— Georgetown DC — Georgetown may have been initially known as “George Town” either in honor of King George II, King George III’s grandfather, or possibly two George’s, George Gordon, and George Beall.
They owned most of the land when the town was founded in 1751. It was an important port city in Maryland for the Mid-Atlantic trade, especially for shipping local tobacco and slaves. All along the banks, there were warehouses for tobacco and flour mills, and it was a lively place to imbibe after work. It’s said that George Washington came over to the area to enjoy an ale at the taverns and that Thomas Jefferson lived in the neighborhood.
The African American story began with the founding of Georgetown, and the community has deep roots here. In 1862, slaves fleeing the Civil War arrived, and it became their home. Their ancestors worked hard to build the Washington we know today.
The Mount Zion United Methodist Church opened in 1876 and is Washington’s oldest African American congregation still open for worship today. After the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (constructed in 1820) to move goods further west and the Potomac became unnavigable due to storms, the factories shut down. The area fell into decline in the 1890s.
When John F. Kennedy became a Senator and moved into Georgetown in the 1950s, his influential group of friends and the political elite moved in. They began renovating historic homes, many as old as the town itself. The beautiful architecture and proximity to the capital made it a desirable place to be.
Today, it has become one of the most expensive suburbs in D.C. Georgetown is the oldest neighborhood in Washington. It still retains that historic charm. There are cobblestone streets, 18th, and 19th-century rowhouses, Georgetown University, a stunning waterfront, and some of the best shopping and dining in the District of Columbia.
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10 Best Things to Do in Georgetown, Washington D.C.
1. Shop Until You Drop
M Street is the shopping hub for all things chic and fashionable. While Georgetown may be one of the oldest neighborhoods, it’s also one of the trendiest. It is an incredible stretch of boutiques and major retailers for men’s and women’s clothing, sweet shops, cupcakeries, beauty salons, shoe stores, and accessory retailers. You can find anything on this famous thorofare, from exercise clothes to cocktail attire. Many historic buildings of the past are repurposed to house modern retail establishments.
2. Visit the Old Stone House
While you are shopping along M Street, take time to visit the Old Stone House, one of the oldest structures on its original foundation in Washington. It was built in 1766 when Georgetown was a British Colony. It’s hard to imagine that during the Revolutionary War, when the British attacked Washington in 1814, the house was almost 60-years old. Today it is preserved and operated by the National Park Service. It is open to the public for tours and serves as a rare example of pre-Revolutionary architecture. Check the website for times and operating information.
3. Dine at Martin’s Tavern
Another shopping and dining street, Wisconsin Avenue, is equally iconic, especially with restaurants like the historic Martin’s Tavern. The American cuisine at Martin’s has been a Georgetown favorite since 1933. In its almost nine-decade existence, Martin’s, a fourth-generation family business, has proudly served “Every US President from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush.”
Diners, including two former Secretary of State – Madeleine Albright and Mike Pompeo, as well as various senators, staffers, and stars, have all enjoyed meals here. Baseball greats Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, and Yogi Berra spent many evenings dining in the famous “Dugout Room.”
Some booths have plaques for the favorite regulars that enjoyed their unique tables. I sat right in front of the “Proposal Booth,” the famous table where JFK proposed to Jackie in 1953. The cozy atmosphere, comfort food, and craft cocktails will lure you back over and over again, just like the regulars who thought of this place as their home away from home.
4. Thrift for Designer Threads
Ella Rue’s owners were taught by their grandmother to invest in timeless, beautiful fashion. Their mission is to pass her lessons on to their clients. The charming shop, located on a cobblestone side street from Wisconsin Avenue, is a slice of heaven for luxury fashion lovers looking for a deal.
For a fashionista, a visit here feels like a stop inside a couturière. Or you can peruse the website and call ahead for a private consult. It takes patience to dive into the well-curated and authenticated racks of designer pieces mixed with current emerging ready-to-wear lines. Still, when you find a one-of-a-kind at the right price, it’s an unmatched thrill.
5. Browse Antiques for Home and Garden
Marston Luce is the type of antique shop where you can lose a sense of time. It’s filled with unusual items from France and Sweden that exude a “humble elegance” without being overly ornate or fussy. Located in the antique and art gallery area known as “Book Hill,” the shop is worth the walk.
Mr. Luce spends half the year in France seeking out pieces that are so special, you will fall in love with every item he selects and want to snap up each find. There are paintings, mirrors, sculptures, and furniture.
You will smile at a whimsical thing and imagine where to place it in your home for the conversation factor. If you seek a stone urn or sculpture for the garden, this store has what you are looking for. If you don’t want to carry it around, they will gladly ship it to your home.
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6. Step Back in Time at Tudor Place
Tudor Place belonged to the granddaughter of Martha Washington and her husband, Thomas Peter. His father was a prominent tobacco merchant and the first Mayor of Georgetown. It is the only property in the District of Columbia with close ties to George and Martha Washington.
Six generations of the Peter family lived here. They bore witness to history from this house, watching Washington burn in 1814 all the way to the final resident, Armistead Peter 3rd, who died in 1983. He established the site’s designation as one of the nation’s first National Historic Landmarks in 1960.
His vision and Tudor Place Historic House & Garden mission had gone way beyond what he could have dreamed when they started giving tours of the house and garden in 1988. “It encompasses six generations of the descendants of Martha Washington and the enslaved and free people who lived and worked at this Georgetown landmark for nearly two centuries.”
There are tours of the home, gardens, and various events to discover this specially preserved piece of American history.
7. Stop and Smell the Roses
At the highest point in Georgetown sits Dumbarton Oaks Garden, the legacy of Robert and Mildred Bliss. The couple found this 53-acre property and made it their country home.
The couple hired landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand to design the property, and Beatrix began a thirty-year collaboration with Mildred. Every detail was discussed, and eventually, the 16-acre garden developed into an astonishing oasis in the city.
The Blisses, philanthropists and art collectors, transferred their home and gardens to Harvard University in 1940 to establish a research institute for Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies, and studies in the history of garden landscape architecture.
Both the museum and garden are open for tours. The Rose Garden contains nine hundred roses in vibrant hues from pinks, reds, and whites in the southern portion to oranges and yellows in the northern section. The Blisses cherished this area, and their ashes are interred in a crypt set into the west wall.
8. Climb the Exorcist Stairs
Movie buffs will appreciate the Exorcist Stairs. This staircase is featured in William Fredkin’s 1973 Warner Bros. movie, The Exorcist. In the film, a priest, Father Karras, played by actor Jason Miller, falls to his death down the seventy-five steps as the movie comes to its violent end. Adjacent to the stairway is a plaque commemorating the site for curious visitors to discover as they tour the city.
Georgetown is a neighborhood where several movies were filmed. There are specific tours where you can spot the homes and restaurants (including Martin’s Tavern) used for interiors and exteriors in your favorites. The staircase is steep, and runners love to jog up and down every day.
9. Enjoy Waterfront Views
At Georgetown Waterfront Park, there are many ways to enjoy the banks along the Potomac. The park links 225-miles of parkland along the river from Cumberland, Maryland, to Mount Vernon, Virginia. There are fountains, gardens, and smooth paths for walking, biking, and skating, all with gorgeous views. There is plenty of green grass to lay a blanket or benches to enjoy a lunch or a coffee while you take in the sights.
At the western end of the park is a labyrinth. Since ancient times, mazes have used geometric turns to encourage slow travel from the center’s outer edge. It is a way to meditate by focusing and quieting your mind. This is a green space where grass and water meet to create a place to unwind.
10. Paddle the Potomac
The Thompson Boat Center has what you need to explore the Potomac. You can rent a kayak, canoe, paddleboard, scull, or boat. The center even provides lessons and sailing lessons for those who want to take their experience a step further.
If you prefer to remain on land, Thompson’s has bicycle rentals which are perfect to use on the Georgetown Waterfront Park path that runs all the way up to Mount Vernon without a car in sight. The Riverfront is such an integral part of exploring D.C. This is a fun, healthy way to get exercise while checking out the historic river.
Georgetown has so many treasures and hidden side streets that, at first, you might miss all the experiences, including touring the campus of Georgetown University, which could take an entire day.
Since the neighborhood is best explored by foot, check out the myriad of curated walking options from the African American History to John F. Kennedy to the foodie macaron tours. The one-mile C & O Canal is a favorite spot for walking and cycling, and on some weekends, park rangers often provide history talks for free.
It may take several trips to really see and taste everything. Still, it’s a terrific excuse to come back and experience it again and again.
* Opening photo © Flicker
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