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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

36 hours in Washington, DC

A scene at the Wharf district in Washington on Nov. 5, 2023. Washington has seen its demographics shift drastically in recent decades, bringing both positive and negative effects of gentrification.

By Shayla Martin

At times, Washington, D.C., can feel like a tale of two cities: Politicians and temporary dwellers versus multigenerational residents fighting to hold on to their piece of the district. Once known as Chocolate City because of its predominantly African American population, Washington has seen its demographics shift drastically in recent decades, bringing both positive and negative effects of gentrification. The second phase of a $3.6 billion development of the Wharf district has contributed a new Pendry luxury hotel and splashy dining destinations, all against the backdrop of skyrocketing living costs (only recently cooling), increased crime and ongoing questions of cultural identity. Even in this time of transition, Washington is still a hub of art, history and social-justice leadership, and is home to many of the best free museums and monuments in the world.



4:30 p.m. | Cruise the monuments

Some may write it off as a cheesy tourist activity, but more Washingtonians could benefit from a relaxing sunset cruise of the Potomac River. Departing from the revitalized (and some local residents may say heavily gentrified) Wharf district, City Experiences’ bright-yellow water taxis head out five times a day for the Monuments Tour From the Wharf ($22 one way, $35 round trip). The 90-minute round-trip tour, with audio narration, covers sites too difficult to see on foot in one weekend: the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial (which is stunning when lit up at night), the behemoth John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the notorious Watergate complex and the Georgetown waterfront.

6:30 p.m. | Shop local

Back at the Wharf, drop into Shop Made in DC, which spotlights Washington-based artisans. You’ll find “202” (the city’s area code) and “The District vs Congress” T-shirts by Bailiwick Clothing, illustrated maps of local neighborhoods by Terratorie, and tiny onesies covered in cherry blossoms by Mirasa Design. Then stroll to Ilili, a Lebanese restaurant on the waterfront with colorful fixtures made in Lebanon, such as laser-cut metal doves suspended from the ceiling and dining chairs with handsewn floral designs. You’ll see local twists on the cuisine, such as the hummus ($13) that can be topped with Maryland blue crab falafel ($8). Don’t miss the fried Brussels sprouts with grapes and mint yogurt ($18), and a plate of riz (Lebanese rice, toasted vermicelli, Marcona almonds and cashews, $11) to accompany the heaping mixed grill for two ($76). Book a week ahead.

10 p.m. | Sip sake on a rooftop

At Moonraker, the rooftop bar at the Pendry Washington D.C. hotel, the drinking starts on the way up. On weekend evenings, a host leads guests to the dedicated Moonraker elevator, where an elegant cart with self-serve, free sake samples, mixed sake beverages and ochokos (ceramic sake cups) await. At the penthouse level, a stately circular bar serves bites such as a spicy tuna roll topped with gold-leaf flecks ($23) and karaage-style fried chicken ($26) alongside more sake and signature cocktails with Japanese spirits (from $22). Enjoy your drink while curled up by one of two outdoor fire pits overlooking the Potomac River.


9 a.m. | Explore a Museum

The Potomac River, which separates Washington from Virginia, may be more famous, but the banks of the Anacostia River is where many local residents go for peaceful waterside views without the National Mall crowds. From Nationals Park, which is the Major League Baseball stadium, stroll across the pedestrian-friendly Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge that connects the paved Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to Anacostia Park. From there, take a short ride-share to the recently renovated Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum (free), which shares the stories of everyday people making changes in their communities. The current exhibition, “To Live and Breathe: Women and Environmental Justice in Washington, D.C.,” which runs through Jan. 7, highlights the role women of color have played in the fight for environmental rights. Interactive activities invite guests to make their own protest buttons and write a prayer for those lost to environmental harms.

11:30 a.m. | Tour a historic site

When Turning Natural opened its first location in 2015, it was one of the few health-centric food places to open in Ward 8, a historically underfunded, majority Black area known to be a food desert. The business is now a community staple with six locations. Grab a smoothie or a cold-pressed juice (from $6.25), then walk 10 minutes to Cedar Hill, more formally known as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, a historic house and estate atop a hill overlooking the city. Abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass lived here from 1877 until his death in 1895. Join a guided tour (free, or $1 if reserved online) led by National Park rangers to see inside, where many of Douglass’ original possessions remain, like his collection of fine china (a source of pride, according to guides, after being forced to eat from a horse trough while enslaved) and the family piano (Douglass usually accompanied with his violin).

2 p.m. | Hit a Japanese food hall

Japan and Washington have long had a connection, as the famed cherry trees along the National Mall, a gift from the country in 1912, remind us when they blossom each year. Love, Makoto adds to that relationship. The new 20,000-square-foot Japanese food hall (a quick ride from Anacostia) from chef Makoto Okuwa offers three full-service concepts: Dear Sushi, an omakase experience; Beloved Barbecue, a high-end steakhouse; and Hiya Izakaya, a sleek bar serving whiskey highballs and charcoal-grilled skewers. There’s also a fourth fast-casual option: a light-filled dining hall called Love on the Run, with touch-screen menus for ordering grab-and-go salads, sushi rolls, ramen bowls and sandwiches. Try the salmon-and-avocado roll with yuzu mayo ($18), or the fried-chicken sandwich, dripping with shiso coleslaw and teriyaki sauce, and served with fries ($16).

4:30 p.m. | Go for a mind-bender

With so many free museums in Washington, the notion of paying for one might not immediately appeal. But the Museum of Illusions Washington (adult admission, $23.95; children, $18.95), which opened last year, is a fun, interactive option for all ages amid the history and science-focused institutions. Although the concept exists in more than 40 locations, including Paris, New York and Madrid, this iteration’s 50 mind-bending optical illusions, games and brain teasers feature Washington-specific displays, including a mural of George Washington, whose eyes follow you wherever you walk, and the Instagram-friendly Reversed Room where you appear to stroll on the ceiling of a Washington Metro car. In the Tilted Room, you can lean almost as far as Michael Jackson in the “Smooth Criminal” video, and in the Vortex Tunnel, swirling lights trick you into thinking the floor is moving.

7 p.m. | Dine with a son of Spain

Since starting his first restaurant, Jaleo, in Washington 30 years ago, chef José Andrés has opened another three dozen establishments, and also created the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which has served millions of meals to the needy. Andrés is from Spain, but Washington is his adopted hometown. In February, he deepened those roots with the Bazaar by José Andrés, a new Spanish restaurant within the glamorous, Romanesque-style Old Post Office building (now the Waldorf Astoria Washington D.C.). The menu has more than 45 dishes, so if decision-making is hard, opt for the 13-course Bazaar Experience tasting menu ($150). The trippy Ferran Adrià “liquid olives” (a gel-like sphere of olive juice that pops in your mouth), from Andrés’ days at the legendary, now-closed restaurant El Bulli, are a highlight. Reservations highly recommended.


9 a.m. | Breakfast of crabcakes

There are few things more peak Washington on a Sunday morning than a trip to Eastern Market in Capitol Hill. Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, this national landmark is one of the few historic public market buildings left in Washington and the only one still operating. In its outdoor section, peruse fresh produce from area farmers such as Agora Farms and Gardeners Gourmet, sold alongside vibrant artwork from the local painter Cherif Mamadou and handcrafted cutting boards from Blue Ridge Cutting Board Co. Inside the market hall, get in line for the crabcakes Benedict ($22.95) at the Market Lunch food counter. It’ll be worth the wait. There’s a long, communal bar table for dining.

11 a.m. | Champion women in arts

The first major museum in the United States dedicated to female artists, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in downtown Washington, reopened in October after a two-year renovation. The museum, in a former Masonic temple built in 1908, now offers expanded gallery space for more than 6,000 works by women and nonbinary artists that span five centuries and six continents (admission, $16). Themed collections such as “Heavyweight,” intended to dispel assumptions that female artists use more delicate materials than men, feature large sculptures such as Chakaia Booker’s “Acid Rain,” a textured work of shredded rubber tires and wood. The “In Focus” theme showcases women at the forefront of photography; there you’ll find the stop-in-your-tracks “Bullets Revisited #3,” a large-scale photo triptych by Moroccan American photographer Lalla Essaydi, whose henna-covered model poses among thousands of golden bullet casings.


The Wharf, Washington’s rapidly changing waterfront area, overlooks the Potomac River and features a fish market, local boutiques, restaurants and music venues.

Anacostia Community Museum highlights social issues in the Anacostia neighborhood and African American neighborhoods around the country. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s biggest museum complex.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, also called Cedar Hill, is the restored 19th-century estate of the abolitionist and orator.

The Bazaar by José Andrés is the whimsical, fine-dining culmination of the Spanish chef José Andrés’ 30 years in Washington.


The Market Lunch is the counter-service breakfast and lunch restaurant within Eastern Market that is known for its crabcakes.

Love, Makoto is a 20,000-square-foot Japanese food hall with a steakhouse, an omakase, an izakaya and a grab-and-go cafeteria.

Ilili is an upscale Lebanese restaurant at the Wharf, known for its hummus, offered with a variety of toppings, and duck shawarma.

Moonraker, the rooftop bar at the new Pendry Washington D.C. hotel, serves sake and Japanese cocktails while overlooking Virginia and the Potomac River.

Turning Natural serves fresh-pressed juices, smoothies and plant-based bites in underserved communities, including in the Anacostia neighborhood.


Pendry Washington D.C. — The Wharf is a nautically tinged, luxury boutique hotel with arguably the best outdoor swimming pool and terrace in town. Rooms start from $395.

Willard InterContinental Washington, D.C., at more than 200 years old, is a classic Washington hotel near the White House that recently underwent an extensive $18 million renovation. Rooms start from $218.

Hotel Hive has a variety of rooms, but at 125- to 250-square-feet each, you’ll sacrifice space. If you want a deal, book a “Buzz” room, which is directly over the hotel’s occasionally noisy bar and restaurant. Rooms start from $74.

For short-term rentals, look in the Capitol Riverfront, Southwest Waterfront or Foggy Bottom neighborhoods, all with easy Metro access for exploring other parts of the city.

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