We drove from Raleigh, NC to Washington, DC for Thanksgiving and were very lucky with the weather and the traffic. It was my first trip there in three years, which is the longest break in the 15 years since I moved from DC. I didn’t notice anything of any significant difference from the last trip. The city has marked bike lanes on most of the major roadways, cleaned up a few of the eyesores, and cracked down on the panhandlers. We stayed with a friend near Dupont Circle and spent one day touring three of the museums on the National Mall.
There is the mall, which is maintained by the National Park Service, and there is the rest of DC, which is maintained by the city. According to my friends, the city government is still as dysfunctional as ever, and the police aren’t much better. We didn’t have time to visit all of my old haunts, but we did see a few. I lived in Adams Morgan, just north of Dupont Circle, for three years in the 90’s, and it also seemed as though it had changed little. It still contains a large assortment of restaurants and sidewalk cafes on 18th Street NW and also along Columbia Road. We sampled one Spanish restaurant that hadn’t changed in 30 years, and unfortunately their food also looked and tasted like it needed to be updated.
From all the reports that I had read in the Washington Post of problems on the Metro, I was pleased to find that it was operating as efficiently as it used to do. Of course, they were working on the escalators, as they have been for the past 25 years. I saw more new gas-powered buses, and the city had less traffic because of the holiday. It is still a very walkable city with wide sidewalks and level ground. I used to go down on the mall on the weekends just to walk and watch all the people.
We toured a few exhibits at the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of American History. You could spend an entire week just touring the Smithsonian museums. They offer excellent web sites for each, an online tour guide, and helpful hints and/or sites accessible from smartphones. The museums are still free even though many of the major exhibits are now funded by major corporations rather than the Congress. The magazine covers many subjects beyond the museums, as does their television channel, so their various web sites offer more specific guidance for tourists.
Most tourists stay out in Arlington or Alexandria in less expensive hotels, park their cars, and take the Metro into the city. In addition to the Metro and the regular commuter buses, the city now offers a low-cost connector bus service that runs only on K Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Most tourists don’t get beyond the monuments and museums along the mall between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, but there are so many other attractions throughout the city and the neighboring suburbs. If you are making your first visit, you need to allow at least a week or 10 days.
Number one tip for visiting the museums: go early in the day before they become too crowded.