WASHINGTON — Whether visitors want to try one of the first family's favorite restaurants, discover a sense of history or escape from the crowd to find a museum off the beaten path, Washington is the nation's cultural capital this weekend for inauguration visitors.

The presidential swearing-in on Monday, after all, is only a brief moment in time. So, hundreds of thousands of visitors will be searching for what else to do in a city that has evolved even during the Barack Obama era.

Beyond the big-ticket balls, the best place to party may be in the capital's neighborhoods, said historian Jane Freundel Levey of the group Cultural Tourism D.C. In the 19th century, she said, it was the citizens of Washington who put on the inaugural parties and paid for them. And the heavily Democratic city will be partying this time, too.

"Our neighborhoods are going to be great for restaurants and for nightlife, and people will be celebrating," she said. "You know, Washingtonians do care a lot about what happens nationally, and we care a lot about who is president."

Levey's group has installed heritage trails in many neighborhoods over the years with sidewalk signs to illustrate and guide tours of sites linked to local and national history.

The U Street and H Street neighborhoods will likely be gathering places by day and night during the inauguration, Levey said. Visitors will find a more refined restaurant scene across the city and some new destinations that have sprung up over the last four years.

Here are a few pointers to guide the way:

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Where to Eat

Restaurants across the city will brag that the president and first lady have dined in them. Tourism officials have put together an itinerary for visitors to "Play in President Obama's Backyard" with some of their favorite dining spots.

Organic eatery Restaurant Nora, Blue Duck Tavern and BLT Steak have all been Obama picks for date nights. During the campaign, the president took supporters from battleground states to dinner in the hip H Street Northeast neighborhood.

On Thursday night, for Michelle Obama's 49th birthday, the first couple dined with friends at Cafe Milano, an Italian restaurant in the upscale Georgetown neighborhood.

For a quicker meal, the president and first lady have been known to grab a burger at Chef Spike Mendelsohn's Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill or at Five Guys. The president's favorite pizza is said to be the St. Louis-based District of Pi, which opened a spot in downtown Washington after he moved to the White House.

http://washington.org/dc-itinerary/dc-itinerary-play-president-obamas-backyard

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Where to Learn

The best place for a broad overview of the presidency and American history is probably the Smithsonian museums. The National Museum of American History has major exhibits on the American presidency, the first ladies and the nation's founding.

Away from the National Mall, the National Portrait Gallery has portraits of the U.S. presidents from Washington to Obama in the building where President Abraham Lincoln held his second inaugural ball.

Since this inauguration comes 150 years after the Civil War, there are a series of special exhibits that reflect on that period. The Smithsonian's "Changing America" gallery at the American history museum parallels the American society between the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has gathered some of the best artwork from the Civil War era. At the Library of Congress, curators are displaying firsthand accounts of the war through diaries, letters and Lincoln's first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, which is on display for a limited time.

Many museums will be open for special hours on inauguration day. A few will open early for visitors to keep warm on the National Mall.

http://www.smithsonian.com/inauguration

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Where to Reflect

The newest memorial in Washington is the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It's sure to draw a big crowd as this year's inauguration falls on the King holiday. The site opened to visitors in 2011 and features a towering statue of the slain civil rights leader, along with quotations from his speeches and sermons. National Park Service officials plan to erase one inscription at the memorial because it wasn't historically accurate, but they postponed the work until after the inauguration.

The Lincoln and Jefferson memorials are among the most scenic for visitors and are sure to draw huge crowds. The Washington Monument, however, was closed to visitors after it was damaged in a 2011 earthquake. It will likely remain closed until 2014.

Ford's Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated, opened a new education center in 2012 with exhibits on Lincoln's legacy.

http://www.nps.gov/mlkm

http://www.fordstheatre.org

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Where to Escape

For a break from politics and presidents, the city has planned other attractions and festivals to accommodate the inauguration crowd.

From Friday through Sunday, the National Museum of the American Indian is hosting a multicultural festival with music, dance and storytelling from a variety of cultural traditions.

The National Gallery of Art is displaying Michelangelo's masterpiece "David-Apollo," on loan from Italy, as it did for Harry Truman's inaugural reception in 1949.

The Kennedy Center is featuring a new ballet with "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," produced by the National Ballet of Canada and London's Royal Ballet. At last check, tickets were still available, ranging from $45 to $150.

Washington also has historical sites away from the beaten path for visitors who want to get away from the crowds. President Lincoln's Cottage was where the 16th president escaped for much of his time in Washington and where he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. It's located in a residential neighborhood on the campus of the Old Soldiers Home and is open for visitors to walk in the footsteps of the Lincoln family.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass also had a home in Washington on a hilltop overlooking the city. It's operated now as a National Historic Site in the Anacostia neighborhood.

http://lincolncottage.org

http://www.nps.gov/frdo/

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Follow Brett Zongker on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DCArtBeat

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  • Theodore Roosevelt, 1905

    The Capitol during the inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt in 1905.

  • Ronald Reagan, 1981

    Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy Reagan wave to the public from the presidential car during the January 20, 1981, Inauguration Day parade.

  • James K. Polk, 1845

    This wood engraving depicts the crowd with umbrellas in front of platform on east portico of the Capitol, where Chief Justice Roger B. Taney administers the oath of office to James K. Polk.

  • Ulysses S. Grant, 1873

    This wood engraving shows Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase holding Bible with hand raised, and Ulysses S. Grant with hand on Bible, surrounded by crowd of men.

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1940

    President Franklin Roosevelt began his eighth year in the White House on March 4, 1940. The president attended services at St. John's Episcopal Church before the ceremony. Congressional leaders, cabinet members and others joined the president at prayer services, including Secretary of War Harry Woodring and Mrs. Woodring, pictured here, as they attended enter the church.

  • Jimmy Carter, 1977

    A peanut-shaped float passes by presidential reviewing stand for the inauguration of Jimmy Carter on Jan. 20, 1977.

  • Theodore Roosevelt, 1905

    President Theodore Roosevelt in his carriage on the way to the White House from the Capitol.

  • Abraham Lincoln, 1861

    The inauguration of Abraham Lincoln at the Capitol on March 4, 1861.

  • William McKinley, 1901

    This photos shows the crowd standing in front of the Capitol with William McKinley standing on the podium in the middle.

  • George H. W. Bush, 1989

    Soldiers march in the parade that followed the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush on Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20, 1989.

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1945

    Dr. Wei Tao-Ming, of China, and other guests at the ceremony of the fourth inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the South Portico of the White House.

  • William Howard Taft, 1909

    Photographers at President Taft's inauguration, March 4, 1909, above a snow-covered wall.

  • James Buchanan, 1857

    A wood engraving from Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper depicts the inauguration process for James Buchanan in 1857.

  • John F. Kennedy, 1961

    This photograph depicts the presidential reviewing stand as the Mummers band passes during John F. Kennedy's inauguration.

  • Jimmy Carter, 1977

    President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter dancing at an inaugural ball on Jan. 20, 1977.

  • George W. Bush, 2005

    US Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Terry Scott shakes hands with one of the hundreds of Navy sailors who helped line the street cordon down Pennsylvania Avenue for the Inauguration day parade,

  • Richard Nixon, 1969

    Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon arrive at an inaugural ball in 1969.

  • Harry Truman, 1949

    This photo shows the inauguration podium at the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony of Harry Truman on Jan. 20, 1949.

  • George W. Bush, 2001

    Fireworks explode over the White House on the eve of George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001.

  • Ronald Reagan, 1981

    The inaugural procession travels toward the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue near 11th Street NW on Jan. 20, 1981.

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  • Dinner With President Obama

    President Barack Obama, right, at Mintwood Place restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington, with winners of a campaign contest, including Ben Oakleaf and his mother Rose Oakleaf, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Dinner With President Obama

    President Barack Obama, left, and first lady Michelle Obama, center, sit at Mintwood Place restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington, with winners of a campaign contest, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, including David Garcia, and his wife Rose Garcia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Dinner With President Obama

    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama sit at Mintwood Place restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington, with winners of a campaign contest, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, including from left to right, Henry Scurry with wife Latasha Scurry, Ben Oakleaf, with his mother Rose Oakleaf, David Garcia and his wife Rose Garcia. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Dinner With President Obama

    President Barack Obama, right, sits with Rose Oakleaf, left, at Mintwood Place restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington, during dinner with winners of a campaign contest, Monday, Aug. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Dinner With President Obama

    President Barack Obama has dinner with campaign donors and winners of the "Dinner with Barack" contest at The Liberty Tavern in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, Va., Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011. From left to right: Ken Knight, U.S. postal worker from Chandler, Ariz.; Wendi Smith, artist and retired professor from Corydon, Ind.; Casey Helbling, enterpreneur from Minneapolis, Minn.; President Obama; Juanita Martinez, retired teacher from Brighton, Colo. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Dinner With President Obama

    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have dinner with grassroots supporters Judy Glassman, a retired school administrator from Cambridge, Mass., and Mitch Glassman, an artist from Cambridge, Mass., at Boundary Road Restaurant in Washington, Thursday, March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Dinner With President Obama

    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have dinner with grassroots supporters at Boundary Road Restaurant in Washington, from left, Robert Newkirk, Sr., a professor at Tennessee State University from Nashville, Regina Newkirk, a non-profit executive from Nashville, John Loringer, an attorney from Wauwatosa, Wis., Cathleen Loringer, a former social worker from Wauwatosa, Wis., Judy Glassman, a retired school administrator from Cambridge, Mass., and Mitch Glassman, an artist from Cambridge, Mass., Thursday, March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Dinner With President Obama

    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have dinner with grassroots supporters from across the country at Boundary Road Restaurant in Washington, Thursday, March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Lunch With President Obama

    President Barack Obama eats lunch with Wyndi Austin, Paula Matyas, Jim Heath and Janet Jones, the four winners of the "Lunch with Barack," Friday, June 15, 2012, at the Lincoln Restaurant in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

  • Lunch With President Obama

    President Barack Obama eats lunch with Wyndi Austin, Paula Matyas, Jim Heath and Janet Jones, the four winners of the "Lunch with Barack," Friday, June 15, 2012, at the Lincoln Restaurant in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)