Explore Washington D.C.

Discovering D.C.'s Hidden Gems With Shujaat Khan of Capital Hilton

Head Concierge of the Capital Hilton, Shujaat Khan, talks hidden gems in Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Museums and more.

You have a long-standing career in hospitality. How did you get your start, and what attracted you to the industry?

While working as the front desk manager at The Watergate Hotel, I often found myself in the lobby near the concierge desk. The variety of questions the concierge received was fascinating and challenging. When the position of the head concierge was open, I jumped on it.

Today, you’re the head concierge at The Capital Hilton. What do you enjoy most about your role?

There are a lot of things I enjoy doing, but the most satisfying is to help families visiting Washington, D.C., create wonderful memories. It gives me great pleasure to know that I made a difference in their visit to the nation’s capital.

On the other end of the spectrum, what’s the most challenging aspect of your job? What do you find the most challenging?

Things change on a daily basis. There are many new exhibits, special events, festivals, concerts, theater, etc. that keep us on our toes. The most challenging aspect is keeping up with all the restaurants. One of the most challenging aspects is to keep up with all the openings and closings of restaurants.

As we reach the end of Summer, what stops should be on every visitor’s “bucket list” during their trip to D.C.?

Because this is the nation’s capital and the seat of government, there are more monuments and memorials than in any other city. The monuments are nestled between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol on The National Mall. Many of the Smithsonian Museums are also located here. A visit to D.C. wouldn’t be complete without visiting these iconic sites.

The top Smithsonian museums include American History, Natural History, Air & Space and the new African American History and Culture Museum. Other musts include taking a tour of the U.S. Capitol and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. If time permits, then I would suggest visiting the Newseum and taking a nighttime tour of the monuments.

During the summer, I suggest a stop at The Wharf for fresh seafood from the oldest open-air fish market or delicious cuisine at the many new restaurants that have opened there this year. After, relax on the scenic waterfront. For nature lovers, a trip to Theodore Roosevelt Island can be truly soothing. This 88.5-acre park takes you away from the city and offers many activities. In the evenings, there are free concerts throughout the week. On Fridays, the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden hosts Jazz in the Garden, a favorite for locals.

Khan suggests a trip to The Wharf for fresh seafood from the oldest open-air fish market, or delicious cuisine at one of the many new restaurants (© The Wharf)
Khan suggests a trip to The Wharf for fresh seafood from the oldest open-air fish market, or delicious cuisine at one of the many new restaurants (© The Wharf)

What would you suggest for a visitor interested in a day trip?

Shenandoah National Park is the ultimate escape for a day. The park is located about 75 miles away from D.C. and offers thousands of acres of cascading waterfalls, panoramic vistas and lots of wildlife. You will see deer for sure, but don’t be surprised if you see a bear as well. The best route would be to enter Skyline Drive from the Front Royal side, and then drive along the winding road, stopping at a few scenic overlooks along the way before heading back to D.C. on Route 29/211.

Are there any best-kept secrets D.C. has that you can share?

This city is full of hidden gems. One of my favorites is the Spanish Steps in the Kalorama neighborhood. The fountain and garden area there make a quiet afternoon. Another hidden gem missed by many tourists is the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Garden. The former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post has a large collection of Fabergé Eggs and a great collection of orchids.

Spanish Steps in the Kalorama neighborhood
Looking for a peaceful afternoon at one of D.C.'s hidden gems? Khan suggests the Spanish Steps in the Kalorama neighborhood. (Courtesy Shujaat Khan).

What do you like to do when you travel?

I focus on visiting local heritage sights and learning about the local cultures and cuisines.

What’s the best advice you’ve received while working in the industry?

The best advice I have received is to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the hospitality industry?

Enroll in a hospitality program if possible. Accept an entry-level position, and work your way up the ladder.

When you’re not working to make sure your guests enjoy their stay in D.C., where can we find you?

Two or three times a month, I usually come back to D.C. for a concierge meeting or to just play tourist, going to museums and checking out new things. Most of the time, you can find me at my home in Fairfax cooking, enjoying our beautiful garden or conducting Les Clefs d’Or business.

The Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
Another hidden gem missed by many tourists, the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, includes a large collection of Fabergé Eggs and a great collection of orchids. (Courtesy Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens).