Miles from Naples: 1,050
Fourteen years after the founding of our nation in 1776, a fledgling United States planted roots with a permanent capital in Washington DC, a federal territory separate yet equal from its 13 states. Nearly 250 years—and 37 states—later, the political center of the United States shines also as a beacon of culture, creativity, and cosmopolitan coolness. Most of the excitement lies within a three-mile radius of the Capitol Building, among small enclaves of alphabet-lettered streets and state-named avenues lined with an impressive mash-up of neoclassical, Gothic, Georgian, Victorian, and contemporary architectural styles. Herein, you’ll find the pulse of modern D.C. in the form of Michelin-starred restaurants, design-forward hotels, and the iconic monuments that foster those “proud to be American” moments.
Stay: Typically, a place as notorious as The Watergate Hotel (thewatergatehotel.com) would require no introduction. But after an almost 10-year closure and a $200 million–dollar renovation, the lodging element of the infamous Nixon-era complex deserves reintroduction as one of today’s hottest hotels. Paying homage to the past, The Watergate Hotel 2.0 plays up its ’70s allure and scandalous past in every way imaginable, from the vintage-chic staff uniforms to cheeky “house rules” plastered on elevator walls (encouraging indulgence and indiscretion) to a continuous play of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pumping Iron on the big screen of the supersized fitness center. Guest rooms are bathed in a fabulous color palette of gold, brown, and blacks and accessorized with the likes of nightstands fashioned after filing cabinets, curvilinear chairs, and tufted couches. Downstairs, The Next Whiskey Bar is encased by 2,500 custom bottles of the bar’s home blend. Upstairs, innovative cocktails match the exceptional views over the Potomac River at the Top of the Gate, Watergate’s power player–packed rooftop bar.
Eat: D.C.’s foodie movement is happening in real time, and the world is noticing. The city’s inaugural Michelin guide was released in October 2016 and several restaurants have achieved coveted star status. Begin with Kyirisan (kyirisandc.com), a modern French-Asian restaurant owned and helmed by rising chef Tim Ma. Here, an East-meets-West marriage has no culinary boundaries, as seen in such dishes as pan-seared sea scallops over coconut risotto topped with a miniature scoop of basil ice cream and scallions.
Book ahead for a more formal dining experience at Kinship (kinshipdc.com), the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Eric Ziebold and Celia Laurent, who’ve trained in the kitchens of French Laundry and Per Se. The contemporary menu is seasonal, but classics like the highly photogenic and mouthwatering Maine lobster French toast are thankfully perennial.
For traditional French cuisine perfected, check out Mirabelle (mirabelledc.com), run by former White House chef Frank Ruta and his young, upstart pastry chef, Aggie Chin. It’s all about simplicity, prime ingredients, technique, and execution here, with dishes like the Beef Tartare Mirabelle and the Bouillabaisse Mirabelle.
For something more informal, eat at Casolare (casolaredc.com), the coastal Italian restaurant by James Beard Award–winning chef Michael Schlow. This is authentic Italian comfort food at its best with delicacies like the eggplant parmesan, stacked lasagna-style—the way it’s done in southern Italy.
Hot Tip: Pepper fine dining with trips to D.C.’s no-frills eateries. Pop into any of the prolific Ethiopian restaurants near U Street for the best wats (stews) and injera (bread) outside of Addis Ababa. For a true American treat, order the $5.95 Original Chili Half-Smoke (a quarter-pound, half-pork, half-beef, smoked sausage on a warm steamed bun, with mustard, onions, and spicy homemade chili sauce) at D.C.’s own legend, Ben’s Chili Bowl (benschilibowl.com).
See + Do: Allot ample time to choose your own historical and cultural adventure among the museums, memorials, and monuments off the National Mall (nps.gov/nama). Don’t miss the newly expanded contemporary collection and rooftop sculpture garden in the East Building at the National Gallery of Art or German artist Wolfgan Laib’s Laib Wax Room, the first permanently installed artwork at the Phillips Collection (America’s first museum of modern art) since 1960 (phillipscollection.org). Admire the cutting-edge lattice architecture of the now open National Museum of African American History and Culture (nmaahc.si.edu) and also take a short detour to visit Renwick (renwick.americanart.si.edu), the Smithsonian’s collection of decorative arts and crafts from early America to modern times.