Despite its incredible museums, patriotism-inspiring attractions, and innovative urban layout, cutting-edge urbanites tend to mock Washington, D.C.'s buttoned-up, your-regulatory-committee-or-mine style. But there is more to D.C. than meets the four o'clock Congressional hearing. From buzzy emerging neighborhoods to a burgeoning culinary scene, here are five reasons to visit Washington, D.C., this winter.
1. Rest Up
One of the biggest hotel openings of 2014 will be the 1,175-room Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, set to debut alongside the D.C. convention center in May (rates from $179/night). Looking ahead to 2015, the always understated Donald Trump will drop some $200 million to transform the Old Post Office Pavilion into D.C.'s first Trump Hotel. In the meantime, travelers can check into the 49-room Capella Washington D.C. (from $495/night), which debuted in Georgetown in April 2013, or the Melrose Georgetown, which has a new farm-to-table restaurant, Jardenea, and underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation earlier this year (from $169/night).
2. Festival Season
The shortest month of the year has a long list of events to keep D.C.-bound travelers feeling festive. Get saucy at the Washington, D.C., International Wine and Food Festival (February 13–15, 2014), now in its 15th year. Then, celebrate Lincoln and Washington's birthdays with a dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial, followed by the Presidents' Day parade in Old Town Alexandria (February 17, 2014). The city's fashion flock comes out for the annual D.C. Fashion Week (February 17–23, 2014), which is notable for its emphasis on supporting local designers, and things get cinematic for area and international filmmakers at the D.C. Independent Film Festival (February 19–23, 2014).
3. Chow Down
After years of mediocre steakhouses and middling pub grub, Washington, D.C., is undergoing a citywide restaurant revolution. This summer, chef/restaurateur Richard Sandoval launched El Centro Georgetown, and will open Toro Toro downtown this winter. In Penn Quarter, London's renowned Chef Vikram Sunderam serves award-winning Indian fare at Rasika. Chef Frederik de Pue (of Table) will debut Menu, a combination food hall, café, wine bar, and 42-seat restaurant in January 2014. In July 2013, Top Chef star and Graffiato chef Mike Isabella opened Kapnos, a contemporary Greek eatery, and G., a sandwich shop serving four-course tasting menus nightly. The Logan Circle area offers Spanish spot Estadio, one of D.C.'s hottest table, and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, which has been serving bivalves and killer bourbon cocktails to sold-out crowds since 2011.
4. Ice, Ice Baby
Forget about fighting the tourist throngs at the ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center in New York, where views of the world-famous tree are obscured by an endless parade of unsteady skaters shooting selfies. Washington, D.C., has four public skating areas, including the new Lake Show Ice Rink, a community-run operation in a nonprofit garden center opening later this month. Other options include the 11,800-square-foot Washington Harbour Ice Rink in Georgetown; or, just steps from the Mall, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Rink, an open-air arena surrounded by Joan Miró and Claes Oldenburg installations. Finally, thirsty skaters can glide down the Canal Park Ice Rink, a 10,000-square-foot ice path that passes local breweries Bluejacket and Gordon Biersch.
5. Around Town
Ditch the Mall and check out emerging neighborhoods like the 14th Street Corridor. This revitalized area near Logan Circle now holds high-end real estate, cool design shops like Muleh and Home Rule, and a stunning stretch of eateries, including Philly restaurateur Stephen Starr's Le Diplomate, a buzzy French bistro that opened this spring. Or, head over to the renewed H Street to sip craft brews at Atlas Arcade, slurp ramen at the new Toki Underground, and hear world-class music at the elegant, '30s-era Atlas Performing Arts Center. Tip: Early next year, the brand-new D.C. Streetcar trolley system will debut on H Street.
Emily Saladino is a food and travel writer in New York City. She recently binge-watched the entire first season of House of Cards.
Photo credits: 1. Rest Up: Washington Marriot Marquis, courtesy of Marriott; 3. Chow Down: Kapnos, courtesy of Greg Powers; 5. Around Town: Atlas Performing Arts Center, courtesy of Michael Moran