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Sunday Funday: A Perfect Day in Washington, D.C.

By Mekita Rivas

Jan 5, 2022

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Capital Hill's colorful row houses are best explored on foot.

Photo by Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Capital Hill's colorful row houses are best explored on foot.

A local writer shares her perfect itinerary for a Sunday Funday in Washington, D.C. (Drinks included.)

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My favorite kind of Sunday Funday in D.C. starts with a morning stroll. I wander through Capitol Hill, gazing at the multicolored row houses and fantasizing about the day I’ll have one of my own. I meander my way to Eastern Market, where there’s already probably a line at the Market Lunch, a classic that’s been serving up standard American fare since 1978. I know better than to be discouraged by the line—it tends to move quickly and gives me time to plan my order from the weekend brunch menu, which includes savory shrimp and grits and my beloved blueberry buckwheat pancakes. I try to snag a seat at the counter and then inevitably order the pancakes.

Shopping and people-watching at Eastern Market

Eastern Market—a public market that’s been in continuous operation since 1873 and is a National Historic Landmark—is a favorite weekend destination for locals, and not just for the fresh produce. The streets around the market are lined with shops and stalls and fun places to eat and drink, making this the perfect spot for quality people-watching. I could easily fritter away my morning here at the counter, but after I finish up my pancakes, I decide to seize the day.

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Directly across the street, Clothes Encounters is a consignment shop that carries designer labels like Chanel and Prada. Whenever I walk by, I peek at its window display to see if anything catches my eye. And something usually does. It couldn’t hurt to take a closer look, right? Oh, the number of times I’ve told myself that before stepping into this store. . . . Since I’ve got time to spend (#SundayFunday and all!), I might as well peruse the sale items in the rear of the store. I love a good bargain and have gotten lucky here enough times that I keep coming back.

I usually check out a few different street vendors as I make my way to Capitol Hill Books, a charming used bookstore steeped in history. Wandering in without a plan is the best approach for shopping here. The floor-to-ceiling shelves and stacks of books hold an eclectic mix of literature, from rare first editions to recent best sellers. A couple of covers usually catch my eye, then the flap copy cinches the deal, and I leave with additions to the ever-growing “to read” stack on my nightstand.

Refueling on coffee and croissants

All that bargain hunting can make a person thirsty. A couple blocks away, Wine & Butter, which is part coffee shop, part bodega, ranks as a favorite with the D.C. political class. (Doug Emhoff and Chasten Buttigieg have been spotted here.) Because of its proximity to Lincoln Park, it’s predictably packed with people on weekend mornings. But the freshly baked croissants and chai lattes are worth the wait.

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Chai in hand, my next destination is usually the park, which is buzzing with activity on weekends. People are tossing balls for their dogs, a kid’s birthday party is raging over by the playground. I find an empty bench to continue my people-watching or start one of my new books for a good half hour.

Thus refueled, I take the two-mile walk down East Capitol Street toward the Mall, following a picturesque route with great views of the Capitol. Along the way, I pass the Library of Congress, the Capitol Building, and the Botanic Garden. If it’s late spring, I detour through the Botanic Garden to smell my way through the Rose Garden, a showcase of organically grown roses that thrive in the Mid-Atlantic region.

You'll need the best part of a morning for the National Museum of the American Indian.

Learning more about the nation's history

In D.C., a historian’s paradise, every day is a good day to learn something. One of my favorites of the Smithsonian offerings is the National Museum of the American Indian.  I try to carve out at least two or three hours to visit the museum. It’s not enough time to see the entire collection, but you can still take in some of the key exhibitions and not get overwhelmed. One permanent exhibit not to miss is Americans, which displays how white America has used (and misused) the images, names, and stories of Native Americans in advertising, literature, and pop culture.

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After the museum, I usually find that I’ve worked up an appetite again. Brunch is truly an all-day affair in D.C., so it’s still early enough to do round two. Hop in a rideshare and get yourself to one of my favorite restaurants in town, Purple Patch, in D.C.’s historic Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Eating at this Filipino eatery feels like a homecoming of sorts—I’m Filipina, and much of the menu reminds me of the food my mom used to cook. Its outstanding brunch means dishes like an eggplant adobo bowl or ube (purple yam) waffles served with Filipino fried chicken. Even without a reservation, you can usually get a seat on the expansive patio.

Nighttime delights

If you’re like me, after all that Filipino fare, you want to sit back and unwind with a good movie. Only a two-minute walk down the street from Purple Patch, Suns Cinema plays a steady rotation of cult classics and obscure art-house titles—and has a lively backyard patio bar where you can discuss what you just saw with fellow film enthusiasts.

When I finally tear myself away, the green Metro line shuttles me back to my side of town. I make a final stop at El Bebe to pick up dinner. To combat the Sunday scaries, I recommend sipping one of its passion fruit margaritas while waiting for takeout tacos—the crispy shrimp, blackened fish, and al pastor are all favorites in my household. If I don’t feel like calling it just yet, I walk to Yards Park to watch the sunset. A perfect D.C. day.

>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Washington, D.C.

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