So far, one of my all-time-favorite places to visit is the nation’s capital. Washington D.C. The District of Columbia.
I love the architecture. I love the rolling hills and endless greenery. I even love the confusing circles – as long as I’m not driving.
This week, we had an occasion to visit family for a few festive occasions. WonderMan hails from the D.C. area originally. Hanging with my in-laws is always a treat. Since we had more flexibility this time, we extended our trip a few days which gave me time to get lost in all things touristy in D.C.
Regardless of your political or historical persuasion, a visit to the capital should easily make everyone’s travel to-do list. There is something to do for just about everyone. Since WonderMan’s parents live in the D.C. suburbs and we have rounded the corner on 13 years of marriage, I’ve had the pleasure of romping around D.C. for a while now. In that time I have developed an extensive tourist to-do library.
Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to frugally exploring this wonderful town.
Do sign up for tour of the White House, Capitol Building, or National Archives.
These guided tours are free and managed by the offices of your elected officials. Visit this link to find the websites for your senators or congress person. They will have a section on their site to submit a request for a tour. Give yourself at 4-6 weeks prior to your trip and give them a range of dates that you’ll be available. Tours can be scheduled up to 6 months in advance.
I submitted an application on both senators’ and my congressman’s website. Only one senator’s office, Mark Kirk, actually responded. Dick Durbin and Danny Davis need to tighten up their administrative ships. Yet another reason I’m glad I didn’t vote for them anyway.
Make sure you follow up with your representative if you haven’t received a tour date within 2 weeks of the trip.
Don’t arrive late or you’ll miss your tour.
Yes, we missed our guided Capitol Building tour! No worries if you do though. You can still take a walk up tour which leaves every 20 minutes until just after 3 pm. The only difference is you cannot receive passes to visit the senate floor on the walk up tours.
We have a White House tour scheduled for next month. You better believe I’ll let no distractions keep us from arriving 20-30 minutes early (give yourself enough time to get through security).
Do walk over to the National Mall
Again, I’m a lover of all things cultural. So the National Mall feels like I’ve ascended to Heaven on earth. The museums on the mall are all free and open to the public. I try to hit a new museum each time I go and I’ve yet to repeat. We ran through the Air and Space museum this time. Next month, it’s on to the Museum of Natural History.
You can also take in the magnificent monuments along the mall. For this, I would suggest looking through Groupon for a Hop on Hop Off bus tour and wearing comfy shoes. $20 per adult is a fabulous price over standard rates from $35-$60/adult (depending on the provider). These tours run you around to all the major sites on the mall.
You can also frugal out and take the Circulator Bus for $1/ride. This bus doesn’t stay on the mall, but it will get you close to some of the sites and you can walk. You can also explore a few of the fabulous D.C. neighborhoods with a variety of cuisines for lunch after you work up a huge appetite from all the walking.
Don’t join your girlfriends when glasses shopping for custom frames.
If you are trying to save money and stay on a budget, then visiting the home office of a custom, high end glasses distributor should not make your list. Thankfully, we’d just driven in early the day of the scheduled tour and I was still too tired to join my friends for this trip to look at fancy glasses.
Apparently, this particular lady flies all over the world and selects one frame per location so your glasses are likely to be a designer original. I hear the glasses are sight to behold. However, at prices north of $700 for a complete set, I’ll stick with the options I found in How to See Better For Less.
Do visit Busboys and Poets.
This won’t exactly make the frugal dinning list, but dinner at Busboys and Poets with friends was a fairly cool experience – especially if you love amateur talent and obscure books. The food is delicious (and food really isn’t my thing). There are a couple restaurants, but the location in Hyattsville hosts an open mic on Thursday nights. For a $5 donation you can partake in a Love Jones style poetry set. Dim lights, saucy voices, and snapping fingers included.
While I only have a passing interest in this style of art, I do admire people who take the stage and share what they create for nothing more than polite applause and a chance to share every social media handle in their arsenal. (All the instructions after each performer did kind of make me giggle.)
Reservations are highly recommended for the open mic night and can be made for free through their website. Arrive at 8 pm to ensure you receive a table and can dine and chat before the show begins. We were told that sometimes the online reservation system goofs so call the restaurant to ensure the evening is actually sold out if you run into that problem. Reservations open at midnight on Thursday, so it helps to have a night owl in the group who can secure you seats when the link goes live.
Be advised that open mic really means open mic. If you are sensitive to explicit language and some harsh topics, than skip the poetry and just sample the vitals. I’m serious, the food was de-li-scious!!!
Don’t be afraid to take public trans.
I will admit, the D.C. bus and train fare system can be a might confusing. You’ll pay a different ticket price based on the destination. For the uninitiated, it can be little intimidating. However, I’ve always found the Metro personnel super helpful. I noticed that in most of the stations a Metro employee was just standing near the pay boxes waiting for questions from confused travelers.
The all-day pass was $15 if you want to dispense with the calculations and are reasonably sure you’ll get your money’s worth.
Do pace yourself.
If you love historical sites you should consider my husband’s advice, “Don’t try to do D.C. in a day”. Pace yourself. Stay hydrated. Those hills are everywhere and they sneak up on you. I often overdo it trying to see everything I can in one sitting. If you don’t get to everything, there’s always a reason to return next time.
Have you been to Washington D.C.? What would you recommend we do next time?