Before you graduate, you really have to go to…

Everyone knows D.C. is the seat of power in American government and that the city is full of historical sights. But there is a side to D.C. that is unofficial – a side of the city with vigor that makes it a top destination for visitors, but also charismatic for residents. Check out some of its top landmarks:

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl is a homestyle diner that D.C. has embraced since 1958. Still housed in its original location on U Street between 12th and 13th streets, Ben’s Chili Bowl is part of U Street history. Luminaries such as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bill Cosby – and, more recently, President Barack Obama – have been known to meet friends there or catch a bite to eat before a show or speech for the last 45 years.

Ben’s Chili Bowl is open until 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday and until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily, but the real specialties here are the chili halfsmokes, chilidogs, milkshakes, and the chili by itself – meat or vegetarian – where 20 to 30 gallons are served every weekday, and almost double that on weekends.

National Zoo

With about 400 species ranging from ants to elephants, the National Zoo ranks among D.C.’s most popular (not to mention, free) destinations. Animal exhibits are open until 6 p.m. through October and 5 p.m. through March. The nearest Metro stop is Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan.

Georgetown Cupcake

Founded by sisters Katherine and Sophie who traded careers in fashion and private equity to pursue one that is, according to their Web site, “something a little sweeter,” Georgetown Cupcake has exploded onto the D.C. scene as the go-to place for gourmet designer cupcakes. Tucked in a small shop off of M Street on Potomac Street, the shop offers a menu of everyday flavors, along with specialty flavors that appear once a week and on special occasions, including chocolate peanut butter swirl and lemon blossom. The lines are long but well worth it. Make sure to pick up some for your friends in one of their handy cupcake carrying boxes.

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Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café

Located just off Dupont Circle, “Kramer’s” is a bookstore and café-restaurant combination that is open late on weekdays and 24 hours on Friday and Saturday. With two entrances on either side of the block, Kramer’s offers a quirky independent bookstore with an enthusiastic staff that is more than willing to give a new recommendation, while a restaurant on the other side boasts great food and even more entertaining drinks. During the 2008 election, the restaurant carried a drink called “The Billary” – a glass of watermelon-flavored schnapps and cranberry juice, with a shot of grapefruit vodka on the side because “you can’t have one without the other.” Live music is played Wednesday through Saturday in the evenings.

Jumbo Slice

Adams Morgan is a popular spot for a night out among GW students – whether they are over or under 21 – but whether you’re stumbling out of a bar or just going to explore the neighborhood and many hookah bars, Jumbo Slice is a must. The small eatery along Adams Morgan’s main drag, 18th Street, serves gigantic slices of pizza that are roughly the size of a computer screen for only $4 a piece. It is usually open until 4 a.m. on weekends.

Trick-or-treating at the embassies

Miss walking around your neighborhood on Halloween and getting a bag full of sugary treats? Well, since D.C. is your home now, why not walk around your neighborhood and do the same by trick-or-treating around our neighbors at Embassy Row? Although there are rumors that each embassy gives out treats from their respective countries, usually the treats are common ones given out on Halloween. Where else can you say you’ve trick-or-treated on foreign soil?

Getting out on the water

Taking a day to kayak along the Potomac River can be a fun way to see the city from a different angle, and there are plenty of docks along the waterfront where you can rent kayaks. Cherry tree season is the best time to go paddle boating at the Tidal Basin by the Jefferson Memorial.

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