Under-the-radar culture and food stops in the nation’s capital.

Affordable Washington, D.C.
Credit: Whitney Lawson

Our nation’s capital is filled with an astounding number of free museums—including the highly anticipated National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in 2015—and a handful of can’t-miss low-key restaurants. As a result, a trip here can be not only dazzlingly rich, but also shockingly inexpensive.

Ben's Chili Bowl

DC legend Ben’s Chili Bowl has been around since 1958. Try the iconic half-smoke (half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage) topped with Ben’s homemade chili sauce. You can order chili in variety other ways, too: in a bowl, on a burger, or on a salad, all available until late at night. Ben's also offers vegetarian and tuna sandwich options, as well as an entire breakfast menu.

The Library of Congress

A free exhibition that’s unfairly overlooked is The Library of Congress. Created by an act of Congress in 1800, this often-overlooked Washington landmark occupies a resplendent 1897 building connected by tunnel to the Capitol building. A bibliophile's dream, the Library of Congress hosts a staggering 144 million items on 532 miles of shelving, all organized beneath a gold-bedecked ceiling. (The mosaics, sculptures, and paintings of the Great Hall and Main Reading Room are themselves worth a trip down.) First drafts of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and a Guttenberg Bible are all in residence, along with other historical treasures and 33 million books.

Insider Tip: Classical music concerts are offered free throughout the year at the Library of Congress concert hall located below ground.

Embassy Circle Guest House

Occupying a quiet, tree-lined street in stylish Embassy Circle, this Diamond Collection bed and breakfast is housed in the restored former Taiwanese embassy. Owners Laura and Raymond Saba purchased the property in 2003 with an eye towards preserving the building's original architectural integrity, and it shows. Blending seamlessly with the home's period architecture, the 11 guest suites, entrance parlor, and dining room are individually furnished with antiques and handmade Persian carpets. Just steps from Dupont Circle, the Guest Home provides easy access to Washington, DC shopping and attractions.

Next Door, D.C.

This aptly named U-street restaurant is located right next door to the DC institution Ben's Chili Bowl, a greasy-spoon landmark that's been serving up cholesterol-heavy dishes for 53 years. Specializing in more upscale fare than the original restaurant, Ben's Next Door offers high-end soul food in a lounge-like setting featuring nine LCD flat-screen TVs and a 53-foot full bar. The popular shrimp and grits and brined fried chicken are menu stand-outs, along with Ben's famous “down-and-dirty 'half smoke' sausages.”

Insider Tip: Devotees of Ben's Chili Bowl can order anything off of Ben's original menu and have it delivered to their table at Next Door.