Travel

The Ultimate Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Killing Time at Reagan National Airport

A gate-by-gate guide to restaurants, bars, and souvenirs at the Smithsonian Museum Store.

Photo credit: Patrick Donovan, via Getty Images
Photo credit: Patrick Donovan, via Getty Images
Photo credit: Patrick Donovan, via Getty Images

If there’s a favorite airport in Washington, DC, it’s undoubtedly Reagan National-otherwise known as DCA. With its proximity to the city and relatively small, navigable layout, this airport makes traveling-even during the busy holiday season-less of a stressor than the majority of other airports in the region.

And it’s not just local DC and DMV residents who benefit from Reagan. In recent years, DCA has become a connecting hub among major US airlines (especially considering that the airport exclusively serves domestic flights). As such, on any given day, you can find plenty of passengers looking to entertain themselves as they wait for their flight or wait out a layover at DCA. And to help folks do just that, we’ve rounded up the best eats, drinks, and entertainment options to make your time at DCA fly by before your flight.

Photo Courtesy of Ben's Chili Bowl
Photo Courtesy of Ben’s Chili Bowl
Photo Courtesy of Ben’s Chili Bowl

National Hall

America!

Closest Gate: C23
If you’re leaving DC with no paraphernalia from our nation’s capital, have no fear: America! is here to help. The retailer offers a wide selection of historically-themed gifts, including flags, banners, and collectibles.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Closest Gate: C24
A proper DC institution, Ben’s has been open for over 60 years, and now boasts a location at DCA. Get the institution’s famous chili or half smokes before or after your flight for a true local experience.

Brooks Brothers

Closest Gate: C24
For folks who realize that they’re in need of a quick business casual (or business formal) look upon arriving at the airport, Brooks Brothers is here to help. America’s oldest retailer now has a location at DCA to help travelers look their best no matter where they’re headed.

Legal Seafoods

Closest Gate: C23
The classic family-owned seafood restaurant that has graced New England (and the rest of the world) with its simply prepared fish, mollusks, can be found at DCA, alongside a full bar and takeout options.

Johnston & Murphy

Closest Gate: C23
Whether you’re in search of a belt, some socks, or new luggage at the airport, get your shopping fix at Johnston & Murphy. And given that the brand claims to have outfitted every American President since Millard Fillmore, it seems fitting to shop here while in the nation’s capital.

Matsutake Sushi

Closest Gate: C24
Craving some Japanese before heading out from Washington, DC? For sushi rolls, teriyaki, tempura, and more, check out this full-service sushi bar, which also serves noodle dishes for folks looking for something more substantive. Refreshing cocktails and sake are also on the menu.

Smithsonian Museum Store

Closest Gate: C24
No trip to DC would be complete without a visit to a Smithsonian museum, and the Smithsonian Museum Store is here to ensure that you don’t leave empty handed. The retailer offers plenty of gifts for your friends, family, or yourself to take home souvenirs from one of the most major local cultural institutions.

A Gates

Page

Closest Gate: A1
At Page, forgo trail mix with dishes from celebrity chef Carla Hall (of Top Chef Seasons 5 and 8 and The Chew). Whether you’re looking for pimento cheese dip, cured ham and biscuits, or a vegetarian quinoa burger, it’s definitely a more artisanal option of elevated airport food.

Reservoir

Closest Gate: A1
For a proper sit-down meal, check out Reservoir by Robert Wiedmaier. You may not think of locally sourced ingredients as a staple at most airport restaurants, but Reservoir is here to help you reconceptualize what airport food can be. Menu items are inspired by the Provence region of France, and the whole restaurant is meant to invoke a French bistro.

B Gates

Grille District

Closest Gate: B15
If you’re looking for a burger, flatbread, or other familiar American fare, check out Grille District. Thanks to plenty of television screens, you can watch the game while waiting for your flight.

Cava Mezze Grill

Closest Gate: B16
DC’s favorite fast-casual chain has a home at the B Gates in DCA, offering Mediterranean inspired salads, sandwiches, and grain bowls for folks in a hurry. Build your own combination of ingredients, or pick from one of Cava’s tried and true favorites.

Photo courtesy of Kapnos Taverna
Photo courtesy of Kapnos Taverna
Photo courtesy of Kapnos Taverna

C Gates

EL Centro D.F.

Closest Gate: C30
El Centro comes from chef Richard Sandoval, whose DC-based empire of restaurants now expands to DCA. Check out El Centro for Latin American flavors in both food and drink options.

Forbes News

Closest Gate: C28
Get all the latest news, as well as traveling necessities like electronics, health and beauty accessories, souvenirs, and even luggage from this Forbes News store, one of the larger retail options within DCA.

U Street Pub

Closest Gate: C27
For folks in search of a watering hole, U Street Pub is the perfect find. This bar-complete with plenty of television screens-is inspired by local DC joints, and is a great way to pass the time before boarding.

D Gates

American Tap Room

Closest Gate: D38
As the name suggests, you’ll find plenty of beers on tap at this restaurant, which offers more of a sit-down experience than some of the fast casual eateries surrounding the restaurant. Also available are burgers, salads, and traditional bar bites.

Kapnos Taverna

Closest Gate: D37
With Greek-inspired dishes and wine lists, Kapnos is a great place to spend some time at DCA. Chef Mike Isabella, also of Top Chef fame, is the mastermind behind the concept, and brings his Mediterranean cooking style to the menu.

Georgetown Gourmet Market

Closest Gate: D40
Quickly grab pre-packaged sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries, and more from this efficient market (which also serves beer, wine, and juice for folks in a hurry).

E Gates

DC Originals

Closest Gate: E46
If you’re looking for a DC gift before leaving the city, check out this retailer. As the name suggests, you’ll find trinkets from D.C. brands (as well as some national chains). Whether you’re in search of a keychain, a tea towel, or a ball cap, DC Originals has you covered.

Inmotion

Closest Gate: E46
For noise canceling headphones, speakers, tablets, fitness bands, and more electronic accessories, be sure to check out InMotion and load up on necessities before your long flight.

P.F. Chang’s

Closest Gate: E47
This popular Chinese-inspired restaurant is a great place to grab a takeout box before boarding your plane, or stop by for a multi-course meal after landing. The large bar area offers plenty of space to relax, especially during a stressful travel day.

Wolfgang Puck Bar & Bites

Closest Gate: E59
Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck has opened up a DCA outpost with what the team calls “approachable fine dining,” complete with a wide selection of cocktails, beer, wine, and of course, plenty of snacks for a pre- or post-flight treat.

Lincoln Memorial | Photo by Scott Suchman for Thrillist
Lincoln Memorial | Photo by Scott Suchman for Thrillist
Lincoln Memorial | Photo by Scott Suchman for Thrillist

Other things to do near Reagan National Airport

Should you find yourself with too much time to kill at an airport-whether a long layover or, heaven forbid, a delay-the real beauty of DCA is its incredible proximity to some of the best that Washington, DC has to offer.

DCA is but a 10-minute drive (on a bad day) from the National Mall, where you can admire the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and other great American landmarks.

And once you find yourself on the Mall, you might as well visit one of the many Smithsonian museums dotting the borders-check out the Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, or for a non-Smithsonian spot that’s a must-see in DC, there’s the National Gallery of Art.

If you’re interested in catching a bite outside of the airport, you’re just across the river from the Southwest Wharf neighborhood, where you can find plenty of restaurants for either a casual drink (perhaps at Mi Vida) or a fancier meal (try Ilili DC). And with plenty of happy hour offerings during the weekdays (and even some of the weekends, including at Boardwalk), you won’t have to break the bank either.

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Lulu Chang is a Thrillist contributor.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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