Literary City Guide | Washington, DC

There is something good and motherly about Washington, the grand old benevolent National Asylum for the helpless.
— Mark Twain, The Gilded Age

Tour Guide: Renee Sklarew

Renee contributes to the Fodor’s Washington DC Guidebook, and writes features about Mid-Atlantic travel destinations for Northern Virginia Magazine. As a mother of two teenage girls, when not driving to basketball or play practice, her favorite pastimes are exploring her town and reading great fiction. (All photos by Renee Sklarew)


Relationship to DC: I’ve lived here on and off for almost five decades, and feel so much pride in the history and significance of this city. My neighbor is the President of the United States! How cool is that?

Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was an intern in Washington DC in the 1960’s. She is a national treasure.

Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Robert Weidmaier, a Belgian native who has several first-class restaurants around the city--and his kid goes to school with my kid.

Writing Soundtrack: I like quiet. I have two teenagers who always listen to music when they’re home from school.

Pen or Pencil: Whatever is handy, but I'd rather type

Coffee or Tea: Two cups of coffee when I get up, at least one cup of green tea in the afternoon (I’m up at 6 am).

Paperback or Hardback: Ebook, because it's easier to see with my aging eyes.

Good Reads


Politics and Prose. The iconic bookstore in Cleveland Park features weekly book chats, signings, readings, and celebrations. It has enormous influence over the launch of nonfiction books that permeate the Washington DC landscape. Their goal: “to facilitate the relationship between books and authors and readers.”

Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café. Open 24 hours on the weekends, this shop in Dupont Circle is a bookstore, coffee shop, restaurant, outdoor patio, bar, hangout place, pick up joint, and a cool spot to linger. On Wednesday through Saturday nights, a wide variety of musicians perform live.

Busboys and Poets. Named for poet Langston Hughes who once worked in Washington DC as a busboy, Busboys and Poets is a bookstore, restaurant and performance venue. An Iraqi-American artist founded this community-gathering place promote liberal thinking and provide “a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide.”


Library of Congress. More than 151 million items, including the largest rare book collection in North America, are stored at three buildings that make up the Library of Congress. Adjacent to the US Capitol, only researchers may enter the reading rooms, but visitors may peruse some highlights of the collection like the Gutenberg Bible and Thomas Jefferson’s personal book collection. 

Folger Shakespeare Library. A huge collection of manuscripts, artworks and books related to William Shakespeare are available for scholars at this library on Capitol Hill. There’s also a museum for visitors.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Part community center, the MLK Jr. Memorial Library  functions like a regular lending library with the addition of classes, writing groups, book talks, readings, movies and an enormous digital newspaper collection. 


The Writer’s Center. Almost every week there are readings and classes from the plethora of working writers who live in and around the DC Area. It offers courses in all genres—poetry, fiction, nonfiction and screenwriting.

National Book Festival. This annual event is hosted by the Library of Congress and held on the National Mall the third weekend in September. The two-day event draws world-renowned authors to for book signing and talks.

Bethesda Literary Festival. A late April event in Bethesda, with contests, and features readings by national and local authors.

Fall for the Book Festival. Hosted by George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, a week-long festival offers readers the opportunity to connect with a wide variety of regional and national writers.

Split This Rock. An annual poetry festival designed to foster a national network of socially engaged poets. Held at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the celebration includes readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming and activism.


Akwaaba. Book a room at this charming Bed & Breakfast in a 1890’s historic townhouse near U Street, NW--Duke Ellington’s former haunt. Each room is named for a different African American writers like Toni Morrison or Walter Mosley.

Fitzgerald Burial Site. Tip your martini glass to F. Scott Fitzgerald who was laid to rest beside wife Zelda in a cemetery in Rockville, Maryland, 20-minute ride from DC on Metro.

Josiah Henson's Cabin. Henson wrote his memoir about life a slave. He lived in a cabin in North Bethesda, 15 minutes outside of Washington. The memoir was inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Visit the tiny cabin, a national historic site and part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

The Jefferson. This luxury boutique hotel near the White House boasts a cocktail bar and lounge called Quill. In one of the Quill’s private nooks are bookshelves filled with hundreds of signed books by authors who were guests of the hotel.

Eatonville. Dine at the restaurant inspired by Zora Neale Hurston who lived in Washington DC and attended Howard University.

City of Words. On the monuments, inside the Library of Congress, on the walls of the Metro Subway stations, and many other places are memorable words spoken and written by notables like Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, Zadie Smith and Mahatma Gandhi.

Good Eats


Baked & Wired. Nowhere else but at Baked & Wired in Georgetown will you find so many  irresistible baked goods to go with your latté.

Tryst. Join the crowds of working stiffs and fellow writers with their laptops who make Tryst in Adams Morgan their office every day.

Dolcezza. In several locations throughout the city including Dupont Circle, Dolcezza serves artisan gelato with Italian espresso.


Zaytinya. A cavernous, frenetic restaurant in Penn Quarter, Zaytinya features small plates of festive Greek food designed by Washington’s own Iron Chef, Jose Andres.

Bombay Club. Local foodies and politicos (including President Bill Clinton) swoon over Bombay Club, an elegant Indian restaurant steps from the White House.

Crisp & Juicy. Peruvians have made the Nation’s Capital an extraordinary place to eat chicken Carbon, and Crisp & Juicy serves some of our best tasting, best value Peruvian chickens.

Washington boasts a number of authentic Ethiopian dining experiences; a cuisine that involves wide variety of savory dishes you scoop up with injera bread (no utensils necessary). Some of the best places to sample this unique cuisine is Meskerem and Ethiopic.


Georgetown Cupcakes. This dynasty featured on a television reality show became an American obsession. If you don’t mind the lines, try one of their dozens of changing flavors and take it home in a pretty pink box.

Pie Sisters. Can’t eat a whole pie? Then buy some cuppies at Pie Sisters, where they make irresistible mini pies perfect for one, in sweet and savory flavors. 

CoCo Sala. Dark, milk and white chocolate--take your pick of one of DC’s most romantic dessert restaurants. Not many places feature wine and chocolate together, but that is their specialty.

In the morning the city
Spreads its wings
Making a song
In stone that sings

In the evening the city
Goes to bed
Hanging lights
About its head.

---Langston Hughes

Renee's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: My favorite view of Washington DC is from Arlington National Cemetery at John F. Kennedy Gravesite, where you’ll find a panoramic view of downtown, many monuments across the Potomac River. The view includes the flight path of airplanes and helicopters traveling south along the Potomac, sometimes even Air Force One.

2. Favorite place to write: My desk at home with its scenic view of the woods with towering oak, sycamore and cherry trees, lush evergreens, and flowering azalea and rhododendron bushes. Known as the City of Trees, there's a thriving population of wildlife frolicking in our green spaces.

From my desk, I can watch squirrels, deer, foxes, hawks, owls, chipmunks and an occasional groundhog foraging in the foliage. It makes me feel like Thoreau.

3. Favorite museum: The Newseum. Located on America’s main street, Pennsylvania Avenue, it has a bird’s eye view of the National Mall, the U.S. Capitol, and overlooks the dome of the National Gallery of Art. The Newseum is full of modern history, with exhibits ranging from 9/11 tower, Berlin Wall and Unabomber’s cabin, and a daily copy of every major newspaper in the world on display.

4. Favorite coffee shop: Open City in Woodley Park. They have ample indoor and outdoor seating that overlooks Rock Creek Park and bustling Calvert Street. It’s both a favorite of locals, tourists and families alike. Only steps from the Woodley Park Metro and National Zoo, Open City’s meal options range from all day breakfast, to a wide selection of craft beers. Of course, they have really good coffee and friendly service too.

5. Favorite thing about DC: The National Mall. It’s endlessly fascinating in any season. On the Mall there are dozens of museums, most of them free. I like exploring museums in the daytime, and wandering around the memorials and monuments at night when there are no crowds, and everything is lit up and glowing.