Discovering D.C.While the District of Columbia encompasses a number of distinctive and vibrant districts, we've highlighted the following for their abundance of scrapbook-worthy sights, lip-smacking food places and eye-opening experiences.
CAPITOL HILLAlthough the United States Capitol is not located at the geographical center of Washington, D.C., it is the origin point where the District's four quadrants meet. Pierre-Charles L'Enfant's plan for the new federal city called for an inspiring domed structure atop Jenkins Hill—or as the French-born architect and engineer referred to it in 1791, “a pedestal waiting for a monument.”
L'Enfant envisioned the neoclassical Capitol building as Washington's architectural centerpiece—which it remains—while surrounding Capitol Hill is the city's largest historic residential district. A magnet for tourists, the Hill is a family-friendly neighborhood where people toss Frisbees or walk dogs in leafy pocket parks like Seward Square and Folger Park, young couples peruse the monthly Hill Rag's community events calendar, and off-duty journalists and professional twentysomethings crowd the sidewalk tables at restaurants along Pennsylvania Avenue and Barracks Row (8th Street S.E.).
In addition to major attractions like the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court Building and the National Postal Museum , Capitol Hill has a tidy sense of beauty. Its streets are lined with trees, and on blustery fall days when the wind shakes leaves off their branches, they're strewn in what seems like an orderly manner. A succession of row houses—some in disrepair but the majority handsomely, and expensively, renovated—gives Capitol Hill its distinctively low-rise skyline. Take a stroll through Bartholdi Park , which is particularly lovely during the summer months.
Architecturally speaking, Hill houses range from unadorned Federal red brick to ornate Italianate to Queen Annes bristling with brightly painted turrets. Front-yard flower gardens (at their prettiest in the spring) and black wrought-iron fences covered with exuberant ivy add to the overall attractiveness. On weekends vendors peddle Turkish lamps, hand-painted knickknacks and Bob Marley T-shirts at the landmark Eastern Market . Inside the market building, lobbyists and members of Congress who can afford the dearly expensive real estate wait their turn in line along with the hoi polloi for crab cake eggs Benedict and blueberry buckwheat pancakes, popular choices served up at Market Lunch.
Walk a block further to Barracks Row, 8th Street S.E. between Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street. Lined with restaurants and bars, this stretch is named for the nearby Marine Barracks Washington, established in 1801 and the oldest active post in the Corps. President Thomas Jefferson selected the location at 8th and I streets due to its proximity to both the Navy Yard and the Capitol.
Approximate boundaries: F Street N.E. (northern), Virginia Avenue S.E. (southern), 14th Street S.E. (eastern), 1st Street S.E./N.E. (western)
Metro stops: Capitol South, Eastern Market, Union Station
——AAA recommended restaurants: Art and Soul, Bistro Bis , Charlie Palmer Steak
DOWNTOWN D.C. & MALL AREAPockets of green like Pershing Park (at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.) warm up the slabs of concrete that make up much of Downtown D.C., which extends north and east of the White House. Near the Executive Mansion there are monuments to Alexander Hamilton and William Tecumseh Sherman. Salute French general Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette (look for the tri-cornered hat), who stands in the leafy square named after him, Lafayette Park . Also spicing up the urban scene are Penn Quarter's ethnic eateries and nighttime hangouts. Centered on Capital One Arena—D.C.'s sports and entertainment arena at 7th and F streets N.W.—this lively area encompasses D.C.'s Chinatown. Do some shopping around the Chinatown Friendship Archway , adorned with more than 200 painted dragons, or have lunch at a Chinese noodle house (restaurants are the few remaining reminders of Chinatown's former cultural identity).
Learn stealth and persuasion strategies at the International Spy Museum , or attend an evening performance at The National Theatre. D.C.'s oldest continually operating theater is on Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.; together with Constitution Avenue and 15th Street N.W., the three streets frame the Federal Triangle, a complex of architecturally historic buildings that includes the Department of Commerce, the National Archives Museum , the Department of Justice Building and the Old Post Office Pavilion, which is now a luxury hotel.
Just south of the Federal Triangle is the National Mall . For the millions of tourists who converge on the nation's capital each year, the Mall—and the world-class museums that line it—is the No. 1 place to be. You could spend a week roaming the Mall and still not see everything, so plan your itinerary accordingly. The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art are crowd pleasers any time of year; in the summer, check out the Smithsonian Gardens .
Approximate boundaries: M Street N.W. (northern), Independence Avenue S.W. and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. (southern), North Capitol Street (eastern), White House grounds and 21st Street N.W. (western)
Metro stops: Archives-Navy Memorial, Farragut North, Farragut West, Federal Triangle, Gallery Place-Chinatown, Judiciary Square, McPherson Square, Metro Center, Mount Vernon Square/7th Street-Convention Center
——AAA recommended restaurants: The Capital Grille, Georgia Brown's, Old Ebbitt Grill
DUPONT CIRCLEDupont Circle is simultaneously a traffic circle (at the intersection of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire avenues, P Street and 19th Street N.W.), a park and a Northwest Washington neighborhood. Bike messengers whiz along Embassy Row, where foreign flags fly outside the handsome mansions that serve as embassies. After dark bars and dance clubs blink to life in a part of the city that became gay-friendly back in the 1970s.
Within Dupont Circle's concentric thoroughfares is a small, shady park where chess players plan strategies while seated at stone chessboards. Office workers and homeless residents occupy the curved benches surrounding the Dupont Memorial Fountain, designed by Daniel Chester French. A musical grace note is often provided by a strumming guitarist who sings next to a sign reading “Tips Appreciated!” Restaurants, coffeehouses and smart retailers line Connecticut Avenue, where a longtime institution, bookstore and café Kramerbooks & Afterwords, boasts of “serving latte to the literati since 1976.” The selection of books is admirably eclectic.
With fingers still sticky from a carb stop at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (on Connecticut Avenue near the Dupont Circle Metro station), tourists snap selfies while checking out such local landmarks as The Mansion on O Street, a 4-story boutique hotel and events venue known for its eccentric interior design; the Christian Heurich Mansion (aka Brewmaster's Castle), an imposing late Victorian structure on New Hampshire Avenue N.W.; and The Phillips Collection . This art museum's best-known work, Pierre-Auguste Renoir's “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” depicts a group of friends mingling over food, wine and conversation—which is what convivial Dupont Circle is all about.
Approximate boundaries: Florida Avenue N.W. (northern), M Street N.W. (southern), 16th Street N.W. (eastern), 22nd Street N.W. (western)
Metro stops: Dupont Circle
—Our travel editors' attraction picks: National Museum of American Jewish Military History , St. Matthew's Cathedral , Anderson House—The American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati
——AAA recommended restaurants: La Tomate, Bistrot du Coin, Komi
FOGGY BOTTOMThe Foggy Bottom neighborhood is dominated by The George Washington University (located here since 1873). Spend some time exploring a couple of historic sites; you can read up on local architectural jewels at The American Institute of Architects Bookstore, on New York Avenue N.W. near The Octagon House. Attending a Tony Award-winning play or a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra at the world-famous Kennedy Center makes for a glitzy evening out (as long as you've obtained tickets in advance).
Like Georgetown, Foggy Bottom underwent a transformation beginning in the 1950s. Government buildings and new university facilities replaced dilapidated factories and warehouses, while an old brewery building was demolished to make way for The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts . These days the occasional misty morning is a backdrop for renovated row houses and the ritzy hotels in the fashionable West End district, centered on the blocks near Washington Circle.
Also upscale are the shops, condos and offices that fill the Watergate complex. Slightly less notorious than the 1972 Watergate break-in and burglaries that eventually led to President Richard Nixon's resignation—and absolutely delicious to boot—are the diet-busting butter cream cakes and fruity mousse concoctions created by Watergate Pastry, in business since 1966; phone (202) 342-1777.
Approximate boundaries: Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. (northern), Constitution Avenue N.W. (southern), 17th Street N.W. (eastern), Potomac River (western)
Metro stops: Foggy Bottom-GWU
——AAA recommended restaurants: GCDC Grilled Cheese Bar, Marcel's by Robert Wiedmaier
GEORGETOWNAn expanding District of Columbia absorbed the thriving Maryland port of Georgetown in 1871. Its status as an affluent residential address wasn't established, however, until the 1950s, when one high-profile resident—a charismatic young John F. Kennedy—helped boost the neighborhood's appeal and its real estate values. Georgetown remains one of D.C.'s most delightful enclaves, a favorite place for tourists to take a stroll on a nice day.
In addition to a historical pedigree, Georgetown is known for its handsome appearance: cobbled streets, leafy parks, Federal-style brick town houses, Georgian-style mansions. Two under-the-radar attractions are the Old Stone House , one of D.C.'s oldest surviving structures, and Dumbarton House , a gracious turn-of-the-19th-century dwelling that's also a museum. Both offer tranquil gardens where you can relax.
Many day trippers, however, gravitate to the trendy stores and boutiques that line M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Georgetown University students troll for happy-hour specials at local haunts like Martin's Tavern (264 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.) and The Tombs (1226 36th St. N.W.), a Georgetown fixture since 1962 and the setting for scenes in the 1985 Brat Pack movie “St. Elmo's Fire.” Phone (202) 333-7370 for Martin's Tavern or (202) 337-6668 for The Tombs.
Seriously fit joggers, meanwhile, sprint up a different type of haunt—a 75-step staircase that appeared at the climax of the 1973 horror classic “The Exorcist.” The head of the stairs is at the intersection of 36th and Prospect streets N.W.; the notably steep flight descends to M Street and the Potomac River waterfront.
Approximate boundaries: R Street N.W. (northern), Potomac River (southern), Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway N.W. (eastern), Georgetown University (western)
Metro stops: Closest stations are Foggy Bottom-GWU and Dupont Circle. The DC Circulator offers a Georgetown-Union Station bus route that makes several stops along Wisconsin Avenue N.W. daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; the fare is $1.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
The District of Columbia's sales tax is 6 percent. Additional increments are attached when purchasing alcohol, restaurant meals, rental cars, commercial parking and hotel rooms. The higher tax rates range from 10 to 18 percent. The sales tax in neighboring Maryland is 6 percent and Virginia taxes range from 4.3 to 7 percent.
311 in Washington, D.C., or (202) 727-9099
MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, (202) 444-2000; The George Washington University Hospital, (202) 715-4000; Howard University Hospital, (202) 865-6100; Sibley Memorial Hospital, (202) 537-4000; MedStar Washington Hospital Center, (202) 877-7000.
1133 21st St. N.W. Suite M200 Washington, DC 20036. Phone:(202)347-7201
Visitors arriving by plane can land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
Rental car agencies in Washington are numerous; most have conveniently located offices in the city and nearby Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Arrangements should be made before you leave on your trip. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz offers discounts to AAA members; phone (800) 654-3080.
Trains pull into the
The Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 50 Massachusetts Ave. N.E.; phone (202) 289-5141.
Taxicabs in Washington are metered.
Transportation by bus or subway is available in Washington.