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Thinking of visiting Washington DC
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Jun 26, 2013, 10:10 AM
 
I've been wanting to visit DC and tour the place for a long time. I'm thinking end of July-ish. I'll probably be heading over there on my own, for 4 days. I've made a list of things I must see:
-Capital building, white house
-Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson memorial
-National Air & Space museum
-Smithsonian

Any suggestions of where to stay(decent lodging closest to the fore mentioned) and how to get around(rental car or public transport)? Any other helpful tips would be much appreciated. I don't know anyone there so I'm trying to plan it out as much as I can.

Cheers
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 10:27 AM
 
It will be around 90 degrees, and 80 percent humidity. Their are many hotels around the mall. Many street food trucks and places to eat. Mostly expensive like everything else in DC. You may want to rent a car to get to the other Air& Space museum near Dulles Airport (Udvar-Hazy). We have the Metro subway system but its run poorly these days. The Washington monument is closed for earthquake repairs right now. You might want to visit Alexandria, VA., another historic town just over the river, and further down is Mount Vernon, home to George Washington, and if you visit the Udvar-Hazy you can take a short trip to Manassas to see the battlefields.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 12:40 PM
 
You could visit me!! I am SO AWESOME.

Anyhow.

Lodging: DO NOT STAY IN MARYLAND OR DC. Anything affordable in either area is going to be so ghetto you'll wish it was legal to pack heat.

Stay in Virginia. There are a number of standard three-star hotels in Alexandria and the southwest part of Fairfax County (Hampton Inn, Days Inn, etc.) plus some two-star (Motel 6) in the area that have easy access to public transit and the highways. Anything in Springfield should be a nice balance of cheap + DC access.

Addendum: if you have the money, there are certainly good hotels in DC right around the Smithsonian museums and the Mall. If you stay in the Georgetown or Mall areas, it's safe and very nice (but pricey). Hotels in Arlington (Crystal City and Rosslyn) are also nice - but again, expensive. If you want to go on the cheap end, the Motel 6 in Springfield is cheap and has adequate Metro access (I've stayed there before), at about $70 a night.

I would NOT recommend driving in DC. Traffic is always balls, people in this area drive like idiots and will serve only to piss you off, and parking is very expensive if you're not lucky enough to find a free spot on the Mall. The Metro is not super cheap like some cities (Boston comes to mind), but it is affordable enough. I'd recommend just buying a SmartTrip card for $5 if you're going to be on transit more than one or two times, especially now that paper farecards have a $1 fee tacked on to them per trip. You can use the card on buses throughout VA, DC, and MD (including non-Metro buses, like DASH in Alexandria and Fairfax Connector in Fairfax County), as well as on the Metro.

There are a number of Metro stops in DC that will give you fast walking access to any of the museums. The Washington Monument is currently closed, I think, since they're finally doing repairs to it after the earthquake that hit us in 2011 - just FYI. If you want to save a little money, you can also just take the bus, which is sometimes a little longer, but considerably cheaper - it's $1.50 with free transfers for two hours after you board your first bus. A metro ride into DC from the furthest points in Virginia will be about 30-45 minutes, depending on where you're getting off.

Try to avoid taking public transit during rush hour. The Metro costs significantly more (stupid peak fares), it will be extremely busy (wall-to-wall people when you're actually in the District, which is brutal if the A/C craps out on the car you choose), and if you're not sure where you're going, you'll end up pissing off commuters trying to get to work. Just wait until 10:00 AM and you'll be fine for the morning; for evening, any time before 3:30 or after 6:00 shouldn't be too bad. I can't remember what the timeframe is for peak fares - you can check the metro site for that at Metro - Home page.

If you do decide to drive, parking is anywhere from $13-$20 a day, and you'll have a pretty hard time finding a place with open spots anywhere near the museums. Don't drive during rush hour. I-395 is stop-and-go between about 6:30 and 9:30 AM into DC and between 3:30 and 6:00 PM into VA. The HOV lanes on I-395 are HOV-3. If you decide to stay in a hotel in Arlington or anywhere directly west of Arlington, you won't be allowed to drive on I-66 into DC (or out of DC) during posted HOV hours, as the entire highway is HOV-2. Don't even try to violate, either - HOV tickets are asstardedly expensive, and when it's not raining the state police do HOV stings frequently.

I'd recommend hitting Old Town Alexandria at least once during your visit. It's full of history, beautiful architecture, and some really cool local pubs and retail stores.

If you find yourself needing to take a cab for any reason, be aware that cab drivers are legally required to take you between DC, MD, and VA, regardless of how drunk you are. If they try to tell you otherwise, just be an asshole, tell them you know the law, and you'll be more than happy to call the cops if they won't take you back to your hotel.

Let me know if you need any other info!
( Last edited by shifuimam; Jun 26, 2013 at 12:56 PM. )
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 01:47 PM
 
Originally Posted by shifuimam View Post
I would NOT recommend driving in DC. Traffic is always balls, people in this area drive like idiots and will serve only to piss you off, and parking is very expensive if you're not lucky enough to find a free spot on the Mall.
Ditto. A few years ago, the DC city council began installing new red-light cameras to boost revenue. It has worked to the tune of $72M, along with another $92M in parking fines. That's $164M last year alone. Plus DC doesn't tolerate rolling right turns, so that's another picture and ticket in the mail.

It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Technically they're out to get your money, but they'll nick your driving record along the way.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 01:49 PM
 
Arlington is nice. The Hyatt there is great, I've stayed there several times.

I wouldn't stay in DC itself if someone paid me (a lot).
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Jun 26, 2013, 02:16 PM
 
The little lady and I went to DC last year. We stayed in a cheap Hotel in Arlington with shuttle service to the nearest Metro station. Even in October it was brutally hot, being there in July is going to be downright sweltering. Don't forget to visit the Smithsonian air and space museum in Virginia and check out the Discovery shuttle...it was an amazing thing to behold in person.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 02:20 PM
 
shifuimam is right on!

I'd get a map and study it to plan things out. Things are cheaper in VA. Rush 'hour' in the DC area is 5am til 9:30am and 3PM til 7:30pm. Rent a car, stay in a motel with a breakfast buffet. drive to a VA Metro lot and take the subway to see the museums. Alexandria has great history, so does Arlington, Fairfax and even Leesburg and Manassas.

I'd do DC museums Monday and Tuesday, Alexandria and Mt. Vernon on Wednesday. I'd hit the Udvar-Hazy and Manassas Battlefields on Thursday. Friday I'd hit The DC memorials and political sites. Night time is great to try the bars and such.

Try to take mass transpo into DC for the reasons mentioned. DC area driving is "get going or get over" style. Traffic jams can really be epic.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 03:07 PM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Technically they're out to get your money, but they'll nick your driving record along the way.
It shouldn't hit your license or your insurance company. I got a red light camera speeding ticket in MD, and found out that it couldn't be reported as a real speeding ticket because an officer wasn't there to witness the event and issue the citation.

They really are just a money grab.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 03:18 PM
 
Don't get a red-light ticket (or otherwise) in CA. ~$500 apiece, and it does hit your record. You can suppress one such ticket (in 1-2 years) if you do traffic school. Otherwise it all gets reported.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 03:53 PM
 
Not surprising, given that it's California. Everything is looney there.

DC's tickets may be a lot worse. The MD one I got was $50 and explicitly said it wasn't being reported to the DMV or my insurance company.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 04:03 PM
 
I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Bethesda and it wasn't too expensive/ghetto, but that was awhile back. Has it changed a bunch?

I'll second what everyone else says. Do not drive.

Add the FDR memorial, which is a more "modern" take on this type of thing.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 04:37 PM
 
Bethesda is pretty clean-cut compared to other parts of Maryland that are close to the DC/MD border. That being said, MD as a whole just seems to be getting worse and worse.

I'd say anything in VA is going to be safer as a rule. There's not a lot of hood in northern VA until you get out to Manassas (west) or Quantico and Woodbridge (south), and even that isn't as scary as Prince George's County in MD...
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 06:01 PM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
Don't get a red-light ticket (or otherwise) in CA. ~$500 apiece, and it does hit your record. You can suppress one such ticket (in 1-2 years) if you do traffic school. Otherwise it all gets reported.
Originally Posted by shifuimam View Post
Not surprising, given that it's California. Everything is looney there.

DC's tickets may be a lot worse. The MD one I got was $50 and explicitly said it wasn't being reported to the DMV or my insurance company.
There's always the option of not blowing red lights...
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 06:07 PM
 
+1 for BadKosh's recommendation to go to Manassas. You get the early-war, textbook, Napoleonic engagement and the late-war, guerilla, horrifying ambush.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 06:21 PM
 
Originally Posted by shifuimam View Post
Bethesda is pretty clean-cut compared to other parts of Maryland that are close to the DC/MD border. That being said, MD as a whole just seems to be getting worse and worse.

I'd say anything in VA is going to be safer as a rule. There's not a lot of hood in northern VA until you get out to Manassas (west) or Quantico and Woodbridge (south), and even that isn't as scary as Prince George's County in MD...
The parts of MD above the east half of DC are only as bad as those east parts of DC (it's not our fault ). MD isn't going to be a good place to stay regardless though, because the touristy parts of DC are VA-adjacent.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 07:21 PM
 
Originally Posted by subego View Post
There's always the option of not blowing red lights...
Few do. How it works, is they shorten the yellow lights. Intersections normally have yellows lasting 4-5 seconds, and safety studies suggest longer yellows do the most to reduce accidents.

On intersections with cameras, they reset the yellows to the legal minimum - 3 seconds in CA. They hope you'll follow the usual timing, watching the traffic instead of the light. And get caught entering after it changes to red. This applies to yellow turn signals as well as the main lights.

All non-camera intersections retain normal timing to help drivers fall for it. The city contract with the camera company often requires those short yellow lights. Many contracts have zero up-front cost to the city. City and camera company split the take.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 07:56 PM
 
When i've gone there i just winged it and had a great time. Used trains subways and buses everywhere and walked the rest. Liked the spy museum, african art museum, and natural history, air spase... Plenty of stuff to keep you busy. Baltimore close by, you absolutely cant miss the baltimore aquarium.
"Time is the single most precious commodity in the universe" -?
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 08:06 PM
 
Originally Posted by subego View Post
There's always the option of not blowing red lights...
The ones in MD are also speed cams, though.

Maybe we really should do a meetup. Who else lives in this area?
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 08:27 PM
 
Originally Posted by el chupacabra View Post
When i've gone there i just winged it and had a great time. Used trains subways and buses everywhere and walked the rest. Liked the spy museum, african art museum, and natural history, air spase... Plenty of stuff to keep you busy. Baltimore close by, you absolutely cant miss the baltimore aquarium.
However, I recommend missing most of the rest of Baltimore.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 09:24 PM
 
Hate it that much eh? I dunno i spent most the day at aquarium
"Time is the single most precious commodity in the universe" -?
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 09:53 PM
 
The rest of Baltimore is a shithole.

Most of Maryland is a shithole, outside of the gentrified little pockets in Annapolis and Bethesda.
     
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Jun 26, 2013, 11:25 PM
 
Originally Posted by shifuimam View Post
The ones in MD are also speed cams, though.

Maybe we really should do a meetup. Who else lives in this area?
I do. Not all that far from the Franconia station (for now, the southernmost stop on the Metro).
     
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Jun 27, 2013, 02:08 AM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
Few do. How it works, is they shorten the yellow lights. Intersections normally have yellows lasting 4-5 seconds, and safety studies suggest longer yellows do the most to reduce accidents.

On intersections with cameras, they reset the yellows to the legal minimum - 3 seconds in CA. They hope you'll follow the usual timing, watching the traffic instead of the light. And get caught entering after it changes to red. This applies to yellow turn signals as well as the main lights.

All non-camera intersections retain normal timing to help drivers fall for it. The city contract with the camera company often requires those short yellow lights. Many contracts have zero up-front cost to the city. City and camera company split the take.
The funny thing about the safety angle is I'd assume what's safest is to have it be red in all directions for a moment.
     
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Jun 27, 2013, 10:30 AM
 
Originally Posted by shifuimam View Post
The ones in MD are also speed cams, though.

Maybe we really should do a meetup. Who else lives in this area?
I live in Sterling but work at NASA HQ at 4th and Eye st. Just a few blocks from A&S.
     
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Jun 27, 2013, 01:51 PM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
Don't get a red-light ticket (or otherwise) in CA. ~$500 apiece, and it does hit your record. You can suppress one such ticket (in 1-2 years) if you do traffic school. Otherwise it all gets reported.
I've gotten like 7 horseshit speeding tickets (rt 50 drops from 55 to 35 with a camera overlooking the speed drop). I live in MD and have my car registered there. All DC does is sell off unpaid tickets to a collections agency. I've never paid one (and use the empty threat of small claims court against these collections agencies to stop contacting me). They know there's no legal basis for the tickets, and since I never authorized the "invoice" they send me they can't take any action against me via credit reporting agencies.

DC is pretty much trying to ticket every car that passes through the limits then see who they can threaten enough to pay. Someone has to pay all those lobbyists.

Anywho, not to derail too much further, you could also look in Bethesda or Silver Spring for easy access to DC. They are both nice cities in their own right and are just a few miles from DC (a short metro ride).

DO NOT DRIVE IN DC DURING BUSINESS HOURS. I have to for work about once a week, and the 35 minute drive from my house it would be w/o traffic turns into a 1.5-2 hr commute each way.
     
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Jun 28, 2013, 01:37 PM
 
Cheers for the feedback and advise guys. here's what i'm thinking...

1. Almost all the places i want to see are located on or very close to the main 'mall'.
2. Do not drive around; so fitnd a place to stay close to the mall. Time is precious, so i don't want to wase time driving in a place i don't know and time to search for parking. I'd also prefer to walk the mall instead of driving from one point to the other (might provide better photo opportunities as well).

Questions:
-The mall; from the Lincoln memorial to the capitol building. Ive read the distance is approx 2.3 miles. Walkable?
-I think the thing which is furthest from the mall on my list above is the Jefferson memorial. And other places off the mall which i MUST see?(monuments, etc)
-Three days should be enough? Or should I make it 4?(It seems like everything on my list is so close together)
-I know the white house tours have been cancelled due to the budget cuts. Is it possible to see the capitol building(inside) or is that off limits to tourists?
-I'd like to stay in a place close to the mall, or a place right next to a train station to get to the mall. Any suggestions?

Cheers!
     
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Jun 28, 2013, 01:51 PM
 
Stay in Rosslyn, VA or further up the Orange Line into Arlington. VA will be cheaper than DC and the difference in ride time is 10- minutes. The museums are open til 7:30pm. Take the Metro to the mall. The heat and humidity are a mo-fo! You will regret missing the Air&Space museum in Dulles (Udvar-Hazy) and the SR71, Shuttle, Enola Gay and such. Monday's traffic is a little light. Friday is very light in the morning, and a Mo-Fo in the afternoon.
     
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Jun 28, 2013, 02:46 PM
 
Originally Posted by BadKosh View Post
Air&Space museum in Dulles (Udvar-Hazy) and the SR71, Shuttle, Enola Gay and such. Monday's traffic is a little light. Friday is very light in the morning, and a Mo-Fo in the afternoon.
Isn't the National Air & Space Museum on the Mall? The SR-71 is prolly the main reason i wanted to visit that museum!
I see the one you mention is next to IAD. What would be the best way to get there?

Well needless to say the Sr-71 and shuttle and concord are very high on my list, and a "must" for me.

Also i think i'll be able to handle the heat..... hopefully.
     
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Jun 28, 2013, 02:54 PM
 
Originally Posted by Hawkeye_a View Post
Questions:
-The mall; from the Lincoln memorial to the capitol building. Ive read the distance is approx 2.3 miles. Walkable?
I walked most of it; white house to mall to monuments, to other down town places and museums; and I'm the complete opposite of fit. But there are buses etc., since it is very hot.
-Three days should be enough? Or should I make it 4?(It seems like everything on my list is so close together)
4 days, you'll never run out of things in DC but you might run out of time for the things you want.
(I spent 1 whole day in Natural History museum.)
-I'd like to stay in a place close to the mall, or a place right next to a train station to get to the mall. Any suggestions?
What badkosh said
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Jun 28, 2013, 03:39 PM
 
Originally Posted by el chupacabra View Post
I walked most of it; white house to mall to monuments, to other down town places and museums; and I'm the complete opposite of fit. But there are buses etc., since it is very hot.
They also have this automated rental bike system, for halfway in between walking and transit:

Capital Bikeshare
     
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Jun 28, 2013, 06:14 PM
 
If you want to spend the money, The Jefferson Hotel (16th and M St NW) is wonderful, within easy walking distance to lots of the spots you're talking about visiting, and safe. It's not cheap though, being kind of a boutique hotel. In our last trip to DC, my wife and I took the Metro from Regan to within about 3 blocks of the hotel...

I completely concur with the issues people have noted about driving in DC; taxi drivers are scary (both fast and slow), and lots of people appear to start out driving angry and just get worse as the taxis tick them off even more. I liked walking in that part of the city, even when it was kind of warm out, and so much is within walking distance that it encourages you to hit the pavement.

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Jun 28, 2013, 06:33 PM
 
I and family have stayed at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel many a time. It was safe, affordable, and 0.00 miles from 4/5 metro train colors (it's built in to the mall that's built in to the metro station). My only complaint about it was it wasn't one of those fancy resort-ish hotels that make you feel guilty for going out to see the city instead of staying in the hotel all day to take advantage of the amenities... come to think of it that might have been a good thing
     
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Jun 29, 2013, 10:14 AM
 
Originally Posted by Hawkeye_a View Post
Isn't the National Air & Space Museum on the Mall? The SR-71 is prolly the main reason i wanted to visit that museum!
I see the one you mention is next to IAD. What would be the best way to get there?

Well needless to say the Sr-71 and shuttle and concord are very high on my list, and a "must" for me.

Also i think i'll be able to handle the heat..... hopefully.
There are two Air & Space locations. The one in DC is just a regular exhibit-based museum. All the big stuff (the SR-71, the space shuttle, etc.) are in a museum way out by Dulles Airport, because of the amount of space needed to hold everything. It's off highway 28 - about half an hour outside the immediate DC area. Parking is expensive ($13 last time I was there, less than a year ago), but it's definitely worth it if you've never been.

If you want to go, the easiest route is to take I-66 westbound to exit 53B (Sully Rd.). Just follow the signs for the museum from there.

ETA: if you're flying and tickets are significantly cheaper to go to IAD (Dulles) instead of DCA (Reagan), there are express buses from IAD into the the DC area. Otherwise, I recommend flying into DCA. There's a metro stop right at the airport that will take you into DC.
     
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Jun 29, 2013, 11:29 AM
 
Originally Posted by shifuimam View Post
There are two Air & Space locations. The one in DC is just a regular exhibit-based museum. All the big stuff (the SR-71, the space shuttle, etc.) are in a museum way out by Dulles Airport, because of the amount of space needed to hold everything. It's off highway 28 - about half an hour outside the immediate DC area. Parking is expensive ($13 last time I was there, less than a year ago), but it's definitely worth it if you've never been.
Parking is a bit pricey, but entrance into the building is free IIRC, so the price of parking is also the price of admission. Another plane worthy of note there is the Enola Gay.
     
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Jul 1, 2013, 07:37 AM
 
Originally Posted by sek929 View Post
Parking is a bit pricey, but entrance into the building is free IIRC, so the price of parking is also the price of admission. Another plane worthy of note there is the Enola Gay.
While you are looking at Enola Gay from the raised walkway you will also see a small red and white airplane on the other side of the walkway called Lil Butch (N36Y). It's a Clipped Wing Monocoupe. It also has a great history, and I had the fun(?) of getting a ride in it a year before it was donated.
     
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Jul 1, 2013, 02:11 PM
 
Well, that's just cool.


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Jul 2, 2013, 09:36 AM
 
If you plan on seeing the Viet Nam memorial, it's worth a walk across Constitution to see the Einstein statue. If you do, be sure and stand on the north star and talk directly too him- cool auditory effect.

My favorite place in DC was always the National Cathedral. Someone still local can let you know if there was earthquake damage that means it's too closed off to enjoy, but if it's mostly open, it;s a great place. Only real issue is getting there- kind of a pain for public transport.

I also really enjoyed the Museum of the American Indian. It's right by the Botanical Gardens which is also worth a look.

The walk from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capital is totally doable, with plenty to see and enjoy along the way- most of the Smithsonian Museums are within a block of the mall- but it also depends of the weather. If it is horribly hot a muggy, it will be miserable.
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Jul 4, 2013, 10:02 PM
 
I took my son there last summer, and had a great time. Grabbed a place a few blocks from the mall, and really enjoyed walking around there at night. Plenty of people out, and sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking up towards the Capitol building with a full moon was a beautiful site. Avoiding the heat(but not the humidity) was a plus.
     
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Jul 5, 2013, 06:15 PM
 
Originally Posted by shifuimam View Post
Try to avoid taking public transit during rush hour. The Metro costs significantly more (stupid peak fares)
You forgot the peak-of-the-peak rates!

Originally Posted by shifuimam
and if you're not sure where you're going, you'll end up pissing off commuters trying to get to work.
Yes.

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Jul 5, 2013, 06:41 PM
 
Originally Posted by Hawkeye_a
I've made a list of things I must see:
-Capital building, white house
-Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson memorial
-National Air & Space museum
-Smithsonian
The Smithsonian's 12+ museums covers a lot of ground, depending on what you're into. Though the Museum of American History bores me to death, and I like American history. The collection seems oddly sparse, and too much "rah-rah!" for me.

The National Gallery of Art (not part of the Smithsonian) is very nice, as is the Botanical Garden (near the Capitol).

Other suggestions:
- Eastern Market: food/crafts vendors, good for about an hour or two
- National Zoo
- FDR Memorial: located between the Mall and the Jefferson Memorial
- Old Post Office Pavilion: with the Washington Monument out of commission, this is the best place to get a panoramic view of downtown DC. Go see it before Donald Trump turns it into a hotel (for serious).
- 9:30 Club. One of the best concert venues in the country. Check their website to see if anyone is playing during your time here that you want to see.
- Bohemian Caverns, U Street. Bohemian Caverns is a historic premier jazz venue, founded in 1926. U Street is the name of a street, and a historically black neighborhood in NW DC (it was basically the epicenter of the 1968 riots) that has gentrified a bit but still has some neat artifacts.
- Torpedo Factory Arts Center in Old Town Alexandria. Former munitions factory that now houses open studios and galleries.

"One ticket to Washington, please. I have a date with destiny."
     
   
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