One of the first trips my boyfriend and I ever took together was a 4 hour drive down to Washington, D.C. I’m one of those people who believe traveling together is a major test of the relationship and my boyfriend passed with flying colors. That was over a year ago, but more recently we spontaneously booked a hotel room in D.C. and made the 4 hour trip back there for a small weekend getaway.

This time around we were much more laid-back and decided to put less of an emphasis on the monuments. I’ve included them in this travel guide for any D.C. first-timers but if you’ve already had your fair share of patriotism then feel free to skip it.

Where to Stay:

My boyfriend and I always stay at a nearby Hilton that offers free parking since we drive down from NYC. (Hint: If you book through the Hilton Honors website you’ll typically get a lower rate. Hilton Honors is their loyalty program but it’s free to sign-up!) However, if you’re flying in then I’d suggest staying somewhere within the city out of convenience, if you have the budget. If not, I’ve had friends who stayed at hotels in the outskirts or rented AirBnB’s and have taken public transportation into the city.

Where to Park:

Finding parking is known to be a nightmare but strangely enough, my boyfriend and I have never had any troubles finding street parking. If you’re patient enough and don’t mind a bit of a walk to your final destination then don’t believe the horror stories. Worse comes to worst you can find a nearby lot to park your car in, my boyfriend and I found one in the Immigration building for $12/all day.

What to Do:

Day 1

Union Market

This is the D.C. version of NYC’s Smorgasburg except it’s indoors and has ample parking in a public lot right outside. Is it not already sounding heavenly? Union Market combines restaurants, high-quality grocers and locally run retailers. Two vendors that I’d highly recommend checking out are Tricking Springs Creamery and Salt & Sundry. The first vendor happens to be where The Dabney, a must-try restaurant that I’ll mention later, sources their amazing butter from. The latter is a retailer where you can find the most gorgeous tableware, linens and other lifestyle goods to bring home.

Landmark Hopping

Feel free to skip this if you’ve already seen the monuments but if not, now would be a good time to explore what most people come to D.C. for. Don’t be fooled though, everything may look close to one another but they’re really not walking distance. I learned this the hard way when I tried to walk to Capitol Hill from the National Archives Museum and felt like I was heading toward a water mirage in the Gobi Desert. I’d recommend purchasing a ticket with one of D.C.’s many hop-on hop-off sightseeing tours since you can conveniently ride them to whatever your destination and get a quick history lesson while you’re on board. My favorite happens to be Old Town Trolley Tours because they’re affordable, informative and the bus is literally designed to look like a trolley.

Tidal Basin

If you’re lucky enough to be in D.C. during the Cherry Blossom Festival then you have to stop by Tidal Basin for a photo op. The entire reservoir is surrounded by beautiful Cherry Blossom trees and when it blooms it looks absolutely gorgeous. Even if you’re here off-season, Tidal Basin is a nice place to sit down and relax. My boyfriend and I like to post up on one of the benches surrounding the water and just enjoy each other’s company.

The Dabney

After a long day of exploring you must dine at my favorite restaurant in D.C. and one of my favorite restaurants of all time, The Dabney. Hidden away in an alleyway, this farm-to-table restaurant does not disappoint. Their waiters are incredibly knowledgable and the dishes are to die for. This might sound silly but the best bread and butter I’ve ever had in my life came from their kitchen; my boyfriend and I loved it so much we asked for seconds. However, be sure to book a reservation in advance because this place fills up quick!

Day 2

Renwick Gallery

You may be tired from day one but be sure to wake up early and make it out to be one of the first in line to visit the Renwick Gallery. Since it’s part of the Smithsonian, entry is free, but by midday the line tends to extend down the block. This contemporary museum is home to one of the most mind-blowing exhibits I’ve ever seen, Wonder. The rainbow below is particularly insta-worthy and this photo definitely doesn’t do it justice.

Georgetown

Once you’re done being artsy and cultural, head over to Georgetown to end your trip off right where you can find food, shopping and sights all in one. I typically like to make my way down M street while popping in and out of stores that fancy my interest, hello Barneys! The real gems are located on the neighboring streets though, where you can find local stores and hangout spots. After you’ve accumulated enough shopping bags, I think it’s finally time to head home.

xoxo, Lauren