I think Washington, D.C. is one of the world’s great cities, under appreciated by Americans. I lived there for seven months back in the ‘90s (another story for another time), but my husband, a Vietnam veteran, had never been. I think everybody should go and see what belongs to us, and particularly the moving memorials.
This was as perfect a tourist-vacation could be. If you’re thinking of going, here are some of the things we did that made it so sweet.
First, the right travel agent. We use Mary North Travel. They are, for my money, the best in the biz. They made perfect flight arrangements and got us an excellent deal at the Kimpton Palomar Hotel. Highly recommended, not only for the price we paid, but for the superb location. (They get a demerit for sucky television reception.) There were excellent restaurants of all kinds within walking distance. We ate at Turkish, Syrian, Indian, and Chinese restaurants, all within two blocks of the hotel, found an excellent breakfast place where we ate every morning. I’m vegan, and had no trouble finding accommodating menus, particularly because I use Yelp and HappyCow for research.
Second, do your research about getting around. We bought a unlimited-ride week pass on the Metro (subway trains) for $28 each, and boy did we get our money’s worth. Metro stations are conveniently everywhere, and the system is clean, well lit, supervised, safe, and pleasant to ride. We traveled with friends who are fans of Uber, the non-taxi service, and we utilized that regularly when we were with them.
We flew into Reagan National Airport (DCA), which has a Metro station, so we just jumped on the train and it took us to within three blocks of our hotel. And back, when it was time to leave. Very convenient.
Third, make a list of things you want to see and prioritize them. I lived there for seven months and when I wasn’t working, I was busy doing the tourist thing, and I never even scratched the surface. We spent all day in the National Art Gallery and only saw a fraction. TripAdvisor is good for the top 60 things to do/see, and that’s a good place to start.
I wanted Al to see the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and Arlington Cemetery (we got there just in time for the changing of the guard – a bonus). Our traveling companions wanted to see the Air and Space Museum (one of the 30+ Smithsonian museums), the Smithsonian Castle, The Supreme Court, and The National Archives. Al wanted to see the National Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden. Through our friends’ congressman, we got a White House tour, which we all agreed was the lowlight of our visit, and that the National Archives was the highlight. In addition, we spent $20 each to see the Newseum, which was not all that great except for the beautiful display of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, which moved me to tears.
We needed to schedule a Pentagon tour 15 days in advance, but opted instead for the White House tour. We would have enjoyed the Pentagon more.
We spent a day on Capitol Hill, my old stomping grounds, visiting old haunts, a little trip down memory lane of 20+ years ago, and walked and walked and walked. (tip: Take two pair of shoes and alternate.) Then we went back to the hotel for a nap, went out for dinner, and roamed the city after dark. We felt completely safe in the neighborhood of our hotel (Dupont Circle), on the Metro, and on the national mall, where all the monuments are beautifully lighted.
Finally, see a show at the Kennedy Center, if you can. We had dinner on the waterfront before we went to see the whodunit comedy “Shear Madness,” an overpriced but delightfully funny show geared toward the mostly middle-school, high-school audience members.
All the monuments are free, all the Smithsonian museums are free, all the federal buildings are free. They all belong to us.
Take your camera, take your travel journal, but most of all, take yourself and take your kids. It’s a trip worth taking.