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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California

    Default Washington, DC Trip

    This coming summer will be one for a long road trip again. We are headed from our home in San Diego County, to the East Coast: Washington DC is our goal there. We have things planned along the way and on the way back, but we are a bit puzzled about how to plan for DC itself. I've started in my usual way: researching the websites about the places we want to see in DC, and of course Frommer's, AAA and one other guidebook for the area. But I'm looking for more first-hand knowledge about certain things. We will be staying on the Virginia side and using Metro Rail when we want to go into the city, but our vehicle when we are headed for things like Mount Vernon, which are not on the rail system.

    On our list of things to see and do:
    National Archives -- how much time to allot to see the major documents?
    Library of Congress -- anything in particular of historical interest?
    US Bureau of Engraving and Printing -- all that money, so close and yet so far -- how much time to allot?
    Monticello -- probably will see this either on the way into the DC area, or on the way out -- how much time to allot?
    Appomattox -- probably will see this either on the way into the DC area, or on the way out -- how much time to allot?
    Mount Vernon -- allot a full day???

    I've gotten in touch with our congressman and have the link to the form we need to fill out for tours of the US Capitol building and the White House.

    We are thinking that we may stay for 10 days in the Virginia area, plus extra time for Monticello and Appomattox. We have a handle on a couple of different places in the Alexandria area, and a couple in the Fairfax area. Both have extended stay places since we don't want to mess with deposits, trying to deal with other issues involved in renting someone else's place. Places being looked at are Extended Stay America and Towne Place Suites, along with a place at Fort Belvoir that is run by Holiday Inn Express and actually includes a kitchen. Any comments about these particular chains would be appreciated -- we tend to get places with a king bed and a pool, and one ESA *does* appear to have a pool (according to the AAA Virginia Tour Book -- we would call them because it's not mentioned on their website).

    I should add this -- the last time I was in Washington DC, I was a very little girl, JFK had just been killed and his tomb (with an eternal flame) was "just a temporary one". I have few memories of that trip, though I've been through my mom's journal. (That is a giggle in itself.)


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default My 2¢

    With respect to the questions you asked specifically, I'd say the following. My wife and I generally find that a good half day is sufficient to visit historic homes such as Mount Vernon and Monticello. That usually allows enough time for the docent-led tour (an absolute must in my opinion) and a self-guided tour of the extended grounds and gardens. The same would probably apply to Appomattox, maybe a bit more or less depending on your interest in the history. E.G. the "History Trail" there is 4 miles long (one way) so just walking that could chew up a couple of hours (if you walk back to your car).

    Now for a few suggestions of places not on your itinerary (yet). High on my list would be a day spent in Annapolis, along with a visit to nearby Sandy Point State Park on the Chesapeake. In Washington itself, the Jefferson Memorial was always one of my favorite monuments, largely because of the setting and the fact that it is so infrequently visited. And, of course, at least a few of the museums that are part of the Smithsonian Institution. There are 19 different museums (plus the National Zoo) that include everything from art to commerce, gardens to outer space, and history from the relatively distant past to the present day.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Phoenix, Arizona

    Default You need to get up before breakfast....

    Hi, Donna:

    For the last eight years of my working life, I had an office in the heart of downtown D.C., and an apartment in Arlington, Virginia, a stones throw away from the National Mall, just across the Potomac River. I never got tired of the monuments and the museums, the history and the grandeur of that place. I was always a dumbstruck tourist, especially when wandering the many halls of the many distinct branches of the Smithsonian. Through most of those years, I left my vehicles at my home in Arizona, and used public transportation in and around Washington. That worked fine for commuting to work and basic shopping, but it was a pain for everything else, so I didn't get out and around nearly as much as I would have liked. My very last year, since I knew it would be my last year, I drove my Jeep back, and made a great point of maximizing my many opportunities to see cool stuff.

    One thing you'll find, since you're going in the summer: D.C., especially the area around the National Mall, is one of the most heavily tourist-packed places in the U.S. It's like Disneyland, or the Grand Canyon, but then you add in all the millions of people who live and work there, the busloads of school kids on field trips, the tour groups? You'll hear a half dozen foreign languages spoken pretty much every block you walk, but what all of it translates to is CROWDS, teeming, billowing, frustratingly clueless, particularly at the more popular attractions. Huge throngs of tourists take a good bit of the fun out of doing touristy things!

    During that last year, when I had my vehicle, in order to beat those crowds, I'd go out on "dawn patrol," every weekend morning. I'd pick a location: the Capitol building, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial. I'd drive into town before the sun came up, park wherever I liked (no competition for parking spaces, not on the weekend, not at that hour), and I would take wonderful photographs before, during, and after the sunrise. Since you'll be there at least one weekend, you really should try it; you don't need to focus on a single location; just go to the National Mall and drive around; the museums aren't open yet, but everything else is right there, and without the crazy crowds and all the cars, it's a completely different experience--especially on a Saturday or a Sunday. Early is better during the week, also, though you'll be competing with commuters for space on the Metro coming into town. You'll want to get to the museums and such the minute they open, at 9 AM, hopefully before the buses arrive!

    Be aware that summertime can be seriously hot and humid, making for miserable walking around weather; my daughter, born and raised in hot Phoenix, thought she was going to DIE when she visited me in DC one summer. The Smithsonian Museums are blissfully air conditioned if you should find yourself wilting out there on a muggy day. Speaking of the museums, my personal favorites include the Museum of American History (great exhibit on the history of transportation in this country--"America on the Move"; hopefully, it's still there; they do change exhibits periodically). They have Thomas Edison's Light Bulb, Abe Lincoln's Hat, Betsy Ross's flag; you name it. And of course, the Natural History Museum (Dinosaurs! The Hope Diamond!); the Air and Space Museum (if you like airplanes and spacecraft, be aware that there are two Air and Space museums: one on the National Mall, and the other, in a larger facility, out by Dulles Airport). The Museum of the American Indian is fabulous, as is the National Museum of Art. Something for every taste, quite literally.

    Agreed that Mount Vernon and Monticello are half day excursions--although Monticello is a bit of a drive, just to get out there; you might want to work that into a loop that includes Richmond and/or Shenandoah National Park. That will show you some of the "real" Virginia, which is mostly rural, retaining a bit of the flavor of the old south. Northern Virginia--Arlington, Alexandria--have very little connection to the rest of the state, politically, culturally, even historically. It's really quite a pronounced difference.

    Special events require advance planning, but they are definitely special: the Cherry Blossom festival in the spring; Memorial Day, when "Rolling Thunder" roars through town; the Fourth of July, with one of the best fireworks displays anywhere. Day trips: Annapolis, as Buck mentioned, is very nice; there's good fishing for Stripers on Chesapeake Bay, if you're into that sort of thing. Great Falls--a bit of wild river just 15 miles from downtown, approachable on both the Virginia side of the Potomac, as well as the Maryland side (waterfalls and rapids for crazy kayakers). All around, there are lots of civil war battlefields and locations of importance from that era.

    In short, there's plenty to see and do; your time will pass very quickly. Stay as close to the action as you can get, so that you don't spend too much of that time traveling on the Metro, which can be like a cattle car at peak commuting times.

    If you'd like to see some of those "dawn patrol" photos of the monuments and all the rest, check out this gallery on my website:

    Dawn patrol photos of Washington D.C.

    Give the first page a minute to load and it plays like a slideshow, advancing automatically every few seconds.

    DC Sunrise.jpg



  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    There's some really good advice there, Rick and Buck. Thanks! We are naturally early-birds, so the "dawn patrol" could very well work for us. I still think I'd rather fight with crowds on the Metro for "rush hour" than try to park our beast in DC, much less the traffic and trying to find our way around. Then there's parking garages -- I've already determined that the parking garages at the two Metro stations we could use, are tall enough and wide enough to accommodate a super cab pickup truck with a "camper" shell that's slightly taller than the cab.

    The Smithsonian's Air & Space is one place where we will spend an entire day, as is the American History museum. We may split a day between the National Gallery of Art, and the Natural History museum. Mount Vernon is on the schedule.

    We drove Skyline Drive in 2011, it was very pretty and definitely historical, but that's not in the plans for a repeat. Hubby is still trying to decide about Manassas and Fredericksburg battlefields

    I know about dry heat -- we get it here in San Diego County, my folks live in the Valley of the Sun and I graduated from HS in southern AZ -- you're right, the humidity makes you wilt! For that reason, we really didn't plan on the 4-mile History Trail at Appomattox.


  5. #5


    Ditto what everyone said above. Especially regarding the summer humidity.

    I'd advise against early metro starts and parking at metro stops. Rush hour in D.C. begins around 5am these days it seems and goes until 9-930, starts again around 2:45p until 7p or so. And any moment can be a traffic jam in DC and south of DC on I-95 and US 1. There is a commuter train that I believe starts around Fredericksburg or not far north. Most of their parking lots are open air so navigating a truck would be much easier. The train probably stops around the airport or Pentagon City where you can hop the metro, or ride all the way in to Union Station.

    The federal district is rich in museums and monuments and they are all free (except for a couple of private museums). There isn't a bad one, but some may appeal to particular tastes and others may be skipped. Worthwhile checking out the Smithsonian web site. D.C. also has several lively eating districts these days where none existed just 20 years ago.

    There are a number of small sites you can walk to from the Archives. Monuments to first responders, the National Building Museum, National Portrait Gallery... a perfect example of using a paper map!

    Harper's Ferry, WVa, might be of interest. And there is an old B&O facility in Point of Rocks, MD, along the way.

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