Spend a Day in Georgetown Like a Local

The other day, GM linked to an article that offered to list 25 places around DC for a tourist to do non-touristy things. The lone Georgetown mention on the list was of Dumbarton House, which is a fine mention (most famous for hosting GM’s wedding). But there are many other spots around Georgetown that a tourist ought to hit to be able to say they got to see a local’s view of the neighborhood. So GM decided to do it himself.

The list is structured loosely around how to spend a day taking in the sights. Starting with morning:

Morning

Hopefully you skipped the too expensive breakfast at your hotel and arrived at Georgetown hungry. That’s great because there are lots of fantastic options to satisfy that hunger. Yes you could go looking for senators or NBC talking heads at Four Seasons, or you could join the visiting college parents at Clyde’s, but you’re here to experience the neighborhood as a local. And there are several spots that you’ll find them.

The first is the relatively recently opened Boulangerie Christophe at 1422 Wisconsin Ave. This French bakery offers pastries and bread and other European delights, along with the obligatory coffee. Or you could go to their more formal upstairs dining area where they serve more fancy fare. Either one will be a great way to start the day.

Staying on the French theme, you should also consider Patesserie Poupon at 1645 Wisconsin Ave. They also offer tasty breaded pastries and quiches, etc. You’ll almost certainly find yourself sitting next to some old friends meeting up for a coffee, and they’ll probably be speaking a foreign language. In fact there is probably no place in Georgetown that more feels like it’s not in America than Patesserie Poupon.Now that you’re caffeinated and full, time for a walk! Head up Wisconsin Ave to Reservoir Rd. On the right will be Book Hill Park, the hillside garden on the grounds of the Georgetown Public Library. Walk up the stairs to the top and take a seat and take in the view:

Before becoming a parent, GM used to come here on Sunday mornings with the New York Times and a coffee and sit for an hour reading the paper. It’s a very peaceful spot.

While you’re there, take a stroll through the library. If you’re lucky, the Peabody Room will be open on the top floor (that’s Mon. and Wed. 11 am to 7 pm, and Saturdays 9:30 am to 5 pm on the second and fourth Saturdays a month). This invaluable resource and its equally invaluable steward, Jerry McCoy, is an ark of Georgetown history. It features rare artifacts from the neighborhood’s past, and well as a priceless collection of documents. Jerry will be more than happy to show you around.

And on your way out, check out the view from the top floor windows. You’ll see clear down the river to Alexandria. It’s the best view in Georgetown.

Now leave the library through the front and head right (eastbound) down R St. This street has an impressive collection of large detached houses, which are quite rare for the neighborhood. They’re also incredibly drool-worthy. Continue down R St. until you get to 31st St. Then take a right. Halfway down the block you’ll get to Tudor Place.

Tudor Place is a massive estate that traces its lineage to George Washington’s step-granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter. The Peter family would go on to continuously own the property until in 1983 when Armistead Peter III deeded the estate to a foundation with the intent that it be run as a museum. The house tour is fascinating, but if you want to save time, a pleasant morning stroll through the gardens and grounds is a perfectly suitable way to build up your appetite for lunch. You’ll need it.

Lunch:

There are literally dozens of lunch options you can choose from in Georgetown, some more or less touristy that the others. But if you want a truly local flavor, leave Tudor Place and walk down 31st to P St. Take a left and walk three blocks down to 28th St. There you’ll find Stachowski’s:

This butcher shop/deli opened in 2012, and quickly became a local favorite for its wonderful selection of meat and, more importantly, their incredibly generous sandwiches. It’s tucked away well off of either of the main commercial drags in Georgetown, and yet it almost always is full of loyal fans. Their sandwiches and grinders are so large that most people either share them, or take it home for a later meal. You’ll love it.

Afternoon:

Here you have a couple choices. Are you a big fan of gardens? Then you have to hit Dumbarton Oaks (keep in mind they don’t open until 2:00 pm). Was Tudor Place enough garden for you and you want to start burning off that huge lunch?: consider boating. You can rent kayaks, canoes or stand-up paddleboards from either Key Bridge Boathouse (3500 Water St., basically from Stachowskis, walk down 28th to M St., over at least one block, then down all the way to K St., take a right and keep walking all the way until you’re underneath Key Bridge) or Thompson’s Boat House (GM could give you directions, but really it’s probably easier if you just Google it). Both these boathouses will rent you a watercraft to tool around the Potomac. GM personally prefers Key Bridge Boathouse, as it gives quicker access to the river above the bridge. Alternatively you could paddle over to Roosevelt Island, beach the boats and walk around the trails (watch out for poison ivy though).

If neither of those appeal to you, here are a couple other fun stops you can make and still not look like a tourist:

  • Hill and Dale Records – This vinyl shop offers a great selection of vintage and modern albums
  • Grab of bikeshare bike and head a couple miles out the Capital Crescent Trail (it’s the path you’ll hit if you continue on Water St. past the Key Bridge Boathouse)
  • Book a yoga session at Down Dog Yoga.

Recharge:

You’ll hit a point in the day when you’ll think “ok, I’ve done all these local things, it’s ok to now go stand in a line for Georgetown Cupcake”, and GM will say to you “DON’T THROW AWAY ALL THIS GOOD WORK TO JOIN BOB AND SUSIE Q. TOURIST IN FROM ATLANTA LOOKING FOR SOME AUTHENTIC GEORGETOWN CUPCAKES”. Yes, a mid afternoon recharge is absolutely essential. But there are better options. The most clichéd “local” choice is Baked and Wired (1052 Thomas Jefferson St.) and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this choice. But EVERYONE makes that same recommendation. And on a weekend you’ll find yourself stuck in a line just as long as Georgetown Cupcake’s. So consider some alternatives. GM would recommend Dolcezza at Wisconsin and Q St., but it’s “closed for renovations” and doesn’t look like it will open again. A perfectly good option is Thomas Sweet’s at Wisconsin and P St. It also can have a line at popular hours, but it moves quick.

This might now be a good time to look into some of the other afternoon options mentioned above. Or just stroll the shops of Book Hill (Wisconsin Ave. north of P St.). Eventually the appointed time will arrive.

Happy Hour:

Georgetown was once chock full of college bars that left much to be desired once you’re older than, say, 24. They’re almost all gone now. And while fancy cocktail bars have bloomed over in the hipper neighborhoods in DC, there really aren’t any in Georgetown. It’s more of a wine and beer scene. But wine and beer are good! And one of the best beer bars in DC is in Georgetown: the Sovereign. Tucked away down an alley just off of Wisconsin Ave., this Belgian-focused restaurant carries some incredibly rare beers from the lowlands. Even if you’re not a beer nerd, they’ll find something for you you’ll love.

Other great places to grab a drink include the basement of Pizzeria Paradiso (which has a fantastic beer list and now offers a game room) and Bar au Vin (a wine bar next to the stellar Chez Billy Sud).

So what now? How better to end the day in Georgetown than at a legendary jazz club.

Nightlife:

Down an alley named after it is Blues Alley, the “nation’s finest jazz and supper club”. This intimate club, founded in 1965, will bring you up close and personal with some big names in jazz, and feed you too. You’ll definitely need to order tickets in advance. Once you arrive you’re escorted to a tightly packed table just feet from the stage. A server will take your order from the southern-tinged menu, and then the show will start. Your food will arrive during the act. It’s a true throwback, and yet as exciting as any show you’ll see at the 9:30 Club.

And after the show you can either grab a nightcap from one of the happy hour spots you skipped, or just head back to your hotel, exhausted from living a day like a local. Good night!

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