Essential D.C.: What to do in the nation’s capital

From national monuments and museums to cool restaurants and music hot spots, there’s plenty to do and see on your next weekend getaway to the nation’s capital. Here are the essential D.C. attractions to add to your itinerary.

U Street Corridor food and nightlife

President Obama can’t resist the famed chili dogs at Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U St. NW, 202-667-0909), a landmark greasy spoon that also serves veggie dogs and burgers. For a less casual dining experience, visit Ben’s Next Door (1211 U St. NW, 202-667-8880) — which is, yes, right next door — for comfort food dishes like crab cakes and chicken and waffles, signature cocktails and DJ sets. Another popular eatery is the original Busboys and Poets (2021 14th St. NW, 202-387-7638), a bohemian café with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, poetry readings and a community bookstore.

Music and entertainment picks are plentiful, too. For live R&B, jazz and Sunday gospel brunch, visit the restored Howard Theatre (620 T. St. NW, 202-803-2899). On the other side of Ben’s Chili Bowl, there’s the historic Lincoln Theatre (1215 U St. NW, 202-328-6000), which features a variety of musical acts and stand-up comedy. To listen to alternative rock, punk and hip-hop, head to the veteran 9:30 Club (815 V St. NW, 202-265-0930), or rave the night away to electronic dance music at the subterranean U Street Music Hall (1115 U St. NW, 202-588-1889).

Smithsonian picks

The Smithsonian Institution has 19 free museums and galleries in DC. It’s unlikely you’ll visit them all in one trip, so make sure to stop at the National Museum of American History (14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, 202-633-1000). Highlights include the museum’s permanent Star-Spangled Banner exhibition, which features the flag that inspired the national anthem in a protective, two-story display chamber; a gallery dedicated to African-American history — a placeholder until the massive National Museum of African American History and Culture opens in 2016 — with art and artifacts from slavery, the civil rights era, the Harlem Renaissance and other pivotal periods in black history; and a new wing dedicated to American enterprise and innovation that opened earlier this month. Also don’t miss the chance to meet the adorable giant pandas in person at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo (3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-633-4888), in the heart of northwest D.C., that is also free and home to 1,800 animals.

National Mall highlights

Of course, the monuments on the National Mall and Memorial Parks are a must-see. The Washington Monument (2 15th St. NW) is perhaps the most iconic. Arguably the most creatively designed is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (1964 Independence Ave. SW), located along the Tidal Basin adjacent to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and between the Jefferson Memorial and the stoic Lincoln Memorial.

Georgetown sights

Head to Georgetown for its quaint colonial row houses, cobblestone streets, upscale shops and eateries, including the original Georgetown Cupcake (3301 M St. NW, 202-333-8448). The neighborhood also boasts the 225-mile Georgetown Waterfront Park, a public park along the banks of the Potomac River that’s ideal for jogging, cycling, skating and water sports. Rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards (or SUP) at the Key Bridge Boathouse, on the waterfront near the Key Bridge.

Where to stay

Located one block from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, the stately Intercontinental The Willard Washington D.C. (1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-628-9100) has hosted every sitting president since 1850. The Willard is also where Dr. King finished his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.