Like most people, my visits to Washington, D.C. have been of the educational variety: a class trip when I was in middle school, a one day visit for the 2004 March of Women's Lives. When it came to our country's capital, my view was limited to monuments, monuments, and more monuments. So while everyone else was busy celebrating Obama's re-election back in November, I got to thinking about Washington, D.C. That is, the new D.C. Is there more to the city than what I saw back when a Clinton was in a White House? To find out, I took Amtrak down from New York City (riding the train is definitely the most civilized form of travel--hello, there's internet!) and explored our capital without the help of a teacher or counselor. The result? While we're not swearing in a new president this Monday, there are lots of cool spots being inaugurated into the city's cultural landscape.
1pm: Pull into Union Station, pick up your luggage, and head over to the Donovan House (1155 14th Street Northwest). The Kimpton Hotels property, which reopened in 2008, is a far cry from the blah convention center-style hotels that dot the city; instead, you get space age chairs in the lobby, sleek--but spacious--rooms, and Dean & DeLuca snacks in the mini bar in case you get homesick (or hungry).
3pm: For a quick afternoon bite, stop by Protein Bar (398 7th Street Northwest), which somehow takes the foods you crave--like burritos--and turns them into shockingly healthy alternatives. Why there isn't a Protein Bar outside of Chicago or Washington, D.C., I don't know--but in between bites of my quinoa-stuffed "bar-rito" I thought long and hard about opening a branch around the corner from the NYLON office. (Protein Bar: if you're reading this, call me!)
4pm: Head towards the Hirshhorn Museum (700 Independence Avenue Southwest), which from the outside looks like a nuclear power plant but inside is home to the Smithsonian's modern and contemporary art collection. There is lots to see, but start your visit with Ai Weiwei: According to What?, which is on view through February 24. The exhibit is a career-spanning retrospective of the Chinese artist's visually--and politically--stimulating career. Best of all? You get to see your tax dollars hard at work--the museum is totally free.
8pm: For dinner, stay close to home and saddle up to a table at Zentan (1155 14th Street Northwest)heist , which is next door to the Donovan House. Barely three years old, the well-appointed restaurant touts Susur Lee (aka the guy who was on Top Chef Masters) as its head chef. The Asian crudo is, across the board, delicious, but don't miss the Singapore Slaw. I'm still daydreaming about that one. If you're heading there for the inauguration, make a reservation for Monday night--the restaurant is hosting a party, with a $44 three-course tasting menu and special cocktails (such as a Rye-whiskey-absinthe concoction dubbed No. 44).
11pm: There are many reasons to make Heist (1802 Jefferson Place Northwest) your late-night destination--bottles of champagne are delivered with sparklers shooting out the end, bullets are encased in the bar top, and the entire space is meant to feel like a bank vault--but the biggest one in my book were the golden toilets. Yes, you read that right: there are bling toilets at Heist. Also, really good music; the night I was there, the DJ went from "These Boots Are Made For Walking" to "Walk It Out."
11am: The only thing that could make getting up this early on Sunday worthwhile would be DGS Delicatessen (1317 Connecticut Avenue Northwest). The Jewish deli-style spot, which opened last year and just began serving brunch before the holidays, features the sorts of food my grandma makes, only better (shhh, don't tell grandma). Tuck into stylized dishes like the Benedictberg (like an eggs benedict, only with DGS smoked salmon on a latke) or a DGS pastrami sandwich. There's also a to-go sandwich shop and a full-service bar downstairs, should you sleep until the afternoon and miss out on daylight hours.
1pm: I'm not one for hokey experiences, but the International Spy Museum (800 F Street Northwest) is actually really cool. Leave yourself ample time to wander--in addition to the main installation, which I could have spent the entire day at, there's also the special Bond Villain-inspired exhibit, Exquisitely Evil, which runs for a limited time. Just be warned: Once you leave the museum, you'll become convinced that everyone you pass on the street is most definitely a Russian spy.
4pm: Head back to Union Station and get on your train--you've just done the new D.C. in less than 48 hours!
The Ai Weiwei: According to What? exhibit at The Hirshhorn Museum
The space age-y lobby at the Donovan House
DGS Delicatessen from the outside
A lipstick gun at the International Spy Museum
An inside look at Heist
Heist, which is designed to look like a bank vault
An outside look at the International Spy Museum
The bagel and lox and DGS Delicatessen