The onetime shipping port now serves as one of the DMV’s hottest entertainment and commercial districts with upscale retail and colonial charm.
Washington, D.C., is more than the seat of the national government. The DMV—the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia—is home to broad, diverse communities and neighborhoods that offer history, good eats, parks and waterfronts—much of it a quick Metro ride away. About once a month during the academic year, Getting to Know the DMV will offer a glimpse of selected neighborhoods.
By Tatyana Hopkins
The oldest neighborhood in Washington, D.C., Georgetown began as a shipping port in 1751, four decades before Washington was chosen as the nation’s capital. In the 18th century period, Georgetown was a thriving and independent shipping trade center for Maryland’s tobacco, whiskey and timber exports. It remained separate from the federal district until 1871.
In the late 19th century, the shipping trade began to decline as Georgetown’s waterways became too clogged with silt for boats to navigate. The area became more industrialized until the turn of the 20th century when New Dealers began buying and restoring the neighborhood’s old homes. Now as the onetime home to famous residents such as former President John F. Kennedy, Watergate journalist Bob Woodward and actress Elizabeth Taylor, Georgetown blends the old and the new as a popular must-see area for locals and visitors. With its 18th- and 19th-century architecture, Georgetown offers a variety of things to do and explore such as its calming waterfront, busy main streets and historic sites.
Georgetown’s waterways once served as a thriving shipping port. Now the redeveloped waterfront includes restaurants, shopping, water access and free events. (Photo courtesy of washington.org)
What to Do:
Georgetown is most known for its shopping along M Street and Wisconsin avenues, dining and nightlife, but the area also has fascinating historic sites to discover.
Stroll Georgetown’s Historic Streets
Discover Georgetown’s fascinating history by walking around the neighborhood. Several guided walking tours are available including Washington Walks and Georgetown Food Tour or take a detour and run up all 75 of the infamous “Exorcist Steps” on the corner of 36th and Prospect streets. Pass the Old Stone House, the oldest structure on its original foundation in Washington, D.C., on M Street. Though closed to the public for tours due to renovations, the Old Stone House is one of the neighborhood’s most popular homes.
Explore the Canal
Wander alongside Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O Canal), a national park that runs 185 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md. The 19th-century waterway runs through the neighborhood’s side streets and offers a sense of Georgetown’s history as well as plenty of photo opportunities with green spaces and quaint houses. Bike on the C&O Canal bike path with a rental from Big Wheel Bikes. Reservations can be made hourly, daily or over several days.
Enjoy the Water
The recently redeveloped Georgetown Waterfront Park offers a great place to catch a view of the Potomac River. Riverside paths are a good place to take a walk, while historic sightseeing tours can be taken aboard a boat. Check for free events taking place at the Washington Harbour. In the winter, its fountain transforms into an ice skating rink. Enjoy the sights of the Potomac River paddle boarding or boating through the Georgetown Waterfront, Roosevelt Island and under the Key Bridge in a boat rental from Key Bridge Boathouse.
Follow the African American Trail
African Americans have lived and worked in Georgetown since its beginning. After the Civil War, Herring Hill, a 15-block area of eastern-most Georgetown, was popular for families migrating to D.C. from the South. Take a self-guided tour of the institutions on the Georgetown African American Heritage Trail, which includes:
- First Baptist Church of Georgetown, 2624 Dumbarton St., NW. Established by a former slave in 1862, the church still holds services and is open to visitors.
- Mount Zion United Methodist Church, Heritage House, Parsonage and Cemetery, 1334 28th St., NW. The oldest black congregation in the city, established when black congregants of Montgomery Street Church no longer wanted to accept racial discrimination at the church. Admission is free, but Heritage House hours are by appointment only.
See Historic Homes
A few of Georgetown historic homes are open to the public for tours:
- Tudor Place Historic House and Garden 1644 31st St., NW. This five-acre estate was originally owned by the granddaughter of Martha Washington. Now open to the public, it is home to more than 8,000 objects from the period 1750-1983.
- Dumbarton House, 2715 Q St., NW. This historic house museum showcases Colonial period art and furniture and an herb garden. It also hosts year-round public events, lectures and tours.
The famous cupcakery Georgetown Cupcakes, the subject of its own reality-television show, has been a neighborhood staple since it opened in 2008. (Sydney Gray/GW Today)
Where to Eat:
While Georgetown is known for as being one of D.C. area’s top destinations for dining, it also has a reputation for being expensive. Restaurants in the area offer global food options in a range of settings from casual eating to fine dining. Try:
- Martin’s Tavern, 1264 Wisconsin Ave., NW.
Established in 1933, Martin’s Tavern is one of the oldest family-owned restaurants in the city. The tavern’s wooden booths have hosted celebrities, politicians and sitting presidents including Harry S. Truman and George W. Bush. As a young senator, John F. Kennedy proposed to his wife, Jacqueline—a GW alumna—in a booth at the tavern known today as the “engagement booth.”
- Falafel Inc.,1210 Potomac St., NW.
This philanthropic eatery donates a portion of its sales to refugee relief efforts. The Palestinian-inspired menu offers everything from sandwiches to build-your-own bowls, all for under $5. It also offers gluten and preservative-free options.
- Pizzera Paradiso, 3282 M St., NW.
This Neapolitan-style, brick-oven pizza spot offers a casual meal, with most menu items priced under $20, as well as a game room on its lower level.
- Chaia D.C., 3207 Grace St., NW.
What began as a stand in a Dupont farmers market is a now a chic counter serve that lets guests go farm to taco with its vegetarian and vegan tacos.
Known for its quaint cobblestone streets, 18th and 19th century architecture and vibrant retail, Georgetown’s mix of the past and present make it a standout neighborhood in D.C. (Sydney Gray/GW Today)
How to Get There:
From Foggy Bottom
- Walk: GW’s Foggy Bottom campus is only a 20-minute walk from Georgetown.
- D.C. Circulator: The Circulator’s Union Station-Georgetown route has several stops easily accessible from campus on Pennsylvania Avenue for $1.
- Metrobus: The #33 toward Friendship Heights, #D6 toward Sibley Hospital and #30N toward Friendship Heights will get you within walking distance of Georgetown in 20 minutes.
From Mount Vernon
- Metrobus: The #D6 toward Stadium-Armory and the #D2 toward Dupont Circle will get you within walking distance of Georgetown in about 30 minutes.