There’s more to soccer culture than the professional game, which is why we’ve put together guides for each of MLS’ 19 markets. Whether you’re just dropping in on vacation or hitting the road with your fellow supporters, here’s the lowdown on what to do and how to do it.
Soccer culture in D.C. is omnipresent. It's everywhere. The beautiful game is played in parks and schoolyards, talked about in bars, government buildings, taxi cabs, everywhere. The nation's capital, with all its vibrant multicultural pockets, has truly embraced the world's game – and with a new MLS stadium on the horizon, the future is bright for professional soccer in the District.
WHERE TO PLAY
Pickup games are plentiful in D.C. In the summer, games are played on an almost daily basis at the ellipse – officially President's Park South, a 52-acre green area a stone's throw from the south lawn of the White House. Head to the Adams Morgan neighborhood for a quick kick-around at Marie Reed Elementary – where Man City sprung for new turf – or head a bit further north to Tubman Elementary, where D.C.'s Salvadoran and Honduran footballers line up alongside the city's hipsters and trustafarians. Prefer your soccer a bit closer to an MLS venue? Watkins Recreation Center is nearby RFK and regularly hosts pickup games.
- Ben's Chili Bowl is a D.C. institution; it isn't the best food, but a half-smoke from Ben's is about as D.C. as it gets.
- Toki Underground and Daikaya serve up some of the city's best Ramen, but leave yourself a bit of time to wait at either restaurant – there's almost always a line.
- Ethiopic on H Street NE or Meskerem in Adams Morgan are both solid choices if you want to experience the city's fine Ethiopian cuisine.
- Honorable mentions: Thai Xing, Graffiato, Cashion's Eat Place
The American Outlaws take in national team matches at the Laughing Man in Metro Center, but locals also hit a few other, smaller venues for their soccer-viewing needs. The Pug on H Street is a no-nonsense go-to for MLS and EPL action. But be careful: two hours at this dive can turn into 10 in the blink of an eye. Lucky Bar in Dupont is another mainstay. Just over the river in Arlington, Va., Summers Restaurant can truly claim bragging rights as the area's first soccer pub – they've been showing soccer there since the days when you needed a massive satellite dish to do so. Another option: just walk in to any of the District's Ethiopian restaurants/bars and there's a 95-percent chance that they'll be showing a match at any given time.
WHERE TO VISIT
D.C. is full of landmarks – all of the obvious ones are great: the Washington Monument, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, White House, etc.
But the smaller monuments and museums are even more worthwhile. The FDR memorial is beautiful, an eight-acre site split into what the park calls four "outdoor rooms" alongside the tidal basin, perfect to explore at a leisurely pace. The museum of the American Indian is a fascinating and at times sobering look into the history of this country's Native American population – as a bonus, you can actually pick up a Chris Wondolowski jersey in the gift shop. Hit the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the National Mall – the area's modern art museum always has something new and beautiful to take in.
Whatever you do during your day, make sure you end up at the Jefferson Memorial around sunset. The view of the tidal basin from its steps is spectacular.
Honorable mentions: The African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, The Newseum, The National Cryptologic Museum
RFK makes matchday unique. The venue gets its fair share of criticism, but the concrete and steel goliath on East Capitol Street is a grand old stadium, steeped in more soccer history than any other venue in the US. Forget MLS – the Washington Whips of the USA/NASL were among the stadium's first tenants in the 1960s, while Johan Cruyff and the Diplomats called RFK home through the 70s and early 80s. The venue played host to matches during the '94 World Cup and '96 Olympics – in reality, more pro soccer has been played at RFK Stadium than at any other venue in the US. That's unique.
- Arrive a couple of hours early and head to Lot 8, where the tailgates await. United's legendary supporters' groups – La Barra Brava, Screaming Eagles, the District Ultras and La Norte – all get the party started well before kickoff. Just introduce yourself – they're a loud bunch, but United's supporters are a welcoming crew as well.
- Choose your side wisely. Looking to take in the match peacefully? Averse to getting soaked with beer? Sit on the “quiet side” and take in the match in peace. Looking for something a bit more raucous? Score tickets on the “loud side” and embed yourself with a supporters group – but be prepared to jump and sing. And put your cellphone away when D.C. score, lest it end up covered in airborne ale.
- Eat a pupusa already. If you didn't load up at the tailgate, score one of RFK's handmade pupusas. It's Salvadoran comfort food at it's finest, a thick, delicious corn tortilla stuffed with cheese, pork and saturated fat. And there are other unique options at RFK as well: jerk chicken, carne asada, and a host of other consumables.