Washington, D.C. is a city synonymous with US power. It’s home to the Pentagon, the Capitol Building and the White House. You can still visit Ford’s Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was shot. And the hotel at the heart of the Watergate scandal. You can stand on the steps where Martin Luther King Jr. stood to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. D.C. is a city filled with history, iconic monuments and buildings.

But, argues D.C. resident David Santori, there’s so much more to this city than its politics and presidents. “The city’s true spirit and warmth lie beyond what the tour guides and travel books tell you to do,” he says, “The other D.C. is a side of the city that needs to be put on the map so people realise there is more to this place than its National Mall.”

Originally from Paris, David has lived in the US for almost two decades. And he’s spent the best part of three years living in and exploring Washington, D.C. What does he like best about his current hometown? The city’s short winters and its diversity, David tells us. Also the European charm you find in some neighbourhoods and D.C.’s huge number of cultural institutions, galleries and museums, many of them free to visit.

Want to discover the unseen side of Washington, D.C.? Here David shares his insider recommendations for anyone taking a trip to his city.

Neighbourhoods

“I enjoy the colourful streets of Shaw and the history of Capitol Hill, the beauty of Georgetown and the majesty of Logan Circle. I love soaking up the quiet charm of the Bloomingdale neighbourhood. In the northeast of the city, there’s the Union Market, Trinidad and H St Corridor areas – all with great food, arts and an unbeatable vibe.

“Once you’ve seen the city and its monuments, you can get a much more authentic D.C. experience by spending your time where people actually live. And by that I mean exploring off the beaten track neighbourhoods that don’t feature in the guide books. Other places to try include Eckington, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, Brookland and Navy Yard.”

Food

“I am all about the seafood so Chesapeake oysters and crab are definitely a must try when in D.C. You can find them at the Maine Ave Fish Market at The Wharf, the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the U.S.

“There’s also some great soul food to be discovered. I really love the hearty food at Oohh’s and Aahh’s. And you should also try to eat at a couple of D.C.’s ethnic restaurants. The city is home to over 170 embassies, which means there is food from all across the world to enjoy.”

Architecture

“D.C. has some truly beautiful architecture. There are the big neoclassical monuments up at the National Mall. Shaw is home to quaint and colourful rows of houses. Over by Capitol Hill you can find 19th century manors and Federal-style townhouses. Finally, Georgetown is impeccably European and will make you want to photograph every single street.”

Culture

“Whatever topic you’re interested in – modern art, air and space, American Indians… – there’s a D.C. museum where you can learn more about it. Some of my favourite cultural destinations in D.C. are the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Gallery of Art – especially the East building. A few lesser known places to put on your list include the Art Museum of the Americas, the Renwick Gallery, the Society of the Cincinnati and the African American Civil War Museum.”

A Saturday in D.C.

“Start the day at the Colony Club coffee shop in Park View for a cappuccino or two and walk to NuVegan Café for breakfast. Then head to Mount Pleasant, walking through Columbia Heights to catch the end of the farmers’ market. Elle, Pear Plum and Potter’s House are nearby if you need to stop for a refreshment or a bite to eat.

“A stroll through Meridian Hill Park is another must, before a late lunch around U St NW or 14th St NW as a reward for all that walking. Etto, Busboys and Poets, Hank’s Oyster Bar, and Duke’s Grocery are all close by and always a good idea.

“In the afternoon, take a bus and wander around Georgetown photographing the neighbourhood’s charming façades. Then end up at the Lincoln Memorial for sunset. For the evening, you can’t beat H St NE for drinks at Dio Wine Bar and dinner at Sally’s Middle Name.”