This neighborhood’s action is nonstop for visitors of all ages and interests, with museums, restaurants, bars, and even a national sports arena all jockeying for attention.

Washington, D.C. Tour: Penn Quarter
Credit: Andrea Sachs

Penn Quarter thrums with activity, the happy result of decades-long revitalization efforts. The high-energy, mixed-use neighborhood keeps its lights on much later and longer than other downtown areas. Indeed, with so many attractions, extended hours are imperative. Visitors need to start early to fit in all of the museums (art, spies, criminals, Lincoln), restaurants (chains and boutiques), shops (brand names and indie), bars (frat-boy and date-appropriate), theaters (cinematic and theatrical) and sporting events (Wizards, Capitals, Georgetown Hoyas or WNBA Mystics, depending on the season). The quarter spills over into Chinatown, good for a nightcap of dim sum, and is steps from the Mall.

Hotel Monaco DC

Set in a beautiful Greek Revival-style building in the middle of Penn Quarter, Hotel Monaco is as stylish on the inside as it is classic from the outside. This boutique hotel offers all the usual Kimpton amenities: complimentary services for your children and pets (including live goldfish), yoga mats, bicycles, and more.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery traces the history of America through visual and performing arts that pay tribute to great American icons like Marilyn Monroe and Rosa Parks. The gallery is housed alongside the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the historic 1836 U.S. Patent Office building. Permanent exhibitions include American Origins, 1600-1900, which focuses on Native Americans and early exploration, and Bravo!, which highlights the contributions of notable Americans to film and music. The America’s Presidents exhibit is, aside from the White House, the only complete collection of presidential portraits in the United States.


Rasika is hands-down one of Washington's most classic dining experiences. This Penn Quarter restaurant offers modern Indian cuisine in a white-tablecloth setting, with a menu chiefly split among griddle, barbecue, and tandoori dishes. Don’t miss James Beard Award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam's palak chaat: a crispy spinach and yogurt side order that is one of the most iconic dishes in DC.


Michel Richard, the French-born celebrity chef, brings meatballs to the people with his latest venture in DIY dining. Diners construct their own meal at the counter, choosing a base (salad, pasta, polenta, bread), protein (classic, chicken, lamb, lentil), sauce (marinara, mushroom, red pepper, alfredo) and, for the final flourish, toppings (fritos, provolone, etc.).

National Museum of Crime and Punishment

At this good vs. evil museum, the law usually wins, but the villains certainly put up a plucky fight. Co-founded by John Walsh of the TV show America’s Most Wanted, the four-year-old repository delves into the dark side with artifacts from the criminal world and the penal system, such as Ted Bundy’s getaway VW Bug and an electric chair from a Tennessee state prison. For a deeper peek, go behind the scenes with such interactive experiences as a CSI lab and the TV show’s real studio.

Iron Horse Taproom

Drinking isn’t the only sport at this vintage motorcycle-themed watering hole. The downstairs bar resembles a retro-rec room with shuffleboard tables, Skee-Ball, pinball and Stacker, which can earn the winner an Angry Birds charm necklace, the rare nod to the 21st century.

Ford’s Theatre

Visitors to Ford’s Theatre immerse themselves in the life and death of Abraham Lincoln. Tours encompass the theatre, site of the assassination; the Petersen House, where the president died; the Center for Education and Leadership, which covers his legacy; and the newly renovated museum. Extra perks include a National Park Service ranger talk and a half-hour performance by actors in period costumes.

Pitango Gelato

The gelato and sorbet parlor touts all-natural, high-end ingredients and a broad selection of classic and fancy flavors, such as cardamom, black tea, banana, or white grapefruit. Mixing is allowed and encouraged.