Not all must-sees in the US capital are larger than life. Some of the best spots to discover are out of the way, under the radar and delightfully free from crowds.
The Mary Louise and Elmer Rasmuson Theater at the National Museum of the American Indian
Expand Your Appetite
One of the Smithsonian’s most underrated offerings is the National Museum of the American Indian and its hidden gems: The Mary Louise and Elmer Rasmuson Theater and the museum’s Mitsitam Cafe. The latter is named after the word for “let’s eat” in the language of the Piscataway/Delaware peoples and offers dishes like bison burgers from the Great Plains and seafood posole from Mesoamerica. Looking to pick up a souvenir? Head to the unlikely Ministry of the Interior. On the ground floor is The Indian Craft Shop; check out vibrant rugs from Navajo weaver, Julia Charlie.
A Fabergé egg from Hillwood Estate’s collection
Enter a Garden of Delight
Experience life as a socialite at Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens. Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post bought the neo-Georgian mansion in 1955, opening it to the public along with her collections of art, Fabergé eggs and Cartier jewelry. Explore the 13 acres of gardens, which include a tiny Russian dacha cottage and a greenhouse with more than 2,000 orchids (Post even had orchids shipped to her from Hillwood when she was abroad.) To continue garden gazing, head to Dumbarton Oaks. Designed by landscape architect – and niece of Edith Wharton – Beatrix Farrand in the 1920s, the garden is hosting an installation this summer by popular local artist, Martha Jackson Jarvis.
The renovated lobby of Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown
Seek Out a Small Town Scene
While Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown may be a hub for movers and shakers, take a short stroll to the waterfront to explore pedestrian walkways, unique boutiques – like Relish, which offers a curated collection of designer fashion – and a charming canal that’s virtually unchanged since the 1800s. Local producers feature at Georgetown hot spots like Chaia, with a “farm-to-taco” plant-based menu, and at Dolcezza, where the ingredients for its freshly spun gelato are sourced from nearby farmers. Back at Fairmont, which recently received a $27-million makeover, head to the Lobby Bar and Courtyard to order a signature Bee Tini cocktail made from the hotel’s own rooftop honey.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House
Access a Masterpiece
To tour a true architectural hidden gem, take a 40-minute drive to Alexandria, Virginia, to explore one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s lesser-known masterpieces: Pope–Leighey House. It was commissioned in 1939 by a couple of modest means who had read about Wright in a magazine, and it remains a perfect example of his Usonian vision, which includes a collection of about 100 affordable houses he designed for the middle class. At 1,200 stylish square feet, it’s a true precursor to the tiny house craze of today.
Nate Lewis’s Robed in Chants – a hand-sculpted photo print available at Morton Fine Art
Blink and you’ll miss some of the coolest art spaces in town. Leave the crowds at the new David Adjaye-designed National Museum of African American History and Culture and head to Morton Fine Art for under-the-radar African American artists like self-taught local, Nate Lewis. Or descend 20 feet to Dupont Circle station. Built in 1949, it was discontinued after streetcars went out of style, then reopened in 2016 as Dupont Underground. The 15,000-square-foot space is now a hub for alternative arts and culture and hosts talks by Pulitzer-prize-winning photojournalists and New York Times columnists.