Travel Guide: Washington, DC
Although frolicking in the forest on two wheels occupies quite a lot of my time, I like to mix it up by spending some of my summer in the concrete jungle. I was lucky enough to talk my friend Corinne into coming down from Vermont to join my urban adventure this go-around.
I have been to DC on quite a few occasions over the years and – while I always have a good time – I’ve never really fallen in love with the city. But, this time around, something changed and DC felt as much like home as a place could feel in just five short days. Biking in Washington DC has a way of doing that.
We figured out the thoroughfares, learned to navigate the city with ease, and befriended locals whose energy and enthusiasm for the city was contagious. I left dreaming of my return. Washington, DC, you are a true gem!
See, cities can be tricky. Everything moves so fast, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed – and often like a fish swimming upstream. Then pile on a busy travel agenda and now you really need to know what you’re doing! The bike changes that. It makes travel simple and more fun.
For someone who was new to cruising around a city by bike, DC is an incredible place to learn. There are many bike lanes – some protected, some not – and I was blown away by how many people were on bikes. Perhaps most surprising, I found that the drivers and cars here are very forgiving – often accommodating to cyclists!
There’s something about Washington DC that makes it feels so intimate. It's big in the sense that there's a lot going on, a lot happening, and a lot of moving pieces but it feels small because of its accessibility. As far as cities go, DC is actually small – 68.3 square miles (109.9 square km) to be exact – which means, there is a lot of really cool stuff packed into a small area! It is incredible to think: so many of the things that have shaped American history happened right here.
Get a good lock and learn how to lock your bike properly. I suggest getting Pinheads if you are riding in the city, as you will only have to worry about locking the frame. This clever gadget replaces the quick-releases on your wheels and seat post – making it nearly impossible for someone to remove them from your bike without the special key.
Spend a little extra time with a map so you can make a mental note of where the bike lanes are in relation to the places you want to go and the things you want to see.
Always wear a helmet. There are no laws regarding helmets in DC but your head is important!
Get yourself a set of lights (front and rear) and maybe some additional reflectors. You will definitely want to ride at night in DC, but lights also help keep you safe during the day.
Don’t forget your hand signals. When there’s a break in the bike lane, you’ll have to share the road with traffic. Make yourself look big and communicate with the cars around you with good hand signals to let them know where you are going.
"We sought out the Rock Creek Park Trail, which quickly brought us out of the city street network and down along the shaded creek, accentuated by old stone bridges and towering trees. We pedaled to the cicadas’ buzz, humming along."
Best Bike Routes in Washington DC:
Capital Crescent Trail: One of the busiest commuter trails in the country and on my list of favorite DC bike routes! Beautiful too.
Anacostia Riverwalk Trail: This trail parallels the Anacostia River and is totally protected. It is a nice little escape from the hustle and bustle.
Metropolitan Branch Trail: Loved this trail! It was totally protected, but a bit more urban than the others. Have caution on this one at night as it goes through some not-so-good neighborhoods.
Rock Creek Trail: This a protected trail right in the center of the city. This was the first trail we rode on the trip. It was quiet and paralleled an old creek – a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city!
15th, M St & L St (and other green lanes): These streets make you feel safe and are considerably quicker to get from A to B on by bike.
Virginia: There are a number of ways you can go over to the Virginia side of the Potomac River, which gives you a nice perspective of DC. There are also some great sights over there such as The Pentagon, the Arlington National Cemetery & Gravelly Point.
“The Capital Crescent Trail ends at the Friends of Georgetown Waterfront Park, the intersection of the Potomac River and Rock Creek. Here we emerged from the quiet wooded corridor. Quickly we were reacquainted with crowds, weaving through pockets of people – each speaking a different language – and for a moment there, it was easy to forget where we were.”
Best Washington DC Bike Shop:
The Bike Rack: The people here are super friendly and very knowledgeable. Two locations make it super convenient no matter where you are in the city.
"The Bike Rack: compact, clean, professional. We were welcomed by the rainbow flag in the window and the humble folks behind the counter."
Eat and Drink:
Donburi: Delicious sushi bowls in Adams Morgan. The restaurant is small but it’s perfect to takeout. Grab a bowl and head to a park. Maybe the Zoo?
District Taco: DC’s taqueria. Although it’s a chain, the tacos and the expansive add-on bar did not disappoint.
Roofers union: Cool little rooftop bar in Adams Morgan.
Le Pain: Stumbling upon this French café at our hungriest was a blessing! Located conveniently downtown in Dupont Circle, this seems to be a popular lunch spot. Our late afternoon snack was perfect – and with free bread and speculous on the side!
Tryst: For coffeehouse enthusiasts, this energetic spot is not to be missed. Grab a bite and a drink breakfast or lunch.
Thomas Sweet: Delicious ice cream in Adams Morgan.
Pitango: Probably the best Gelato I have ever had.
Amsterdam Falafel: I wish this was near my house. Authentic and flavors are on point.
Where to Stay:
I can’t tell you how much I love AirBnb. I feel like AirBnb is the easiest thing you can do to make a place feel homey straight away. Find a place that suits your style and price range - and always look at reviews. We stayed at this cute little place in Adams Morgan. It was the perfect center point for our DC bike adventure.
What to See:
The Mall at night: MUST DO, 100%. Ideally with Jeff of DC Concierge.
Georgetown: Makes me wish I went to college in DC. So many cool buildings, shops, restaurants, history!
Union Market (and the heart wall around the corner): We found this place by accident but ended up spending a few hours here!
White House: Keep an eye out for the helicopters flying in threes to/from the White House.
Cherry Blossoms: Only lasts a few weeks each year so keep an eye on the cherry blossom forecasts - I happened to be here one year for them and it was incredible.
The Howard Theatre: Beautiful theatre with so much history, so happy we caught a show here.
Gravelly Point: The planes landing at Reagan Airport are SO close to you!
Zoo: One of my favorite things in DC. And it’s FREE!
Holocaust Museum, National Portrait Gallery, all the museums: SO MANY MUSEUMS. I wish we had time for all of them! Pick a few that are important to you and check it out. All the Smithsonian museums are free.
"Gravelly Point, where we were washed over by the blast of landing planes. Larger than life."
Meet the Locals:
Jeff at Cycling Concierge: We came to DC with a laundry list of things we wanted to do and see, but after spending some time at the Bike Rack, they suggested we get in touch with Jeff of DC Concierge. If you can meet anyone in DC, it’s this guy. He made our trip with his passion, knowledge and enthusiasm.
Jeff showed us the ins and outs of his favorite places mixed in with history, facts and a few nuances. Jeff is a passionate DC resident of eight years and a lifetime cycling advocate. His advocacy work has taken him around the world and has since landed him in DC. Just a few months into launching his own business, Jeff shared his knowledge and passion for the city’s sights, infrastructure, and way of life well beyond the average tour guide.
If you are looking for someone to take you on a Washington DC bike tour, Jeff is your dude.
It’s hot and sticky in the mid-Atlantic, but that all seems to disappear with the breeze that cruising on two wheels brings. Overall, I was delighted by the cultural diversity that DC holds in its architecture, food and kind people. It’s official I’ve fallen in love with you DC!