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Washington, D.C. in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Washington, D.C.

By Greg Weekes

Day 1: MorningFor visitors—and many Washingtonians—the National Mall is the epicenter of the nation's capital. Street parking is very limited and also metered, so don't drive; everything is within easy walking distance of Metrorail's Smithsonian station (Orange and Blue lines). When leaving the station, follow signs to the Mall exit.

Your first stop should be The Smithsonian Castle , which houses the Smithsonian Visitor Center. In addition to restrooms, there are several exhibits as well as staff on hand who can answer questions. Then mosey through the Enid A. Haupt Garden , where plantings vary with the season. The garden's centerpiece is the Parterre, a French term meaning “on the ground”; the formal layout incorporates plants arranged in geometric shapes.

Air, Space and Natural History Museums

Visit the National Air and Space Museum first; you'll beat the crowds if you arrive when it opens. The galleries are filled with all manner of airborne craft, from vintage airplanes to rockets. Then walk in the direction of the United States Capitol to the National Museum of the American Indian . The wampum belts, elaborate headdresses and primitive guns are fascinating, but what makes the NMAI a must-see destination is the emphasis on cultural pride.

AAA/Photo submitted by Maria White
Take a break at one of the benches lining the Mall's crisscrossing gravel paths before heading to the National Museum of Natural History . It's always crowded with school groups and families and so packed with things to see that you'll need to pick a few select exhibits rather than trying to take it all in during one visit. Perennial favorites include animal dioramas, the Hope Diamond and other glittering gemstones in the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals and the free-flying beauties flitting through the Butterfly Pavilion.

Note: A timed ticket is required to enter the Butterfly Pavilion, and the wait can be up to an hour.

Day 1: AfternoonHave lunch at the museum café of your choice, then head to the West Building of the National Gallery of Art . It has an outstanding permanent collection that includes masterpieces like Renoir's “A Girl With a Watering Can.” Make sure you see Anthony van Dyck's regal works of portraiture; his well-heeled subjects are literally larger than life. The East Building galleries focus on modern masters like Henri Matisse, Joan Miró and Andy Warhol.

Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
There's more modern art on the opposite side of the Mall at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden . Shaped like a drum, it has a series of curving galleries spotlighting such artists as Willem de Kooning and Alexander Calder, whose colorful mobiles literally hang by a thread. Then stroll through the sunken outdoor sculpture garden and peruse the abstract figure studies and a cast of “The Burghers of Calais,” one of Auguste Rodin's most famous sculptures.

Food and Souvenir Trucks

From the sculpture garden, walk back up the Mall toward the Smithsonian Castle. If museum fatigue threatens—or you have kids in tow and they're starting to get antsy—you're in luck. Vendor trucks park regularly along Constitution Avenue and the streets that bisect the Mall. Refuel with a hot dog, soft pretzel, ice cream or a popsicle. Equally ubiquitous are the souvenir trucks, where you can pick up plenty of mementos.

AAA/Photo submitted by Denise Campbell
Back at the Castle, two more art museums are just steps away. As the name makes clear, Freer/Sackler: The Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art both emphasize art from Asia. The National Museum of African Art exhibits the ceremonial regalia, masks and pottery of sub-Saharan Africa. If you're pressed for time, duck into the Freer to see American painter James Whistler's “Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room,” ornately embellished with gilded leather wall hangings and four resplendent golden peacocks painted on wall panels.

Day 1: Eveningrez-art/iStockphoto.com
Keep it simple after all the sightseeing. Nearby on Capitol Hill are two popular casual spots. Celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn's Good Stuff Eatery serves up specialty burgers, fries and creamy, yummy shakes. Next door is another Mendelsohn joint—We, the Pizza, which offers a variety of pizzas whole or by the slice.

If you've still got energy to burn, hang out in Penn Quarter. This touristy shopping and dining district, roughly between H Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and 4th and 10th streets N.W., is centered around Capital One Arena, home to the NBA's Washington Wizards.

Gareth Bafaty/Gareth Bafaty
Lucky Strike (701 7th St. N.W. in Gallery Place) is a bowling alley in name only—more to the point, it's a place to see and be seen while sipping pricey drinks and perhaps rolling a ball or two down alleys with a backdrop of video screens. You could also hoist a pint of Guinness at Fadó Irish Pub (808 7th St. N.W.) alongside enthusiastic locals watching ruby matches on TV. Or if the weather's pleasant, head back to the Mall for a leisurely sunset stroll.

Day 2: MorningCourtesy of NPS
The presidential and war memorials clustered in West Potomac Park, an extension of the Mall, are all worth seeing. Visit those that have special meaning to you: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial , the Korean War Veterans Memorial , the Lincoln Memorial , the World War II Memorial , the Thomas Jefferson Memorial , the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial .

AAA/Greg Weekes
Riding the elevator to the observation room at the 500-foot level of the Washington Monument is fun and the view of the city is panoramic. Take a few souvenir photos of this city landmark and then head to the World War II Memorial for a bench break while listening to the soothing sound of gushing fountains. Another spot to rest your feet for a few minutes is the quiet little oasis of Constitution Gardens .

African-American History

If you've got time, include the National Museum of African American History and Culture on your morning itinerary of things to do. The Smithsonian's newest museum, occupying 5 acres between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History, celebrates the diversity and rich cultural expression of the African American experience.

A couple of tips: If you're visiting in late March or early April, the Japanese cherry trees in full bloom along the Tidal Basin are quite a lovely sight. You'll have to time your trip carefully, though, since the delicate flowers only last a few days and Mother Nature can play havoc with the schedule. Another inspiring view is from the top of the Lincoln Memorial steps looking east toward the Capitol.

Day 2: AfternoonCourtesy of Old Ebbitt Grill
For places to eat with presidential connections, try the Old Ebbitt Grill: Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and William F. Harding all dined at this Washington institution, which is still a favorite with journalists, political insiders and tourists. You can't go wrong with one of the freshly prepared salads or (in season) a soft-shell crab sandwich.

SeanPavonePhoto/iStockphoto.com
Touring the White House is a memorable experience, but arrangements must be made in advance through a member of Congress, and you must be with a group of at least ten people; if you haven't done the required homework, take a few souvenir photos instead. Learn more about the Executive Mansion at the nearby White House Visitor Center . Then stroll around leafy Lafayette Park for a look at the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson and the monuments to Revolutionary War generals standing at each of the park's corners.

Day 2: EveningAAA/Inspector 49
Stay in the neighborhood and have dinner at Georgia Brown's, a restaurant which serves up Southern classics like she crab soup, deviled eggs with pimento cheese and buttermilk fried chicken in an upscale atmosphere that can be downright noisy when the place is crowded and the live jazz band is cooking. It isn't cheap, but it's one of the area's most fun places to go and worth a splurge if you're so inclined.

There are lots of bars and clubs in the area where Connecticut Avenue, 18th Street and M Street N.W. all meet. Dupont Circle, a few blocks north, also has a hopping club scene. Lucky Bar (1221 Connecticut Ave. N.W. at 18th Street), has a mix of live and DJ music and TVs tuned to soccer matches and college football games. Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café (1517 Connecticut Ave. N.W.) is a D.C. institution, a bookstore that doubles as an evening hangout since there's both a restaurant and a bar on the premises.

Day 3: MorningQuiet, tree-shaded Capitol Hill is a good neighborhood for an early morning walk. Do some stretching exercises in one of the small neighborhood “pocket parks” that dot the Hill; the triangular tract of land at the junction of Independence and North Carolina avenues and 7th Street S.E. is unofficially known as Turtle Park for the six stone turtles created by a local artist.

AAA/Greg Weekes
Turtle Park is across from the Eastern Market . For breakfast you should consider nearby restaurants like Market Lunch, inside the South Hall Market building. Yes it's crowded, yes it's hard to snag one of the few communal tables and yes it's on the pricey side—but the blueberry buckwheat pancakes (“Blue Bucks”) are to die for. The market is open every day but Monday; on Saturdays and Sundays additional vendors set up outside the building.

Capitol Tour

Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/Steve Petteway
You'll need a ticket to go on the guided tour of the United States Capitol . It's worth it to see the magnificent Rotunda—with huge paintings, a dome canopy and an encircling frieze all depicting events in American history—but waiting lines can be long. At least trek around the Capitol grounds and admire the scope of this impressive building from different vantage points. Then head over to the Supreme Court Building , a handsome white marble edifice with lofty Corinthian columns. Visitors can attend lectures when the court is not sitting.

Also fascinating is the 1-hour guided tour of the Thomas Jefferson Building , the most architecturally ornate of the three buildings that make up the Library of Congress . The highlight is the Main Reading Room, a huge, octagonal-shaped space. There are 12 seated figures painted around the collar of the 160-foot-tall dome; each one is 10 feet high.

Engage your senses at the United States Botanic Garden . The main conservatory is filled with tropical vegetation and has a mezzanine level for viewing the jungle-like canopy. Outside are the National Garden and the Regional Garden, both at their most attractive in the summer. Across Independence Avenue S.W. is flower-filled Bartholdi Park ; its centerpiece is the beautifully restored Bartholdi Fountain. The park is a lovely spot to relax.

Day 3: AfternoonAAA/Greg Weekes
From the United States Botanic Garden, walk along the Capitol Reflecting Pool toward Constitution Avenue, stopping along the way to admire the monumental Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. The equestrian statue of the Union general and 18th president is flanked by two sculptural groupings, Cavalry Charge and Artillery, that vividly portray the life-and-death drama of battle.

Turn right on Constitution Avenue and then turn left on Delaware Avenue, which will take you to Union Station, a grand Beaux Arts building that bustled with rail travel in the 1930s and now serves as a hub for Amtrak. Check out the soaring barrel-vaulted ceiling in the Main Hall and browse the souvenir kiosks before having lunch at one of the hall's fast-food eateries or at the food court on the lower level.

What to Do in Georgetown

Spend the rest of the day in Georgetown, Washington's oldest residential neighborhood and one of the most popular places in the city to shop, eat or just hang out. The closest Metro stations are Foggy Bottom-GWU (Orange/Blue line) and Dupont Circle (Red line); from each station it's a leisurely 20-minute walk.

The DC Circulator offers a Georgetown-Union Station route daily 7 a.m.-9 p.m.; buses arrive approximately every 10 minutes on the bus level of the Union Station parking garage (accessible from the mezzanine level) and make several stops along Wisconsin Avenue N.W. in Georgetown. The fare is $1.

AAA/Greg Weekes
Window shop the stores and boutiques along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Then rest your feet at the Old Stone House . The tall, graceful weeping willow tree that long stood over this historic house was felled by a violent thunderstorm in 2012, but there's a rectangular lawn and garden in back that's quiet and lovely, especially in the spring.

Day 3: EveningFor casual dinner conviviality you can't beat Clyde's of Georgetown, a local watering hole for more than 40 years. From roasted pork loin to basil-marinated Chesapeake Bay rockfish, Clyde's does American classics well.

You also can have dinner at Blues Alley (1073 Wisconsin Ave. N.W., below M Street), but most people go for the music. D.C.'s premier jazz club is another local institution, and the list of artists who have played here is legendary. The look is worn around the edges, but that's what makes it a classic. Seating is first-come-first-served, and reservations are essential; phone (202) 337-4141.

Most of Georgetown's bars are the friendly saloon type. Mr. Smith's of Georgetown (3205 K St. N.W.) has a piano player who draws an appreciative crowd of regulars. The Tombs (1226 36th St. N.W.) is an ultra-casual hangout frequented by Georgetown University undergraduates.

Metrorail operates until 11:30 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 1 a.m. Fri.-Sat., and at 11 p.m. Sun., but the last train may depart before the system closes. Final departure times are posted at the travel stations.

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Washington, DC

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Travel Information

Population

601,723

Elevation

23 ft.

Sales Tax

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.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

311 in Washington, D.C., or (202) 727-9099

Hospitals

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.

Visitor Information

1133 21st St. N.W. Suite M200 Washington, DC 20036. Phone:(202)347-7201

Air Travel

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 Cars

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.

Rail Service

Trains pull into the

Buses

The Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 50 Massachusetts Ave. N.E.; phone (202) 289-5141.

Taxis

Taxicabs in Washington are metered.

Public Transportation

Transportation by bus or subway is available in Washington.

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