Samantha Sault’s Moon Travel Guide takes visitors off the beaten path.
The best travel books are written by locals. That’s what Moon Travel Guides believes—the award-winning company, now run by Avalon Travel, has been publishing insider’s guides to major cities since 1973. When Washington and Geneva-based travel and fashion writer Samantha Sault heard that Moon was seeking an author for its Washington, D.C. guide, she jumped on the opportunity and produced a 50-page proposal in two weeks. Her proposal was selected, and she spent the next two years researching and fine-tuning the guide that hit bookshelves in September. I sat down with Sault to talk restaurant recommendations, hidden gems and D.C.’s reputation.
Washington Life: What was it about writing a Moon guide that appealed to you?
Samantha Sault: I wanted to write about the D.C. that we Washingtonians know and love. There’s so much hype about Washington right now, in Hollywood and in travel media—about the growth and the new restaurants and new developments—I wanted to cut through the hype and give visitors the best of the best in D.C. I also wanted to make sure they left feeling positive about what’s happening in Washington. I think there’s so much negativity about Washington and the people who live here and work here. I wanted visitors to come and not see us as swamp-dwelling lowlifes, but as people who are actually trying to do good in the country and the world, and I think and hope the book captures that.
WL: What makes you an expert on D.C.?
SS: I grew up in Rockville, and I’ve been in Washington from a very young age because I lived close to the Metro lines, so I have early childhood memories of going to museums, going to concerts, going to the Fourth of July. Right out of college, I got a job at the Weekly Standard and moved to D.C. and was covering politics and the intersection of fashion and politics in particular. So I think I’m very knowledgeable about D.C. and the change that’s happening in D.C., and how it’s evolved over the past several decades, particularly the past decade. I’m also a really frequent traveler, so I think I have a good eye for what’s good in terms of restaurants or hotels, because I’ve seen a lot.
WL: When visitors ask, ‘What’s the one restaurant I should go to in the city?,’ what do you say?
SS: It really depends on the person and the context, but my favorites right now are actually not included in the book because they’re fairly new. I love A Rake’s Progress. Their food is so local that they don’t even have lemons or limes at the bar, because we don’t grow them here. I also really like Primrose…it reminds me of a really good French restaurant you might find in Geneva or Europe. Of the ones in the book, I love Garrison, Centrolina and Cafe Milano. For quintessential D.C., I would say Ben’s Chili Bowl. What’s so interesting is the history behind a lot of these restaurants. Ben’s Chili Bowl was one of the only things you could go to just after the riots; they served the law enforcement and the activists. It’s so interesting to walk in that history and feel that history.
WL: Are there any hidden gems in D.C. that even the locals don’t know about?
SS: What was really important for me to include were some of the neighborhoods, like Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Anacostia. I actually include a walking tour of Anacostia’s historic district. It takes you from the Metro station to the Frederick Douglas house. What’s great about the Frederick Douglas house is that it’s a piece of living history. He lived there, his artifacts are still there, his personal possessions. It’s so easy to get tickets. I think it’s actually the first major travel guide to include a walking tour of Anacostia, and to include some of these neighborhoods like Mount Pleasant, for example, that have always been sidenotes or maybe just not included at all, but they’re actually part of my map.
WL: What do you think visitors or people who just moved to D.C. are most surprised to find out about life in D.C.?
SS: I think that there’s so much more to D.C. than just the politics. What I tried to show is the context surrounding the politics. Talking about D.C.’s history, particularly one thing that really fascinated me was D.C.’s history with the music scene. You know, our jazz scene and go-go, and punk rock bands in the 80s and 90s. What I also like about D.C. is that no matter your politics and no matter who you voted for or work for, even with the presidency today, everyone in Washington still comes together. I think the rest of the country is so divided in politics right now-it’s kind of scary how divided we are, and how people don’t realize that they’re in a bubble. They think the other people are the bubble, the reality is that we have our own bubble here in Washington but we have to work together. To do our work and go about our day. I think people maybe come to Washington expecting people to be divided here, but at the end of the day we all come together.