Explore Chinatown in Washington, D.C.

Attractions, Restaurants, and a Brief History

Chinatown Arch
••• Chinatown Arch. Raymond Byrd/Getty Images

Chinatown is a small historic neighborhood of Washington, D.C. that features a variety of cultural attractions and business for tourists and residents alike. If you're planning to travel to the nation's capital and looking for some of the best authentic Chinese food, look no further than this neighborhood's approximately 20 Chinese and Asian restaurants.

Washington, D.C.'s Chinatown is located east of Downtown near Penn Quarter, a revitalized arts and entertainment district with new restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, museums, theaters and trendy stores, and is marked off by the Friendship Arch, a traditional Chinese gate prominently on display at H and 7th Streets.

Although much of the area was torn down in the 1990s to make way for the MCI Center (now the Capital One Arena), Chinatown remains one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting the nation's capital. However, Chinatown is most visited for its restaurants and the annual Chinese New Year parade.

History of Chinatown

In the early 1900s, the Chinatown area was mostly populated by German immigrants, but Chinese immigrants began moving to the area in the 1930s after they were displaced from the original Chinatown along Pennsylvania Avenue when the Federal Triangle government office complex was built.

Like other Washington neighborhoods, Chinatown declined sharply after the 1968 riots when many residents moved to suburban areas, spurred by the city's rising crime and deteriorating business climate. In 1986, the city dedicated the Friendship Archway, a traditional Chinese gate designed by local architect Alfred Liu to reinforce the neighborhood's Chinese character.

The core of the neighborhood was demolished to make way for the MCI Center, which was completed in 1997, and in 2004, Chinatown went through a $200 million renovation, transforming the area into a bustling neighborhood for nightlife, shopping, and entertainment.

Major Attractions Near Chinatown

Although there's plenty to do and see in Chinatown including some of the biggest and best event spaces in the city, one of the main draws of this neighborhood is its authentic Asian cuisine.

There are over 20 local family-owned restaurants and bars in Washington D.C.'s Chinatown itself and a variety of other restaurants within walking distance of this historic neighborhood. For a comprehensive guide on where to eat in Chinatown, check out our article " Best Restaurants in Chinatown Washington, D.C."

If you feel like doing something other than eating on your trip to Chinatown, there are a number of different attractions nearby worth exploring, including the International Spy MuseumUnited States Navy Memorial, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

As mentioned, Chinatown is now home to the city's largest sports and entertainment complex, the Capital One Arena, a state-of-the-art facility that routinely features performers and sports teams from around the world, including artists and acts related to Chinese and other east-Asian cultures.

Other popular attractions include the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Gallery Place shopping and movie center, the Washington Convention Center, the German cultural center named the Goethe-Institut, and the Marian Koshland Science Museum.