A Field Guide to Holiday Lights & Nearby Eats & Drinks

By Tim Ebner

National Christmas Tree

The Ellipse: Look for giant toy soldiers guarding the doors at Old Ebbitt Grill, just a few blocks from the National Christmas Tree. You’ll want to head straight to the raw bar for half-off oyster specials during happy hour (3–6pm) and late night (11pm to close).  

Parade of Lights

600 Water St. SW: Warm up with a winter cocktail at Ashlar, located inside the Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco. Get into the holiday spirit with drinks like the Sherry Cobbler #2, served with Dewar’s Blended Scotch, bianco vermouth and Alexandro Cream Sherry. 

Zoo Lights

3001 Connecticut Ave. NW: For hearty pub fare and a children-friendly option, head to Duke’s Counter, located across the street from the National Zoo. Bring an appetite because their “sarnies” (or sandwiches) can easily feed two.  

Georgetown Glow

Georgetown canal area and waterfront: Escape the madness of M Street by recharging and re-caffeinating at Grace Street Coffee Roasters, an independent, locally owned coffee company that’s new to Georgetown. 

 Christmas on the Potomac  

National Harbor, 201 Waterfront St.: Chef Edward Lee has been adding a Southern twang to National Harbor’s dining scene for about a year now. His restaurant, Succotash, serves a variety of shared plates, including Southern-style wings, pimento cheese and skillet cornbread.  

 Miracle on 34th Street  

720 W. 34th St., Hampden: Le Garage is a few blocks north of Miracle on 34th Street and offers a dive hideaway with an expansive beer list, the best french fries in Baltimore and a variety of tartines (open-faced sandwiches).  

 Festival of Lights and Carols  

The Mormon Temple, 9900 Stoneybrook Dr., Kensington: Swing by Jenny Cakes Bakery in Kensington and pick up some holiday sweets before your visit to the Mormon Temple. This cute little bakery is tucked away in the Kensington historic district and serves mouthwatering cupcakes, cakes and cookies.  

 Festival of Lights

Watkins Regional Park, 301 Watkins Park Dr. (Route 193), Upper Marlboro, MD: Breakfast for dinner? Or Southern fried chicken? Both are possible at Mrs. K’s Restaurant, known as a “hometown, home-cooked, hole-in-the wall” place that has a local following for all-day breakfast and soul food. Open every day but Sunday ’til 8pm. 

 Annapolis Light Parade  

Annapolis Harbor and Spa Creek: Head away from the crowds, up Main Street, to Preserve. Obsessed with Mid-Atlantic cuisine, Chef Jeremy Hoffman pickles many local ingredients to last through winter. Try the pickled platter of root vegetables—served in a Mason jar—and a seasonal cocktail. 

 Garden of Lights

Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Ave.,Wheaton: Wheaton is a wonderland of cheap eats. To bring the heat and spice to your holiday look no further than Ruan Thai. Favorite dishes include grilled pork with spicy sauce and fried whole flounder with chili and basil. 

 Bull Run Festival of Lights

7700 Bull Run Dr., Centreville: To fend off December’s chill, head to Vit Goel Tofu for steaming bowls of tofu soup. This tucked-away Korean restaurant has a variety of vegetarian soup options, like soondubu, which comes with a whole egg to crack open and into the stew. 

 Winter Walk of Lights

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Ct., Vienna: Clarity Chefs Jon Krinn and Jason Maddens consistently get top nods in northern Virginia for delicious and creative cuisine. Dishes like cold-smoked diver scallops, braised lamb ragout and local tomato salad get rave reviews. 

 Festival of Lights and Carols  

Old Town Hall, 3999 University Dr., Fairfax: Bring the heat to the holidays with tsukemen, a nontraditional ramen, where the noodles are slightly thicker and served alongside a firey orange dipping sauce. At Marumen Ramen Shop in Fairfax, each bowl comes with a hearty helping of sides. Choose from options including pork belly, pickled cabbage and creamy buttersweet corn. 

Illustration by Mabel and Maggie. Artists Sarah Bohl and Mary DeStefano make hand-drawn and hand-lettered maps, cocktail cards and a variety of other paper products. mabelandmaggie.com