Brookland, Petworth, and Takoma are three relatively quiet neighborhoods east of Rock Creek Park. Following the "White Flight" after desegregation and the 1968 riots, these neighborhoods were left underpopulated, overwhelmingly African-American, and much less wealthy than the Upper Northwest, just across Rock Creek Park. While these neighborhoods are currently experiencing a resurgence and new bars and restaurants are opening every month, they are rarely visited by travelers, except to see the National Shrine. However, there is a good reason to come here beyond the National Shrine — to better know the city as its residents do.
Brookland is the old established neighborhood around Catholic University, sometimes known as the "Little Vatican" for all its major Catholic institutions, as well as the National Shrine. Spend some time talking to Catholic University students, and you'll get an earful about the lack of restaurants, shops, etc. in the area, and they tend to hop on the Metro to spend their weekends in trendier neighborhoods. Petworth sits just northeast of Columbia Heights, and seems set to follow its neighbor under the forces of gentrification. It's also home to the massive Armed Forces' Retirement Home, where you'll find President Abraham Lincoln's Cottage, and beautiful Rock Creek Cemetery across the street. Takoma, dubbed the "Berkeley of the East," has good claim to be the most liberal neighborhood in the decidedly liberal D.C. Area, and has a good collection of quirky shops and ethnic restaurants.
The Red line makes useful stops at Takoma for Takoma Park, Brookland-CUA for Catholic University and Brookland's commercial strip, and Fort Totten, while the Green/Yellow lines stops at Georgia Ave/Petworth for the Petworth neighborhood and at Fort Totten where you can transfer to the Red Line.
Takoma Park, Catholic University, and Petworth are all pretty easy to reach by Metrorail—there's no real need to bother with complicated bus routes. For the other destinations, however, you'll need a good bus plan if you don't have a car:
Both President Lincoln's Cottage and Rock Creek Cemetery can be reached via the H2, which runs along Rock Creek Church Rd between the Brookland-CUA and Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro stations (and further west on to the Columbia Heights station).
This section of town is less densely populated, less frequently visited, and expansive—a car is not necessary to visit these areas, but it is the most convenient option, provided you trust yourself to navigate all the tortuous, complex diagonals and other surprise deviations from the grid! There are numerous main roads, but Georgia Ave is one you should keep in mind—it's one of the city's main thoroughfares. Heading east out of the city towards the Beltway, routes US-1/Rhode Island Ave and US-50/New York Ave are the quickest options, albeit absolutely miserable (and unavoidable) in rush hour traffic.
Planning to catch taxis here would be a terrible idea. You'll often find them sitting at Metro stations, but otherwise you should call one in advance.
- Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 400 Michigan Ave NW (Metro: Brookland), ☎ +1 202 526-8300, fax: +1 202 526-8313. 1 April–31 Oct: 7AM-7PM daily, 1 Nov–31 March: 7AM-6PM daily; tours: M-Sa 9AM-3PM, Su 1:30PM-3:30PM (tours start on the hour). This massive, stunning basilica is worth a pilgrimage not just for American Catholics; people of any faith will be in awe at its sheer size, the largest house of worship in North America, and its vast collection of contemporary sacred art. Built entirely by traditional methods, it seamlessly blends architectural styles from different periods over the last 2,000 years. Tours: free.
- Mount St Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, 1400 Quincy St NE (Metro: Brookland), ☎ +1 202 526-6800. Grounds: 10AM-5PM daily (Catacombs visits require tour), tours: M-Sa 10AM,11AM, 1PM-3PM, Su 1PM-3PM (tours start on the hour). The Franciscan Monastery is home to a magnificent Italianate church and flower gardens, ringed by a Rosary Portico of 15 chapels with the Angelic Greeting written in 200 languages. The lower gardens are more kitschy— the monastery's founders, in the late nineteenth century, set out to create a Holy Land in America, and commissioned the construction of replicas of overseas holy sites, including the Roman Catacombs, The Grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, the Grotto of the Nativity, and other assorted reproductions. A fine place to stroll, read, and contemplate. Free, donations encouraged.
- Saint John Paul II National Shrine, 3900 Harewood Rd NE (Metro: Brookland), ☎ +1 202 635-5400. Mo-Sa 10AM-5PM. Elevated to a national shrine in 2014, this Knights of Columbus-operated center offers exhibits on the life, legacy, and teaching of Pope St. John Paul II and on the Catholic heritage of North America. There is a weekday veneration service for a first-class relic, a piece of the blood-stained cassock worn by the pontiff when he was shot on May 13, 1981. Suggested donation: $5.
- President Lincoln's Cottage, Enter at Rock Creek Church Rd & Upshur St NW (on the Armed Forces' Retirement Home grounds), ☎ +1 202 829-0436. Visitor Center: M-Sa 9:30AM-4:30PM, Su 11:30AM-5:30PM; tours: M-Sa 10AM-3PM, Su noon-4PM (tours start on the hour). President Lincoln and his family summered here from 1862–1864 to escape the awful climate (physical and political) by the White House. Here he penned the second draft of his Emancipation Proclamation. Recognizing that Lincoln's political acumen was rivaled by his taste in abodes, later presidents James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur all took up the cottage as a summer residence as well. In addition to simply looking lovely, the cottage today contains several exhibits, as well as a reproduction of the desk on which Lincoln wrote his Proclamation. $12, $5/child 6–12.
- Rock Creek Cemetery, Rock Creek Church Rd & Webster St NW, ☎ +1 202 726-2080. Dawn–dusk daily. This is no Congressional Cemetery, no Arlington Cemetery. That is to say, no one has heard of the place or the people buried therein. But this is a beautifully-set nineteenth century cemetery, with a High Gothic statuary impressive in quantity and quality. The most famous statue/tomb here is known to Washingtonians as Grief, incorrectly, as the famous sculptor Saint-Gaudens gave it a less catchy title: The Mystery of the Hereafter and The Peace of God that Passeth Understanding. The grounds are huge, so it will pay off to get a map from the cemetery office if you plan to look for anything in particular (Grief is in Section E).
- Carter Barron Amphiteatre, 4850 Colorado Ave NW, ☎ +1 202 426-0486. Concerts/shows only late spring–early fall. This has got to be the most fun, most beloved concert venue in D.C.—a big open air amphitheater off in the woods. What legendary performers haven't performed here? Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Louis Armstrong, Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, BB King, the National Symphony Orchestra, Nat King Cole, Peter Paul & Mary, and Kool and the Gang have all been here. Several big local festivals call this place home, notably the great, free annual Blues Festival. It was most famously host to the Shakespeare in the Park festival in late summer, until the Shakespeare Theatre Company opted to move the festival to their new building downtown. This is must lamented by locals, as watching Hamlet, for example, deliver his soliloquy in the dark night under the stars, surrounded by the rich natural sounds of Rock Creek Park, is a one of a kind experience, and the festival was considered a requisite Washingtonian event. Free-$30.
- The Culture Shop, 341 Cedar St NW, ☎ +1 202 726-2211. Tu-F 11AM-7PM, Sa-Su 11AM-6PM. This is a great gift shop, especially if you want something under the headers fair trade, organic, etc. Pottery, home items, foreign bric-a-brac, stationery, fabrics, etc.
- PollySue's Vintage Shop, 6915 Laurel Ave, Takoma Park, MD, ☎ +1 301 270-5511. M-F 11AM-7PM, Sa 11AM-6PM. D.C.'s (OK, technically Maryland's) favorite hidden gem of a vintage boutique is just a five minute walk from the Takoma metro station. Rest assured the prices here will be far more reasonable, and the vintage clothing far more vintage, than the yuppie-hipster fodder downtown. There are plenty of very wearable items here, but there are also a good amount of clothes that would be more fun at a party than in public!
- Colonel Brooks' Tavern, 901 Monroe St NE, ☎ +1 202 529-4002. M-Th 11AM-1AM, F-Sa 11:30AM-3AM, Su 11AM-1AM. This is Brookland's neighborhood pub, thirty years old, and popular with Catholic students, professors, and really anyone who lives in the area. With occasional live music (dixieland on Tuesday nights), an eccentric menu, diverse clientele, and a nice atmosphere, it's a popular place for brunch after mass, dinner, or a couple beers while watching a game. $6-20.
- San Antonio Grill, 3908 12th St NE, ☎ +1 202 832-8080. Su-Th 11AM-11PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM. A nice Tex-Mex restaurant near Catholic, with Mexican food far above the local average, as well as a few Salvadoran and Cuban entries (try the Cuban masitas de puerco). The margaritas have quickly become famous, not just for being tasty, but also for being extremely large. $8-25.
- The Hitching Post, 200 Upshur St NW (across the street from El Limeno), ☎ +1 202 726-1511. Tu-Sa 10:30AM-10PM. A comfortable, homey, friendly, old-time soul food diner off by the Armed Forces Home, serving some of the best fried chicken in the metro area, always cooked to order. The sides of slaw, mac 'n cheese, etc. also drive the locals into a foodie frenzy. The portions are enormous (it's not terribly clear how "half chicken dinner" translates into twelve pieces of bird). All in all, a great place to settle into a casual, drawn out meal of slow cooked food during a football game or over a good conversation. $6-15.
- El Limeno, 201 Upshur St NW, ☎ +1 202 829-5551. Su-Th 11AM-11PM, F-Sa 11AM-midnight. As a rule in D.C., you have to wander pretty far off the beaten path to find good Latino eats, and El Limeno's residential location in Petworth satisfies that criterion well. It's an attractive sit-down restaurant with a long menu of Salvadoran and Mexican dishes (stick to the Salvadoran), with especially good soups and seafood. Full bar. $10-22.
- Mark's Kitchen, 7006 Carroll Ave, Takoma Park, MD, ☎ +1 301 270-1884. M-F 9AM-9PM, Sa 8AM-9PM, Su 8AM-8PM. Mark's is a fixture of the downtown Takoma Park area if there ever was one. It's a little, very unpretentious Korean restaurant with a specialty in vegetarian dishes, and some solid American dishes at that—you can get your breakfast of buckwheat pancakes, or mung bean pancakes! $8-14.
- Domku Bar & Cafe, 821 Upshur St NW, ☎ +1 202 722-7475. Tu-W 5PM-11PM, Th 10AM-11PM, F-Sa 10AM-midnight+, Su 10AM-10PM. This is one of the most fun places to get a drink in the city. The atmosphere is laid back, fashionable, and Scandinavian. The food is quite good as well, which also ventures into Polish and Baltic cuisines. For drinks, you'll be spoiled for options that you won't find anywhere else: Georgian wines (and chacha!), Baltic lagers, Armenian brandies, and Scandinavian aquavits. Flights of three of the latter are especially popular, with all sorts of surprising infusions like dill, chili pepper, cardamom, etc. Dishes: $8-20, flights: $16.
- Takoma Station Tavern, 6914 4th St NW, ☎ +1 202 829-1999. M-F 4PM-2AM, Sa 6PM-3AM, Su 6PM-2AM. W-Sa nights see nightly jazz/R&B/gogo performances (this is the best bar period to see a gogo performance), and Mondays are stand-up comedy. Music usually starts around 11PM.
- Savory Takoma Metro, 314 Carroll St NW, ☎ +1 202 545-8800. This little cafe doesn't get everything right, but it does have free WiFi, and live music on some nights (usually starting after 7PM).
- Hilltop Hostel (formerly India House Too), 300 Carroll St NW, ☎ +1 202 291-9591. A converted Victorian house across the street from the Takoma Metro station, this is an affordable way to sleep in D.C. without staying somewhere seedy or boring. Private rooms with shared facilities available. $24/bed.
- Brookland Inn, 3742 12th St NE, ☎ +1 202 467-6777. This well-kept, all-suites B&B is really a steal—each suite has a bedroom, private bath, kitchen, and living room. If you aren't visiting Catholic University, Brookland might seem like an odd choice of location, but it's literally three blocks from the Metro stop, and is on the main commercial strip in the neighborhood. As an added bonus, the Brookland Cafe is in the same building, and is a delightful place for breakfast, and the neighborhood favorite with locals. Free WiFi, and extended stay rates available. One-bedroom: $150, two-bedroom: $250.
- Intown Uptown Inn, 4907 14th St NW, ☎ +1 202 541-9400. Bedandbreakfast.com chose this one as the number one urban B&B in the country. It's a simply gorgeous turn-of-the-century Victorian B&B in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood, with a famously hospitable owner, and a large, beautiful garden patio (a good place for one of Sandy's lemon drop martinis). The full hot breakfasts are on a level you won't likely find elsewhere (think crab quiche, belgian waffles, fresh fruit). The rates are affordable because it is far from the center (some Washingtonians like to check in here and consider it a vacation from the city), but the 52/53/54 bus has a stop right outside the front door, and runs all day straight south through Downtown to the Mall. $140-225.
In addition to the cafes above, the following all also provide free internet (and the libraries also offer public terminals):
- Petworth Library, 4200 Kansas Ave NW, ☎ +1 202 541-6300. M,W 1PM-9PM, Tu,Th-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Su 1PM-5PM.
- Shepherd Park Library, 7420 Georgia Ave NW, ☎ +1 202 541-6100. M,W 1PM-9PM, Tu,Th-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Su 1PM-5PM.
- Takoma Park Library, 416 Cedar St NW, ☎ +1 202 576-7252. M,W,F-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Tu,Th 1PM-9PM, Su 1PM-5PM.
- Woodridge Library, 1801 Hamlin St NE, ☎ +1 202 541-6226. M,W 1PM-9PM, Tu,Th-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Su 1PM-5PM.
Aside from the obvious southward trip downtown, you could take a little trip across the D.C. border into Maryland, especially to visit adjacent Silver Spring to the north, which is on the Metro's Red Line, and has the American Film Institute Theater, Discovery Channel Headquarters, and a lot of restaurants and bars.
|Routes through Brookland-Petworth-Takoma|
|East End ← Near Northeast ←||S N||→ Silver Spring → Wheaton|
|Greenbelt ← Hyattsville ←||N S||→ Columbia Heights → East End|
|END ←||N S||→ Columbia Heights → East End|