Top 10 Non-Touristy Things To Do in Washington DC Besides Museums and Monuments

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What things to do in Washington DC? Hey there, fellow travelers! We all know that when you think of Washington, DC, iconic images of majestic monuments, renowned museums, and grand government buildings flood your mind. But here’s a little secret: this vibrant city has so much more to offer than meets the eye. Trust me, it’s a treasure trove waiting to be explored!

Picture this: charming neighborhoods adorned with quaint houses, whimsically-themed pop-up bars just waiting to be discovered, and underground art exhibits that will leave you in awe. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Well, get ready because I’m about to unveil the best-kept secrets of Washington, DC that will make your trip an unforgettable adventure.

To make your planning a breeze, I’ve put together an extensive list of 37 off-the-beaten-path activities in DC that go beyond the typical tourist haunts—no museums, monuments, or memorials included. From captivating art installations to exclusive embassy parties, thrilling outdoor adventures, and mouthwatering culinary delights, there’s something for every kind of explorer.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the lesser-known wonders of Washington, DC. Get ready to escape the tourist crowds and experience the city like a true insider!

10. Check Out Some Local Art at Blind Whino

Hidden away from all the tourists in the streets of Southwest DC is a formerly abandoned church that fell into a vat of neon pixie dust, and opened its doors to the art community.

Now known as Blind Whino, this construction has become an iconic part of DC’s culture, hosting live talks and shows, and exhibits from local artists. There’s also work space for artists to come and learn from each other.

The place is also featured in a famous recent publication of obscure attractions.

For people who simply want to see local art, Blind Whino’s rotating exhibit is open on Wednesday nights and weekends to the public. You can also check out their website for upcoming events.

9. Visit The Dupont Underground

Dupont Underground is another art space, located near Dupont Circle, that welcomes local artist exhibitions. It’s literally an underground tunnel created from repurposed urban infrastructural space that hosts artwork and live events. If you are looking for fun things to do in DC for adults, look no further than here.

From street art to photography, light shows to paintings, anything goes here, and most of the exhibits are absolutely fascinating. This is one of the best-undiscovered gems in the city. For their current exhibit offerings, check their website.

8. Run in a Scenic Road Race

Running is a huge activity in Washington DC, and you can find people running almost all hours of the day on the city’s sidewalks. If you’re a runner yourself, you can get to know the city by joining a road race! Races in DC (and in the DC area) happen very regularly, so you can almost always find one if you really want to.

Some of the most popular races are the Army 10 Miler, the Marine Corps Marathon, the Pride 5K, the Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon, and the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. Even if you don’t like running, it’s worth heading to the races to spectate if you happen to coincide with one of them!

7. Head to a Show or Concert

Because Washington DC is so centrally located, many artists (big and small) that are making the rounds in the US stop here. As a result, you can see basically any artist you love at some point in this city.

Venues range from giant stadiums, like the Verizon Center or the 9:30 Club, to smaller, more intimate spaces, like Sixth and I Synagogue. Here is a regularly updated list of upcoming shows in DC.

If fine arts are more your thing, check out the listings for touring Broadway plays, National Symphony concerts, or ballet shows. Many of these take place at the iconic Kennedy Center, right on the river. Others are hosted around the city at various venues.

6. Explore the City By Night

One of the most beautiful times of day to see Washington, DC is at night when the monuments are all lit up amidst the night sky.

I know, I know, I promised there wouldn’t be any monuments on this list, but seeing the monuments via the city’s main thoroughfares is a different thing altogether, and you can avoid the hoards of tourists by going at this time.

One of my favorite places to visit at night is the area near the Washington Monument – here, you can see the monument itself as well as the WWII Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol building all lit up.

There’s a really awesome night tour of DC you can take to see some of the city’s most beautiful areas at the most tranquil time of day.

5. Party it Up at an Embassy

Occasionally, DC’s embassies from a variety of countries will open their doors to the public for a night of cocktails and events. For example, Mexico’s embassy did a Day of the Dead celebration in November of last year to celebrate this important holiday in their culture.

Some of these events are even free to the public. This is a great way to see DC and avoid the tourists.

Typically you have to buy a ticket in advance for these parties, but it depends on the event. If you want to know more about the embassy and cultural events going on here, check out this list.

3. Visit the National Harbor

DC doesn’t really have a Coney Island, but the closest thing is our National Harbor. Home to different things and sights such as casinos, fantastic dining options, and bustling walking areas, the National Harbor is a great place to spend an evening.

One of the most well-known sights on the National Harbor is the ferris wheel, also known as the Capital Wheel.

Riding the wheel boasts some views of the Potomac River and is a fun way to spend a little while when you’re at the National Harbor.

Locals frequently visit here, so the National Harbor should be on your list of nontouristy locations in Washington, DC. You can learn more about pricing and tickets on the Capital Wheel website.

2. Admire The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin

In early April, one of DC’s most iconic sights is the cherry blossoms, whose pastel pink blossoms can be found across the city. However, the most famous place to view these gorgeous blooms in at the Tidal Basin.

Grab a jacket and take a walk, admiring how the pink colors reflect off the water. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, enter the lottery for the Cherry Blossoms 10 miler and go for a run through these beautiful, flowered streets. This is an excellent complement to a museum day in late March/early April.

1. Hit Up Jazz in The Garden

In the summer, the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden opens its gates for live jazz music and pitchers of sangria.

On Fridays from June to August, you can see DC’s young professionals flocking there in high numbers to lay down picnic blankets and snack on wine and cheese, catching up about their busy weeks and enjoying the sometimes quaint, but always quality jazz music that fills the air.

When I first moved to DC, this was one of the first events I ever went to! It’s so fun to sit back and unwind with friends amidst the towering sculptures in the garden.

If you are looking for a fun non touristy thing to do in Washington, DC in the summer, this is one of the most fun.

BONUS: Outdoors Activities in Washington D.C

Meander Through the National Arboretum

If you’re looking for a unique outdoor experience, head to the National Arboretum.

This large park is a little bit removed from the bustle of downtown, and for good reason – it houses beautiful old columns from the capital, lovely wildflowers, and winding walking paths for you and your dog (or your imaginary dog…it’s cool, I have one too).

Go To A Dog Park

If there’s one thing about DC that’s true all the time, it’s that it’s a dog city. Everyone and their mother seems to own a dog. Even if you don’t have a dog, you can head to a dog park and watch the dogs sprinting around, barking at each other, and having fun.

It’s always a lift in spirits to be around pups, and even more when they’re running freely in the open air.

Paddle Through the City on the Potomac River
Sometimes people forget that the Potomac River runs right through some of the city’s most spectacular sights and that you can see a completely different perspective of the US capital from the water.

If you love being outdoors or are looking for a unique, romantic thing to do in the city, go kayaking in DC and explore the city from the water. You can rent a kayak! Exploring the city from the water will give you a unique perspective that not many visitors get to see.

Join a Drum Circle at Meridian Hill Park

In my opinion, this is one of the wackiest things to do in DC. On Sundays at 3 PM, there’s a large, ongoing drum circle at Meridian Hill Park.

Anyone can join or watch the drum circle, and it’s fascinating to see people just drumming along with complete strangers, nodding their heads with grins on their faces. You might think it sounds like a bunch of drums beating out of rhythm, but it actually stays pretty in sync. This is definitely something to experience if you’re looking for a unique thing to do in DC.

Go For a Walk in Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is one of DC’s outdoor gems. With 1,700+ acres of forested park area in the middle of Washington DC, it’s perfect for the outdoor enthusiast or people who enjoy exploring urban green spaces.

There are trails here that go on for miles and miles, and it’s worth spending a whole day here if you enjoy the fresh air and walking through nature to the chaos of the city.

Or Do Some Hiking at Great Falls

If you have a car (or access to one), you can’t miss Great Falls. Although it’s located a little bit out of the city on the Virginia-Maryland border, I’ve included it on this list because it is an absolutely spectacular sight.

Here, the Potomac cascades and crashes over sharp rocks in a canyon-like area, causing a mesmerizing set of waterfalls. It’s truly like being in another world there. There are several miles of hiking trails here, ranging from flat, easy hikes to tricky rock scrambles. You can take your pick.

Explore the City on Wheels

There’s really no better way to get around Washington DC than by bike. Because it’s a fairly small city, it’s easy to get around from place to place on a bike. You can get to the main landmarks while still being able to see some interesting sights along the way.

DC boasts a popular bike tour that takes you through some of the city’s iconic areas and through charming neighborhoods, too.

If you’re on a budget, companies like Capital Bikeshare offer rental bikes by the hour for reasonable prices – you grab one and hit the road to explore this weird and wonderful city at your own pace.

And if biking isn’t your thing, don’t worry! DC’s Segway Tour is said to be one of the best ways to experience the city on wheels in a small group.

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About the Author: Jenny Kristy

Spice Seeker, Recipe Weaver, Nomad Chef |With a passport bursting with stamps and a pantry overflowing with global spices, Jenny Kristy isn't just a cook, she's a culinary nomad. Her travels fuel her passion, transforming exotic flavors into recipes that tantalize and transport. She weaves magic in her kitchen, sharing her adventures through meals that whisper of Marrakesh markets and Tuscan trattorias. From teaching sushi to whipping up Moroccan masterpieces, Jenny ignites wanderlust and connects cultures, one delicious bite at a time.

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