We like to hang out in Washington bookshops for the scene -- politicians hawking their latest tell-all and activists plotting strategy over lattes in the corner. Shopping for souvenirs? Hit the museum shops, particularly those at the National Gallery of Art and the National Air and Space Museum (astronaut food is a cool souvenir). Head to Georgetown for expensive goods, and to Union Station for name brands and knickknacks.
The 14th and U Street district is the center for Washington hip. Here, Home Rule features funky goodies for your home. Busboys and Poets is a bookstore/restaurant and has become somewhat of an activists' hangout, hosting frequent open mic nights and poetry slams. The place gets its name from Langston Hughes, who once worked in the neighborhood.
In a residential area north of downtown, Politics and Prose is a well-stocked bookstore and coffee shop that attracts politicos and hosts frequent author readings.
Union Station is not only a shopping venue but also a working, historic train station (for Amtrak and Metrorail), beautifully restored with marble floors and vaulted ceilings. Here you'll find name-brand retailers like H&M and Ann Taylor. A popular place to pose for a photo is at the sculpture of A. Philip Randolph, an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.
The Eastern Market is a weekend must-do. Join the locals looking for antiques, handmade jewelry and crafts, baked goods, flowers, and more at the open-air market on Capitol Hill, immediately east of the U.S. Capitol.
Georgetown's top-end boutiques and galleries make it an excellent spot for window shopping and browsing, especially around M Street and Wisconsin Ave. Designer shoe fanatics should not miss Hu's Shoes, where you'll find the latest and greatest. There are several art galleries in the area, including Susan Calloway Fine Arts, with an eclectic collection of antique and contemporary art. Leave some time for browsing Georgetown's historic side streets too.