Welcome to Washington, DC – The nation’s capital is a city with public museums and monuments galore, but also hidden treasures that should not be overlooked. Whether you’re in Georgetown, downtown, or even in Northern Virginia, and whether you’re alone, hanging out in with friends, or planning a romantic date, we offer suggestions for restaurants, bars and activities that will suit your needs – all on a limited budget.
For starters we list restaurants that offer a great value to go with exceptional food. Then there are some bars with good specials that you’d be crazy not to try out. We share some activities that go beyond just visiting the capitol building. We also combine some of our favorite ideas to create a “cheap date” guide that will make you look anything but; ideas that will help you impress you girl (or boy) friend without emptying your wallet.
Miss Saigon (3057 M St NW, Georgetown) – This Vietnamese restaurant is nestled among a few others like it – but none quite as good – right as you enter Georgetown. Look around the menu and you can find a filling portion of meat, veggies and rice for between $10 and $12. Our favorite is the Caramel Chicken with Ginger in a Clay Pot, but if you want to peruse the entire menu, you can check it out here thanks to DC Menus!
Tom Sarris’ New Orleans House (1213 Wilson Blvd, Arlington) – Hop off the Metro at the Rosslyn stop and walk a block south for the best prime rib in town. Dinner entrees cost between $10-$15, depending on how much meat you want, but you also get unlimited trips to the salad bar, and it’s no ordinary salad bar. The Steamboat-shaped bar has over 30 salad toppings, 7 dressings and piles of warm bread. Be careful or you won’t be hungry when your slate of prime rib arrives. You’d really miss out on a great value for an excellent cut of meat. The atmosphere is certainly memorable as well. Inside there are no windows, which allows the ornate decor to lead you to believe you are actually on Bourbon Street in New Orleans!
Bangkok Bistro (3251 Prospect St NW, Georgetown) – Find all the classic Thai foods at this hip Georgetown joint. Start with a Thai Iced Tea for a sweeter and creamier version of the traditional (they add half ‘n’ half). Then you can choose one of multiple dinner entrees for under $10 – and they all begin with a salad and your choice of tangerine vinaigrette, peanut, or creamy garlic dressing (I suggest the peanut – you are in a Thai restaurant). If you are in the mood to splurge, try sharing the Sweet Surrender (fried coconut Shrimp). Want something that’s not too crazy? The Thai BBQ Chicken has received rave reviews. And of course if you just don’t know what to pick, you can’t go wrong with the Pad Thai.
Ollie’s Trolley (12th and E St NW, Downtown) – If you’re downtown and craving greasy goodness, Ollie’s is the place to go. Easy to pick out by the bright red and yellow décor on the windows and happy chef cutout welcoming you in, the atmosphere on the inside is just as laid-back and fun. The famous “Olliefries,” French fries with Ollie’s secret seasoning, are a sure crowd pleaser. Match them with a beefy burger and a thick milkshake, all for under $8.
Rock Bottom (4238 Wilson Blvd, Ballston Mall, Arlington) – Sure it’s a chain, but their selection of microbrews and nightly specials make it quite the local hangout. Get there early on Wednesday nights to take advantage of $1 pints! But be prepared, because by 6pm, the bar will be packed. Four “usuals” and four specials provide enough selection for everyone’s palate, from the light to dark drinkers and all those in between. And odd as it may seem to drink at the mall, we can’t complain – it just makes it that much easier to get to! You can park in the Ballston Mall garage or take the metro to Ballston exit, which leads you directly into the mall.
Tom-Tom (The strip in Adams Morgan) – Adams Morgan can offer some great deals during the week, and Group Therapy is one of the best around. This Thursday night special offers four beers and four (small) shots for only $10! As an added bonus, this bar boasts several old school Nintendos and Super Nintendos for those who want to recapture a bit of their youth.
Tombs (Prospect and 36th Sts NW, Georgetown) – Located in the basement below 1789, this pub, popular with the Georgetown University crowd, offers relatively cheap beer and some great deals on food. Busch light is always $1.60 for a mug, and $7.00 for a pitcher. The drink prices rise from there. For those with more sophisticated tastes, come to Tombs on Sunday nights for half priced bottles of wine. (This special is also available at Clyde’s on M street in Georgetown, which is under the same management.) If you’re hungry, stop by from 3-5pm or after 10pm for a variety of cheap food including burgers, sandwiches, chicken fingers, and appetizers.
Morton’s (3251 Prospect St NW, Georgetown and 1050 Connecticut Ave, Downtown) – Believe it or not, everyone can afford to drink at Morton’s, if you go on the right day! Every Monday is “Mortini Night” at this world-famous steakhouse. While this place would normally blow the budget, stop by the bar from 5-7pm for $4 martinis and complimentary (but small) filet mignon sandwiches. Call (202) 342-6258 (Georgetown) or (202) 955-5997 (Downtown) for more information.
National Zoo (3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Woodley Park) – Home to DC’s famed giant pandas and a host of other exotic creatures, a trip to the National Zoo promises some adventure and exercise without costing you a dime. Admission to the zoo is free (or at least already paid for through your federal taxes) and parking is $4 for the first hour, $12 for two to three hours, and $16 for more than three hours. You can also take the metro: use the Cleveland Park Metro stop on your way there and Woodley Park stop when you leave so that you never have to walk uphill! April through October, the buildings are open from 10am to 6pm; November through March, they close at 430pm. The Zoo is an excellent place to enjoy the great outdoors and get a break from the hectic pace of DC.
Drug Enforcement Agency (700 Army Navy Drive at Hayes Street, across from Pentagon City Mall, Arlington) – This small museum provides a surprising amount of information about, yup, drugs. The majority of the exhibit explains the history of drugs in America, from the introduction of morphine, heroin, and cocaine in the 19th century to modern-day techniques for fighting against drug trafficking. The most intriguing part, however, is near the end, where you can learn how to make crack (a surprising tidbit I did not expect the government to be so forthcoming with)! There is no admission charge, but the museum is only open Tuesdays through Fridays, 10am – 4pm.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (Dulles Airport, Chantilly, VA) – This off-site extension of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM) offers the perks that cannot fit on the downtown mall location. See an SR-71 Blackbird, the Enterprise Space Shuttle and an Air France Concorde all in the same place. You can also ascend to the observation tower and watch the planes depart and land at Dulles Int’l Airport. Doors are open 10am to 5:30pm seven days a week. Admission is free, but it’s $12 to park. You can also take the NASM shuttle from the downtown mall museum for $12/ride (or less if you buy more tickets). The shuttle departs every 1.5 hours from 9am – 5pm.
Ice Skate on the Downtown Mall (700 Constitution Ave, in the Sculpture Garden, Downtown) – A fun activity to get outdoors on an otherwise wintry day, the National Gallery of Art maintains a skating rink off the downtown mall from November through mid-March. Skating for two hours costs $7 ($6 with a Student ID); if you don’t own ice skates, you can rent them for $3; and it is $0.50 to rent a locker for your shoes and wallets (plus a $5 deposit). The skating rink is easily accessible from the Archives-Navy Memorial and Gallery Place metro stops.
Canoe the Potomac (Jack’s Boats, 3500 K St NW under Key Bridge, Georgetown) – Take K Street until it ends, right under Key Bridge, and you will see a hut on your left called Jack’s Boats. Here you can rent a canoe or kayak, depending on your energy level, and spend a warm day floating across the Potomac. You can also paddle over to Roosevelt Island to do some exploring and get seemingly lost by venturing off the beaten paths. The prices at Jack’s Boats range from $8 for an hour to $25 for all day and make sure you bring cash because they do not take credit cards.
Bike Along the C&O Canal (Fletcher’s Boathouse, 4940 Canal Rd at Reservoir Rd, Georgetown) – If you want to get a bit off the beaten path, Fletcher’s Boathouse offers the best rates for bike rentals ($8 for 2 hours or $12 for the day) and also access to the best route – right along the C&O Canal. You and your significant other can take the path north, into the wilderness, and admire the beautiful scenery that you wouldn’t expect to find so close to the city (I suggest early fall, when the leaves are starting to change) and a history of the “locks” that guided boats through the canal; or south, into the heart of DC, and tour the monuments on bicycle and stop off on a patch of grass near the Potomac to admire the view. Not that you’d want to go in the dead of winter, but Fletchers is only open March through Fall. Get directions here.
Benihana (M Street and Wisconsin, on the bottom floor of the Georgetown Park Mall, Georgetown) – While this Hibachi restaurant is normally a place that can get pretty pricey, they offer a great early bird special before 7:30pm. Unlike most early bird specials, this one offers plenty of great food and very few senior citizens. For $12.95 you’ll have a choice of several entrees which the chef will grill right before you as well as a soup, salad, and appetizer. The tropical drinks can be on the more expensive side but can be a fun splurge. If by some chance you’re still hungry after dinner, try the tempura ice cream for dessert.
Chef Geoff’s (13th St NW between E and F Sts, Downtown or 3201 New Mexico Ave, near American University) – Another establishment with great early bird specials is Chef Geoff’s. Here you can get a 3 course “Theatre Special” at the downtown location every day from 4:00pm until 6:30pm for only $23.95; or you can get the same deal, but referred to as the “Sunset Special,” for $19.95 at the location near American University. Why the difference in price? The menu selection and atmosphere at the downtown location are slightly more upscale. Check out the possibilities for each 3 course meal here. They offer quite the variety – from pork chops and salmon to fish and chips and pizza!
Thomas Sweet’s (3214 P St NW, off Wisconsin Ave, Georgetown) – If you’re looking for a good casual or first date but don’t want to ask that someone special out for another cup of coffee, try getting some ice cream at Thomas Sweet’s in Georgetown. Their ice cream is served at the White House, making this place is a DC landmark which offers a great selection and decent prices. The lines can get long, but this can give you a perfect to spend some time talking to your date.
National Mall (Downtown) – While it may be clichéd, a trip to the National Mall and the monuments can be a great thing to do with a date. During the day, pack a picnic lunch, grab some ice cream from the numerous street vendors, enjoy throwing a Frisbee or just sit and people watch. At night, the monuments are lit up and can be a great place for a romantic stroll.