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DC Like a Tourist: Chinatown

August 19, 2015

We love playing tourist in our town of Washington D.C. – it’s not unusual for us to take a day off and wander about the national monuments, go to a museum, have a fancy lunch, and stop by the White House just to take it in. D.C. is a beautiful city, and we love it so. We also have friends and family visit on the regular basis, so we have gotten quite good at arranging activities. DC Like a Tourist / DC Like a Local will share all of these golden nuggets of insider information and best laid itineraries right here on House to Laos. First up Chinatown of Washington D.C.

This itinerary can be done in half a day, morning or afternoon, or can stretch out to whole day depending on how much you like to linger. Adjust for more time on weekends, as places and spaces tend to get crowded, particularly in the summer.

Friendship Archway

D.C.’s Chinatown isn’t much to look at in comparison to sprawling districts in places like New York City and San Francisco. According to the latest census only about one fifth of Chinatown’s residents are actually Asian. But! We do have a Friendship Archway – which was erected in the 1980s to celebrate Washington D.C. friendship with its sister city – Beijing, Chinatown. Fun fact -this is the largest single-span archway in the world.

Chinatown Coffee

Continue to one of the best coffee shops in D.C., where third wave coffee culture has really taken off in the last few years. The shop offers single-origin brews form Counter Culture, Intelligentsia Coffee, and Heart Roasters. There’s also tea, beer, and absinthe (!). Snacks and wifi also available. Plenty of opportunities for people watching and working.

Building Museum


If you are in town before Labor Day, you must go to The Beach exhibit. The trick is to get there early because it can very crowded and the lines can get very long. Consider getting there before 10 am on weekday, and buy tickets online, which will allow you to skip to the front of the line. Aside from the Beach exhibit, the Building Museum is an awesome, much less crowded space to check out if you are into architecture and urban planning. A heads up – unlike the Smithsonian museums – the Building Museum does charge admission – $5 regular, $16 for The Beach experience.



Time for more refreshments. Daikiya offers excellent ramen. Its very popular and they take no reservations, but the line should move fairly quickly. Upstairs, Izakaya offers a bar where it is possible spot to grab a drink, or a full meal if you like. If Japanese food is not your thing, other options we would recommend around here are: Shake Shack, Ella’s Wood Fired Pizza, Zaytinya or Graffiato are pricier options that require reservations.

National Portrait Gallery


The National Portrait Gallery is hands down our favorite museum in Washington DC – and there are so many great other ones. First of all – it’s the building itself, originally used as the Patent Office Building, which at one point was slated to be demolished (!). Its ornate, grand, and sleek at the same time. There is a closed roof atrium that is seriously the most peaceful place in downtown DC by a long shot. You can bring a computer to work there. There’s also a secret spot upstairs, but I won’t tell you how to find it, you’ll have to do some exploring.


Also as you continue to go up, each floor is unique and different from the other. Don’t miss the very top floors. The exhibits are pretty wonderful. From the permanent exhibit of the portraits of all of America’s presidents, to impressionist and modern art, to rotating exhibitions on everything from TIME magazine covers to urban photography, this is the museum where everyone can find their favorite. GO! Don’t miss it!

Poste Happy Hour 

Whether you chose to do this itinerary in the morning or afternoon, you should definitely plan a reward for yourself. The Poste Brasserie happy hour is a pretty great option in this area. Held in the courtyard of Hotel Monaco, tucked just a few steps behind the National Portrait Gallery, it’s a great, if slightly crowded, experience. Get the garlic fries! The happy hour is daily from 4 to 7 pm.

And there you have it — our best recipe for a fund half to full day in Chinatown in Washington D.C. Have you been? Any other recommendations? 

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