth straight out of Hollywood is that…

2. We all hang out at the Lincoln Memorial.

This one is pretty funny. In so many movies that are set in DC, there is at least one scene when the characters are hanging out at the Lincoln Memorial.

Now, tour guides like me go to the Lincoln Memorial all the time, but from the movies you would think we go there to drink our morning coffee or hang out with friends after work.

And while it is a cool spot to spend a few minutes on a nice day, we just don’t really go there all the time.

Speaking of nice days, another misconception is that…

3. DC weather is always nice.

Of all the DC myths, this is the one I take most personally. I honestly have no idea where this misconception comes from. Maybe it’s the fact that the most famous photos of DC are taken during cherry blossom season. Or at night.

Then again, maybe photographers just don’t take pictures of people sweating through their third shirt of the day in DC summer humidity.

Now, that’s not to say that DC never has nice weather. It’s just that it’s not consistently nice in the way that a city like San Diego is.

Washington, DC—like most places in the Mid-Atlantic region—has four distinct seasons. This means that depending on when you visit, you’ll either need to pack a coat or a lot of sunscreen. We have some spectacularly nice days in the spring and the fall, but the summer is reliably hot and humid.

There’s a lot to say on this topic, but if you’re looking to learn more, the Trip Hacks DC podcast already sat down with one of DC’s best meteorologists. It will give you the fullest picture of weather in DC.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s July and I need to go take my fourth shower of the day…

4. Everyone works in politics or government (or is a lawyer / lobbyist).

You could make these kinds of generalizations about just about any place and usually they’re not true. For example, everyone in Los Angeles is a Hollywood actor. Or everyone who lives in Iowa is a corn farmer. Or everyone in Houston is an oil baron. Obviously, all of these places have a diverse array of people who work all kinds of jobs.

In fact, when you visit DC, you will probably not interact with people who work in politics, law, or lobbying. You’ll mostly come across people in the service sector: your hotel staff, restaurant servers, and tour guides. 

Really the only time you’ll probably interact with someone who works in politics is if you sign up for a Capitol tour and it’s led by one of your Congress member’s interns.

Speaking of DC myths and politics…

5. We see the President all the time.

The reality is that once a president is in office, we almost never see him again. This is partly for security reasons, partly just because his schedule is packed. I got to see him exactly once: on the White House lawn when the Nationals won the World Series—and from such a distance that it was hard to even see him.

Washingtonians may have seen presidents in their hometown, but usually it’s when they were just candidates and on the campaign trail. 

And as far as campaigning for reelection, DC isn’t considered a “swing state,” so the President never really campaigns here in the city. 

So, if you’re looking to see the President in real life, your chances are actually much better if you live in Florida or Michigan than in the nation’s capital. 

Another related DC myth is that… 

6. DC is crazy on election day. 

Again, because there’s not much campaigning here, it’s really not crazy at all. It’s actually a pretty chill day. 

We go out and vote—for president if it’s a presidential year, but also for city council, school board, and any local issues that are on the ballot. Election night parties are also typically held in the city that the election winner calls their home. Not here in DC.

But while election day itself is pretty low-key, Inauguration Day in January is another story for another article.

5 Overrated DC Attractions That You Can Skip

March 1, 2020 in Blog

We already told you about our favorite free things that you can do in DC. Since then, people ask why certain sites didn’t make the list and why. To be clear: we’re not knocking any of these places. However, if your time in DC is limited, these are five overrated DC attractions that you can consider skipping or saving for a future trip.

Our Less Favorite Washington DC Sites

1. The White House

The White House is the President’s home and office. It’s one of the most important an famous buildings in the entire world! As such, it has intense security and it’s hard work to get tickets to go inside. If you don’t start planning months in advance, chances are that you’re not going to get tickets. In fact, we have an entire post explaining the White House ticket process and another on what to expect on your White House tour.

So why doesn’t this make the top ten list? The public tour of the White House is pretty limited. You do not get to see the Oval Office, the Situation Room, the Lincoln bedroom, or any of the stuff you know from Hollywood movies and shows. 

Even from the outside, it’s hard to get a good view these days. The National Park Service is replacing the six-and-a-half-foot fence with a 13-foot fence. In the meantime, you can’t even go up to the fence. The closest you can get from the south is the opposite side of E Street. So, while it’s cool to get to say you’ve been inside the White House, it takes a lot of effort for questionable payoff. 

However, the White House Visitor Center (which is across the street) is a cool little museum and doesn’t require reservations. Bonus: it’s open earlier than most attractions and has one of the cleanest public bathrooms around the National Mall.  

2. The Washington Monument

It would be almost impossible to visit Washington, DC and not get at least a view of the Washington Monument. But going to the top of the monument might be an overrated DC experience.

Now look, I’m not hating on good views. One World Trade Center, the Sears Tower, or just about any skyscraper with an observation deck, are all probably worth visiting to take in the view. But that’s the problem: the Washington Monument opened in the 1880s—well before observation decks were a tourist attraction. 

As a result, there is no floor-to-ceiling glass, no balcony with a glass floor, no bar—nothing like that. It’s just eight small windows, two facing in each direction.

And since it’s a small space, you do need a reservation. If you’re a planner, you can get them in advance on recreation.gov for a small processing fee. Otherwise, you have to visit the Washington Monument first thing in the morning for a timed entry pass. It’s a lot of effort.

An easier (and arguably cooler) alternative is the view from the Old Post Office Tower. It’s not as tall, but you can see the Capitol dome down Pennsylvania Ave and the Washington Monument. Best of all, you don’t need tickets; you can just walk up and go. We have a whole post on visiting the Old Post Office Tower that will give you pointers.

3. The Pentagon

When you see the Pentagon in the movies it’s always accompanied by aerial imagery and something really important is happening inside. In reality it’s an office building. In fact, it’s literally the world’s largest office building and not really a site or attraction like other things in DC.

Most people don’t even know that you can tour the Pentagon. Usually they discover it when they are on their Congress member’s website requesting tours of the Capitol or White House and it’s one of the other options listed. 

The tour takes about one hour, so for a building with three times as much floor space as the Empire State Building, you really don’t get to see a lot. I would say that if you’re a big military history buff or a veteran, then it could be worth your while. But if that’s not your thing, this might also be another overrated DC site.

4. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving

This is one of two “money factories” in the country. The other is in Fort Worth Texas. You can see money rolling off the printing presses. And, in theory, that is pretty cool. But as someone once told me, if you’ve seen money, and you’ve seen a printer, then you’ve pretty much seen the Bureau of Printing and Engraving

If you come during busy season, from March through September, you do need an advanced reservation or you need to make a special trip for a daily timed ticket. 

I will say that this is really popular with kids, so if you’re traveling to DC with kids, it might be worth it. But I personally find this to be an overrated DC attraction.

5. Supreme Court

Now, there are a few different ways you can visit the Supreme Court. If you’re in town when the court is in session, you can sit and watch oral arguments. And that is a really unique thing you’re never going to get to do anywhere else. 

But you do need to pay attention to the case schedule and will probably need to line up a few hours beforehand if you really want to do it. If you’re visiting on another day, you can do a self-guided walk around the building or listen to a courthouse lecture.

If you’re a lawyer, a law student, or just someone who is fascinated with the law, then this is very much worth it. However, most people are not lawyers, including myself, which is why I consider this an overrated DC attraction. 

Why You Should Stay in Downtown DC

February 16, 2020 in Blog

As you’re planning your trip to DC, there are plenty of great neighborhoods for you to stay. However, only one puts you front and center for the city’s most famous attractions: Downtown DC. Here’s everything you need to know about planning a stay in Downtown DC.

Stay DOWNTOWN when you Visit DC

Where Is Downtown DC?

Most people consider “downtown” to be the neighborhood directly surrounding the White House. This includes several blocks north, west, and then the few blocks east leading down to the National Mall. To give you an idea, check out the area highlighted in yellow on the map:

Downtown DC is home to the White House and is an ideal location for quick access to some of the city’s most interesting sights.

Getting Around

One of the best things about staying in Downtown DC is that it’s one of the easiest parts of the city to get around. There are four easily-accessible metro stations: Farragut West, McPherson Square, Metro Center and Federal Triangle.

The Circulator bus also has several routes that conveniently run through the area. The Georgetown to Union Station route runs straight through downtown on K Street. The Woodley Park to McPherson Square route takes you from McPherson Square almost all the way up to the Smithsonian National Zoo

And if it’s a nice day and you’re up for it, you can walk. Downtown DC is centrally located so sites like the Smithsonians, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and many others are 1-2 miles or less.

Who Lives in Downtown DC?

People who live downtown typically live here because they really value the convenience. Almost all of the housing is in multi-family buildings and there are almost no individual houses. So this isn’t an area where you expect to see a lot of large families. There’s a good reason for that: $$$$$. Downtown DC is an incredibly expensive area to live.

To give you a sense of what it costs, a 1-bedroom condo in this building sold last year for $500,000, plus an additional $500 per month condo fee.

If you prefer to rent, the asking price for a 1-bedroom apartment in this building is $2,700. 

Needless to say, Downtown DC is not a cheap area.

Hotel Options

For visitors, the good news is that there are a ton of hotel options downtown—probably more than anywhere else in the city. So you have plenty of choices.

(Note: All of the hotels we recommend are places where we would send our own mothers—or stay if our own apartments flooded. That said, if you do book through the affiliate links below, Trip Hacks DC will earn a small commission.)

First on the list (if you can swing it) is the Willard Hotel. This hotel has come up in several Trip Hacks DC podcast episodes because there is a ton of history associated with it. Of course, the Willard today is not the same brick and mortar that Abe Lincoln stayed in the night before his inauguration—but it’s still a pretty cool claim to fame. Plus, the Round Robin Bar is one of the coolest spots in the city to grab a drink.

Apart from its great history, the location is pretty unbeatable. You’re a two minute walk to the White House, an eight minute walk to the Natural History Museum and a five minute walk to Metro Center, which gives you access to four different Metro lines.

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, I also recommend the Homewood Suites Downtown. It’s farther from the metro, but walkable to a ton of things—like an abundance of restaurants and bars on 14th Street.

One of the best things about Homewood Suites is that it comes with continental breakfast and coffee, making life easy and saving you money. It also has an evening social hour with free snacks, beer and wine.

What to Eat in Downtown DC

The most famous restaurant downtown—and perhaps in the entire city— is the Old Ebbitt Grill. It’s on 15th Street right across the from the White House and a block up from the Willard Hotel. It has a reputation as an institutional restaurant with a lot of history, but the food is actually really tasty, too.

One of Old Ebbit’s most famous offerings are their oysters. They even offer half price oysters during oyster happy hour throughout the week. If you’re in DC the Friday and Saturday before Thanskgiving, you can join them for their “Oyster Riot,” where “nearly 1000 people devour tens of thousands of oysters while enjoying the gold medal winners of the International Wines for Oysters Competition and grooving to some awesome tunes.”

If you’re looking for cheap eats, District Taco, one of our favorites, has a restaurant in this area. So does Takorean, another one of our personal favorites. 

Since this is an area with a lot of office workers, it has generally very good lunch options, including the GCDC Grilled Cheese Bar, which we really like. And if you do want breakfast, there’s Wicked Waffle, which is one of the places featured in the $20 per day challenge

For more information about eating well on your trip, make sure to check out the Trip Hacks DC podcast episode on this topic. 

Things to Do in Downtown DC

The best thing about staying downtown is that it’s close to seemingly everything. Of course, the most famous attraction is the White House—but aside from stopping by to see it from the outside, and maybe taking the tour, you’re not going to spend much time there.

If you’re physically up for it, you can walk down to the monuments and the museums. You can walk up 14th Street for amazing restaurants—or to the west for a game or concert at Capital One Arena.

If you’re into theater, the Warner Theater and National Theater are both in this area. And if you like to do shopping on your vacation there are a bunch of stores over by the Metro Center station. 

In all, if you’re looking for a convenient place to stay in DC that puts the whole city at your fingertips, it’s hard to beat Downtown DC.

Taxes in Washington DC: What Visitors Need to Know

February 2, 2020 in Blog

Taxes may not seem like the most riveting subject in the world, but when you travel it’s important to understand how taxes in Washington, DC will affect you. In this post we’ll cover the taxes that tourists will pay in the course of their visit. So, here’s everything you need to know about taxes in Washington, DC.

Quick disclaimer: these numbers are accurate as of 2020 but be aware that tax rates could change in the future.

TAXES that DC Visitors Pay

Hotel Taxes in Washington, DC

The first tax that almost all Washington, DC visitors will experience is the Hotel/Transient Accommodations tax. It is currently 14.95%. Hotels in the U.S. do not include the tax in the advertised room rate. So if you find a hotel in DC listed for $150 per night, you will actually pay $172.43 per night. 

And I know what you’re thinking… but no, you can’t avoid this tax by staying in an Airbnb instead. A few years ago Airbnb was not subject to this tax, but those good old days are gone.

Relax—This Tax is Everywhere

It’s easy to get upset about hotel taxes, but remember that every city has high hotel taxes. Why? Well, it’s an easy political sell for the city council; the city gets to raise money but doesn’t have to tax its own residents.

There are actually a lot of cities with higher hotel taxes that we have. According to the HVS Lodging Tax Report, Washington, DC isn’t even in the top 50 U.S. cities for hotel taxes. For example:

  • In Philadelphia, the tax is 15.5%.
  • In Columbus, OH it’s 17.5%.
  • And in Omaha, NE it’s 20.5%. 

So comparatively, a trip to DC isn’t bad at all. 

Sales Tax in Washington, DC

Washington, DC has sales tax, just like you probably do back home. Sales tax in DC is a little complicated, because there are different tax rates depending on the category of items that you buy.

The general sales tax is 6%. This covers most merchandise that you’d buy at a regular store. In other words, if you walk into a gift shop and buy a souvenir t-shirt for $20, you’ll pay $21.20.

But there are exceptions. Groceries are not taxed, nor are medications. That means that if you go into a grocery store and buy bananas and bottle of ibuprofen, you won’t pay any tax on that. 

Food and Alcohol Have Their Own Taxes in Washington, DC

However, some sales taxes are higher than the general 6%. Alcohol is taxed at 10.25%. So if you go to a liquor store and buy a bottle of wine that’s marked $10, the total price will be $11.03. 

When you go to a restaurant, the tax on your meal is 10%. So if you spend $100 at a nice restaurant, the subtotal will be $110. I say subtotal because that doesn’t account for the tip; you can check out this article if you’d like to learn more about tipping etiquette in Washington, DC

Alcohol is also taxed at 10% when purchased at a bar or restaurant. That means it’s technically cheaper, tax-wise, to drink out. Then again, it’s really not because the drinks are marked up so much.

Taxes on Sporting Events and Merchandise

If you’re attending a game or event at Nationals Park or Capital One Arena, you will pay a 10.25% tax on tickets and anything you buy inside. Now this is one of the rare cases when the tax is usually folded into the listed price. So when you buy a baseball ticket for $20, the actual price is $18.14 plus tax.

The same goes for food and drinks. That $12 beer inside the ballpark is actually $10.88 plus tax. However, if you go to the team store to buy merchandise, the tax is usually not included in the price. So be prepared that a $100 jersey for your favorite player will ring up at $110.25.

Pro tip: You can save on taxes and overall price if you don’t buy merchandise inside the team stores. Instead you can use an authorized seller like Fanatics and have it shipped to your home. If you sign up for their email alerts you can find some good deals, too. 

Bar Taxes in Washington, DC

One more place where you sometimes see tax included in the price is at bars. This is becoming less and less common. It made more sense back when people paid with cash, because making change with bills is much easier for bartenders than with coins. These days so many people pay with credit cards that this isn’t as much of a concern.

And before you get too stressed out, here’s a little hack to make things a little easier: Whenever you go to buy something, calculate 10% of the value in your head and add that to the price. In many cases the tax will be less than 10% (or maybe a fraction more), but this will give you a good sense of roughly the maximum that you will pay for something. 

What’s the Best Time to Visit Washington, DC?

January 5, 2020 in Blog

Okay, so I’ll end the suspense right now. There is no single best month of the year to visit. That’s because each month of the year is great (but for different reasons). That’s why we’ve done a whole blog series on the pros and cons of each month. So now that we’ve covered all 12 months of the year, we thought we’d go back, reflect, and let you decide for yourself which you think is the best time to visit Washington, DC.

The BEST Month to Visit Washington DC

January: Time for Snow (Maybe)

January is the best time to visit Washington, DC if you want the best chance to see snow. Washington, DC has four diverse seasons, and if you’re interested in the weather, our podcast episode with Jason from the Capital Weather Gang is a great in-depth weather discussion.

But a word of warning: it’s not actually that snowy in Washington, DC. In a typical winter we get about a foot and a half of snow. Still, the month with the most snow, on average, is January. So if you want the best chance to have a snowball fight near the Lincoln Memorial, January is the time of year.

February: Nice and Quiet

February is the best month of the year if you hate crowds. Simply put, people generally do not come to Washington, DC in February. Some people think it will be too cold to have fun—which couldn’t be further from the truth. But mostly people don’t come because the kids are in school and spring break isn’t for another month. 

But if you want to come and have the museums, monuments, and big sites mostly to yourself, February is the best time to visit Washington, DC. 

March: Spring in Bloom

March is the best month for celebrating the beginning of spring. Spring officially starts around March 20th, which is also the day that the National Cherry Blossom Festival usually begins. 

Even if you’re too early for the blossoms, we have magnolias and other flowing trees that look really nice. And if you come after the 20th you can check out the Cherry Blossom Festival events and festivities

April: Cherry Blossoms

April is the best month if you want to see the actual cherry blossoms in bloom. Now I have to warn that there is no guarantee they will be in bloom in April. If we have a warm winter, they might come out in March. But on average, peak bloom typically happens around the first week in April. 

If you want information about the blossoms or the National Cherry Blossom Festival, I recommend this Trip Hacks DC podcast episode with one of the festival staff. 

May: Great Weather

May is the best month to come if you want reliable spring weather. March and April can be kind of a gamble. Even though it’s spring, you might still run into a chilly day or a windy day. May typically has the most reliable spring weather.

So if you’re looking for sun and warmth but not heat, then May is the best time to visit Washington, DC.

June: Lots of Daylight

June is the best month if you like long days. The summer solstice is on June 20th and sunset on that date isn’t until 8:37pm. So if you like to be outdoors or go to a ballgame and enjoy the sun, this is the month for you.

July: Summer Fun

July is the best month for summer fun. Of course Independence Day is on July 4th. But this is the best chance to do all the summer-specific stuff, like Jazz in the Garden, outdoor movie nights, and evening military concerts at the Capitol

August: Cheap Hotels

August is the best month if you like good hotel deals. August is one of the cheapest months of the year because there is very little business or conference travel happening in DC. The last week of the month is usually one of the cheapest weeks of the year, so if your kids go back to school after Labor Day, this is a great time to come visit. 

It’s also a little less busy. Many folks who live in DC take their own family vacations in August. What’s more, Congress is on recess, and there generally isn’t a lot happening business-wise.

September: Low Humidity

September is the best month if you like heat but not humidity. I will be the first to admit that summer here can be pretty miserable because of the high humidity in June, July, and August.

But once September starts to roll around, the humidity starts to drop off. Since the temperature is still pretty summerlike, it’s a nice balance. 

October: Fall Colors

October is the best time to visit Washington, DC if you want to see changing leaves. I will caveat this, though, by saying that the leaves only really start to change in the second half of the month. Also, even that has a lot to do with environmental factors, like the temperature in September and the amount of precipitation.

But if you’re really looking to see the fall colors, consider the end of October a good time to visit DC. 

November: Weather and Hotel Deals

November is the best month if you like crisp fall air.

Most DC tour guides are huge fans of November. After sweating and fighting through the peak tour season of the summer, it’s a thrill to put on a jacket and go and give tours.

The week of Thanksgiving is also a great week to visit because hotels are very cheap. Lots of people travel for Thanksgiving, but nobody is traveling for work, which pushes hotel prices way down.

December: Holiday Cheer

December is the best month if you’re in the holiday spirit. If you love Christmas trees, lights, and everything else related to the holidays, it’s nice and festive around here. 

We have a ton of resources about the holidays in DC, like five things to do during the holidays, less touristy holiday attractions, and even what to do on Christmas Day. So be sure to check those out if you’re considering visiting DC for the holiday cheer.

Food Courts in Washington DC: What You Need to Know

December 22, 2019 in Blog

Our nation’s capital has an overwhelming number of great restaurants. But sometimes just need something quick, convenient and easy. And it doesn’t get quicker, easier, or more convenient than the food courts in Washington, DC.

Now bear in mind that, if you visit during 8th grade field trip season, all of these food courts are going to be mobbed with 13-year-olds. Especially during the lunch rush. So if hordes of adolescents aren’t your preferred lunch guests, try to come during off-peak hours.

Best FOOD COURTS to Eat in Washington DC

The Food Court at Union Station

Union Station actually has a good number of food options. There are a few on the upper-level, near where you catch trains. These are more upscale options, like Shake Shack, Magnolia Bakery, and Chopt. But if you’re looking for the actual food court, that’s one level down. 

If you’ve been to your local mall food court recently, you generally know what to expect. My personal favorite place to eat here is &Pizza. It’s a popular recommendation here at Trip Hacks DC and we’ve mentioned in several of our previous blog posts, including our best cheap eats guide. Every pie is made-to-order and delicious.

Eat at National Place

Much to our regret, this food court has closed since we made this video. But don’t worry—there are plenty of other great places to grab a bite. Keep reading 😉.

The Food Court at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

This is a federal government building, so in order to eat here you have to pass through metal detectors and security. It shouldn’t take long, but if you’re on a tight schedule, be sure to factor in a few extra minutes.

There are about 20 eateries here—generally all very standard food court options. There’s a particularly great place called Nook. It’s got an eclectic mix of food and is a little more adventurous than your typical food court spot. 

Café at USDA Headquarters

This one gets an honorable mention. It’s technically more of a cafeteria than a food court, but it’s a great weekday lunch option. If you’re looking for an up-close-and-personal look, you can watch our video on it.

The Food Court at L’Enfant Plaza

This is the only one of the food courts in Washington, DC that’s located south of the National Mall. So it’s convenient if you’re exploring the Air and Space Museum, Hirshhorn Museum, or if you’re staying on that side of the city. 

L’Enfant Plaza is actually split into two food courts. The first is closer to the Metro station—then down a long hallway, there’s another that’s close to the International Spy Museum

Of all the food courts, I think this is my favorite because it has two of my favorite eateries: Roti and Maizal. Roti is located in the part closer to the Metro station and it serves Mediterranean bowls. You can learn more in one of our $20 challenge video series.  

At the other end of the food court you can find Maizal, a restaurant that advertises itself as South American Street Food. As far as I know, there aren’t many South American street food places around, so Maizal is a rare gem. If you’re on a budget or not that hungry, they have arepas for about five dollars. I usually get a rice bowl, which may cost a little more but is very filling and worth it.

Bonus Trip Hack for Food Courts in Washington, DC

Here’s a pro tip: Many of the fast-casual eateries at food courts in Washington, DC use the Level Up app, which can offer significant discounts as you’re eating out in DC. Here’s a little primer on how to get started and some examples of restaurants that use Level Up.

Things to Do in DC on Christmas Day

December 15, 2019 in Blog

The holidays are a wonderful time to visit Washington, DC. We have several blog posts with ideas for holiday things to do, less touristy Christmas activities, and an entire podcast on the holiday season in DC, so be sure to check those out.

However, this article is specific to one single day: Christmas Day in DC. Christmas Day deserves its own post because it’s one of the only days of the year when a significant number of things in DC are closed, so you need to be strategic with your plans.

Christmas DAY in Washington DC

How to Get Around DC on Christmas Day

Let’s start with transportation. Metro runs 365 days per year, so it will be open and operating on Christmas day. However, Metro will reduce the service down to holiday levels, which means there can be long waits for trains. But, on the plus side, there probably won’t be any track maintenance, so it will likely be more reliable than on a typical weekend day. 

You can still hail a cab, Uber, or Lyft; there will always be some drivers who elect to work on Christmas day. As another option, Capital Bikeshare also operates every day of the year. And of course, if you’re staying downtown, you can still walk to your destination if you’re up for it. 

Where to Eat in DC on Christmas Day

Next, let’s talk about where you’re going to eat. Start by assuming that most restaurants will not open at all on Christmas Day. That said, there will be some Starbucks locations that will open, so you can check the Starbucks app or website to find one. But for sit-down restaurants—or even fast casual restaurants—most of them will take the day off. 

With that in mind, I recommend going on OpenTable and Resy a few weeks before Christmas to see who is open, then make reservations as soon as you can. Also, so you’re aware, some restaurants will switch to fixed menus on Christmas to make things easier for their kitchen staff. That means you may not see every dish on the menu, but there could be some fun holiday specials.

What to Do in DC on Christmas Day

Smithsonian Museums are open 364 days per year (barring a government shutdown, pandemic or weather emergency). In other words, every day except this one. The same goes for the National Gallery of Art and most other museums. Likewise, the Capitol and Library of Congress will be closed, as will many other federal sites.

One big exception is the U.S. Botanic Garden, which hosts the awesome Seasons Greetings exhibit. However, be warned: this attraction does get pretty crowded. Since everyone in town is looking for something to do on Christmas Day, most of them wind up here.  

If you have transportation to Northern Virginia, Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Home, is open on Christmas Day and a very festive place to be. Keep in mind that Mount Vernon is a private historic site, so it charges an entrance fee, but it’s well worth the price of admission.

The Benefits of Being in DC on Christmas

Back in the city, monuments and memorials on the National Mall are always open. If you’re a photographer, this is a chance to get photos with almost no bystanders in the way—or just enjoy the sites with much less traffic.

Unfortunately, most tour companies usually don’t operate on Christmas. Trip Hacks DC tours take the day off for the holiday. But there are a handful of companies that still operate, so if you really want to do one, you can check their operating calendars or contact them in advance. 

Lastly, Christmas is a great day to just stroll around some of DC’s neighborhoods and enjoy the city in peace while no one else is out and about.