23 Essential Washington, DC Bucket List Ideas, Food & Activities

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Washington, DC is known the world over as the center of America’s political system. It’s where the president resides and where the Senate, House, and US Supreme Court are located. And it’s also home to dozens of world-class museums, exhibits, memorials, and eateries.

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There’s something for everyone in DC, from nature lovers and history buffs to hard-core foodies and adventurers. This trip can easily be made solo, with a family, or with a group since there are so many diverse activities to take advantage of. Here are the top recommendations that come from those who live there.

Unique Washington, DC Bucket List Ideas for Locals

Even if you’re a local and you’ve lived in DC for years, there are still unique activities you may not have done or even known about. Here are three of the most-loved bucket list activities recommended by locals for locals.

1. Take a world tour with Passport DC

This event is an absolute must! During Passport DC, dozens of embassies open their doors to visitors and locals alike. They put on exhibits, talks, and culinary demonstrations. You can go around the world, learn about a new location, and even try world cuisine without ever leaving DC.

2. Kayak along the Potomac

The Potomac is part of national history but you can do more than read about it. Get out there on it by going kayaking or paddleboarding.

3. Get away from it all by touring the National Arboretum

The arboretum consists of 446 acres of lush greenery to explore with nine-and-a-half miles of paved roadway if you feel like driving. Along with the stunning gardens, there are exhibits, regular symposiums, workshops, lectures, and demonstrations that you can get in on. 

Must-Do Washington, DC Bucket List Ideas for Visitors

Visiting DC makes it onto most people’s travel bucket lists, and with so much to do, it’s easy to see why. Here are several activities you’ll want to add to your list.

4. Complete items on our National Mall Bucket List

Check out the National Mall bucket list items in the next section and add them to your trip itinerary. Trust us when we say you’ll want to fit in as many as you can.

5. Tour the Whitehouse, Capitol, and US Supreme Court

Would any trip to the nation’s capital be complete without touring at least one of the houses of government? If you have enough time, tour all three! You’ll get an up-close and personal look at the inner workings of the American government, learn about the day-to-day business of the president, and much more. Who knows, maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of The Chief himself!

6. Spend time at the Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Holocaust Memorial Museum is a sobering and grave look at the atrocities committed during WWII. When you enter, you’ll be given a profile of someone sent to a concentration camp. During your visit, you’ll get to follow their steps and find out what happened to them.

Pro tip: This memorial doesn’t hold back on the brutality, harsh conditions, or treatment of those sent to concentration camps. This is not a place to take young children, and you should ensure your older children can handle the gravity of it all before you enter.

7. Visit and tour the memorials

There are tons of memorials in DC and they’re all worth visiting! A shortlist includes the African American Civil War Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, WWII Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.

National Mall Bucket List Ideas

The National Mall is an area that encompasses the space from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building. There are over 26 miles of walking trails, eight miles of biking trails, and numerous monuments, museums, restaurants, and parks. Needless to say, there is plenty to do!

8. Visit the National Mall at Night

Every monument and building in the National Mall is lit up at night. Altogether, you get a stunning scene that takes your breath away. Stroll around, chat with others doing the same, and enjoy the nighttime feel of the National Mall.

9. Climb to the top of the Washington Monument

Did you know you can climb to the top of the Washington Monument? After you get to the top, spend some time on the observation deck where you’ll have a panoramic view of the National Mall.

Pro tip: Don’t feel like walking the whole way? You can take an elevator to the observation deck.

10. Celebrate July 4th at the National Mall

You probably won’t see any other celebration quite like the nation’s birthday at the National Mall. The fireworks show is second to none, and you’ll create memories to last for a lifetime.

Pro tip: Go early! The National Mall always gets crowded on the 4th, so plan to go early and take foldable chairs or a picnic blanket so you have somewhere to sit.

11. Check out the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Any of the 19 museums that are part of the Smithsonian are well worth visiting, and the National Museum of American History is no exception. There are over 1.7 million objects and artifacts, endless exhibits, and countless interactive displays that trace American’s history from its founding to today. 

There are plenty of things to do for all ages, making this an excellent stop for families.

12. Take a tour of the National Gallery of Art

Any artists in your group? Take a tour of the National Gallery’s extensive collection of artwork, photography, and sculptures. Then, browse the adjoining gardens or grab a bite to eat at one of the five cafes on-site.

Washington, DC Bucket List Hikes, Walks, and Parks

Want to spend some time in nature? Check out these options.

13. Spend a day at Rock Creek Park

If you’re looking for a chance to get away from it all while remaining in the city, you don’t need to go further than Rock Creek Park. There are over 1,700 acres to explore including hiking trails, Civil War fortifications, working mills, and colonial houses.

14. Take advantage of the Capital Bikeshare program

One of the best ways to get around the capital city on your own terms is on two wheels. Thanks to the bike-share program, there are 5,000 bikes and over 600 stations where you can rent a bike for the day. Take it out, tour the town, and return it to any station at your leisure.

15. Relax at Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park is a perfect place to get away from it all, relax in the sunshine, admire the beauty and architecture around you, and listen to the serene splash of fountains. 

Washington, DC Bucket List Ideas for Kids and Families

If you’re making a travel bucket list, one good way to organize activities is to divide them up by type. The activities below are perfect for kids and families.

16. Catch a Nationals game at Nationals Park

Watch “America’s pastime” in America’s capital during MLB season which runs from approximately April through November. If the team happens to be away during your visit, sign up for a tour of the stadium instead. You’ll get to see the dugout, bullpen, and media area, to name a few stops on the two-hour-long walking tour.

Pro tip: Tickets have to be purchased in advance on the Nationals website. 

17. Go on a mission at the International Spy Museum

Dive into the history of spies and spy missions! Gain inside intel on some of the craziest missions spies have ever undertaken, and then participate in a mission yourself before you leave.

18. Check out the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

There is so much to do here you could plan an entire day and not get it all in! There are tons of exhibits, interactive displays, and artifacts galore. See real space suits, learn about the evolution of flight and space travel, and go back to where it all started with the very first airplane flown by the Wright brothers.

19. Visit animals at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo

This world-class zoo is home to over 1,500 animals and you can see them all! Be prepared for an exciting adventure as you view and interact with bison, pandas, giraffes, lions, tigers, elephants, gorillas, and more animals than you knew existed.

Pro tip: The on-site Kids Farm lets kids of all ages get up close and personal with cows, sheep, goats, chickens, and other farm animals!

Bucket List Foods and Restaurants in Washington, DC

You’re sure to work up some hunger with all your adventuring and exploring. Add these foods to your food bucket list so you’ll be ready when it’s time to grab some grub.

20. Chow down on a Half Smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl

Unless you’ve been to DC, you probably haven’t heard of a half-smoke. Picture a smoked half-pork, half-beef hot dog that’s smothered in chili sauce and stuffed into a bun for your enjoyment. This is a favorite of Washingtonians, and once you have one, you’ll see why.

21. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a cupcake

Think cupcakes can’t be a specialty food? Think again. Bakeries like Georgetown Cupcake and Baked & Wired serve up fresh-baked creations daily and there’s often a line out the door. Flavor options include dirty chai, german chocolate, red velvet, and chocolate doom. There are even vegan options.

22. Slurp down oysters on the half shell

No matter what restaurant you visit, you’ll probably be able to order this Washington, DC staple. Oysters on the half shell served with a fork and lemon slices are a favorite of all. They’re also incredibly fresh thanks to the nearby Chesapeake Bay which is where the oysters come from.

23. Try some authentic Ethiopian food

Washington, DC is home to one of the largest Ethiopian communities in America. As a result, there are many authentic Ethiopian restaurants in the area and you won’t go wrong, no matter which you decide to try. Not sure what to order? Try beyainatu, a traditional sample platter of Ethiopian foods served on an edible plate called injera.

Discover All There Is In the Nation’s Capital

Washington, DC has so much to do you could easily plan two or three trips to get it all in. No matter what time of year you go, who you travel with, or your foodie preferences, you’re sure to have the adventure of a lifetime.

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