Photograph by Rae Gabrielle, Alamy Stock Photo
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Cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin are in full bloom for the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Photograph by Rae Gabrielle, Alamy Stock Photo

Spend a perfect day in Washington, D.C. with tips from a local dancer

From antique shopping by the water to exploring the iconic landmarks, here’s a local’s guide for fun in the nation’s capital.

Washington, D.C. encapsulates our diverse American tapestry through history, culture, and stunning memorials. From its breathtaking museums and vibrant performing arts scene to its shopping and culinary delights, Washington has something for everyone.


In the morning, head to the waterfront neighborhood of Georgetown and start your day at Patisserie Poupon for a gourmet coffee and a freshly baked pastry. Afterwards stroll past charming historic homes dating back to the 1700’s. The streets are alive with foliage; colorful blooming gardens and cherry and apple trees. Make sure to walk through the extensive gardens at the Dumbarton Oaks estate. Note the prunus walk, lined with plum trees. This neighborhood will make you feel like you are walking back in time.

A perfect place for unusual shopping, stop into the Christ Child Opportunity Shop. Filled with antiques and curiosities from around the world at amazing prices, it’s fun to ponder the what, where, and why of each item. You might even see a childhood toy that brings you down memory lane. The shop has been in business for over 85 years and is a Georgetown anchor.

Next, schedule a tour of Tudor Place. It’s a secluded estate nestled in the heart of Georgetown which once belonged to a granddaughter of Martha Washington. It is filled with fascinating tidbits of American history. The tours are intimate, and the elaborate large gardens and blooming trees a stunning surprise. (Read more on the best things to do in Washington, D.C.)

One of the more fashion-forward neighborhoods in the District, Georgetown offers many clothing stores to check out on the way down toward the waterfront. I love the geometric clothing designs of COS, the edgy urban jeans at All Saints, and the affordable Italian espadrilles and cotton shirts at Massimo Dutti. Whatever your style, you will find it there, so bring your wallet.

Once you get to the water, take a peek along the expansive vista where you can see the Kennedy Center in the distance. The Kennedy Center holds free performances every night of the year on its Millennium Stages. A great ongoing series of eclectic performances with something for everyone. If you are more daring, head to the tow path right on the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Depending how far you journey, you will encounter heron, turtles, deer, and a plethora of other wildlife along the way. But be careful, venture too far and you may end up in Maryland.

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The Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery creates a serene oasis for museum visitors to relax, watch perfomances, and grab a bite to eat.


In the afternoon, visit the bustling neighborhood of Chinatown for a completely different look of the city. Have traditional dim sum at Tony Cheng’s just past the Chinatown arch on H Street—a respite from the urban bustle.

The National Portrait Gallery is right around the corner—a museum with an amazing history that includes being an infirmary during the American Civil War for wounded Union soldiers. Clara Barton and Walt Whitman often volunteered there. The gallery’s towering walls contain one of the most important collections of art in America. Check out the official Obama portraits and wander the impressive collection that focuses on America’s stories through diverse artistic perspectives. I like speaking with historians, curators, and docents at the museum. I learn something new and inspiring every visit.

I usually get my second coffee of the day at the Portrait Gallery’s café located in the beautiful Kogod Courtyard, the site of many of the dances that I create and present at the museum. It is an impressive space with soaring contemporary glass ceilings, contemporary water features, and indoor gardens. The Kogod Courtyard has been called an architectural wonder. I love sitting in the courtyard for a bit of people watching and brainstorming on my next choreography. (Discover how cherry blossoms make it to the U.S.)


With spring in the air, trekking down to the Tidal Basin is a must to see the cherry blossom trees. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is in full bloom until April 14. Take time to sit and enjoy the blossom filled views as you rest your feet. The trees' petals drift through the air and make for a surreal scene you'll soon not forget.

Finally, head back to Georgetown and have dinner at one of its many chic restaurants. You can choose from Spanish, Vietnamese, French, Continental, Italian, and nouvelle cuisine among others. My favorite, Fiola Mare, an elegant seafood restaurant with stunning views of the water. High profile politicos and Washington luminaries are seen nightly, so call ahead for reservations. Top off the night with a digestif at any of the chic hotel bars from the Rosewood Rooftop Bar & Lounge to the Graham Hotel. You might even see some Washington insiders as you unwind from the day.

Dana Tai Soon Burgess is the director of Washington, D.C.’s critically acclaimed modern dance company, Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company. Dana is the first ever choreographer-in-residence for the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.