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20 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. So put on your pink hat, 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, Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists (Ends Oct. 20, 2018).
The Scene: Curated from the Library’s extensive collections, the exhibit spans the late 1800s to the present, demonstrating the progression of freedoms, opportunities and self-expression of, for, and by women. Many of the early artists never had the opportunity to earn much acclaim for their craft, which makes visiting this exhibit so powerful. 70 works by more than 40 artists are on display covering everything from early comics and magazine covers to editorial illustrators and political cartoons.
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 recently 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: Theater-goers rave about Hank’s pre-theater menu, which includes a three-course meal for $32 between 5:30-6:30 p.m. Selections from the raw bar kick off the prix-fixe options, followed by salad or soup and main. Hank’s seasonally inspired cocktail menu is worth the trip alone, as you’re sure to get a kick out of the wittily named concoctions.
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 chicken tikka or Thai vegetable fillings at DC Empanadas or the fragrant vegan and gluten-free South Indian dosas from Priya Ammu’s DC Dosa. Righteous Cheese offers an impressive variety of local, American and European cheeses and a knowledgeable staff that can help you identify your soft-ripened sheep’s milk from your cow’s milk triple-cream. If comfort food is more your thing, head to Puddin’ where Toyin Alli will ply you with shrimp ‘n’ grits and brown butter bourbon bread pudding.
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 or Little Leaf 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.
The Scene: The 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. Shoppers should bring their appetite and dine at the store’s cafe where Bullfrog Bagels and Small Planes Coffee provide breakfast. The local businesses turn the kitchen over to Dorjee Momo (Himalayan soup dumplings and curries) and Tortilladora (tacos with creative fillings) for lunch and dinner. Pair all of this shopping and eating with a beer list curated by nationally known beer master Greg Engert, along with drinks from DC’s own Anxo cidery and cocktails from One Eight Distilling.
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. The First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald at 100 celebrates the life and career of the famed jazz singer.
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. Same-day walk-up passes are available in person on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 1 p.m. on weekdays only.
Wake Up. Kick Ass. Be Kind. Repeat. That’s the fitting manifesto unapologetically displayed on a sign at Violet Boutique. Owner Julie Egermayer has won accolades – and a lot of devoted customers – for her store’s collection of stylish but affordable womenswear, shoes and accessories. But even better than that is the consistent, unpretentious and friendly customer service Violet is known for.
The Scene: The boutique has been around for six years, outgrowing its original Adams Morgan location and moving into a spacious, elegant spot on Georgetown’s M Street last year. In the bright and spacious sales room, you’ll find poppy work-to-weekend wear, formal dresses, chic jackets, enviable shoes and bags and gorgeous jewelry, and the best thing is that everything is priced under $200. In fact, for half that amount you can walk out feeling like a new woman.
Insider Info: Egermayer told DC fashion blog Thirty Seventh, “We have clothes for everyone, from the funkier, edgier girl to people who are going to their nine-to-fives in an office setting every day. We have clothes for the weekend, festivals, weddings, and events. We feel like we can really provide something for everyone.” Her customers must agree: Violet Boutique was named “Best Clothing Boutique” by Washington City Paper readers this year.
Chef/owner Yadira Stamp rolls out an affordable menu from her native country at her Panamanian restaurant, Esencias Panameñas, voted Washington City Paper’s “Best Latin American Restaurant” in 2017.
The Scene: As one of only a couple of eateries on the East Coast serving authentic cuisine from Panama, people travel from all over to sample Stamp’s traditional carimañolas (fresh ground yuca balls stuffed with beef or turkey), Panamanian corvina fish and tamale de hoja (fresh ground corn stuffed with chicken, olives and vegetables). The key to leaving happily stuffed is to pair your meal with a hibiscus and ginger juice or one of the signature cocktails, and finish with a sweet plantain bar or rum cake.
Insider Info: The place is jumping at the weekends with diners coming especially for the restaurant’s Sábados de Fritangas (Saturday’s guilty pleasure), with a special menu featuring two-person platters filled with fried delicacies like ground corn fritters, twice-fried green plantains and fried chicken.
Marjorie Meek-Bradley, former Top Chef contestant, James Beard Award nominee and Executive Chef at Ripple and Roofer’s Union, has taken the sandwich world by storm with Smoked & Stacked. Located in the Shaw neighborhood, the sandwich shop specializes in breakfast creations, pastrami and platters, using milk bread and house-made ingredients to offer up meals that you’ll be craving after your first try.
The Scene: We promise that your morning will be drastically improved with a trip to Smoked & Stacked. Breakfast is served until 11 a.m., and some of Bradley’s tastiest offerings are available, including Wake Up (bacon or sausage, egg and cheese) and The New Yorker (pastrami, fried egg, hot pepper jelly). Grab yourself a draft cold brew or drip coffee and it’s time to conquer the day.
Insider Info: Don’t get the impression that the fun stops at Smoked & Stacked after breakfast. Starting at 11 a.m., the Signatures take the spotlight. “Stacked” bears one word of the shop’s name but it deserves way more than word to describe it. The savory mix of pastrami, milk bread, coleslaw and Dijon mustard is irresistible, making it a sandwich that will leave quite an impression on the taste buds. You can also get your “Smoked” on with a half chicken platter or an eight-ounce sliced brisket.
Take a break and escape the weather – cold, rainy, sultry or perfect – with a cuppa at one of DC’s three 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 sourdough pancakes or 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. Whatever your choices,
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 Square 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), general manager (Angela Duran) and beverage director/assistant general manager (Kristin Welch).
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. Thoughtful creations include the Blushing Giuseppe, which features galliano, citrus vodka, raspberries and honey. The Effervescente headlines the line, mixing prosecco, lime, mint and prickley pear for an explosion of flavor. You’ll also want to try one of the Italian desserts – our favorite is the Torta di Formaggio, which offers pine nut caramel, cream cheese-ricotta mousse and grape 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 on-site exhibitions, including one featuring Alexander Gardner’s Civil War photography, running through May 19, 2018. The museum 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.
In the Shaw neighborhood, Tiffany MacIsaac is doing for sweets what Marjorie Meek-Bradley is doing for sandwiches. Buttercream Bakeshop is 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 – sign up for their mailing list to find out when they’re offered, or get in touch with them to book a private session for 8-10 guests.