Been to Washington DC Lately? You Won't Believe How Much It's Changed

When was the last time you visited our nation's capital? Whether the occasion was a dull class trip too many years ago, or even much more recently, chances are you'll barely recognize the place. Change has been coming fast and furious to Washington, DC of late, making it one of the more compelling cities on the East Coast right now. Interested? Here are a few quick stops to help bring you up to speed.

Local oysters and wine (or brunch, or whatever) at Union Market

DC's rusticated wholesale market received a giant shot in the arm with the opening of this bright, big hall, bristling with energy all week long but particularly on weekends, when the brunch-crazed local population shows up to eat. From fancy deli sandwiches to tasty dosas to perfect burgers, its all here, but don't fill up on stuff you can get anywhere else – your first stop is the counter of Rappahannock Oyster Bar, attached to a farm that's working hard to revive the regional oyster culture. Been to Hog Island in San Francisco? It's basically the same idea, but with Chesapeake oysters (and local beer and even some good Virginia wine). Best of all, it hasn't turned into a tourist trap just yet. If you're in town on a weekday, check out the very good happy hour.

Take an evening walk along the Anacostia River (no, really!)

For years barely on the grid for anyone who didn't live or work nearby and now forming a rather pronounced boundary between old and new DC, the Anacostia – that's the river that flows through the District, rather than alongside it – was never going to make it to the top of a list of places to spend your leisure time. Times change, places change – you're now looking at one of the fittest cities in the country, according to the people who keep track of such things. All those fit people need somewhere to work out and there are only so many trails in Rock Creek Park or kayaks for rent down by the Potomac. Right now, fifteen of what will ultimately be twenty-eight miles have been completed, but the Anacostia Riverwalk is more than ready for its close-up – particularly the stretch running through the fast-growing Navy Yard quarter, which rose from nothing –literally, nothing – to become something of a city unto itself, not all that far from Capitol Hill. Pleasant open spaces, sculpture and other recent additions make this stretch of the trail one of the best evening walks in town. (It doesn't hurt that there's a pretty good ice cream joint just off the river – Ice Cream Jubilee.)

Meet the cool crowd for coffee on H Street

If you haven't seen the city in a few years, H Street – not far from Union Station -  offers one of the most remarkable contrasts between District past and present. This once-scarred strip is now one of the hottest addresses in town – there's even a stub of a streetcar line running over from the station now, which some people make fun of and others just shut up and ride. Of the many (many!) places to see and be seen, nothing quite sums up the new DC like Maketto, a pop-up turned indoor-outdoor pleasure palace for the city's cool crowd. Browse local fashions in the concept shop up front, walk back to the restaurant and bar serving up Asian street foods and pricey cocktails or simply retreat upstairs to the coffee bar, where they make some of the best espresso drinks in town with some of the finest local bean that money can buy (Vigilante Coffee). If it's nice, sit on the café's back balcony, which overlooks the restaurant courtyard – people watching at its finest.

Get lost in the back alleys of Shaw

Think DC is all broad, angled avenues and imposing government buildings? Step behind the glittering new Marriott Marquis on Massachusetts Avenue and into the once-best avoided alleyways of the Shaw district, a now-appealing maze bounded by 9th and 10th St NW. These narrow thoroughfares are home to some of the niftiest little hangouts in town a café here, a juice bar there, little lunch spots, a cool bar. It's the perfect place to get lost after a day of glad-handing at the gargantuan convention center, located just over the road.

Ready to make the trip? Here's a look at current flights to Washington Dulles (IAD) and National (DCA).

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