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7 Ways to Fit in Like a Local
Feel like a Washingtonian by walking the walk, talking the talk and never saying ‘Subway’
You don’t have to hire fake Secret Service agents to look like you belong in DC, even if your flight just landed yesterday. As sure as the Parisians tie their scarves just so, Washingtonians have certain habits, ways of speaking and quirks, and if you know a few of them in advance, you’ll feel right at home (and someone might even ask you for directions).
Yes, DC’s underground train system is technically a subway, but locals call it by its given name, the Metro. Created in 1967, Metro carries millions of people each year on it six colored-coded lines. Dozens of stops service hotels, National Mall attractions and suburban sites like Arlington National Cemetery.
On escalators, particularly on the Metro or at local shopping malls, you’ll notice that Washingtonians usually stand to the right to make way for people walking (often, quickly and looking like they have somewhere to go, stat!) on the left. It’s a longtime DC tradition, and one locals get a little riled up about. There’s even an unofficial term for the walkers - “escalefters.”
Philly has its cheesesteaks, New York has its hot dogs, but when Washingtonians stay out late, they chow down on a jumbo slice, a cheesy, often-greasy slice of pizza that’s nearly as big as a normal large pie. They’re most common in Adams Morgan, a nightlife-centric, funky neighborhood north of the White House, where you’ll see signs (and lines) along bar-filled 18th Street NW late on Friday and Saturday nights.
On Sunday afternoons, hang with the picnickers, yogis and musicians from the long-running African drum circle in Meridian Hill Park, a formal, fountain-filled green space in Northwest DC’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. The 12-acre, early 20th-century park is home to towering trees, dramatic concrete obelisks and a quirky range of statues including a dramatic image of Joan of Arc on horseback and a memorial to James Buchanan.
Yes, those stately embassies (many on Massachusetts Avenue NW near Dupont Circle, aka “Embassy Row”) for countries from Armenia to Zimbabwe looks buttoned up and inaccessible. But each May, many of the 175 properties open during Passport DC, a month-long cultural fest featuring concerts, open houses and other worldly fare. For other ops to visit the often lavish, historic buildings: the International Club of DC organizes ticketed events from dance parties to art exhibits and the Embassy Series puts on frequent musical performances like violin recitals at the Icelandic Embassy.
A craft beer and distillery revolution has rocked DC in recent years, with breweries, rum production facilities and whisky makers popping up in off-the-beaten track neighborhoods. Many local bars pour made-here stuff: Look for wares by DC Brau or Atlas Brew Works or cocktails starring local hooch like Don Ciccioe & Figli’s Italian-style liqueurs. Most facilities are open for tours and tastings, too. A great way to check out many of the suds masters: Beer Tours by DC Brew Tours, which takes small groups on a van-driven beer crawl (with snacks!) of multiple spots.
Big-name authors - some of them local - chat about and read from their new works at several local bookstores. Politics & Prose hosts readings most nights of the week (and also holds a cozy basement coffee shop); the progressive-leaning Busboys and Poets, which has outlets around town, also features author talks many nights of the week.