TravelWise—Washington, D.C.

Planning your trip | How to get there | Getting around | Things to see and do | Monuments | Museums | Theaters | Neighborhoods | Outdoors |
Places to eat and stay | Restaurants | Lodgings | For more information

Planning your trip

Washington has four distinct seasons; the two most enjoyable are late spring and fall. Mild temperatures from late March to May bring an explosion of flowers, including the blossoming of the city’s famous cherry and dogwood trees. Summers are hot and very humid, but since many residents take vacations then, the city is less crowded and traffic is lighter. Autumn is a wonderful time to visit, with cooler temperatures and colorful foliage (especially in early October). Winters are unpredictable; they can be cold and snowy.

Note: All telephone numbers have a 202 area code, unless otherwise indicated. All information was verified in October 1996. Please note that this information can change.

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How to get there

AIR: most major airlines, including USAir, United, Continental, TWA, Delta, American, and Northwest, fly to Washington National Airport in Virginia, 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) from downtown (for the trip into downtown D.C., try the efficient Metro subway or the Washington Flyer shuttle service), and Dulles International Airport, 28 miles (45 kilometers) west of downtown in Virginia (use Washington Flyer shuttle service).

TRAIN: Amtrak to Union Station.

CAR: Washington is at the intersection of I-95, I-66, and I-270.

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Getting around

Washington is a traffic-filled city, so driving can prove confusing, especially during the rush hours, when many downtown streets become one-way thoroughfares. The easy-to-ride Metro subway system and Metrobuses serve much of the city. Taxis are plentiful; ask the driver to quote the fare beforehand. The best way to see city life is on foot. At night, visitors should exercise special caution, since, like all big cities, Washington has its share of random crime; some neighborhoods, such as parts of Capitol Hill and the city’s southeast quadrant, are best visited during the day. Many tour operators offer city and river tours; for more information, contact the Convention and Visitors Association (headquarters 789 7000).

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Things to see and do

The attractions listed below are open daily and are free, unless otherwise noted. Call ahead for hours and holiday closings.

Monuments

Washington is a city of monuments. Beyond the big three (Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial), monuments worth a visit include the stark, eloquent Vietnam Veterans Memorial (21st Street and Constitution Avenue N.W.), and the nearby Korean War Veterans Memorial (Constitution Gardens), a realistic grouping of bronze soldiers that is the newest addition to the city’s trove of monuments. Peppering city circles and squares is a galaxy of war heroes, presidents, significant personages, and even Balinese demons.

A monument of a different sort stands on one of the city’s highest spots: the Washington National Cathedral (Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues N.W.; 537 6200; guided tours Monday-Saturday). This Gothic-style masterwork, completed in 1990, is the second largest church in the U.S. and includes such unusual touches as a stained-glass window commemorating the 1969 moon landing and a sculpture of Darth Vader amid gargoyles.

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Museums

Washington boasts more than 50 museums, including the blockbuster Smithsonian galleries. One of the newest additions is the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (100 Raoul Wallenberg Place S.W.; 488 0400), which presents the history of the victims of Nazi tyranny. Housed in a striking building are artifacts, photos, films, and firsthand accounts that tell the story of Jews and others who perished in the Holocaust.

A number of Washington’s museums comprise personal art collections housed in residential mansions. A must-see is Dumbarton Oaks (1703 32nd Street N.W.; 339 6400; closed Monday, holidays; donation), a turn-of-the-century estate famous for its collections of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art, and for its elaborate terraced garden; the mansion’s Music Room was the site for the 1944 conferences that helped create the United Nations. Don’t miss the Phillips Collection of modern art (1600 21st Street N.W.; 387 2151; closed Monday; admission Saturday-Sunday, Thursday evening; donation other times), amassed by founder and steel heir Duncan Phillips in the early 1900s and housed in his neo-Georgian mansion. Prominent in this museum are such artists as Renoir, Winslow Homer, El Greco, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Another museum noted for its personal 19th-and 20th-century art collection—and for its building, designed by influential architect Philip Johnson—is the recently opened Kreeger Museum (2401 Foxhall Road. N.W.; 338 3552; Tuesday-Saturday, visits by reservation only; donation), with works by Picasso, Henry Moore, Renoir, and others.

Heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post spent many years at her 40-room Georgian mansion, Hillwood, now a museum dedicated to her outstanding collection of Russian decorative arts—including icons and Fabergé eggs—and other furnishings (4155 Linnean Avenue N.W.; 686 5807; tours Tuesday-Saturday by reservation only; closed February; admission). A Washington institution is the Corcoran Gallery of Art (500 17th Street N.W.; 639 1700; closed Tuesday, holidays; donation), noted for its art school and for its comprehensive collection of American art. The Corcoran’s original home, an ornate Second Empire building, is now the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street N.W.; 357 2700), a showcase for American crafts, from baskets to glass sculptures. Lovers of carpets and textiles will find the Textile Museum (2320 S Street N.W.; 667 0441; closed holidays; donation; call ahead) a treasure trove, with more than 15,000 pieces that date as far back as 3,000 B.C. Fans of women artists will enjoy the National Museum of Women in the Arts (1250 New York Avenue N.W.; 783 5000), which features works by Frida Kahlo, Camille Claudel, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Across the Anacostia River is the Victorian-style Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (1411 W Street S.E.; 426 5961), the last residence of the black statesman and “father of the civil rights movement.” The National Geographic Society’s Explorers Hall (17th and M Streets N.W.; 857 7588) appeals to all age groups with its enormous globe, interactive exhibits and quizzes on geography, and rotating displays.

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Theaters

Theater is alive and well in Washington, where a handful of established venues is complemented by a clutch of smaller stages. Among the most established is historic Ford’s Theatre (511 10th Street between E and F Streets N.W.; 426 6924; tours available when no performances are scheduled), where President Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth. Across the street is the Petersen House (516 10th Street N.W.; 426 6830), where Lincoln actually died of his wounds. The largest theater complex is the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (New Hampshire Avenue at Rock Creek Parkway. N.W.; 467 4600), which houses six theaters; many decorations are gifts from other nations, including mirrors from Belgium and crystal chandeliers from Sweden. The sumptuous, Federal-style National Theatre (1321 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.; 628 6161), is the oldest continuously operating theater in the city, and one of the oldest in the U.S.; it features Broadway-style productions. Other theaters worth noting include the nationally recognized Elizabethan Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library (201 East Capitol Street S.E.; 544 4600); Arena Stage (6th Street and Maine Avenue S.W.; 488 3300); Warner Theatre (513 13th Street N.W.; 783 4000); Studio Theatre (1333 P Street N.W.; 332 3300); and the Source Theatre (1835 14th Street N.W.; 462 1073).

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Neighborhoods

Surprising to those who imagine Washington solely as a place of monuments and government, the city has a number of lively, action-filled neighborhoods. Visitors should make a point of touring the best-known areas to get a true feel for the city. Adams-Morgan (centered around Columbia Road and 18th Street N.W.), is popular among D.C.’s residents for its mix of ethnic restaurants, clubs, and shops. Dupont Circle—and adjoining sections of Connecticut Avenue—is the focal point for a neighborhood known by the same name, where literati, policy wonks, gays and lesbians, and bohemians gather at book-and-coffee shops and offbeat stores for meaningful discussions and an occasional protest. Georgetown (fanning out from the intersection of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue N.W.), is a brick-paved historic residential area for the city’s monied and powerful that has enjoyed a long tradition of commerce and fine dining, and whose chic Washington Harbour waterfront restaurants attract one of the city’s liveliest crowds. Capitol Hill (radiating from the Capitol), a bustling center of congressional life and old residences, is the site of the grand Union Station, as well as the Eastern Market, a popular venue for food and crafts vendors. Chinatown (between 5th and 9th Streets and G and K Streets N.W.), traditionally a neighborhood for Chinese immigrants, is home to numerous Chinese restaurants and shops, and has recently become a nexus for new Latino-influenced restaurants and dance clubs.

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Outdoors

Washington’s largest park, Rock Creek Park (282 1063), encompasses more than 1,700 acres (688 hectares) of woodland that wind through the city’s northern corridor. Miles of trails and bike paths, tennis courts, playgrounds, a golf course, a horse center, and a nature center accommodate weekend crowds that flock here for recreation. Near the southern end of the park is the National Zoological Park (3000 block of Connecticut Avenue N.W.; 673 4800), among the country’s oldest, known for its panda bear and its rare white Bengal tigers.

One of the city’s least heralded treasures, the 444-acre (180 hectare) National Arboretum (entrances at 3501 New York Avenue and 24th and R Streets N.E. 245 2726), sits northeast of the Capitol. Among the largest arboretums in the U.S., it showcases azaleas, dogwoods, rhododendrons, and evergreens.

One of the country’s narrowest national parks is the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park (C&O Canal), which starts in Georgetown and runs along the Potomac River 184.5 miles (297 kilometers) to Cumberland, Maryland. The canal towpath and surrounding trails provide a popular getaway for hikers, joggers, bikers, and fishermen; for a taste of 19th-century canal life, take the mule-drawn boat ride (usually middle April-middle October, Wednesday-Sunday; 653 5844; fee). Following damage from flooding during the winter of 1996, sections of the towpath were closed; for updated information, call the park’s visitors center at +1 301 299 3613.

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Places to eat and stay

Restaurants recommended by Candy Sagon, food and restaurant critic for the Washington Post. Prices indicate the average cost for one, including a nonalcoholic beverage, tax, and tip. Lodgings recommended by Barbara Radin Fox, coauthor, with husband, Larry Fox, of Romantic Weekend Getaways: The Mid-Atlantic States. Prices indicate the range of rates for a double room. All prices in U.S. dollars.

Restaurants

BOMBAY CLUB 815 Connecticut Avenue N.W.; 659 3727. A favorite with the First Family, and it’s not hard to see why: The food is beautiful, the decor refined and relaxing, the service polished. Anything from the tandoori oven (bread, lamb, chicken, shrimp) is superb, and the curries (vegetarian or meat) are not to be missed. Lunch is served only on weekdays, but there is a Sunday brunch. AE, Diners, MC, V. $25-30.

BUSARA 2340 Wisconsin Avenue N.W.; 337 2340. Ice-blue neon, crayon-bright tables, cheeky modern art and, in summer, a serene outdoor garden with a tiny pond. Selections include standards (pad thai) as well as the unexpected (black tiger shrimp, soft-shell crabs). AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. Lunch $10; dinner $20-25.

CAPITOL CITY BREWING COMPANY 1100 New York Avenue N.W.; 628 2222. D.C.’s first microbrewery, also first in the hearts of many looking for burgers and a brew. Popular at lunch and after work. A trick for quick service: Sit at the bar and munch on the addictive soft pretzels while waiting for your sandwich or salad. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. $22-25.

CITRONELLE 3000 M Street N.W.; 625 2150. Understated and elegant, this sleek California-French restaurant in Georgetown’s Latham Hotel serves innovative food as dramatically beautiful as it is delicious. Seafood and fish, such as the peppered tuna steak, are the dazzlers on the menu, but meat eaters will be happy with dishes like a thick veal chop or filet of beef. Those on a budget should try lunch, when prices are lower but service, ambience, and food are still stellar. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. Lunch $25-30; dinner $45-50.

IL RADICCHIO 1509 17th Street N.W.; 986 2627. Drop in for some free people-watching and reasonably priced Italian food. Restaurateur Roberto Donna’s concept of a bottomless bowl of spaghetti ($6.50) with the sauce of your choice (most around $3) is clever and filling. Or try a puffy pizza or a sandwich on focaccia. Try less-crowded off-hours, when you can sip some wine and relax. AE, Diners, MC, V. $10-12.

I RICCHI 1220 19th Street N.W.; 835 0459. Consistently classy, consistently good, and consistently top-rated. Prices are in the top range too, but most feel the superb Tuscan food and smooth service are worth it. Fish and meats from the oak-fired grill, and Tuscan classics, like the creamy risotto, are sure bets. Lunchtime regulars slip into the elegant bar area for a plate of silken tortelloni or a bowl of hearty soup. AE, Diners, MC, V. Lunch $30; dinner $50.

KINKEAD’S 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.; 296 7700. Almost since the day it opened three years ago, chef-owner Bob Kinkead has been raking in the laurels for his American bistro-style restaurant. The downstairs bar is casual, perfect for a small meal. Try the Scandinavian salmon stew or some impeccably fried clams. Upstairs, the dining room is more formal, but not stuffy. Fish and seafood prevail (pepita-crusted salmon is a perennial favorite). AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. Light bar meal $10-15; dinner $30-35.

LES HALLES 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.; 347 6848. Anyone can go to an American steak place—live a little, and try French beef.This handsome, no-nonsense French restaurant is the perfect place for it. Order the onglet, or hangar, steak—a flat strip with a rich, beefy flavor. The french fries are exquisite. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. Lunch $20-25; dinner $30-35.

MUSIC CITY ROADHOUSE 1050 30th Street N.W.; 337 4444. Got a hankering for some down-home, rib-stickin’ food like you wish your mama made? Then get on over to this Southern roadhouse replica on the C&O Canal in Georgetown. For $12.95 you can have three different meats, plus all you can eat of three side dishes, a super salad, skillet corn bread, and desert. On Sunday there’s a rollicking gospel brunch. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. $15-17. Children 6-12 half-price, under 6 free.

PERRY’S 1811 Columbia Road. N.W.; 234 6218. A young, hip, local crowd has made this quirky Adams-Morgan restaurant popular for over a decade; they like their music loud and their food eclectic. Settle into a couch with a martini, and order the seared salmon or Oriental seafood pasta; in warm weather try sushi under the stars on the roof deck. Dinner only. AE, MC, V. $20-25, Sunday brunch $15.95.

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Lodgings

HOLIDAY INN CENTRAL 1501 Rhode Island Avenue N.W. 20005; 483 2000 or 800 465 4329. Centrally located a few blocks from two Metro stops and a short walk north of the White House, this newly renovated hotel has 213 rooms with contemporary decor. Facilities include an outdoor pool. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. $69-$159.

HOTEL LOMBARDY 2019 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. 20006; 828 2600 or 800 424 5486. Beautiful, European-style hotel in Washington’s West End near Georgetown, the Kennedy Center, and Metro. 85 eclectically decorated rooms and 40 suites. Most rooms have kitchens. Don’t miss the Café Lombardy, a northern Italian Bistro. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. $89-$205.

KALORAMA GUEST HOUSE 2700 Cathedral Avenue N.W. 20008; 328 0860. This inn is actually two Victorian townhouses featuring 19 cozily decorated rooms (12 with private baths). The inn is in the Woodley Park area, close to the National Zoo, Metro, and the eclectic Adams-Morgan neighborhood. Amenities include free laundry facilities, fresh flowers in the room, a refrigerator for guests to use, and afternoon sherry. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. $55-$95 (includes continental breakfast).

RENAISSANCE MAYFLOWER 1127 Connecticut Avenue N.W. 20036; 347 3000 or 800 468 3571. This 71-year-old historic property in the midst of Washington’s shopping and business district has 659 rooms and 71 suites, all tastefully decorated. Outstanding restaurant, classic Town and Country Bar-Lounge. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. $129-$450.

MORRISON-CLARK INN 11th Street and Massachusetts Avenue N.W. 20001; 898 1200 or 800 332 7898. This 132-year-old hotel, beautifully decorated with Victorian furnishings and accessories, is made up of 54 rooms in two 1860s townhouses and a contemporary addition in back. The dining room is elegant and romantic. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. $99-$165 (includes continental breakfast).

RITZ-CARLTON 2100 Massachusetts Avenue N.W. 20008; 293 2100 or 800 241 3333. This Embassy Row hotel is an elegant retreat, celebrated for the hunt-club decor of its 174 rooms and 32 suites as well as for its white-glove service. The Jockey Club restaurant and Fairfax Bar are gathering spots for Washington’s rich and famous. Facilities include a fitness center and sauna. AE, Diners, MC, V. $195-$550.

WESTIN 2350 M Street N.W. 20037; 429 0100 or 800 848 0016. This West End retreat between Georgetown and the White House features 246 elegant rooms and 18 suites (including 5 with fireplaces and whirlpool tubs). Pool, fitness center, and two restaurants. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. $135-$235.

WILLARD INTER-CONTINENTAL 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. 20004; 628 9100 or 800 327 0200. Charles Dickens, the Marquis de Lafayette, Presidents from Franklin Pierce to Bill Clinton, kings, queens, heads of state, and countless other household names have stayed or visited here. The hotel is lavishly decorated in turn-of-the-century Victorian, with 341 large, individually decorated rooms and 38 suites. The Nest is a popular weekend jazz spot. AE, Diners, Disc, MC, V. $199-$380.

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For more information

Contact the Washington, D.C., Convention and Visitors Association, 1212 New York Avenue N.W., Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20005-3992; 789 7000, fax 789 7037.

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Please note that this information is subject to change.