DC walking tours that go beyond the National Mall
Many tour operators extend beyond landmarks to offer neighborhood tours (like DC by Foot’s “Historic Anacostia” tours or Washington Walks’ Logan Circle). There are also getaways geared towards specific interests and intriguing Washingtonians. Need examples? We asked the guides to share which off-the-beaten-track walking tours they think would be most appealing to locals.
Explore U Street via food or music
Two tour operators have found imaginative ways to connect with U Street’s bustling ‘Black Broadway’ era past. During Blue Fern Travel‘s “U Street Food Tour”, walkers meet at Ben’s Chili Bowl to half smoke, then depart to see the Lincoln Theater and the site of Duke Ellington’s first ticketed concert, with stops for snacks on the way from local restaurants. . You can go on a public tour with a few friends or sign up for a private tour. (A portion of the ticket price goes to the hunger relief organization Bread for the City, and Blue Fern Travel also runs local restaurant tours in Alexandria and Georgetown. In the fall, the company will add a second food tour in Baltimore and its first beverage-focused “Fizz Tour,” featuring a Silver Spring Brewery itinerary.) Public tours are $99 per person. The base price for the private tour is $299 for two people plus $125 for each additional person, with a maximum of 10 people. Contact Blue Fern Travel for private groups from 11 to 150. blueferntravel.com.
Civic educator-turned-tour guide Tim Wright of Attucks Adams offers 90-minute tours of U Street with a playlist of the hall’s musical history, from jazz to hip-hop, go-go and punk, all corresponding to the tourist sites of the district. You can join a public tour through Airbnb Experiences or arrange a private tour. “This U Street tour is equally satisfying for someone who’s dropped off in DC and knows nothing and someone who was born here in 1950 or 1960 and has lived here their whole life,” says Wright. Other visits by Attucks Adams include a “rights march” on Pennsylvania Avenue that focuses on the emancipation of enslaved DC residents and a parade of suffragists demanding suffrage for women. All Attucks Adams tours are available for private groups, starting at $125 for up to five people. Reserve a spot on the Art & Soul of Black Broadway Public Tour on Airbnb for $25 per adult and $20 per child. attucksadams.com.
How Tour Guide Carla Smith Would Have a Perfect Day in DC
Live your “Gilded Age” dreams
While you wait for new episodes of HBO’s soapy historical drama “The Gilded Age,” you can hear all about the DC rivalries that have played out via the big houses of Embassy Row. “There is an incredible diversity of designs and styles. It’s like a giant game to follow the Joneses. All these rich Washingtonians trying to show off; each mansion is bigger and swankier than the next,” says Carolyn Muraskin, owner of DC Design Tours. She leads a walking tour from Dupont Circle to Massachusetts Avenue and into Kalorama, encouraging walkers to look at all those extravagant homes owned by famous and lesser-known movers from the Golden Age. “We cover all the different styles, like how to identify the Italian Revival or the Second Empire, and then all the juicy information about all the wealthy people who lived there,” she says. As with all Muraskin architectural outings, you can schedule your own private tour or join up to 20 other walkers on a small-group public tour. Tickets for any public small-group tour, including “Dupont Circle & Embassy Row,” are $35 per adult and $20 per child. Private bookings start at $250 for up to six people, with additional fees for larger groups. dcdesigntours.com.
Follow in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass
Longtime friends John Muller and Justin McNeil call themselves and their colleagues newly formed Lost History Associates “street historians,” creating walking tours, heritage markers and presentations dedicated to the untold stories of the DC communities. “People are reassessing what the story is being told, why it’s being told, who is telling it,” says Muller. The duo developed new tours, such as tracking down Georgia Avenue’s history as an underground railroad. Abolitionist, statesman, writer and “Lion of Anacostia” Frederick Douglass is the center of attention. In-person and online walking tours explore different aspects of Douglass’ life, tracing his steps to Anacostia, Capitol Hill, Howard University and further afield in Baltimore, Annapolis and beyond. Public tours cost between $12.50 and $22 per person; contact the organizers for individual tours or private group tours. losthistoryusa.com.
Ways to learn about architecture and history on your walk
Find and photograph DC’s most charming alleyways
David Santori has a way of making the streets of DC so stylish and European, and his @frenchieyankee Instagram account has inspired a side-hustle. “I got so many messages from people wanting to know where I’m walking or which streets are the best or the cutest or the prettiest for pictures,” he says of how he started his walking tours individual “The Other DC”. in 2018. The French native fell in love with the city after moving here in 2016 and started posting neighborhood photos on Instagram at a time when most DC Insta photos focused only on landmarks and landmarks. He wants to show visitors (and locals too) that there’s so much more to DC than the mall.
“There are a lot of quirky places, and just charming streets and hidden gems and alleyways everywhere,” he says. As the only guest on the tour, you can follow in his footsteps to find the most scenic spots in Georgetown, Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, and beyond. Santori will also share his mobile photography tips and Instagram best practices that have earned him thousands of followers. (Get a taste of Santori’s style with her Instagram account @theotherdc curated with photos using the tag #theotherdc to showcase a really cute side of the district). Personalized walking tours for singles, couples, and families range from $135 to $250. frenchieyankee.com.
Learn About Old School DC Scandals
There have been so many cases, murders, and downright sordid happenings in this city over the decades that DC By Foot is able to offer scandal tours in several DC neighborhoods. The travel company offers popular ghost walks, but its series of scandals are “most important to locals because it’s a fun night,” says Canden Arciniega, director and guide at DC by Foot. “Everybody’s into true crime right now, and there’s so much of it in DC that we’re doing Capitol Hill, Embassy Row/Dupont Circle and then Georgetown,” she says. Arciniega is such a big fan of the subject that one of the books she wrote is called “Wicked Georgetown: Scoundrels, Sinners and Spies.”
On Company Scandal Walks, you’ll stand at the site of attempted murders on Embassy Row, learn why Lafayette Square is called “Tragedy Square” and learn about Arciniega’s favorite scandalous romance story. May to December behind Bodisco House in Georgetown, recently owned by John F. Kerry. Then there are the X-rated missives authored by the 29th President. “Hearing Warren G. Harding’s risque love letters is very entertaining and embarrassing,” Arciniega jokes of the candid, not-so-family-friendly tour material. The DC By Foot Scandal Tours will be available on select dates in the summer as public tours and as private tours, then will run regularly as public tours in the fall. Public scandal tours start at $35 per person; contact the organizers for individual or private group tours. freetoursbyfoot.com/washington-dc-tours.