How to Explore DC Like a Local

The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian cafeterias, the pandas at the zoo. You know where I’m talking about, right? What if I had said the Georgetown Waterfront, Kogiya, SnoCream, Pitango, Busboys and Poets, and Pho 75?

The Washington Monument, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and Lincoln Memorial from the top of the Washington Monument.

There’s a difference between the first list and the second list: one is flooded with tourists, and the other is where the locals go. Washington, DC isn’t just the national monuments and the Smithsonian — there’s so much more than that. That’s one thing I learned when I spent over two months in DC as an intern last summer from the locals.

The first things I wanted to do after arriving in DC were to explore the famous monuments, and visit the pandas — because that was what I knew DC for. But how would I do that if I didn’t have anyone in the DMV area to do that with?

After a few weeks, I finally got to know the real DC and got to have fun like a local.

Locals don’t only explore the monuments in DC. Locals go everywhere — from Virginia to DC to Maryland — and locals were from everywhere throughout that DMV area. The DMV location is also very diverse, as you’ll see people of all backgrounds everywhere and find many different cuisines that you may not be able to find back home.

After befriending some fellow interns and mentors who were locals from the DMV area, we all decided to hang out at some of the places I’ve mentioned. Little did I know, this was only the beginning of exploring like a local, and these are still some of my go-to places whenever I visit DC that are not completely ransacked with tourists.

The outside of the SnoCream bus, the inside of the bus, and the yummy deliciousness that comes out of the bus.

Some of the first few hangouts we had were food runs at a few places in Virginia — just 15–20 minutes outside of DC. We had different types of shaved ices and frozen yogurt on the hot and sunny days from SnoCream, Shilla Bakery, and Siroo — with SnoCream being my favorite, because how often do you get dessert served from a renovated school bus?

For dinner spots, we grabbed delicious all-you-can-eat Korean bbq at Kogiya in Annandale, VA (their chairs double as a storage space — just lift the cushions!), as well as from rival a-la-carte style Honey Pig. You should try both and see which one you prefer — for me, Kogiya won my stomach.

Kogiya’s all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ bulgogi with banchan and spicy chicken.

We had some burgers, salads, personal pizzas, and sweet potato fries at Busboys and Poets in DC, where you might get to see live performances from locals when you dine in! We’ve had pho and Vietnamese desserts from Pho 75 — a DMV favorite — in Rosslyn, VA. Feel free to grab the corn pudding and coconut jelly yourself from the fridge in the back — go on, that’s what the locals do.

On the weekends, we enjoyed trips to the National Harbor in Maryland, where there is a small beach with “The Awakening” sculpture of a giant trying to get out of the sand and for us to climb on, and strolling down the Georgetown Waterfront with ice cream or Pitango gelato in hand.

Climb on this giant at the National Harbor in Maryland — just 30 minutes from DC by car.

Our favorite late night place to visit was Old Ebbitt Grill. This is a very popular restaurant among both locals and tourists, but there are barely any tourists here for their late night happy hour, where their famous platters of various seafood options are 50% off. Needless to say, much of my stipend was spent here with no regrets and great company.

Seafood lovers — rejoice! Our favorite: the 50% off Orca Platter during late nights at Old Ebbitt’s.

I greatly enjoyed my time in DC last summer, thanks to my new friends who showed me there was more to DC than just the monuments and the zoo, including free ice cream at the USDA Farmer’s Market.

But what if I had been traveling alone for a vacation? I wouldn’t have been able to explore all of these places and dine at such yummy restaurants had it not been for the locals I met and grown to love. Traveling to an unfamiliar place while knowing no one can be a little hard when you’re looking for the best places to hang and eat at, especially when you’re trying to avoid the massive crowds for overpriced foods and attractions. That’s why I prefer to travel with LoKi.

My fellow interns and I trying out free blueberry ice cream from the USDA Farmer’s Market after a day of work.

LoKi can give me that experience, especially if I’m traveling in a new place alone. I can easily find and book a LoKi who can show me where the locals go. I can find out firsthand about the local gems and experience what locals truly enjoy most about their hometown.

by Karman Chao, LoKi Intern