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Washington, D.C.

Updated: March 26, 2012 02:46 PM EDT

By Elise H. Ford

Behind its public face of luminous marble memorials and Capitol Hill politicking, Washington, D.C., leads a wondrously varied life. Musicians trumpet the blues, rock, and jazz at clubs throughout Duke Ellington's hometown. Museums welcome culture-seekers by day, hipsters for after-hours bashes. Ever after "the latest thing," Washingtonians jam hot spots like Estadio, but swear by old reliables, whether that means savoring the blueberry pancakes Saturday mornings at Eastern Market or strolling past the White House at 2am to stop for ale and oysters at Old Ebbitt Grill.

Things to Do

Lively arguments fly in the Capitol's Senate and House chambers, where resolute legislators hash out U.S. laws. A different perspective awaits atop the Washington Monument -- a staggering view of the green-swept Mall and beyond. Every spring, cherry trees erupt in delicate pink and white blossoms, and the town goes mad. Da Vinci's mysterious Ginevra de Benci outstares you in the National Gallery of Art, while Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party reels you in at the Phillips Collection. Glide past stately memorials, stunningly illuminated, on a nighttime Potomac River cruise.

Shopping

Georgetown=shopping. Fashionistas traipse through the international outposts and homegrown boutiques lining busy M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Weekends, join locals at the 139-year-old Eastern Market for exuberant bartering with area farmers hawking fresh produce; don't miss the market's famous blueberry pancakes. Shoppers head to U and 14th streets for vintage clothes and inventive housewares.

Eating and Drinking

Washington's restaurants reflect its population: international and always game. Dine at the Penn Quarter's sexy Rasika for imaginative takes on Indian cuisine. Ethiopian? Head to the U Street neighborhood's homey Etete, for heaping plates of spicy stews. Watch power brokers make and break deals at posh steakhouses like Charlie Palmer Steak on Capitol Hill, or follow a trendier crowd to the latest craze, maybe Spanish tapas at Estadio, on 14th Street.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Theater is huge, the options many, and the standards excellent, whether the production is South Pacific at the splendid John F. Kennedy Center or Macbeth at the world-renowned Shakespeare Theatre. Satisfy a yen for straight-ahead jazz at the suitably divey Blues Alley, or for indie sounds at the nationally recognized 9:30 Club. Young urbanistas rule the bar/lounge scene, roosting at mellow pubs like ChurchKey on 14th Street, and hitting the dance floor at Dupont Circle's Eighteenth Street Lounge.

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