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D.C.’s 10 best people-watching locations, mapped

Get your binoculars ready!

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It is a slightly overcast, balmy 85 degrees out. This is the perfect weather for people to venture into the great outdoors or putter around a shopping mall, searching for snacks. I get my gear ready. I pack a homemade trail mix of Lucky Charms (all marshmallows), slather my nose with sunscreen (SPF 150), and adjust the focus on my binoculars. This is an ideal time for hobbyists like myself to watch humans, wherever they may be.

“Watch other humans?” you ask.

“Yes, of course!”

But, “People watching,” you say, “what is it exactly?”

It is kind of like anthropology or archeology except more lively. It is the age old pastime of lurking in a nearby park, meadow, or Denny’s and observing the strange intricacies of your fellow man. It is not voyeurism per se; it is simply a healthy interest in human behavior. And humans never fail to be interesting.

From one people-watcher to another, here are 10 of the best places in the District for enjoying the company of others, from museums to taverns to neighborhoods.

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1. Smithsonian National Zoological Park

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3001 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 633-4888
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There is something fascinating about watching people watch animals, especially while the animals watch the people. It is a continuous loop of curiosity.

As an added bonus, the National Zoo doesn’t charge for admission. This is one of the oldest zoos in the U.S., founded in 1889. Here, one can see the innocent faces of grownups light up when they see a capybara or giant panda play with a volleyball.

Connecticut Avenue NW holds an oasis of wildlife in our great capital. There is something especially majestic about seeing earth’s most peculiar creations up close and personal.

You’ll see a lot of exotic animals there too.    

2. Adams Morgan

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Adams Morgan
Washington, DC 20009

Adams Morgan is a magnet for Washingtonians of all personalities. Stroll through the historic beer-soaked sidewalks on any given night. As the sun sets, this is when it begins. One might hear slurred conversations about politics on the hill, the local sports teams, or the benefits of fiber in an all sesame seed diet.

People-watch the businessmen and would-be politicians after they get off from a long day of work, pushing memos with stick figure doodles on them. Being the expert sleuth that you are, you may get the inside scoop on the rumbling gears that keep the government afloat. Watch Tinder dates go poorly as someone talks about their Porsche convertible too often, then tries to high five an enraptured saxophonist belting out the saddest of blues.

One can also hear great music and experience a myriad of cultures.

3. Meridian Hill Park

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16th Street NW & W Street NW
Washington, DC 20009

Want to watch people outdoors? Then take a seat under the leafy canopy that is Meridian Hill Park (otherwise known as Malcolm X Park). Many have named this green space an oasis within the bustling U Street Corridor.

Enjoy water? There is a giant fountain that cascades down 13 tiered basins into a reflecting pool. Watch people look at their reflections in the pool, then get mad and splash water everywhere. Expect statues of Joan of Arc, James Buchanan, Dante, and Serenity. There are also great views of the city here.

The best time to people-watch at Meridian Hill Park is on any given Sunday in the summer. Expect drum circles with individuals sprawled out on blankets over the green expanse.

You will see risk takers balancing precariously above the ground, walking a tight rope that is fastened to trees. See eccentric citizens as they showcase their ability to hula-hoop. There are also dogs, and with dogs come dog owners, which many in the field of people-watching would argue are some of the most interesting people to watch.

4. Town Tavern

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2323 18th St NW
Washington, DC 20009

If you have a more distinguished palette for people-gawking, head on over to Town Tavern. Every Wednesday and Thursday night from roughly 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., passersby will hear three words, “Free comedy show!” Meander into the dimly lit bar and head up the stairs on the right hand side. Pass through the jet black curtains, but brace yourself as you are about to enter another universe.

Here, you will find humor and delight, thrills and chills, excitement and horror. One is sure to see a variety of comedy acts, from the good to the bad to the extraordinarily otherworldly. 

Capital Laughs puts up some of D.C.’s best humor makers. Some are painfully new. Some are well seasoned. One thing is promised: you will be able to watch people, weird ones to boot. As an added bonus, you will walk away with a smile plastered to your face. 

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5. Georgetown Cupcake

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3301 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007

This business was started by sisters Sophie and Katherine Kallinis in 2008. They gave up lucrative careers to pursue their passion of baking. It paid off. Now they have TV shows, books, and have opened cupcake shops in cities near and far.

Every day, without fail, a line loops around a brick building on the corner of Georgetown’s M and 33rd streets NW. The people here are all waiting for one thing: cupcakes. They wait, and wait, and wait despite the changing of the seasons.

Standing outside of Georgetown Cupcake is like watching adults trick or treating, except they all look slightly miserable and confused about their decisions in life. Many come from foreign states. They travel long distances to taste the illustrious and elusive cupcakes.

It is a fantastic place to watch how a sweet tooth can affect human behavior. 

UIG via Getty Images

6. Madame Tussauds

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1001 F St NW
Washington, DC 20004

This wax museum provides a unique atmosphere for people-watching. Here, one may choose to ogle and photograph their favorite celebrity or they can hang back and stand unflinchingly, pretending he or she is a celebrity mannequin as well.

It doesn’t matter if the celebrity doppelgangers aren’t the real thing. Many times, these copies are more pleasant to be around than the real deal.

George Washington looks on with a somber expression on his face. Teenage girls run by him screaming, “America’s Next Top Model!” and snap selfies with the Tyra Banks figurine, completely ignoring his presence. Abraham Lincoln gazes melancholically while an observer claims he looks nothing like Daniel Day Lewis.

Larry King stands with his hands resting on his hips. He never blinks when the tourists giggle at him. In fact, he never blinks as throngs and multitudes of onlookers surround him. Then he hiccups, wakes up from his open-eyed nap, and walks off.

Madame Tussauds is a very unique place for people-watching, whether they’re wax or not! 

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7. National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

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Constitution Ave NW & 7th Street
Washington, DC 20408

During the summer months, watch people play the saxophone on the stage, while accomplished musicians breathe out intoxicating melodies. Spy on throngs of Washingtonians as they jockey for space on the grass so they can enjoy their mimosas. Walk around the serpentine sidewalk to see people of all kinds.

These grounds are expansive and green, looping around a fountain whose water doubles as an ice rink in the winter.  The terrain is filled with sculptures, one of which is a huge metallic tree and then something that looks like twisted orange pipe cleaners, except larger than life.

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8. Hirshhorn Museum

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Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20024

Beside the National Mall, the Hirshorn Museum is a place that could definitely be described as “interesting.” Hundreds upon thousands flock within the cultured walls to absorb the contemplative art that comes in a myriad of forms. There are abstract paintings, sculptures, a pile of clothes (yes, really), old-timey film reels, and a “Big Man” sculpture that depicts a humongous, grimacing man-baby.

The rooms all have different atmospheres, which attract different types of sightseers. Some people seem to be visibly creeped out by the weirdness of the museum. They dare each other—one by one—to run up to “Big Man” and then run away screaming. Others see it as a breath of fresh air, genius perhaps.

If you want to see people out of their element, embracing their more imaginative side, I implore you to people-watch at the Hirshorn Museum. 

9. Longworth Cafeteria

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Longworth House Office Building, 9 Independence Ave SE
Washington, DC 20515

Watch the bigwigs of government rub elbows in this dining hall, which is open to the public. See how deals get done sometimes in a social setting and not behind closed office doors. Observe congressmen as they convince a group of tourists to switch places with them in the line for Jello. Watch lobbyists surround the fajita-making station, demanding more guacamole and corn—not flour—tortillas.

This cafeteria can be pretty crowded during lunch hours, but this is all the better for watching politicians on their respite from signing important government documents. No, this space won’t reveal scenes similar to those found in House of Cards, or The West Wing, or Veep. It is actually much better because you get pudding.

So, get out there and watch the bureaucrats of D.C. mingle with regular everyday citizens like you and me.   

CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

10. Maine Avenue Fish Market

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1100 Maine Ave SW
Washington, DC 20024

At The Maine Avenue Fish Market, the salty air is punctuated by the frying of seafood. The smell is carried to your nose by the breezes rushing off the Potomac River. Here, you will find seafood markets selling the freshest of products.

Enjoy freshwater lobster shrimp, giant shrimp, head-on shrimp, jumbo shrimp, extra large shrimp, jumbo tiger shrimp, and medium shrimp.

Ever wanted to watch people haggling with fishmongers over the prices of live crabs? Observe visitors slurping down two dozen raw oysters with extra vinegar, and horseradish, and just the smallest smidgen of hot sauce. Hear stories by vendors of the many times they have been pinched. Wait in order to listen for what they do in retaliation.

There is no place quite like this in D.C., and it is a completely Washingtonian experience. It is impressive to see people from all walks of life enjoying the spoils of salt and sea.

AFP/Getty Images

1. Smithsonian National Zoological Park

3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

There is something fascinating about watching people watch animals, especially while the animals watch the people. It is a continuous loop of curiosity.

As an added bonus, the National Zoo doesn’t charge for admission. This is one of the oldest zoos in the U.S., founded in 1889. Here, one can see the innocent faces of grownups light up when they see a capybara or giant panda play with a volleyball.

Connecticut Avenue NW holds an oasis of wildlife in our great capital. There is something especially majestic about seeing earth’s most peculiar creations up close and personal.

You’ll see a lot of exotic animals there too.    

3001 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008

2. Adams Morgan

Adams Morgan, Washington, DC 20009

Adams Morgan is a magnet for Washingtonians of all personalities. Stroll through the historic beer-soaked sidewalks on any given night. As the sun sets, this is when it begins. One might hear slurred conversations about politics on the hill, the local sports teams, or the benefits of fiber in an all sesame seed diet.

People-watch the businessmen and would-be politicians after they get off from a long day of work, pushing memos with stick figure doodles on them. Being the expert sleuth that you are, you may get the inside scoop on the rumbling gears that keep the government afloat. Watch Tinder dates go poorly as someone talks about their Porsche convertible too often, then tries to high five an enraptured saxophonist belting out the saddest of blues.

One can also hear great music and experience a myriad of cultures.

Adams Morgan
Washington, DC 20009

3. Meridian Hill Park

16th Street NW & W Street NW, Washington, DC 20009

Want to watch people outdoors? Then take a seat under the leafy canopy that is Meridian Hill Park (otherwise known as Malcolm X Park). Many have named this green space an oasis within the bustling U Street Corridor.

Enjoy water? There is a giant fountain that cascades down 13 tiered basins into a reflecting pool. Watch people look at their reflections in the pool, then get mad and splash water everywhere. Expect statues of Joan of Arc, James Buchanan, Dante, and Serenity. There are also great views of the city here.

The best time to people-watch at Meridian Hill Park is on any given Sunday in the summer. Expect drum circles with individuals sprawled out on blankets over the green expanse.

You will see risk takers balancing precariously above the ground, walking a tight rope that is fastened to trees. See eccentric citizens as they showcase their ability to hula-hoop. There are also dogs, and with dogs come dog owners, which many in the field of people-watching would argue are some of the most interesting people to watch.

16th Street NW & W Street NW
Washington, DC 20009

4. Town Tavern

2323 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

If you have a more distinguished palette for people-gawking, head on over to Town Tavern. Every Wednesday and Thursday night from roughly 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., passersby will hear three words, “Free comedy show!” Meander into the dimly lit bar and head up the stairs on the right hand side. Pass through the jet black curtains, but brace yourself as you are about to enter another universe.

Here, you will find humor and delight, thrills and chills, excitement and horror. One is sure to see a variety of comedy acts, from the good to the bad to the extraordinarily otherworldly. 

Capital Laughs puts up some of D.C.’s best humor makers. Some are painfully new. Some are well seasoned. One thing is promised: you will be able to watch people, weird ones to boot. As an added bonus, you will walk away with a smile plastered to your face. 

2323 18th St NW
Washington, DC 20009

5. Georgetown Cupcake

3301 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007
UIG via Getty Images

This business was started by sisters Sophie and Katherine Kallinis in 2008. They gave up lucrative careers to pursue their passion of baking. It paid off. Now they have TV shows, books, and have opened cupcake shops in cities near and far.

Every day, without fail, a line loops around a brick building on the corner of Georgetown’s M and 33rd streets NW. The people here are all waiting for one thing: cupcakes. They wait, and wait, and wait despite the changing of the seasons.

Standing outside of Georgetown Cupcake is like watching adults trick or treating, except they all look slightly miserable and confused about their decisions in life. Many come from foreign states. They travel long distances to taste the illustrious and elusive cupcakes.

It is a fantastic place to watch how a sweet tooth can affect human behavior. 

3301 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007

6. Madame Tussauds

1001 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004
Shutterstock

This wax museum provides a unique atmosphere for people-watching. Here, one may choose to ogle and photograph their favorite celebrity or they can hang back and stand unflinchingly, pretending he or she is a celebrity mannequin as well.

It doesn’t matter if the celebrity doppelgangers aren’t the real thing. Many times, these copies are more pleasant to be around than the real deal.

George Washington looks on with a somber expression on his face. Teenage girls run by him screaming, “America’s Next Top Model!” and snap selfies with the Tyra Banks figurine, completely ignoring his presence. Abraham Lincoln gazes melancholically while an observer claims he looks nothing like Daniel Day Lewis.

Larry King stands with his hands resting on his hips. He never blinks when the tourists giggle at him. In fact, he never blinks as throngs and multitudes of onlookers surround him. Then he hiccups, wakes up from his open-eyed nap, and walks off.

Madame Tussauds is a very unique place for people-watching, whether they’re wax or not! 

1001 F St NW
Washington, DC 20004

7. National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

Constitution Ave NW & 7th Street, Washington, DC 20408
Shutterstock

During the summer months, watch people play the saxophone on the stage, while accomplished musicians breathe out intoxicating melodies. Spy on throngs of Washingtonians as they jockey for space on the grass so they can enjoy their mimosas. Walk around the serpentine sidewalk to see people of all kinds.

These grounds are expansive and green, looping around a fountain whose water doubles as an ice rink in the winter.  The terrain is filled with sculptures, one of which is a huge metallic tree and then something that looks like twisted orange pipe cleaners, except larger than life.

Constitution Ave NW & 7th Street
Washington, DC 20408

8. Hirshhorn Museum

Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024

Beside the National Mall, the Hirshorn Museum is a place that could definitely be described as “interesting.” Hundreds upon thousands flock within the cultured walls to absorb the contemplative art that comes in a myriad of forms. There are abstract paintings, sculptures, a pile of clothes (yes, really), old-timey film reels, and a “Big Man” sculpture that depicts a humongous, grimacing man-baby.

The rooms all have different atmospheres, which attract different types of sightseers. Some people seem to be visibly creeped out by the weirdness of the museum. They dare each other—one by one—to run up to “Big Man” and then run away screaming. Others see it as a breath of fresh air, genius perhaps.

If you want to see people out of their element, embracing their more imaginative side, I implore you to people-watch at the Hirshorn Museum. 

Independence Ave SW
Washington, DC 20024

9. Longworth Cafeteria

Longworth House Office Building, 9 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20515
CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Watch the bigwigs of government rub elbows in this dining hall, which is open to the public. See how deals get done sometimes in a social setting and not behind closed office doors. Observe congressmen as they convince a group of tourists to switch places with them in the line for Jello. Watch lobbyists surround the fajita-making station, demanding more guacamole and corn—not flour—tortillas.

This cafeteria can be pretty crowded during lunch hours, but this is all the better for watching politicians on their respite from signing important government documents. No, this space won’t reveal scenes similar to those found in House of Cards, or The West Wing, or Veep. It is actually much better because you get pudding.

So, get out there and watch the bureaucrats of D.C. mingle with regular everyday citizens like you and me.   

Longworth House Office Building, 9 Independence Ave SE
Washington, DC 20515

10. Maine Avenue Fish Market

1100 Maine Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024
AFP/Getty Images

At The Maine Avenue Fish Market, the salty air is punctuated by the frying of seafood. The smell is carried to your nose by the breezes rushing off the Potomac River. Here, you will find seafood markets selling the freshest of products.

Enjoy freshwater lobster shrimp, giant shrimp, head-on shrimp, jumbo shrimp, extra large shrimp, jumbo tiger shrimp, and medium shrimp.

Ever wanted to watch people haggling with fishmongers over the prices of live crabs? Observe visitors slurping down two dozen raw oysters with extra vinegar, and horseradish, and just the smallest smidgen of hot sauce. Hear stories by vendors of the many times they have been pinched. Wait in order to listen for what they do in retaliation.

There is no place quite like this in D.C., and it is a completely Washingtonian experience. It is impressive to see people from all walks of life enjoying the spoils of salt and sea.

1100 Maine Ave SW
Washington, DC 20024