What is Washington D.C.’s cultural scene like?

Answers from Our Experts (2)

US Capitol Building©iStock/andipantz

Washington, D.C. has earned its title as the nation’s seat of power. The city houses the three branches of the federal government, plus thousands of lobbyists, lawyers, advocates and journalists all vying for their slice of the pie, which makes for an interesting scene.

Washington also has more than half a million residents; the metropolitan area, which includes the surrounding Virginia and Maryland suburbs, is the eighth largest in the country, and with that comes thriving ethnic pockets that represent African, Asian and Latin American cultures. And thanks in large part to the sartorial smarts of first lady Michelle Obama, D.C. is ditching the stuffy pants suits and getting more fashion-forward.

In this power town, a long list of iPhone contacts trumps a fat bank account any day of the week. Power drives Washington and the people who run it. From lobbyists to lawyers to journalists to politicos, Washingtonians make a living off of knowing who matters — and who doesn’t.

You can see it everywhere — from the highway-clearing motorcades that shuttle diplomats around town to the sequestered tables at top restaurants that cater to an elite group of regulars. At happy hour, you’re more likely to overhear ladder-climbing twenty-somethings debating international policy than the merits of a college football team. Even playtime nods to power, with popular annual events like the Roll Call Congressional Ball.

Despite a palpable air of power, a true local — someone born and raised here — is a rarity in Washington. A genuine local wears that native status like a badge of honor. Everyone else is quick to point out how long he or she has been a resident — five, 10, 20 years.

Why the fuss? D.C. has earned a reputation for being a transient city for good reason: Lots of people come here for school or short-term jobs in the federal government. And not that it’s a bad thing: The come-and-go nature has allowed D.C. to become a melting pot in the truest sense. Rather than lacking an identity, the city has merged the hustle and bustle of northern cities with the appealing small-town feel of the South. Home to hundreds of embassies, D.C. also has an international flair, with cultural events and festivals celebrating traditions from around the world.

Ethnic enclaves abound, too. At Ninth and U streets, Northwest, there’s a hub of authentic Ethiopian restaurants. In the Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods, you’ll find Latino grocery markets, cafés and street vendors. For a taste of authentic Asia, head just outside the city to the Eden Center in Falls Church, Va. It’s packed with enough Vietnamese restaurants and bakeries to make any world traveler pine for Hanoi.

There’s really no phrase or easy way to describe the culture in D.C., except to say that it’s an eclectic mix of people from every country, background and status, all jumbled in one bustling city bent on who’s in power.

Washington D.C., is the cultural capital of the world. Nowhere else do you find so many cultural venues in one city.

Related Questions