Bipartisan art is all around you in the capital city—you need only walk down the National Mall and its adjacent parks, which stretch from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial, to see different examples (including Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, whose granite slabs form a stark monument to the men and women who served in that conflict). And even though you'll have to battle tourists, it's worth popping into a few of the museums that line the Mall, and not just because admission to every single one of them is free. Stop by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Independence Ave SW; 202-633-4674, hirshhorn.si.edu; free) and wander through its outdoor space, taking a moment to peek at works by Auguste Rodin and Jeff Koons, before heading over to the Smithsonian Institution Building (1000 Jefferson Dr SW; 202-633-1000, si.edu), otherwise known as "the Castle."
Smithsonian Institution Building
Completed in 1855, the building now serves as the information center for all of the Smithsonian Institute and counts a tiny scale model of the city among its holdings. But D.C. isn't just about imposing monuments and mazelike museums: The underground art scene is also thriving here. "We're trying to make [art] accessible to people," says Alex Goldstein, proprietor of gallery and performance space The Fridge (516 8th St SE, rear alley; 202-664-4151, thefridgedc.com; free). "But we want to create a place where art and performance on an experimental level can be showcased." As such, you never know what might be happening at the Fridge: It hosts live music (jazz musician Marshall Allen played a set in February), performance art pieces and, every Sunday, regular art classes. Goldstein is especially excited about a tattoo-focused exhibit that he's working on with D.C. street artist Decoy, which will open in June. Another Goldstein of recommendations: the cheap grub at El Khartoum (1782 Florida Ave NW, 202-986-5031). "It's a crazy hole in the wall, but they have the best falafel I've ever tasted," he says. And the price is right at $8 for a platter, which includes salad, rice and beans and a piece of pita. If sweets are what you're after, Goldstein likes the homemade artisanal gelato at Dolcezza (1704 Connecticut Ave NW; 202-299-2116,dolcezzagelato.com), where you can sample flavors like Sicilian Blood Orange and Avocado Honey Orange (4.50--$5.60). You'll be able to treat your eyes and your taste buds simultaneously: The Fridge is curating the art at Dolcezza's Dupont Circle location.
Depending on your comfort level with strangers, your stay at the cozy, colorful Tabard Inn (1739 N St NW; 202-785-1277, tabardinn.com) can be quite cheap—rooms with shared baths run from $113 to $143 per night. But if you prefer to shower in peace, you'll have to pay a premium: Rooms with private baths run from $158 to $218. Regardless of their privacy preferences, all guests receive free passes to the Capital YMCA, as well as a complimentary breakfast.