1. Where to Stay
Get a heavy dose of whimsy at The Mansion on O Street (from $350), where 32 guest rooms are hidden behind secret doors and pivoting bookcases, and each one is individually decorated with an eclectic collection of cultural artifacts. If space is what you’re after, book the duplex suite that re-creates an entire cabin, complete with a log staircase, Frederic Remington cowboy sculptures, cowhide rugs, and a wooden Jacuzzi.
Stay in the District’s sleekest option, Thompson Hotels’ Donovan House (from $159), where rooms are decked out with egg-shaped Studio Gaia lounge chairs and the rooftop pool deck serves cocktails and small plates from Susur Lee’s Zentan until 2 a.m. Explore nearby Logan Circle’s booming art scene, home to indie galleries like Long View Gallery, a warehouse space showcasing glass-and-light sculptures from Washington Glass School through June 19.
Find a homier atmosphere at the Asanté Sana (from $115), recently opened inside a private row house in up-and-coming Columbia Heights, home to a burgeoning bar and restaurant scene where you’ll never see tourists. Book the spacious W.E.B. Du Bois suite for the best south-facing morning light, and enjoy a complimentary basket of muffins, popcorn, and chocolate.
2. Where to Eat
Snag an online reservation for Hush ($75, BYOB), a twice-a-month supper club held in a private U Street-area townhouse, where traditional Jain-style Indian cuisine—rich vegetarian fare like fried puffed rice topped with tamarind, chutney, and vegetables—is served with an evening of Indian storytelling. Reservations should be made several weeks in advance, but you can check the Twitter feed for news of last-minute cancellations.
Sit at the bar at Proof, where selections from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection (e.e. cummings’s self-portrait, Noli Novak’s images of Oprah Winfrey) display on video screens above a system that serves 32 wine varietals with the push of a button. You can pair your wine choices with eclectic small plates of kabocha pumpkin gnocchi ($14) and a pho-inspired terrine ($8), or move into the dining room for a full dinner menu.
Taste refined takes on southern cuisine at Eatonville, where hush puppies ($8) are filled with a fondue of rock shrimp and leeks. Inspired by writer Zora Neale Hurston and named after her Florida hometown, the restaurant is swathed in colorful murals based on her books, and the monthly Food and Folklore series keeps her legacy alive with talks from journalists and authors.
3. What to Do
Track down the art scene’s flavor of the moment at A Pop-Up Project, a roving mini-museum (free) that debuts a new exhibit at a different location each month. A just-shuttered boutique at 1781 Florida Avenue in Adams Morgan is the site through May, showcasing portraits of boxers and musicians by photographer Jules Arthur, who counts Jay-Z among his collectors.
Stay up all night at BloomBars, a nonprofit event space in Columbia Heights that showcases everything from capoeira and belly dance performances to hip-hop open mikes. Check out the Sunrise Cinema series, held on the last Saturday of each month, which screens indie movies after the other bars have closed, from 2:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.
Shop for jarred unicorn burps, cans of primordial soup, and saber-tooth dental floss at the Museum of Unnatural History, a prehistoric-themed exhibition space that displays taxidermy dinosaurs, surrealist dioramas, and other invented artifacts from mythical explorers’ trips to the ends of the earth. The museum raises funds for 826DC, the local arm of Dave Eggers’s nonprofit organization dedicated to helping young writers.
Go to an official museum and still have fun at the National Pinball Museum ($13), which opened last December in Georgetown. Its interactive exhibits offer a surprisingly exhaustive history of American pop culture, containing everything from wooden arcade games from the thirties to a special edition 3-D Avatar machine, which is set up for play on the third weekend of every month.
4. Insider’s Tip
The best way to get to Washington is by skipping airports, Amtrak, and sketchy Chinatown buses altogether. Book a round-trip ticket ($45) on TheknowitExpress, a new independent bus line that offers weekend service from Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal to D.C.’s trendy U Street. In addition to location, savvy young travelers also ride for on-board amenities like bike storage, free Wi-Fi, and a laptop that passengers can borrow throughout the trip.
5. Oddball Day
Escape the northwest quadrant for the historic Anacostia neighborhood, on the other side of the Capitol, for a glimpse at ungentrified D.C. Outside the Anacostia Metro stop, pick up your ride for the day from Capital Bike Share (from $5; check availability online in advance), then wake up with breakfast at Big Chair Coffee, where the Marion Barry latte ($4.50) contains three shots of espresso. Then peddle up the hill to the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, where National Park Service rangers offer an in-depth primer on the abolitionist’s life while touring his stately home (free, check times online). Next, bike over to Fort Stanton Overlook (1600 Morris Road SE, behind Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church) for a sweeping, completely tourist-free vista of the skyline before moving on to the Smithsonian’s least-visited outpost, the Anacostia Community Museum (free), which features exhibits about contemporary urban communities and live jazz on various Sundays. Across the street, the quirky Anacostia Art Gallery and Boutique sells wearable art and African crafts. Lunch on fried haddock sandwiches with sweet potato fries ($12.95) at Uniontown Bar & Grill, then cross the Potomac and ride six miles up the newly built Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, a public 700-acre compound where you’ll find rare wildflowers, water lilies, and lotuses. Return your bike to the Eastern Market Metro station, where nearby DC-3 fills a local void for cheap eats with its hot dogs topped with Old Bay and crab dip ($5.99). Afterward you can get buzzed on whiskey-laced milkshakes ($8) at Ted’s Bulletin, a retro-style diner a few doors down.
We Love D.C. covers arts and culture events in neighborhoods far from the tourist crowds.
Find out where the cool kids party at Brightest Young Things, an online guide to Washington’s music and nightlife scene.
Scope out the latest restaurant openings on Metrocurean, an obsessive guide to everything edible in the District.
Download the Ride DC Metro iPhone app to navigate the system and see when the next train will arrive at any station.