Washington DC

Everything You Can Do in DC This Holiday Season

Consider this our gift to you.

Orhan Cam/Shutterstock
Orhan Cam/Shutterstock
Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

Arriving just in time to delay our seasonal depression and provide us a distraction from pandemic-related woes: the holidays. From unsecured gifts to drastically loosened belt loops, the holiday season stresses us out in ways unrelated to those we’ve been feeling all year long, and for that, we are truly thankful. 

One thing that is certain this holiday season, besides a lively post-election political discussion at the dinner table, is the fact that this year’s celebrations will look and feel very different. Large indoors friendsgivings are a no-go, as are the rowdy office holiday parties we’ve all come to know and (kind of) love. In its stead is a unique time to focus more on time with your inner, inner circle-the people you trust have been respecting COVID-19 restrictions and immediate family members that you’ve been missing. We want to spread holiday cheer after all, not more of a deadly disease. 

With that being said, the fun of the holidays is far from lost, and there remains plenty of opportunities around the DC area to show off your spirit, drink themed cocktails and shop small for your loved ones. To help you get started, we’ve played Santa for the day in order to deliver you this comprehensive list of everything you need to do in DC this holiday season. 

Of course, please stay home if you aren’t feeling well, and take a look at Mayor Muriel Bowser’s guidelines for a safe holiday celebration before making plans to gather with loved ones. 
 

Get lit with holiday lights around the region

Through January 3
Various locations
Some holiday displays like the iconic Zoolights at the National Zoo have chosen to delay festivities until next year, but there is still plenty of illumination to see this season. Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights is reopening soon, a stunning half-mile of lights through the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, as well as the annual Georgetown GLOW, which is doing some creative virtual programming this year. 
Cost: Prices vary 

Downtown Holiday Market
Downtown Holiday Market
Downtown Holiday Market

Shop small at the Downtown Holiday Market

Through December 23
Various locations
Need to check a few people off your holiday shopping list, but a Chia Pet ordered off Amazon feels unethical for multiple reasons? It might be time to hit the Downtown Holiday Market, the biggest and longest-running holiday market in town-celebrating its 16th anniversary this year. This year the market will encompass two entire city blocks on F Street NW, from 7th to 9th Streets NW. There you can browse the wares of over 70 exhibitors including local Black-owned and minority-owned businesses. 
Cost: Free entry 
 

Sharpen your kitchen skills with the U.S. Botanical Garden

Ongoing
Online
While the U.S. Botanical Garden might be closed, it’s making it easier than ever to bring the plant magic home with you by providing a regular schedule of online classes and tutorials that are perfect for the holidays. Create your own fall floral centerpiece or winter door wreath to bring a joyous vibe to your home, or take a cooking class that’ll help you make delicious Thanksgiving side dishes or figure out what exactly to do with all those leftovers.
Cost: Free 
 

Indulge in Kitsch at Tiki TNT

Through January 6
District Wharf
Tiki TNT owner Todd Thrasher is leaning into a Christmas in Hawaii theme with his “Tacky Ass” Tiki Christmas celebration. Expect a hodge-podge of decorative, tropical-inspired decor complete with snow machines. Sip on holiday themed drinks served in Santa mugs, like Hot Pineapple Cider and Holiday Spectacular Punch. A Thrasher’s Rum-Ron-Rhum Shoppe pop-up liquor store will also be open for those looking to purchase boozy gifts for their loved ones.
Price: Free admission 
 

Spend the holidays at George Washington’s home

December 18 – December 19
Mount Vernon
Had enough of modern politics? Thought so. Take a step back in time to spend the holidays with one of the country’s founding fathers, George Washington, as you watch a festive firework display explode in the sky above the estate. A bonfire with hot chocolate and cider will provide much-needed warmth, and Aladdin the camel even plans on making an appearance.
Cost: $22 for non-members 
 

Book a holiday dinner in an igloo

December 2 – January 30
Alexandria, Virginia
Cancel your trip to the North Pole, because we found the next best thing in Alexandria. Southern restaurant and whiskey den King & Rye is offering up the chillest way to spend dinner this holiday season-in one of their personal igloos that will soon be set up in their outdoor courtyard, transforming it into a Winter Wonderland. Guests will be able to book an igloo for a private dinner for up to eight guests, each complete with their own heaters and a Bluetooth speaker to play music from. 
Cost: $50 to rent the igloo plus a $100 food and beverage minimum 
 

Spread cheer at Wolf Trap’s annual holiday sing along (from home)

December 5 and December 19
Online
The show must go on, and at Wolf Trap it will, from the comfort of your own living room. Fans of the outdoor music venue’s long standing annual holiday sing-along will be excited to learn that the tradition is not going to be put on pause this year-it’s simply taking a new virtual form. This year’s event will feature performances from the United States Marine Band, recorded at The Barns at Wolf Trap, and each will begin with a short prelude of festive instrumentals followed by a series of classic holiday sing-along songs. 
Cost: Free 
 

Georgetown GLOW
Georgetown GLOW
Georgetown GLOW

Visit a socially distanced winter wonderland

Through January 3
Alexandria, Virginia
Walking in a socially distanced wonderland-that’s how the song goes, right? Either way, The Winter Village at Cameron Run in Alexandria is returning this year, featuring one of the only ice rinks to open in 2020 as well as holiday light displays, a retail area for shopping, food and music.
Cost: $7 per ticket 
 

Give back to your community at a holiday gift drive

Ongoing
Multiple locations
Gain some extra karma points this holiday season by participating in one of the many local charitable events, such as Pizzeria Paradiso’s annual holiday fundraiser benefiting Martha’s Table. Just bring a canned good from the approved items list to any Pizzeria Paradiso location to trade for a can of beer to take home. Over in Navy Yard, Shilling Canning Company is offering a Tree Trimming to-go package for two full of local food goods and an extra large holiday cocktail. Guests purchasing the package that bring a new, unwrapped toy to benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington DC will have their cocktail upgraded to a whopping 32 ounces. 
Cost: Price varies 
 

Catch one of your favorite holiday movies outdoors 

Through December 31
District Wharf
Watching holiday movies at home is always fun, but watching them from your very own outdoor fire pit on Transit Pier is even better. Bring along three of your friends or family and watch all of the classics like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf from an outdoor 20-foot LED screen. Drinks and snacks will be provided by Cantina Bambina, and you’ll get to go home with a special stocking stuffed full of offers and treats from Wharf restaurants, merchants, and partners. 
Cost: $60 for up to four people 
 

See the Bullpen dressed up for Christmas

Through December 24
Navy Yard
If you’ve only visited the Bullpen to pregame Nats games, you probably won’t recognize it after this winter wonderland facelift. Thousands of twinkling lights, a Christmas tree village, a giant snow globe, holiday music, nightly movie screenings and more will be on display in the outdoor space that’s being called  “A Very Merry Bullpen.” Drink specials with seasonal beers and warm cocktails will be on tap courtesy of Due South, tables will be socially distanced, and temperature checks will be taken for all guests and employees. 
Cost: Free admission 
 

Grab a cold beer to enjoy around a warm firepit

Ongoing
Ivy City
While it might not exactly be patio season, Atlas Brew Works Ivy City Brewery & Tap Room has decked theirs out so that you can continue to drink beer outdoors without freezing. Their upgraded patio is now complete with firepits and cozy seats that’ll keep you and your quarantine pod toasty all winter long.Sign up here for our daily DC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Austa Somvichian-Clausen is a freelance food and travel writer, as well as a staff writer for The Hill where she covers the topics of diversity and equality. She now lives in Brooklyn with her girlfriend and two fur babies, but called DC home for many years-attending American University and then working for National Geographic. Follow her on Instagram.

Washington DC

The Eight Most Exciting Suburbs Outside DC

You could use a little space.

Regine Poirier/Shutterstock
Regine Poirier/Shutterstock
Regine Poirier/Shutterstock

When people say Washington, DC, it’s hard to tell if they’re talking about The District proper, or the sprawling metro area that is sometimes nicknamed the DMV: The District, Maryland, and Virginia. The fact is that DC is made whole by its vibrant suburbs, whether you’re looking for a shopping center dedicated almost entirely to Vietnamese cuisine, a rock climbing wall in-you guessed it-Rockville, or a wetland preserve that’s wide open for hiking and fresh air.

The DC suburbs practically have it all, and you can reach many of these neighborhoods by bike, public transit, or a set of four wheels. Here are eight great suburban destinations that you may find yourself visiting soon. We won’t judge you if you want to stay.

Earth Treks Rockville
Earth Treks Rockville
Earth Treks Rockville

Rockville

Distance from DC: 30 minutes
Many people will inevitably cruise Rockville Pike, aka 355, for all of its big-box delights, since this retail corridor has always been a sprawly place to shop for decades. But more recently, Rockville has become something entirely different. It’s walkable and bikeable, thanks to the Pike & Rose development. And it remains a destination for some of the best Chinese soup dumplings in the DMV at A&J Restaurant and Bob’s Shanghai 66. Rockville is also, fittingly, home to the best rock climbing wall attracting serious spelunkers and climbing newbies alike. And it remains a place for family-run restaurants, many of which are run by immigrants. For a small taste of the magic of this Montgomery County suburb, visit Bombay Bistro for Chef K.N.Vinod and Surfy Rahman’s take on Indian fare from the country’s southern region. Like many of the best eateries in Rockville, this restaurant is tucked away in a shopping strip. When you find it, you’ll be rewarded with mouth-watering dosas, biryani, and vindaloo.

Fresh Baguette
Fresh Baguette
Fresh Baguette

Bethesda

Distance from DC: 20 minutes
Anyone who grew up near Bethesda has probably spent their early teenage years loitering at the Bethesda’s Regal Cinema or by The Barnes & Noble water fountain. Now, both of those legendary spots of yesteryear have been transformed into a suburban-style city with sidewalk cafes, trendy shopping, and an upgraded Capital Crescent Trail-a longtime favorite with joggers and bikers. Bethesda is also home to a world of flavors: Fresh Baguette for Parisian-style pastries, Pesca Deli for Portuguese, Taqueria El Jalapeño for tasty tacos, and Passage to India just to name a few. To reach all of these places, you can hop aboard the Bethesda Circulator, a free shuttle service that picks you up at the Bethesda Metro station and takes you in a loop around town.

Brookside Gardens, Montgomery Parks
Brookside Gardens, Montgomery Parks
Brookside Gardens, Montgomery Parks

Wheaton

Distance from DC: 20 minutes
There is absolutely no beating Wheaton when a food craving hits, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This Maryland suburb, just north of DC on Metro’s red line, has one of the best diners in the region, Nick’s Diner, owned and operated by Nick Markopoulos and his Greek family. For lunch, Wheaton is home to a handful of pupuserias that are indicative of this neighborhood’s Salvadoran community. Pupuseria La Familiar, Los Chorros, and Irene’s Pupusas are three great options. Finally, for dinner, Peruvian chicken at El Pollo Rico or Bolivian fare, and specifically the beef silpancho, at Kantuta’s are hearty and tasty offerings. Finish your day of dining on a high note with a cannoli or rainbow cookie from Filippo’s Deli. After a day of eating, you’ll need to walk off all those carbs. Go for a leisurely stroll around the pond at Wheaton Regional Park’s Brookside Gardens. The park is a five-minute drive north of Wheaton’s retail corridor, and it’s free and open to the public year-round.

Streetcar 82 Brewing Co.
Streetcar 82 Brewing Co.
Streetcar 82 Brewing Co.

Hyattsville

Distance from DC: 20 minutes
A brewery tour is a safe bet when visiting Hyattsville, Maryland-a community with a small-town vibe, located in Prince George’s County, just across The District line. A primary reason why beer nerds flock here is Franklins, a brewpub that last year opened a tiki-themed bar in its parking lot to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are more than a dozen beers on tap, plus Franklins makes its own root beer if you prefer some nonalcoholic suds. That’s in addition to a historic hardware shop that’s been converted into a bottle shop, with a wide collection of craft beer and local wine. Nearby on Route 1, find a local brewery that specializes in outdoor drinking. Streetcar 82 Brewing Co. opened two years ago and is named in homage to the 82 Streetcar line which ran by the brewery’s site from 1888 to 1957. This converted auto garage now serves hop-forward beers and has bike rack parking and picnic tables, perfect for a Sunday Funday. For more craft beers from around the country paired with wood-fired pizza, Pizzeria Paradiso is a top-notch eater across the street, and cap off your crawl by swinging by Maryland Meadworks, which serves a range of meads from sweet to semi-sweet to dry.

Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary
Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary
Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary

Upper Marlboro

Distance from DC: 45 minutes
Fulfill your childhood wonder and delight at the greatest playground in the DMV. Watkins Regional Park is great for kids (or the kid at heart) looking to romp around themed playgrounds. The first is a horse-racing-themed playground, part of Maryland’s legacy as a horse racing capital. Meanwhile, the second option is the stuff of fairy tales-a Wizard of Oz-inspired playground, complete with a yellow brick road, a ruby slippers slide, and an Emerald City climbing wall. Grownups and kids alike will also enjoy the hiking options at nearby Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, an expansive preserve that’s part of the tidal reaches of the Patuxent River. There are more than 1,700 acres of unique freshwater marshes, forested wetlands, creeks, meadows, pines and sand barrens, plus fields and park areas for an afternoon picnic. If you’d rather fuel up than bring-your-own food, Upper Marlboro’s Main Street Coffee & Treats is where the community gathers for coffee, pastries, fresh-pressed juices, and vegan cupcakes at all hours of the day.

Photo Courtesy of Ada's on the River
Photo Courtesy of Ada’s on the River
Photo Courtesy of Ada’s on the River

Old Town Alexandria

Distance from DC: 20 minutes
With waterfront views, historic homes along cobblestone streets, and a trolley that goes up and down King Street for free, it’s hard not to imagine why Old Town Alexandria wouldn’t be on our suburban list. You might come for the charm, but there’s a lot more to this city than just Instagram-worthy streetscapes. The Torpedo Factory is a burgeoning artist enclave for purchasing one-of-a-kind sculptures and artwork. Those who prefer a pleasure cruise down the Potomac can take the Potomac River Water Taxi to or from the city. And outdoor eating by the water offers plenty of space and social distance. The food and outdoor surroundings at Ada’s on the River and King & Rye, two of Alexandria’s latest eatery additions, are great places to book a weekend brunch.

Eden Center
Eden Center
Eden Center

Falls Church

Distance from DC: 30 minutes
Most people know Falls Church as the home of Eden Center-a shopping center with dozens of Vietnamese businesses and restaurants. This might be the biggest draw for Falls Church food lovers. However, there are several more reasons to make this Northern Virginia suburb a part of your food bucket list. Start at Takumi, a popular Japanese sushi spot, serving quality grade sashimi, sake, and sushi tastings. Got a craving for cavatelli? Then book it to Thomspon Italian. Chef Gabe Thompson and Pastry Chef Katherine Thompson are a husband and wife team who make this spot feel more like home. While the dining room remains closed, Thompson is offering several of its top dishes, including housemade pasta and gelatos, for pickup.

Wolf Trap
Wolf Trap
Wolf Trap

Tysons Corner

Distance from DC: 30 minutes
When you visit Tysons Corner, you’re probably here to do one thing-shop until you drop. Tysons is home to two malls, sometimes nicknamed Tysons I (Tysons Corner Center) and Tysons II (Tysons Galleria). The former is pretty typical while the latter leans more upscale. Not surprisingly, Tysons II also has good taste in food. Find the Urbanspace Food Hall, home to Donburi DC and Andy’s Pizza, plus an upscale pastry shop called Lady M. Aside from the shopping and dining, another good reason to visit Tysons this summer might be for a concert. The Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts recently announced its outdoor summer concert lineup, which could start as soon as the end of May. We’ll keep our fingers crossed!

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Tim Ebner is a contributor for Thrillist. 

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