For those of you who will be going, I grew up in the Baltimore and DC area and my knowlege of the place is fairly detailed. ... I wanted to pass along some of what I know to help those who go avoid the things that could ruin the trip and suggest some things I love about DC.
If you do fly into National (Regan) airport downtown, then consider taking the Metro. The Washington DC Metroliner is perhaps the nicest subway transportation in the country. This is especially true of the Red Line that services NorthWest DC and also goes to NIH/Medical Center. Bring a suitcase that rolls and you're bound to avoid several headaches involving taxies and such. Buy at least a $20 farecard and keep it for later.
Visit the zoo
See the giant pandas - those big, fluffy, no-sex-having bears. You can even join FONZ, the friends of the National Zoo, if you're a true animal lover.
Kenedy Center for the Performing Arts
You can call 1-800-444-1324 to check what is
playing. It is only a shuffle step off of Broadway,
if not a better place to see plays, concerts, and operas.
Then, up M street
only a "truly walkable" distance you have Downtown Georgetown. Georgetown University, American University, Howard University and DCU all flood into Georgetown beginning Thursday night. Don't try to drive up M street or Wisconsin Avenue. Where they cross is "where it's at."
However, the best places in Georgetown are the newest places that have opened up along the river down near the Watergate Hotel and Kenedy Center. This
"waterfront" area has the best food, danceclubs, and atmosphere.
What else should you consider doing while in DC?
Visit your Congressman or Senator!
The Capitol Building is a pretty neat place to visit. I should know, I worked there for three years. The whole place, including the underground subway leading to the Senate
Buildings. Besides being a neat building, you can feel like you've done more than your part. You might even meet your senator in person if you phone ahead and find out when he isn't playing golf that day.
Don't even try the Washington Monument.
The monument usually has a two-plus hour line surrounding it and really isn't worth the trip to the top. This will be especially true now since it was just reopened to the
public on July 4th, rennovations complete.
Book a white house tour.
The white house tour is pretty cool from what I've heard. I've never been inside myself, I like to hang out with
the protestors outside, they're a lot more fun.
Great Falls, MD
I'm an outdoor fanatic, so if you're looking for the prettiest place in DC, you have to travel outside the city along the potomac river NorthWest into Maryland. Great Falls is "the" place for all the outdoor activites in DC. Climbing, kyaking, canoing, day hiking, bike riding, etc...
The C&O Canal
The C&O Canal runs NW out of Georgetown and you can follow the
paved trails 7 miles to Great Falls. It's a very pleasant ride on a bicycle. I used to ride the canal from about 20 miles out in Maryland all the way downtown to where I worked. That was before I became a serious programmer and realized that this type of effort goes against everything programmers stand for, I mean sit for. Regardless, Great Falls maintains historic horse
drawn canal rides and it's a great picnic spot.
For the ultimate "meat-market" nightlife experience in DC, Lu
Lu's is the place. It's a converted hotel with up to three local-regional band stages playing at once. The audience tends to be college age. It is very loud. Take a taxi, there is no parking, and call for one when you want to leave, you'll be wasted.
There are a number of places to hear live music
downtown. I used to go to a place called "The Saloon" on M street downtown
Georgetown. It's a small place, but normally had decent Jazz.
Any of the
hotels will be able to suggest additional places. The Gypsy Kings probably
still play in Arlington, VA, just across the river from Georgetown.
The Jefferson Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veteran's Memorial and the Smithsonian Museams. They're all in the same place. My favorite is the Jefferson Memorial, that's why I mentioned it first. I like it best because it has the least number of tourists, the best inscriptions, and truely conveys quiet majesty and sense of great purpose. Jefferson was a "bad-ass" in his time. He deserves a memorial. Lincoln's Memorial is nice since you can stand and look out on the wading pool and imagine seeing the March on Washington, or recall parts of Forest Gump. The Veteran's Memorial is the most somber place in DC. It's one of those places where over a thousand people can stand around without saying a word.
The Smithsonian Institution Museams are a full week by themselves. I'd suggest saving that for a trip when you have some time. If you have to pick one, I'd suggest the
Natural Science Museam (the dinosaurs etc.), then the Museam of Modern Art, then the Aerospace Museam. The Aerospace Museam is by far the "coolest."
While I personally don't vary my diet very much, I would be remiss if I didn't point out the obvious fact that DC is the
cultural center of our country. Every type of ethnic resturaunt you can imagine exists in DC. Consider that Massachussets Avenue is "embasssy row" and you can understand why Northwest DC has so many Ethnic resturaunts. I can't remember what is right up by the Zoo, I normally hit the hot-dog
vendors when I went there. Ask wherever you stay for suggestions and have a pen and paper handy.
American Cafe is a nice middle of the road resturaunt to eat at. They have a couple of locations.
"The" after hours place to eat is a place called the "Tasty Diner" in Bethesda, MD. Take a taxi, you'll never find it otherwise. It's greasy diner food, but always interesting after midnight.
Crabcakes. Maryland is for Crabs. The Chesapeake Bay is an hour's drive away. Go sailing in Annapolis if you're really up for an adventure. Contact the Annapolis Harbor Yacht Club for info.
Take the Metro everywhere.
Union Station is the center of the hub next to the Capitol Building. If you get lost, go there. There is a stop near Georgetown. There are stops all along "the Mall" (memorials).
There are plenty of maps in the subway. NIH (The National
Instutite of Health) is located at the NIH/Medical Center (red line) stop.
Steer clear of NorthEast DC. I know plenty of people who live
there, but that doesn't change the fact that it's the most dangerous area for tourists. Also, stay out of Rock Creek Park at night.
And, watch your wallet in Georgetown. Expect drinks and cover charges to be steep.
taxis to take the wrong way.
Don't travel by car during rush hours. If you do, sieze the right of way or never merge. You won't last an hour with Florida driving habits. People WILL rear end you if you sit at a green light for more than two seconds.
And.. O... Circles. People on the inside most ring of a circle have the right of way. In DC, there are no rules in Circles. Try to know where you are getting out before you go in. In short, show no fear.
I don't get into this much, but Maza Galarie in
Maryland along the Red Line, or Tyson's Corner Center II in Virginia also
with a metro stop, are two of the most expensive places to shop in the world.
Tyson's is one of the biggest as well. If you just want to stand in amazement and watch as arab princesses or rich women with special servants to hold their dog, shop in elegance, then those are the places to go.
Travel to Baltimore to see the Orioles Play at Camden Yard. There are special busses that take people rom DC to the ball park if you want to plan in advance to do the same thing.
Camden Yard baseball is second only to Rigley Park baseball in Chicago.
It's easily one of the best baseball experiences you can have. And rout for the O's if you go... and don't be shy, sing along during the 7th inning stretch!