Let’s talk about the ‘other’ DC — Dupont Circle. At the heart of this historic Washington, DC neighborhood, three lively avenues converge on a traffic circle-turned-neighborhood park, best known for its iconic fountain designed by the co-creators of the Lincoln Memorial. Stately embassies, world-class museums and noteworthy landmarks line Dupont Circle’s storied streets, so it’s no wonder it’s a popular DC destination for visitors and residents alike. But look beyond the typical tourist spots (though those are great, too!) and you’ll discover a vibrant culture all its own. Here are the best gems flying under the radar in this part of the nation’s capital.
Get It Down to a (Fine) Art
Dupont Circle first became an arts destination when The Phillips Collection, America’s first modern-art museum, opened in the 1920s. Today, The Phillips Collection’s nearly 3,000 works by American and European impressionist and modern artists still can’t be missed — but in the intervening years, Dupont Circle has also become home to the region’s highest concentration of art galleries, including hidden gem Studio Gallery. The longest-running artist-owned cooperative in D.C., Studio Gallery’s light-filled gallery and sculpture garden showcase contemporary art in a variety of mediums by emerging and established artists in an elegant townhouse near Embassy Row.
If you’re looking for something a little more unconventional, head below street level into the Dupont Underground, located in abandoned tunnels about 20 feet beneath Dupont Circle. The subterranean space has lived many lives — as a trolley station, a fallout shelter and a food court — before being revitalized as a public art space in 2016.
Pro tip: As part of a longstanding neighborhood tradition, many of Dupont Circle’s galleries and embassies stay open late on the First Friday of every month, offering wine and hors d’oeuvres to attendees completing self-guided art walks.
Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes
In the nation’s capital city, there’s history to be found around every corner, and Dupont Circle is no exception. To explore the hidden history and distinctive cultures of DC’s neighborhoods, past and present, hop on one of Cultural Tourism DC’s self-guided Neighborhood Heritage Trails. With 17 to choose from, these one- to two-mile treks bring the stories of the District’s people and places to life. In Dupont Circle, featured stops include the birthplace of prolific jazz musician Duke Ellington and the former home of poet Langston Hughes. You can download the self-guided tour maps here.
To get hands-on with history, put on your sleuthing cap and book a hidden-gem hunt at The Mansion on O and the O Street Museum, a noteworthy spot on Cultural Tourism DC’s African American Heritage Trail. With more than 100 rooms, 70 secret doors and numerous hidden passageways, The Mansion on O Street is one of the most unique properties in the world, offering immersive scavenger hunts inspired by famous former residents like Rosa Parks and J. Edgar Hoover’s “G-Men.”
Shop ‘Til You Drop
If you’re planning a visit to Dupont Circle, you have no doubt added Kramers independent bookstore, restaurant and bar to your itinerary. It’s a DC institution, and for good reason: it’s been a gathering place for residents, authors, politicians and luminaries—including President Barack Obama, Andy Warhol and Maya Angelou—since the 1970s. But don’t skip lesser-known Second Story Books & Antiques right across the circle. It’s one of the largest rare, out-of-print and used bookstores in the world, and is known for helping institutions like the Smithsonian and Library of Congress build their collections. You could get lost for hours browsing the bevy of unusual titles in this quaint bookshop.
Hunting for a unique souvenir from your trip to the nation’s capital? We know just the place. Shop Made in DC is home to nearly 5,000 products designed, crafted, stitched, baked or built by local makers. Their Dupont Circle location highlights a rotating selection of apothecary products, apparel, jewelry and home decor, all dreamt up and produced within DC’s city limits. Bonus: In addition to helping DC’s small businesses grow, each purchase at this Shop Made in DC location gets you a discount at neighboring local favorite, Dolcezza Coffee & Gelato.
Chow Down Like a Local
Historically, DC’s dining scene has gotten a bad rap, but look beyond the stuffy steak dinners and you’ll discover a hub of culinary creativity in Dupont Circle. Start your morning with a cup of joe from indie coffeehouse Emissary, which encourages guests to “fika” — the Swedish concept of slowing down and savoring the moment, solo or with friends. If tea is more your thing, head just north of the circle to rustic Teaism, an Asian-inspired teahouse serving delicious loose-leaf teas and healthy bento boxes.
If you happen to be visiting the Dupont Circle area on a Sunday, you can’t miss the bustling year-round FreshFarm Dupont Circle Market. More than 50 farmers and vendors set up shop just off the circle to sell market staples like fruits, veggies, cheeses, baked goods, pickles, jams and jellies. You can also sample some of the District’s best coffee, spirits and prepared foods without having to hop on the Metro. Get in line for a President Biden-approved bagel at the Call Your Mother Deli stand, or pick up a six-pack of Senate Beer—a re-creation of an 1890’s DC-brewed lager— from Right Proper Brewing Company.
If you miss the market or simply want to recreate its magic, make your way to neighborhood staple Glen’s Garden Market, a store, deli and bar that sources its ingredients from local farms. Grab gourmet groceries to go, or snag a picnic table on the breezy patio and order off the menu of organic pizzas, sandwiches and locally-loved craft beer. The spot’s motto: “Good food from close by.”
After a day spent exploring one of DC’s hottest ‘hoods, wind down with contemporary French fare at Le Sel, the heartbeat of the new Kimpton Banneker Hotel. Inspired by classic Parisian bistros, Le Sel serves up elevated comfort food in a sleek, spirited dining room and patio. When you’re ready for a nightcap, pop upstairs to the indoor/outdoor rooftop bar, The Lady Bird, for dazzling sky-high views of the city’s most iconic monuments. It’s the perfect end to a perfect day. Cheers!