The Sculpture Garden Cafe was originally recommended to me by one of my professors during my first semester of grad school. She said she liked to go there to write, and I figured it would have all the right qualities for a place to read. Now that I have gone there several times myself, I can definitely recommend it.
I had read in a guidebook that the Sculpture Garden Cafe has some of the best food on the mall, and I would have to agree. I like their sandwiches and their pizza, but they also have smaller snacks available if you don’t want a meal. Because it is in a touristy area, their prices are a little higher than what you might find elsewhere. However, this place is definitely not a tourist trap. It’s a good place to find tasty, reasonably healthy food.
If the weather is nice, I would definitely recommend sitting outside, so that you can enjoy more of the sculptures and the garden. My favorite place to sit is to the left of the cafe, by this Parisian art deco metro sign. But DC weather is unpredictable, so sometimes inside is better. (You wouldn’t want your book to get wet.)
If you like a quiet environment to read in, you should definitely avoid the Sculpture Garden on Friday afternoons during the summer. They host a very popular series of free jazz concerts. I highly recommend the concerts if you enjoy music, but come prepared for a crowd! In the winter, the fountain at the center of the garden is converted into an ice skating rink. The best times to visit the gardens (and DC in general) are fall and winter. You will find a very peaceful, green area in the heart of downtown, just perfect for relaxing with a good book!
From a reader’s perspective, I would give this cafe four stars (but it’s a five if you like music!) The location and the atmosphere are excellent, and the food is good. It’s also easy to find if you are unfamiliar with the city, so keep it in mind if you are visiting DC! ★★★★