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15+ Women-Focused Places to Go in Washington, DC
Celebrate the contributions of women at these must-see museums, theaters and more.
The nation’s capital has been front and center to some of the most significant moments in women’s civil rights history. From the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession down America’s Main Street – Pennsylvania Avenue – to the 2017 Women’s March, Washington, DC continues to serve as a fitting backdrop for advocating for the rights of women and recognizing their extraordinary contributions to society. Leading the charge is the city’s second female mayor, Muriel E. Bowser.
Regardless of whichever administration is in power, Washington, DC celebrates the success of all women in the nation’s capital, especially in 2020, which marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. Be proud of what women have accomplished and check out all these great ways to celebrate amazing women in DC, from local and international fame to past and present acclaim.
The largest library in the world has literally documented countless women’s contributions over the years. While you may not find the time to pre-register to for your Reader Identification Card and sit down with a book, you can still step inside the free-to-visit Thomas Jefferson Building to see one of the most unique women-focused exhibitions in the city, Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote (open through September 2020).
The Scene: The seven-decade struggle for women’s suffrage is illuminated in striking detail in this exhibit. Visitors can retrace stories of diverse women who changed America. Shall Not Be Denied draws from the collections of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Mary Church Terrell and other suffragists – in their own words. Photographs, film footage and rare manuscripts will transport visitors back in time as women took their place in the public square. Use #ShallNotBeDenied to share your experiences at the museum.
Insider Info: Don’t leave the Library of Congress without taking advantage of the free one-hour tour of the Jefferson Building. Just show up at the information desk before any of the public tours, which run hourly on weekdays between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and Saturdays between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Step inside the Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument and learn about the origins of the suffrage and women’s rights movements, as well as the women who earned the right to vote and introduced the Equal Rights Amendment. The 200-year-old historic building in Capitol Hill has been the headquarters of the National Women’s Party since 1929 and now serves as a museum, run in tandem with the National Park Service.
The Scene: Exhibitions include artifacts such as one of the first automatic voting machines and paper labels asking voters the question, “Should women be allowed to vote?” A desk that belonged to women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony and sashes, banners and posters used in demonstrations are also on display.
Insider Info: Younger guests can earn the moniker “Junior Suffragists” when completing an activity booklet to earn a pin depicting a jailhouse door – an homage to pins that NWP founder Alice Paul created and presented to suffragists who were arrested after picketing the White House a century ago.
For a healthy dose of culture and calm, you can’t beat a wander around the National Portrait Gallery in the Penn Quarter neighborhood. Behind its Greek Revival facade, you’ll discover an incredible collection covering not only U.S. Presidents, but also works and special exhibitions highlighting some of America’s most iconic women.
The Scene: The museum's most buzzworthy women's portrait is none other than former first lady Michelle Obama's, which was unveiled in February 2018. Among other highlights of its collection, the gallery features portraits of women’s suffrage activists, including oil paintings of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Julia Ward Howe, and a bronze bust of Susan B. Anthony. Walk up to the third-floor and explore the mezzanine exhibition, Bravo!, which depicts performing arts legends like Ginger Rogers and Alla Nazimova, or the 20th Century Americans gallery, which highlights Girls Scouts of the USA founder Juliette Low.
Insider Info: At a healthy seven-by-five-and-a-half feet, Nelson Shanks’ The Four Justices is a salute to the female Supreme Court justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing one of her iconic jabots (collars) sits next to Sandra Day O’Connor (who retired from the court in 2006) on a blue sofa, while Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan stand behind them in a room based on one in the SCOTUS building. The life-size justices wear their court robes and look right at the captivated viewer, looking altogether like they’re breaking barriers and taking names.
Housed in an old masonic temple famed for its Renaissance Revival style, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is the world’s only museum solely dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements in the visual, performing and literary arts. The museum was founded by art collectors Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace F. Holladay to showcase the work of female artists spanning the 16th century to the present.
The Scene: Head through the Great Hall with its grand white marble staircases and chandeliers to view works by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, abstractionist Alma Thomas, French figure painter Suzanne Valadon and Baltimore-based painter Amy Sherald, whose strong portrayals of African American women led to her painting the first individual portrait of Michelle Obama (purchased by the National Portrait Gallery).
Insider Info: Check out Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain, an impressive 2,000-pound rubber and wood sculpture that marries the delicate art of weaving with the hardy craftwork needed to drill, saw and assemble such a huge structure. Booker has said the work “symbolizes both the destruction and the creative possibilities of our interaction with the environment. Old, worn-out tires that are recycled symbolize opposing energies that are being resolved into new works of beauty.”
Sip some of the finest craft cocktails in the country when venturing to Columbia Room, tucked inside Shaw’s Blagden Alley. As CEO and co-founder (along with cocktail whizz Derek Brown) of DC’s Drink Company, Angie Fetherston knows a thing or two about great bars. Just look at her track record: she’s helped create four successful sipping joints (plus viral sensations like the Game of Thrones pop-up bar), and in 2016 was inducted in the Tales of the Cocktail Dame Hall of Fame, an annual award given to female trailblazers in the world of cocktails.
The Scene: After an evening out on the town, head to the ever-cozy Columbia Room, with its handcrafted tipples, snacks and other edibles. Relax in the tufted leather armchairs of the snug, dimly lit Spirits Room for a reimagined old fashioned or enjoy punch and bottled cocktails on the fun roof-deck Punch Garden (complete with heat lamps for chilly nights). Whichever space you choose to imbibe, you won’t be disappointed.
Insider Info: Columbia Room has won both the Spirited Awards’ “Best American Cocktails Bar” and “Best Bar in DC” from the Washington Post. While the bar earns heaps of praise, the reservation-only Tasting Room is an entirely unique experience with ticketed three-course and five-course menus pairing drinks with small plates. Book in advance.
Jamie Leeds opened Hank’s Oyster Bar, her first DC restaurant, in 2005 in Dupont Circle. Serving what Leeds called “urban beach food,” it quickly became a Washington staple – a place where locals could sample a seafood-focused menu that went beyond the DC area’s traditional crab cake. Thanks to Leeds, Hank’s catapulted the briny gems onto the DC food scene, which now has a stable of oyster bars to choose from.
The Scene: These days, Hank’s boasts four locations as well as cocktail and pasta bars, but the flagship locale’s marble-topped bar and modern, airy dining room are a perfect place to delve into an ever-changing roster of locally sourced oysters and clams on the half shell. If you enjoy New England favorites like chowder and lobster roll, or a good crab cake, you’ll be well pleased.
Insider Info: If you have a hankering for Hank's on the weekend, head there on Saturday or Sunday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and order the two-course champagne brunch. For just $35, you get a first course of three chef's choice oysters, seafood ceviche, bacon deviled eggs and more. The second course features mussels, a smoked salmon reuben and huevos rancheros, among other items. And of course, you can enjoy champagne throughout.
Among the 11,000 women – most of whom were nurses – stationed in Vietnam during the war, Diane Carlson Evans served with the Army Nurse Corps in hospitals in Vung Tau and Pleiku, caring for burn victims and casualties from the field. Following the dedication of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall (designed by a 21-year-old Maya Lin) in 1982 and The Three Soldiers statue two years later, Carlson Evans felt uneasy that women had not had their service commemorated. In 1984, she co-founded the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation to recognize the contribution of women during the war.
The Scene: Made by sculptor Glenna Goodacre, the under-the-radar bronze statue sits close to the other Vietnam memorials, and features four figures: Three uniformed women, a dying soldier lying in the arms of one, a contemplative and respectful reminder of the service women gave our country.
Insider Info: The Foundation spent seven years in front of various commissions and Congress before permission was given for the memorial. In 1993, almost a decade after she’d started, Carlson Evans attended the unveiling of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
Where else can you find Belgian waffles, small-batch cheeses, a rum distiller and an Angelika pop-up cinema all under one roof? Union Market is a one-stop shop for dining and entertainment, not to mention a great place to buy gifts. The market, housed in a beautifully renovated warehouse, opened its doors in 2012 and quickly became a hip destination for foodies.
The Scene: Union Market is the ultimate spot for can’t-miss food experiences in Washington, DC. Try the fragrant vegan and gluten-free South Indian dosas from Priya Ammu’s DC Dosa or the delicious baked goods at Pluma, an offshoot of Camila Arango and Tom Wellings' Bluebird Bakery.
Insider Info: There’s a slew of woman-helmed businesses to check out at Union Market. When you’re done eating, stop by Salt & Sundry to browse Amanda McClements’ carefully curated collection of home goods, plants and paper products. Read our interview with Amanda McClements on Salt & Sundry and the NoMa neighborhood.
Overlooking Rock Creek Park, the sprawling Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens offers a pastoral respite from the fast-paced hubbub of the city. Built in the 1950s by businesswoman and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post, owner of General Foods, the property features 13 acres of stunning formal gardens and a museum.
The Scene: You’ll be taken around the world and back when you check out the full grounds and explore all of the “outdoor rooms.” Stroll through Japanese- and European-style gardens, cutting flower gardens and wooded footpaths. While you’re at it, admire the colorfully trimmed wooden Russian cottage and an orchid-laden greenhouse.
Insider Info: After the death of her father when she was 27, Post inherited his business and went on to become one of the wealthiest women in the country. Over time, she assembled an impressive collection of eighteenth-century French porcelain which is housed in the property’s Museum along with the largest collection of Russian Imperial art outside of that country. Visit the house to see stunning Fabergé objects, religious icons, decorative French objets d’art, and then relax over lunch in the Hillwood Café.
There’s no better way to witness DC’s creator community than stepping inside this concept store and eatery. Community-based business consultant Stacy Price, who’s been championing area artisans for a while, got together with Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Michael Babin to launch the store in 2017. Shop Made in DC now offers four locations.
The Scene: The original Dupont Circle storefront, heavy on the exposed brick and warm wooden floors and walls, is packed with a rotating collection of artwork, home goods, jewelry and other gifts. You can expect similar experiences at the other storefronts in Georgetown and at The Wharf. Shop Made in DC also hosts a storelet at the DC History Center Store at Carnegie Library.
Insider Info: In 2016, the DC city council passed legislation to certify, promote and support local artisans and businesses through the “Made in DC” program. Almost 150 DC makers – creating everything from tacos to t-shirts – have joined the program. Check out even more local businesses that deserve your attention.
Pia Carusone and Rachel Gardner opened Republic Restoratives, DC’s first woman-owned distillery, in 2015, after raising almost $120,000 in an Indiegogo campaign becoming, according to Carusone, the largest crowdfunded distillery in the world.
The Scene: RR’s corn-based Civic Vodka is charcoal polished, a filtration technique that leaves the drink with a smooth, crisp taste. The company has expanded into whiskeys, too: Their Rodham Rye, a blend of Tennessee ryes, is named for Hillary Clinton and part of the proceeds from each bottle goes to EMILY’S list, an organization that helps Democratic women interested in running for public office. Carusone told Washingtonian, “It’s a tribute to women in history, and a tribute to women in our everyday lives.” Also available is the Borough Bourbon, a Kentucky-style whiskey.
Insider Info: RR gives tours of their facility at the weekends and their wood-lined Ivy Bar is open Thursday to Sunday for cocktails – the ideal way to sample their spirits.
So many of America’s treasures are housed in this vast Smithsonian museum on the National Mall that it’s hard to know where to start. As you’re doing the rounds to view the original Star-Spangled Banner, the lunch counter from the Greensboro sit-ins, Abe Lincoln’s top hat, and the droids from Return of the Jedi, there are a number of exhibits and artifacts that focus on notable women.
The Scene: An exhibition featuring more than two dozen dresses belonging to the nation’s first ladies commemorates more than the clothes they wore; the Changing Times, Changing First Ladies section spotlights the evolving roles and important contributions these women have made to the country. All Work, No Pay highlights, through aprons and housedresses, how women continue to be unfairly responsible for the almost-timeless and endless unpaid work at home. Later this year, the museum will debut Creating Icons: How We Remember Women's Suffrage (opens March 6) and Girlhood! (It's complicated) (opens June 12).
Insider Info: On the ground floor you can visit Julia Child’s remarkable kitchen – the real one, not a replica – donated by the doyenne of French cuisine herself, with all of its copper pans and taller-than-usual counters (Child was 6’ 2”).
Since the National Museum of African American History & Culture opened in September 2016, the museum has quickly become one of the city’s hottest tickets. Inside the five-level structure you’ll find a trove of artifacts, from the earliest days of the slave trade to the Jim Crow era to the Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movements.
The Scene: Be on the lookout for items owned by Harriet Tubman, including a shawl given to her by Britain’s Queen Victoria, the dress that Rosa Parks was sewing when she refused to give up her bus seat, Gabby Douglas’ gymnastics equipment, a uniform worn by Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown, who became the first female African American general, statues of Venus and Serena Williams, the couch from the Oprah Winfrey Show, and images of women who were instrumental in the Black Power movement and the birth of hip-hop.
Insider Info: Due to its popularity, the museum requires free timed entry passes to enter, which you can acquire online. We recommend you plan ahead and obtain advance timed entry passes, which are released on a monthly basis. You can also obtain advance same-day passes, which are released every morning at 6:30 a.m.
Take a break and escape the weather – cold, rainy, sultry or perfect – with a cuppa at one of DC’s five Teaism locations. Michelle Brown and Linda Neumann opened the first Teaism location in Dupont Circle in 1996 to bring proper (read: properly made) tea to the DC masses.
The Scene: Teaism’s cozy teahouse atmosphere will warm you inside and out. As well as an expansive drinks menu – with fragrant black, white and green teas, oolongs, chai and tisanes – Teaism features a wholesome Asian-inspired menu that will take you from breakfast through dinner. Start the day with the Indian flavors of the tempeh scramble over a cup of keemun with its English breakfast base. Delicious bento boxes, soups, salads and curries are included on the menu as well as excellent dessert cookies and cakes that pair well with hot or iced brews and the amazing ginger limeade.
Insider Info: Bite into the city’s most popular salty oat cookie at any of the three locations. If you’re hankering for something savory, order the nori-infused fried chicken bento box, and sub in brown rice for a little less guilt (only available at Penn Quarter and Lafayette Park locations).
Located in the stylish CityCenterDC, Centrolina brings authentic Italian cooking to the heart of downtown DC. Leading the way is chef/owner Amy Brandwein, a James Beard Award nominee in 2017 for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. Brandwein was classically trained at L’Academie de Cuisine Culinary School and opened Alba Osteria as its chef de cuisine in 2013. Ever since, she has been bringing her unique brand of cooking to District diners. Her crown jewel is Centrolina, which also employs women as its executive pastry chef (Caitlin Dysart) and general manager (Angela Duran).
The Scene: Centrolina is a dual-concept locale, featuring a restaurant and a market, each focusing on seasonal and fresh ingredients that bring out the best in the regional Italian cooking that Brandwein is famous for. The restaurant uses an open kitchen and a terracotta-clad wood oven to immerse diners in the cooking experience, providing an at-home feel to the proceedings. Over in the market, you can purchase meat, cheese, seafood, dried pasta and local produce and dairy. Grab-and-go sandwiches and coffee are also available.
Insider Info: The cocktails at Centrolina pair perfectly with its cuisine. A list that offers both signatures and classics means there's a solid spirit no matter your taste. You’ll also want to try one of the Italian desserts – our favorite is the Torta di Carote, which offers carrot cake baravois, pecan streusel, cream cheese, salted caramel and carrot-orange sorbetto.
One of the most significant women in American history, Clara Barton founded and served as president of the American Red Cross in 1881. She not only helped to provide assistance to wounded soldiers on the battlefield during the Civil War, but she also assisted many more by founding the Missing Soldiers Office, which helped locate more than 22,000 soldiers of some 63,000.
The Scene: Outside the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum you’ll find a replica of the original sign, which hung in the mid-1860s, notifying visitors that they’ll find the office on the third story, room nine. The sign sets the scene for what’s to come, a journey up a narrow staircase transporting you back in time thanks to preserved rooms with era-appropriate wallpaper, faux gas lanterns and windows overlooking 7th Street.
Insider Info: The museum hosts group tours for as few as 10 people and as many as 60 and is open Thursday through Saturday. Tours begin on the half-hour, and admission costs $9.50 for adults and $7 for students and free for kids 9 and under.
Buttercream Bakeshop is Tiffany MacIsaac’s acclaimed bakery, where the pastry chef is mastering the art of cookies, cakes and confections. Morning time can also mean croissants, scones and biscuits, and Buttercream has partnered with Compass Coffee so they’re only giving you the finest brew.
The Scene: Upon entering, you will smell the sweet scene of freshly made pastries and other baked goods. After you select your breakfast treat, grab that cup of Compass Coffee and douse it with a house-made syrup or milk. The shop is open until at least 7 p.m. from Tuesday through Sunday, so if your sweet-tooth craving kicks in during the afternoon or evening, don’t worry – Buttercream will be there for you.
Insider Info: Of course, Buttercream Bakeshop is not just for on-the-go satisfaction. You can custom order a cake to your liking, turning that special occasion extra special. Everything is scratch-baked, meaning whatever you get will be fresh and ready to dazzle whoever you may serve. Classic, pre-designed cakes are also available. Buttercream also offers baking classes frequently, so take a look at the offerings and find one that tickles your fancy.
Washington Walks leads this tour that highlights the trailblazing women who have lived, worked and contributed to social change in Washington, DC. You will have a chance to learn about Clara Barton, Dorothy Height, Frances Perkins (the first woman cabinet secretary) and many others. The tour is offered on Sundays at 11 a.m. and lasts approximately two hours. Admission is $20 per person, but kids ages 3 and under tour for free. A U.S. military or federal government ID grants you a $5 discount. Check out the full schedule to plan your excursion.
The Scene: Your voyage will take you on the National Mall, near the U.S. Capitol and along Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where women marched for suffrage on March 3, 1913. The walk concludes at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, the home of the National Women’s Party for nearly 90 years.
Insider Info: The stories of the women featured on the tour cover groundbreaking accomplishments. The aforementioned Dorothy Height spent four decades fighting for the rights of African-American women and girls. Perkins is considered the primary mind behind President Franklin Roosevelt’s game-changing New Deal.