Washington, D.C. is the seat of our government, the home of our president, and the stomping grounds of countless members of Congress. The main business here is politics, so there's no shortage of politicians, lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations firms in town. The city isn't known for its fashionably dressed inhabitants, its hip arts scene, or its innovative dining establishments. But it's much more than an uptight political town. If you know where to look, D.C. has plenty to interest you -- from nightlife and the arts to museums and fine dining.
There is entertainment practically every night of the year. If you like your performing arts classy, check the listings for the Kennedy Center, National Theater, and Warner Theater. If you want a little more kick, see who is on tap at Blues Alley and the 9:30 Club. Or if you're searching for a rendition of your favorite playwright's work, investigate Arena Stage, Ford's Theatre, and the Shakespeare Theatre. None of these venues are cheap, but they all tend to draw the cream of the crop, so you really get what you pay for.
As the nation's capital, Washington hosts an international array of visitors and new residents. This infusion of cultures means that the D.C. restaurant scene is getting better and more diverse. (And sometimes cheaper: More of the top dining rooms now offer reasonably priced fare and fixed-price specials.) You can find almost any type of food here, from Burmese to Ethiopian, health-conscious new American to appetizer-size Spanish tapas.
The city offers so much in the way of history, culture, and scenery that your visit almost certainly will be exhilarating and educational. The city's primary tourist area---the meticulously maintained National Mall, monuments, museums, Tidal Basin, and the grounds and gardens that surround these attractions---is lush and green in spring and summer and exudes a more subtle beauty in the colder months. Another plus: Admission to the national monuments, and many of the museums and parks, is free.
D.C. was selected as the permanent site for the U.S. capital by Congress in 1790, and George Washington was given the authority to choose a precise spot for the original capital city---a 10-square-mile area on the Potomac on land that was donated by Maryland and Virginia. In 1791 French engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant was hired to survey the land and design the city, and although his plans were ultimately implemented, he was fired in 1792 as a result of conflicts with politicians and investors. In 1793 the cornerstone for the Capitol was laid on the hill that L'Enfant had chosen.
In 1800, the Capitol was "inhabitable" (although far from completed) and President John Adams and the seat of federal government was moved to an "unfinished" city of Washington. There were no proper sidewalks, streetlights, or sanitation systems, and large areas of the city were still occupied by swamp and farmland. Constitution Avenue was a canal, and early presidents took oar boats when traveling from the White House to the Capitol.