Washington DC’s major attractions are among the most recognizable in the country: the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Institution. But if you’re looking to get out of the National Mall and explore some of the hidden gems in Washington, DC, there are plenty of options to choose from. We’ve put together this list of 10 hidden gems to get you started, ranging from public spaces that anyone can visit, to private venues you can rent for a party or retreat.
Whether you’re planning a family reunion, a corporate outing, or a wedding — or you just want to get some cool Instagram shots on your trip to DC — it’s worth stepping off the beaten path to see some of these lesser-known locations in Washington, DC, that are sure to inspire you.
1. A painted church near SW Waterfront
An artist named Hense has transformed this traditional church building into a multicolored mural. If you’ve come to DC looking for one-of-a-kind street art, this church is a must-see stop on your visit. It also serves as the home of Culture House, a community center for visual, musical, and performance artists. If you want to see the inside, check their website to find out what exhibits are open. They also have an on-site recording studio and organic catering company.
2. A contemporary art space in Northeast
This hip, industrial art space is the perfect venue for a photoshoot, art exhibition, or an intimate wedding. The venue includes 3,000 sq.ft. of space, including the indoor gallery and the outdoor courtyard surrounded by beautiful exposed brickwork. With plants and hanging lights adding to the decor, this is a space for any occasion. Just reach out to your host or call the Peerspace Concierge service to find a preferred caterer or bartender, or choose one of your own.
3. A rooftop racetrack in Alexandria, VA
Unique rooftop venues can be hard to find. If you’re looking for something other than a rooftop bar, consider this racetrack for a unique outdoor gathering. It’s suitable for an office outing, a fitness class, or even a photo or video production. You’ll have access to a ⅛-mile track, an outdoor gym including sit-up benches and a pull-up bar, and comfortable lounge seating.
4. Lovers’ Lane Pool at Dumbarton Oaks
This beautiful spot is the perfect hidden gem in Washington DC for anyone who loves gardens. It features a shallow pool surrounded by stands of bamboo and cast-stone columns. Previously, it was home to an art installation called “Bamboo Counterpoint,” which used multiple speakers to create an immersive soundscape. Take a look at the Dumbarton Oaks website to find out what exhibits are currently open, as well as upcoming events and concert series.
5. A modern church in NW Washington
Just a few blocks from the White House is this modern church that can be used as a venue for workshops, musical performances, photoshoots, and more. The impressive glass facade looks out onto 16th street and provides plenty of natural light in the auditorium. Most importantly, this venue is equipped with a variety of amenities, including a gallery kitchen that your caterer can use, A/V gear — including a projector, screens, and microphones — and multiple pianos.
6. A scenic rooftop garden in Trinidad
This spacious garden is another great hidden gem in Washington, DC. With over 3,000 sq.ft., it contains multiple greenhouses, shade structures, and picnic tables to accommodate 50 people. Choose this venue for a gardening workshop, an outdoor yoga class, or a video production in a memorable setting not far from the National Arboretum and central DC.
7. The National Bonsai Foundation
Caring for bonsai is an art, and this free museum in the US National Arboretum will teach you all about it. Previous exhibits include “CSI: Bonsai,” which investigates the ways you may have accidentally killed your bonsai. In addition to seeing healthy examples of bonsai up close, you can take part in mindfulness workshops, including yoga and tai chi among the gardens.
8. An antebellum home in Hyattsville, MD
Just outside the city in Hyattsville, MD, is this beautiful historic home built in 1840. It’s available for weddings, video productions, and other events, with rates varying depending on the size and type of the occasion. In addition to the antique decor, wraparound porch, and outdoor fireplace, it has “its own distinctive cracks, squeaky floors, and occasional friendly ghost,” according to its hosts. Choose this venue for a hidden gem with lots of historic charm and personality.
9. A modern penthouse in Silver Spring, MD
This architectural marvel is available for video productions, receptions, showers, and more. The fourth-floor penthouse includes modern amenities including a kitchen and Apple TV. But the appeal of this space is the outdoor deck with its stylish wooden frame, which provides plenty of unique opportunities for a photoshoot. Beside the deck is a sloping garden that looks like a cascading waterfall of plants, lending the space a vibrant modern aesthetic in downtown Silver Spring.
10. President Lincoln’s Cottage in Northwest DC
This national monument in Northwest DC was used as a summer home by Abraham Lincoln and other US presidents. Now it’s a museum and event space that’s available for events with up to 250 guests. It features an impressive atrium with a balcony on the second floor, as well as a historic exterior built in the Gothic Revival style. Whether you’re hosting a corporate event or wedding reception, or just want a private tour, you’ll be hard pressed to find a space with this much history and atmosphere that’s available for private rentals.
This list of hidden gems in Washington, DC, is only a small snapshot of what the city can offer. For more ideas, browse Peerspace and search by event type, capacity, and other filters to find the perfect place to host your event or photoshoot in DC. You’ll find even more hidden gems where you can avoid the crowds and experience this historic city on your own terms!