Let’s start to explore the retail and business neighborhoods in Washington, DC. The District’s lack of skyscrapers doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t have a downtown. In fact, downtown Washington DC is so large, it encompasses several neighborhoods, but for the purpose of this article, we will group them all under downtown. I will also touch base briefly on the adjoining neighborhoods of Metro Center, Penn Quarter, Gallery Place, and Chinatown. Finally, we’ll have a look at Foggy Bottom, the international quarter of the District.
Downtown Washington DC Neighborhoods
Downtown D.C. (Farragut and McPherson Squares, Thomas Circle)
Just north of the White House is Farragut and McPherson Squares, Thomas Circle, and the 1000 block of Connecticut Avenue NW. All of these areas are considered part of downtown Washington DC. Downtown is the pulsating business core of the District. Companies and organizations that aren’t housed in the government buildings around the Hill or by the Mall will likely have their branches here. Understandably, the neighborhoods considered part of downtown are bustling during the week, but are practically ghost towns during weekends.
Downtown Washington DC doesn’t completely fall off the radar however. Since the area is well connected by Metro (lines blue, silver, orange and red all have multiple stops), you’ll find plenty of tourists roaming around the area, particularly on the weekend. Most of them are staying in the large hotels in the vicinity.
There are hardly any residential buildings in downtown and because it’s primarily a business district, the majority of the restaurants you’ll find around are quick bites that tend to be casual eateries like the popular Sweetgreen or local teashop and café Teaism. There are some fine dining establishments of course, like Joe’s Seafood and Steak and Decanter at the St. Regis.
Metro Center is the Washington, D.C.’s luxury retail core. The District’s largest retail project, CityCenterDC, is located here and it’s home to some of the most recognized labels in the world: Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry. You’ll also find plenty of large four-star Washington DC hotels, luxury condominiums, and high-rise apartment buildings in the neighborhood.
Before the completion of CityCenterDC, the Metro Center neighborhood was nothing but a bunch of old buildings occupied by small business and non-profit organizations. Hardly anyone lived in the area. It was known primarily as a juncture, more than a neighborhood, so it wasn’t a surprise to hear that most people who come here hardly see what’s above the ground. That’s no longer the case however. The establishment of the CityCenterDC made Metro Center a final destination rather than just a transfer point.
Most people who come to Penn Quarter do so to get a dose of culture and fun at the same time. The neighborhood is home to several smaller themed museums as well as a couple of Smithsonian museums. It’s generally busy with tourists during the day, but it becomes pandemonium when the workday ends. That’s because Washingtonians flock towards Penn Quarter to have after-work drinks with friends and colleagues. The neighborhood of Penn Quarter and Gallery Place/Chinatown combined is Washington, D.C.’s happy hour capital.
You can say that Gallery Place is the primary entertainment area of D.C., thanks to the Verizon Center, the sports arena where the local professional and collegiate sports play basketball and hockey. During game days, the area is buzzing with loyal fans while restaurants, bars, and pubs offer food and drink specials to attract those who may not have tickets to the game but want to experience a similar atmosphere. Sports fans aren’t the only ones lured to the neighborhood. Gallery Place also houses a large movie theater complex and the Shakespeare Theatre Company.
The other half of the neighborhood is the District’s Chinatown. If you came here expecting to see outdoor markets, tea stores, and bargain shops, you’ll leave somewhat disappointed because Washington’s Chinatown is more commercialized and westernized than other Chinatowns in the country. It’s also rather small. Apart from the elaborate gate that stands at the entrance on H Street and the occasional Chinese signs on the doors of businesses, very little of Chinese culture remains in the neighborhood.
Foggy Bottom is known for two things. First, it’s the home of George Washington University (GWU). Many of Foggy Bottom’s buildings are either housing or academic buildings belonging to GWU. Second, it is the District’s international office neighborhood with the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the American Red Cross, and the United States State Department all within several blocks of each other.
There’s very little to do in Foggy Bottom outside of working and studying and because housing is mostly temporary (occupied by students and transplants on short term assignments), there’s hardly a sense of community in the neighborhood despite the diverse population. The great thing about it though, is its location. It’s borders the West End to the north, Georgetown to the west, the Mall to the south, and downtown to the east.