Many tourists, before they visit Washington DC for the first time, hear about the National Mall and think it is a giant Washington DC shopping mall. On the contrary! It is loaded with national museums, a walk through history itself. But never mind, if shopping in Washington DC is your goal; you have plenty of choices for how and where to find everything you need. Of course, there are the requisite number of suburban malls and chain store operations, but most people can generally find those themselves. In Washington you can expect to find the unusual bookstore, the antique gallery filled with historic treasures, or the gourmet specialty store you can"t seem to leave.
For an experience shopping in DC that is quintessentially Washingtonian, you might actually start at, of all places, the national Mall, where the vast Smithsonian complex gives you a plethora of exotic and eclectic gift shops to explore. The National Museum of Natural History has a popular one, as does the National Air and Space Museum, where, among other things, you can buy amazing kites. The National Zoo is also a fun place to buy gifts and souvenirs. Museum shops in general offer unusual fare and are fun simply to browse through. DC has museums outside the Smithsonian aura that are also quite fun for shoppers. At the International Spy Museum, you can get your own finger printing kit, and at the National Geographic Explorer Hall, you can use blue screen digital technology to create an instant cover of you on the National Geographic magazine!
If you are looking for more traditional shopping fare, or for antiques, visit Georgetown, the main area for shopping in Washington DC. From cute little gift shops, galleries and cafes along the water on the canal, to chic boutiques and antique dealerships and restaurants all surrounding Wisconsin and M Streets, Georgetown is the ultimate shopping and browsing area for locals and tourists alike. The Shops at Georgetown Park is a nice Washington DC shopping mall, largely indoors, located in the center of it all. Also, you might get a thrill from the specialty boutique shopping in the historic Watergate complex in the area. If you like to search for hidden treasure, grab a coffee and browse through the Georgetown Flea Market on Sundays at Wisconsin and S Streets. Wealthier Washingtonians often pass on their belongings here, so designer clothes barely worn can often be found for considerable bargains, along with other vintage wardrobe and antique furnishings.
Another place one must go shopping in Washington DC is in the Old Post Office Pavilion, downtown between the White House and the US Capitol building. A historic and beautiful federal building, with one of the rare remaining Richardsonian Romanesque designs, it was turned into a shopping and café meeting area in the late seventies. Inside, it is chock full of vendor stalls with all kinds of crafts, imports and more practical fare. In addition, there is a wonderful food court where live jazz or classics are often performed. The building itself is worth the visit, with its observation tower that stores the Bells of Congress, a present from England to celebrate the US Bicentennial.
Another fun and historic Washington DC shopping venue is Union Station, where over 100 shops and 45 eateries can keep you amused for many a layover. Metro goes right into the center of this architecturally grand landmark, and a walk around the exterior will put you squarely in front of the US Capitol grounds. There is a movie theater in the bottom level of Union Station near the food court, so many locals and visitors enjoy an entire night out shopping, dining, and watching the silver screen for a break.
Once at Union Station, you are very close to another favorite place for shopping in DC: Eastern Market. An international market with a vibrant throng of merchants, importing and creating various cultural expressions, Eastern Market can be one of the most exciting places to buy gifts, shop for artwork, or watch street performers and enjoy a sunny afternoon. Also, for that international flair, the Seventh Street District is a great stop, considered the gateway to Chinatown. Funkier vintage and art stores reflecting a diversity of cultures can also be found in the Fourteenth and U Streets district, known for its rich African American heritage. In spite of what many political pundits would say, diversity is alive and well in Washington DC, at least amongst the shoppers!