In 2007, we took two nights in Washington DC and spent most of our time in the National Mall area. September, 2010 I went back on an overnight trip and took a tour up though Georgetown, the Embassy area and around the National Cathedral.
When we were there in 2007, there was a large protest taking place on the Capitol steps and the runners for the Susan B. Kommen Run for Cancer were everywhere. We waded through a lot of people.
For my second visit, I went when there were two large protest marches scheduled for that weekend, I expected to be squashed by crowds of people again. But since I was just a few streets over, near Ford’s Theater, we didn’t even know that they were there except when the events were over. Then, I saw people carrying flags, chairs and banners as they walked past our tour headquarters.
Washington DC is divided up into neighborhoods where one neighborhood is separate from the other and yet, they are interconnected. The area is large and occupied by various sections with different personalities.
George Washington wanted the District to occupy an area of 10 square miles, which is what he got along with the streets spoking out from the Capitol in a star motif. His architect put the roundabouts in the middle of the streets to facilitate cannon and military maneuvers but they snarl modern traffic.
I mentioned that so that if you’re planning a trip to Washington DC during the same time as a big event which you may not be a part of don’t cancel your trip or move it. Depending upon where you may be located you probably won’t even know that the crowds are in town.
On the 2007 trip we took the Metro Blue line from Reagan International Airport to the McPherson Station, which was across the street from our hotel. We stayed in the Capitol Hilton Garden Inn at 1001 16Th Street NW, just a street or so above the White House. Their price, by Washington standards is reasonable. It was $149 per night for both of us.
I checked the current prices and found comparable or lower prices on Friday and Saturday night stays for the months of November and December and then not until August and September for next year.
I checked Hotels.com and found the prices to be around the same price range for the same area or a bit less in Virginia.
The Hilton staff was very nice and beyond helpful. The facility is clean and welcoming. Our room was pleasant and comfortable. It’s also convenient to all of the National Mall attractions, China Town and other interesting venues just outside of the National Mall area. It’s also within easy walking distance to the McPherson Metro station.
We chose this location so we could walk to all of our destinations, and to and from the metro station since parking can be very complicated in the downtown area and the traffic can also be so.
We visited for the weekend and saw several places. We took a tour of the Capital which required our going to the Capitol Guide Service Kiosk near First Street SW and Independence Ave at 9am to wait in line for our free ticket. Then we waited in line for our turn to tour the Capitol Building.
But that has changed since the Capitol Visitor Center opened, which is between Constitution and Independence Avenues under the East Plaza of the Capitol. The Center is open between 8:30am and 4:30pm, Monday to Saturday, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and Inauguration Day.
Free passes are available daily “at the tour kiosks on the East and West Fronts of the Capitol or at the Information Desks in Emancipation Hall on the lower level of the Visitor Center.”
The tour is very informative and interesting. Among some of the things we got to see was where the Supreme Court originally held court in the Capitol Building, some of the famous paintings that are hung in the Rotunda and the history they represent as well as the Hall of Statues where each state is allowed to send statues of two of their state heroes.
Since our family represents four state residences, we were interested in what each of our states sent. The two statues that impressed us the most was the one of King Kamehameha from Hawaii and one of the statues from
Florida which represents the inventor of air conditioning. Yes, one of Florida’s heroes is the inventor of what we now call AC.
Capitol tours are available from 8:50am to 3:30pm from Monday to Saturday except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year or Inauguration Day.
We also visited the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian which is located at Fourth and Independence Ave SW. They are near the Capitol Building. The museum has a very unique structure which you can see from a distance. They are open from 10:00am to 5:30pm all week except for Christmas and the admission is free.
The museum has several exhibition spaces for both permanent collections as well visiting displays. There are variously scheduled programs for both children and for adults to participate in. There is also an extensive gift shop with a wide variety of resources and a cafe.
We went to the Old Post Office Tower and Pavilion is located on 12Th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The clock tower along with the Washington Monument is one of the tallest structures in the District of Columbia. The trip up to the tower is free. The view of the Capitol is panoramic. You can see the entire area from the tower
which is accessed by a glass elevator.
On the ground floor you will find unique and interesting shops, places to eat and a live piano performance in beautiful surroundings from another era. The pavilion has high vaulted glass ceilings over a clear story structure with a wide open area on the ground floor.
We went to the Department of Interior at 1849 C Street, NW, which has a museum which exhibits anything to do with natural resources and Native American artifacts. The museum also hosts special limited time exhibits.
The Department also has New Deal murals, which require an appointment and the Indian Craft Shop. Since you need to go through security, which is true of everywhere in the National Mall, you can only go to the museum or the gift shop. The museum is currently closed due to remodel.
We chose the gift shop which was full of hard to find books on every tribe in the US, various arts and crafts from the different tribes, for sale as well as exhibits that aren’t. The shop puts on special events and is also available on-line. They’re open 8:30am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday and 10:00am to 4:00pm every third Saturday of the month.
We also visited Chinatown and picked up some food at Chinatown Express on Sixth Street NW, just off of H Street, to take home with us. We love their dumplings and wonderful little sauces that they include to add to everything. They’re a little hole-in-a-wall with the dumpling maker standing in the window making dumplings.
This area isn’t as big as other Chinatowns that we visit, but it’s still fun to go to. The area is easy to find due to their Friendship Gate located at H and Seventh Street. The community lies between Fifth and Eighth Streets NW along H and I Streets.
There are quite a few other places we visited since we were walking past them on the way out or back in to our hotel. We didn’t go to any places that cost anything to enter. There are quite a few places that do charge an entry fee.
There are also many places that don’t charge and you can easily fill an entire weekend or longer, with a lot of very interesting and fun things to do. The Smithsonian, alone, has ten different venues and the Department of the Interior has several as well as there is the FBI among other venues, such as all of the National monuments.
In 2010, I was only able to stay over night. I stayed at the Airport Radisson which is near the Reagan Airport. Their prices are very reasonable, around $90. I reserved my room through Orbitz when I bought my plane ticket.
I checked on-line at the hotel site and found the prepaid price to be comparable. The staff is very helpful and the rooms are very nice.
The only complaints I have are that there really isn’t any TV worth watching unless you pay for it and their beds are those Sleep Number beds. Another guest and I both had the same problem. We went through the entire dial and just wanted to be sleeping in our own beds. They were that uncomfortable.
Since I was only in town overnight I decided to take in the Old Town Trolley Tour, which I paid for on-line for $31.50. They offer three different tours where you can take any of them or all of them, hopping on and off of the trolley at any of the stops that you may want to take more time with.
I took the the same Metro, as my previous visit, from Reagan Airport to Metro Central at G Street and Twelfth Street, which is one stop past the McPherson station.
There are vending machines in the metro station which have the entire listing of all the stops serviced by the particular line coming out of that station. They list the prices and destinations. A one-way ticket varies depending upon your destination, the day and the time of day. But for my destination, the price was $2.60 for peak times and half that for off-peak times.
You can also get a map of the metro system in the stations to help you find your way. The names of the stations are on signs on the sides of the station as you come into each stop.
The tour office, which is at 1001 E Street NW, was less than four blocks from the station. It’s easy to locate. I just walked up Twelfth Street to E and turned left, going two blocks until I got to the Washington Welcome Center, on the left side of the street, which is the tour headquarters.
I took the Georgetown/National Cathedral portion where the trolley took us past the White House and Visitor Center, the National Archives, US Navy Museum, National Geographic Museum, Mayflower Hotel, DuPont Circle, Woodrow Wilson House, Textile Museum, Phillips Collection, Kalorama, Adams Morgan, the National Zoo,
the National Cathedral, Georgetown, the Old Stone House, Decatur House, Lafayette Square near the White House, Chinatown and the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Georgetown is the oldest community in Washington DC. All of the original, historic facades of the buildings, in the District, including Georgetown have been preserved as they were originally built. Many of the houses are charming with wrought iron steps. The gas street lamps are still on the sidewalks and in use.
There is an entire section coming out of Georgetown, that’s completely taken over by embassies from all over the world where they preserved the original facades, including the Japanese embassy which did a rather strange take on keeping the facade. They built a multi-story, modern skyscraper straight through the roof of the original building, leaving the facade in place.
The National Cathedral is a part of a complex which is surrounded by a huge grounds, a bit like the White House, without the fence. The Cathedral is humongous.
At the end of the tour I got off and walked to Chinatown to visit the person we’d met on our last visit and to pick up dinner at Chinatown Express, to take home. When I was through, I walked back to the tour office, shopping at H&M on the way back. H&M is at 1025 F Street. I spent some time shopping in the Welcome Center then I took the tour’s free shuttle to my hotel and checked in. The next morning, I took the hotel shuttle to the airport and came back home.