Presidential Hangouts in DC

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You've made it to Washington, DC, plan to hit the city's major sites including the Smithsonian, Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial just like any good tourist would. But what if you decided to see the capital not like a tourist but like the nation's numero uno -- the president? On your next trip to DC, visit some of the town's hot spots that have been frequented by presidents past and present over the years, following in their hallowed footsteps as you dine and experience Washington, DC, as if you were POTUS ... minus the Secret Service detail, of course.

Experience DC's Arts and Culture

True, President Obama and his family embrace Washington DC's ample cultural attractions – courtesy of private performances and movie screenings at the White House. But the prez and his daughters have still managed to hit the town, taking in a private tour of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, where visitors can view exhibits on past and current presidents and see the collection of inauguration ball gowns worn by America's First Ladies. Additionally, Obama and the fam have paid a visit to the International Spy Museum, DC's espionage-themed enclave. Tourists and locals can also get into a presidential frame of mind with a visit to DC's Arena Stage, home to one of the nation's oldest -- and finest -- acting ensembles. In 2010, the President and First Lady Michelle were named Honorary Chairs of the Arena Stage at DC's recently renovated Mead Center for American Theater.

DC’s Overlooked Memorials
Photo by M.V. Jantzen, flickr
While in town, also check out DC's most overlooked memorials.
Before your trip to DC, plan ahead and book tickets for a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the famed performing arts space that is home to the annual Kennedy Center Honors and offers an exceptional selection of theater, dance, ballet, orchestra, jazz, live music and multimedia performances year-round. While you and your companions will likely be seated in the midst of the stunning hall, the center features a special president's box, a seating section designed for the president and his guests. To be sure, a presidential sighting at the Kennedy Center is rare, but seeing a performance here is always a pleasure.

Jog the National Mall
Much to the headache of his Secret Service agents, President Bill Clinton became an active jogger during his presidency, insisting on jogging in open, public spaces, rather than in the contained safety of the White House property. His route of choice became the dirt trail along the National Mall, past the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial. Strap on a pair of super-short jogging shorts (the former president's style of choice, it often seemed), and take a 37-minute run, just like Clinton once did.

Tour the Nation’s Capital
Take a tour of the nation’s capital.
Explore Georgetown
Head to Washington's storied Georgetown neighborhood to walk in the scholarly footsteps of Bill Clinton, who graduated from Georgetown University in 1968 after earning a bachelor of science degree in international affairs.

Pay a visit to the stately campus on a self-guided tour that takes guests pasts many of the school's landmarks, including the Old North steps, where 13 sitting presidents, including Clinton, have delivered addresses. After touring the campus, treat yourself to another walking tour, this time of the charming town of Georgetown, paying heed to sites such as the Mount Zion Cemetery, one of DC's oldest African-American burial grounds.

Catch a Washington Nationals' Game
While you’re in town, why not pay homage to America’s favorite pastime? Attend a live Nationals' game at Navy Yard. You can arrange for a private tour if you’re part of a group of 25 or more people. It's a great way to retrace some presidential steps. In President Obama's case, he might be a Chicagoan at heart, and admittedly, his favorite baseball team is the White Sox, yet, after the last few years spent in Washington, his second favorite team is easily the Washington Nationals. The sports-loving president threw the 2010 season's opening day pitch in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, and later that same season, attended a Nationals game against the White Sox with daughters Malia and Sasha. His baseball game fan attire? A White Sox baseball cap, of course.

Take a U Street Tour
Take a U Street Tour.
Ben's Chili Bowl
Assuming you haven't been living under a political rock for the past 4 years, it's probably come to your attention that President Barack Obama digs the grub at Ben's Chili Bowl, where he first dined in the weeks prior to his 2009 inauguration. The president was taking advantage of a campaign offer made by the proprietors of Ben's; they’d made a public offer stating, "Who eats free at Ben's: Bill Cosby. The Obama Family." During Obama’s visit, which he insisted on paying for, despite the offer, he indulged in a chili half smoke (the restaurant's famous pork-and-beef smoked sausage on a bun, topped with mustard, onions and chili sauce), as well as cheese fries and a sweet tea.

Filomena's Ristorante
Despite his penchant in more recent years for a vegan diet, there was a time when Bill Clinton ate his way through many DC restaurants with a vengeance -- including Filomena's Ristorante. This Italian-style DC staple, along DC's C&O Canal, became part of Clinton's dining rotation. His favorite meal is still highlighted on the menu: Linguine Cardinale – that’s lobster meat and a creamy lobster sauce served over linguine. Famously, the president ate here in 1993 with then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, where it's estimated the pair consumed more than 3,000 calories each. Should you decide to follow suit, we suggest you refer back to our previous DC pick: Jog the National Mall.

Peking Gourmet Inn
In nearby Falls Church, VA, the Peking Gourmet Inn was once the top choice of President George H.W. Bush. As its name suggests, the restaurant is known for its Peking duck dish, selling up to 1,000 ducks each week, though the elder Bush was said to prefer ordering the restaurant's beef dishes. The restaurant even has a facade made of bulletproof glass, rumored to have been added for the protection of the former president.

El Paso Cafe
It was a well-known fact that the younger Bush preferred dining at home in the White House during his presidency, rarely eating in restaurants, and his cuisine of choice was Tex-Mex. And so, it caused a stir among Beltway media types when on one rare occasion former President George W. Bush, his wife, Laura, and some of their friends headed out to supper, making a beeline for the El Paso Cafe, in Arlington, VA, for a meal of enchiladas, and chips and salsa. The restaurant honored the president by painting and commemorating the chair in which he sat during the dinner; today, the chair is on display for all diners to admire.

About the Author

Valerie Conners is a freelance writer, editor and producer who has worked with the Travel Channel for more than 14 years, specializing in travel topics including the world's best beaches, outdoor travel and romantic getaways. Her work also appears in many online and print publications including, Aol Travel, Discovery Channel, World Hum, Frommer's Travel Guides, the Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun and Philadelphia Inquirer. She's happiest when eating spicy Thai food, snorkeling with sea turtles in Indonesia and bargaining for bangles in Indian markets. She blogs about her travels at