To Do in Washington DC: Latinland USA
This guide to Washington DC is part of Latinland USA: A Tiki Tiki Guide celebrating the Latin flavor of cities across the country.
Hispanic Heritage To Do in Washington DC
I was born and raised in Maryland just outside Washington DC. Today I live a little further out but still drive into the city at least once a month or more. (Well, my husband, Carlos, drives. I’m not brave enough… And sometimes we take the Metro.)
Anyway, if you’re looking for ways to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, or just trying to find some activities, attractions and culture, here is my guide to travel and fun in our nation’s capital.
Washington DC Restaurants
Food! Let’s start here. This is definitely my area of expertise.
La Frontera in Gaithersburg, Maryland – You won’t find this one in the top recommendations of Yelp.com, though I’m not sure why. When I want pupusas and a nice cold glass of horchata – La Frontera is where I go.
Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas Bar in Frederick, Maryland – Fine Spanish cuisine in Frederick, Maryland? Hard to believe, but it’s true. Nice wine and cheese list for those that are interested. I personally prefer Calamares a la Romana, Paella a la Valenciana, Chorizo a la Parrilla con Pure de Patatas y Ajo, and Brochetas de Pollo Peruanas – and because they’re “tapas” (appetizer sized meals), you can order them all without shame.
La Chocita Grill in Leesburg, Virginia – The location of this place is a little odd – tucked in amongst antique stores, but the fresh, delicious Mexican food with the option to eat on a nice patio outside, makes it worth seeking out.
Tortilla Cafe in Washington, DC – Honestly, in my opinion this is just your typical Salvadoran/Mexican combo restaurant which are so common in this area but it is incredibly popular. The place is always busy and it was featured on the Food Network show, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” – so check it out and you decide if it’s worth all the hype.
Julia’s Empanadas – (various locations in the DC area) – This place is popular with those needing a hot snack after clubbing or bar hopping, but it’s good anytime. At the affordable price of $3.49 a piece, you can try a few. Options include: Vegetarian, Chilean beef, Jamaican, Spinach, Chorizo, Salteñas and Turkey with Spring Onion.
If you can’t get enough empanadas and find yourself in Dupont Circle, check out Panas. They have much more variety than Julia’s – delicious yuca chips and amazing dipping sauces. Just be warned that the empanadas are much smaller. The dessert empandas are literally bite-sized.
Washington DC Music and Dancing
As much as I love music and dancing I lack a partner to take me out on the floor, (my husband will dance with me, but only behind closed doors), so this isn’t truly my scene. I really wanted to include this section though, so I turned to my friend Jenn, a Latin dance instructor who lives in the DC Metro area. Here are the places she recommended.
Habana Village – Great, historical club in Adams Morgan. Offers salsa lessons Wed – Sat for $10. Hit the floor early to avoid the big crowds.
Artisphere – New urban arts center in Rosslyn (Arlington, VA). Salsa night every Tuesday with lessons on the best dance floor in the DC Metro area. The DJs and lessons vary week to week. ($8-10)
Rumba Cafe – Small, intimate restaurant/club in Adams Morgan. Although not a lot of room for dancing, it is a great spot for hearing live music either by the local band or by visiting artists. Cover varies – call ahead.
Museums and Monuments
Many of the museums in the Smithsonian include Latin American history and culture sprinkled throughout. The National Museum of the American Indian in particular has a few beautiful displays, including one for Día de los Muertos. (A great family excursion to explore arts and culture.)
Exhibits at the museums change often, so always check the website to see if one of particular interest will be coming to our area.
Some day soon, we will have a whole museum dedicated to Latinos in DC. You can support the creation of The National Museum of the American Latino and make it a reality. (Click the link to find out ways to contribute to the effort.)
Also, many don’t know that there’s a statue of Benito Juarez at Virginia Ave. and New Hampshire Ave., N.W.
Shopping and Fun To Do
Eastern Market in DC - Although Eastern Market isn’t strictly Latin, you will find some Latinidad amongst the street vendors in the adjacent parking lot. The man selling Peruvian toys and children’s sweaters, and the woman selling adorable handmade Peruvian hats, make it worth the trip.
BestWay Supermercado in Washington, DC and other locations – A large Latino market with more than your usual Mexican fare as well as all the familiar items. Outside vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables.
Soccer games – Whether it’s a national Latin American team or DC United, you will find Latino community and culture at the stadium when fútbol is being played.
Things to Do: Hispanic Heritage Month
Fiesta Musical at the National Zoo – This annual festival includes animal demonstrations as well as costumed dancers, Latin music, tradtional crafts for sale, and Latin American food. This event is particular nice for families with small children.
Fiesta DC - THEE big Latino festival for the DC area. Held in September, this huge, free family-friendly parade features music, food, costumes, dance, vendor booths and more.
AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center – During Hispanic Hertiage month, this theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland, features films and documentaries from Latin America.
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living near the Washington DC Metro area and the founder of Latinaish.com.