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Author Topic: Washington DC 2014!  (Read 4497 times)

Zeffy

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Washington DC 2014!
« on: May 16, 2014, 06:32:21 PM »

Recently, my family is starting to plan for a trip to the National Capital sometime in the summer months of 2014. I don't know the exact date, but my guess would be around mid July-early August. I've been to DC before, during a class field trip in 2011 or my Junior year in high school.

Right now, the only itinerary items we have so far are pretty much:
  • U.S. Holocaust Museum (which I've visited before on that class trip. Very powerful experience, definitely want to go back there)
  • Air and Space Museum, because I'm into that sort of thing, and my dad served in the Air Force as did my sister.
  • Explore the area near the White House, the Washington Monument, the WWII Monument, etc.

Right now, that's a pretty boring plan. So, while dicking around the DC area on Google Maps, I noticed the Pentagon does guided tours of the building. That actually sounds pretty exciting, and the Pentagon is one of my favorite construction projects in the US, and besides, it's a huge ass Pentagonal shaped building. Who doesn't like that?! Anyway, I was wondering if anyone has attended one of those tours before. It sounds like it could be pretty exciting. Is there a dress code? Normally I'm wearing t-shirts and basketball shorts because that's my style, but I feel like that may be...informal for that sort of thing. But if it's summer, I sweat without thinking in anything above 85 degrees, so I'm hoping that there isn't a dress code, because the website never mentioned one (it just said "wear comfortable clothes and shoes as you will be hiking up and down the floors in the Pentagon"). Oh, and is there a cost? I didn't see one on the website, but I didn't really submit the form because I'm not sure of a date yet...

Anyway, without getting too distracted on the Pentagon thing, I was wondering if anyone else had any suggestions on things to do in DC? The Air and Space Museum would be the only thing that would set this trip apart from my 2011 visit, and I'm sure not much has changed.

Also, I'm not sure how good my family is with navigating in DC, so a list of good routes that won't be clogged with traffic in the mid Summer time of year would be nice. Unfortunately my family will probably just cruise down I-95 the entire way, but once we get into the Maryland / Baltimore area this would start to come in handy. My family almost always prefer highways (which in their brains are anything that goes 65 MPH, so basically limited access freeways) to the arterials, but I might be able to convince them otherwise if you guys tell me that a route is horrible.

Oh yeah, and final thought - list of bad areas. Now, you know me - I've been to Trenton, a place where people seem to think going there will result in death, but I know DC is a lot bigger than Trenton. I don't know how where the bad neighborhoods are, but I'm pretty sure we would want to steer clear of them (I mean, as long as it's not night I don't really care...) if that's possible. I remember that the downtown area is full of people in the daylight, but I'm not sure when the place gets vacant and the thugs come out to play.

This trip will only last a single day and we can get up pretty early (okay, maybe 5:00 - 7:00 maximum) and if possible we would like to get out of the city before everything gets crazy. So any suggestions or comments would be appreciated!

Thanks guys!
Zeffy
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oscar

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2014, 07:17:33 PM »

Have you been to the Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles Airport?  Lots of cool stuff, including one of the last Concordes.  If you work that into your itinerary, you'll also get to see much of Metrorail's new Silver Line in the VA 267 median, which is finished but not yet in service out to Reston. 

As far as "areas to avoid", the main tourist areas are safe and increasingly "gentrified", so I would not worry.  The new I-695 direct connection from DC 295 to I-395 means a smoother and safer ride for tourist traffic from the northeast (to be really safe, don't take any exits off DC 295 between US 50 and I-695, and use I-695 to get to Capitol Hill and other tourist destinations).  US 50 between I-395 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway/DC 295 is not recommended for multiple reasons, including its speed cameras (alas, a hazard throughout D.C.), but it sounds like your wife would nix that in any case.

You'll be there in the early part of peak heat-and-humidity season, when many of us (myself included) will be getting the hell out of town.  That will help you on traffic, though the real traffic lull isn't until later in August.  Getting an early start and limiting outdoor activity in the afternoon would be a good idea.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2014, 07:28:00 PM by oscar »
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jeffandnicole

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2014, 07:53:28 PM »

If you only have one day in the summer, I'm going to be the bearer of bad news...you probably just want to stick to 95 on the way down, just to speed up your trip.  Weekdays will present the traffic congestion in the morning for you.  Weekends you'll avoid it.  Generally speaking, of course.

As Oscar said, any of the main tourist areas will be fine. 

To ease your way of getting around the city, use the Metro.  An option is to take it into the city from one of the more northern stops, which will allow you to avoid some of the congestion (ex: Greenbelt).  Last time I was there I had an all day pass and used it as my main source of transportation.

Never done the tour, but I can't imagine you'd be out of place with a t-shirt and shorts.  It is tourists doing these tours, after all!

Union Station is a huge train station...and a source of many eateries come lunch time.  If you're into train stations, check it out.

Arlington Cemetery is an easy Metro ride away as well.

Otherwise, check out the various Smithsonian Museums to see which other ones capture your interest.  To be honest, I've taken a chance on a random one or two on occasion, and never leave disappointed.

Leave whenever you want.  It doesn't get dark in the summer till nearly 9pm, and unlike Trenton, you'll be safe after work lets out.  Besides, the later you stay, the more you'll avoid the evening rush hour traffic!  On the way home, when time isn't of the essence, feel free to make a detour or two!
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oscar

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2014, 08:21:12 PM »

To ease your way of getting around the city, use the Metro.  An option is to take it into the city from one of the more northern stops, which will allow you to avoid some of the congestion (ex: Greenbelt).  Last time I was there I had an all day pass and used it as my main source of transportation.

Good suggestion.  Many of the outer stops have parking garages.  Some fill up early, but probably not too early for you.
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Zeffy

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2014, 09:58:35 PM »

Have you been to the Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles Airport?  Lots of cool stuff, including one of the last Concordes.  If you work that into your itinerary, you'll also get to see much of Metrorail's new Silver Line in the VA 267 median, which is finished but not yet in service out to Reston. 

I haven't been to any part of the A&S museum, which is why I'm excited to finally go there.

As far as "areas to avoid", the main tourist areas are safe and increasingly "gentrified", so I would not worry.  The new I-695 direct connection from DC 295 to I-395 means a smoother and safer ride for tourist traffic from the northeast (to be really safe, don't take any exits off DC 295 between US 50 and I-695, and use I-695 to get to Capitol Hill and other tourist destinations).  US 50 between I-395 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway/DC 295 is not recommended for multiple reasons, including its speed cameras (alas, a hazard throughout D.C.), but it sounds like your wife would nix that in any case.

Yes, when I went there during 2011 it was bustling, so I figured we'd be fine. Also, the only female on this trip will be my sister - no "wife" (I'm not dating nor have I ever so far).  ;-)

You'll be there in the early part of peak heat-and-humidity season, when many of us (myself included) will be getting the hell out of town.  That will help you on traffic, though the real traffic lull isn't until later in August.  Getting an early start and limiting outdoor activity in the afternoon would be a good idea.

DC gets pretty warm right? I'd imagine warmer than New Jersey does? As long as I have water I should be able to stay cool, it's just the walking I'm worried about, because my family thinks I might have asthma which would SUCK. I just think it's because I'm horribly out of shape, which I'm slowly trying to fix...

If you only have one day in the summer, I'm going to be the bearer of bad news...you probably just want to stick to 95 on the way down, just to speed up your trip.  Weekdays will present the traffic congestion in the morning for you.  Weekends you'll avoid it.  Generally speaking, of course.

As Oscar said, any of the main tourist areas will be fine. 

To ease your way of getting around the city, use the Metro.  An option is to take it into the city from one of the more northern stops, which will allow you to avoid some of the congestion (ex: Greenbelt).  Last time I was there I had an all day pass and used it as my main source of transportation.

I didn't think there would be a faster route than I-95 truth be told. Looking at a map it looks like the most direct. You're from Jersey, so you'd know the answer to this  :-P : Should I take US 206 to I-95 and just ride it down through Philly, Wilmington, Baltimore and then DC, or should I opt to stay in Jersey long and take I-295 or the Turnpike all the way down to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and bypass Philadelphia completely? Last time I went to Philly, traffic wasn't that heavy, but considering the possibility of going on a weekday I imagine the traffic could be much worse.

Otherwise, check out the various Smithsonian Museums to see which other ones capture your interest.  To be honest, I've taken a chance on a random one or two on occasion, and never leave disappointed.

Leave whenever you want.  It doesn't get dark in the summer till nearly 9pm, and unlike Trenton, you'll be safe after work lets out.  Besides, the later you stay, the more you'll avoid the evening rush hour traffic!  On the way home, when time isn't of the essence, feel free to make a detour or two!

Yeah, I'm poking around on Google Maps and the DC Tourism sites to see what's available. These museums look like nice places to visit, so hopefully we can get one of those in as well.

Also, great to hear that it won't be an issue for leaving later than 6 - this is of course a tier 1 priority whenever I visit Trenton, for obvious reasons. I heard DC wasn't exactly the nicest place to be (sad for our capital I guess), and I assumed that like many other cities, nighttime was dangerous. And yeah, I don't know when the sun sets because I usually ignore it on a day-to-day basis.  :biggrin:

Thanks for the suggestions and comments though, any more are always welcome.
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oscar

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2014, 11:48:42 PM »

DC gets pretty warm right? I'd imagine warmer than New Jersey does?

As we whine down here, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity!".  Reminds you that D.C. was originally a swamp.

FWIW, I found 120°F in the bottom of Death Valley, at about zero humidity, much more comfortable than 85°F in D.C. at about 100% humidity. 
« Last Edit: May 16, 2014, 11:52:26 PM by oscar »
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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2014, 08:02:59 AM »

As some of the local weathermen say, watch for the "three 'H's: Hazy, Hot, and Humid." Oscar mentions the humidity. The other thing that makes summer unpleasant at times is the air pollution. On the haziest days they call it "Code Orange" or "Code Red" air quality (I remember a "Code Purple" one time—that's the worst level) and they recommend you limit your time outdoors on those days. Just listen to the radio.

I highly recommend listening to the traffic reports as you approach the DC area. WTOP (103.5 FM) airs traffic every ten minutes "on the 8s" and WNEW (99.1 FM) does it every ten minutes "on the 1s" and every five minutes during rush hour. Both follow the traffic with the weather. WNEW's traffic reports seem to me to focus more on Maryland (and they often mention the Baltimore area) while WTOP's focus on the whole DC area (seldom Baltimore unless there's a big problem), so coming from or going to Jersey you might prefer WNEW. I prefer WTOP myself. 

In terms of tourism sights, the Washington Monument re-opened, but if you're interested in that I would recommend you instead investigate whether the Old Post Office tower is open (it may not be: Donald Trump has a lease to build a hotel there). If it's open, I think it's the better option. FAR less crowded and the view is  excellent with far bigger "windows" (really open sides") compared to the monument.

As a tourist you shouldn't be concerned about the bad parts of town because you're highly unlikely to wander into them. Just remember that some of the road improvements might not be in a sat-nav or on a map yet. If you're coming down DC-295, follow the signs to I-695 towards Capitol Hill rather than following a sat-nav.

Also, be wary of parking on the street at a meter because DC parking enforcement is extremely efficient. Writing tickets is about the only thing the city government seems to be efficient at doing. If you drive into the city, pay the money to park in an off-street garage. Be prepared possibly to have to leave your keys unless you park in one of the larger ones: Many of the garages do the "stack parking" where you block in another car.
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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2014, 05:54:11 PM »

If you don't mind sweating a little, and Metro is being problematic, the Capital Bikeshare system is a pretty good way to get around the DC core, though it requires a credit card.

In my experience, DC street parking isn't the gloom-and-doom that Hoo suggests.  That said, make sure you feed the meter (and double-check ALL the parking signs in the vicinity) if you park at one.  Many DC areas have meter enforcement until 10pm and/or on Saturdays.
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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2014, 09:33:38 PM »

....

In my experience, DC street parking isn't the gloom-and-doom that Hoo suggests.  That said, make sure you feed the meter (and double-check ALL the parking signs in the vicinity) if you park at one.  Many DC areas have meter enforcement until 10pm and/or on Saturdays.


I know where to find 12-hour meters for a minimal amount of money. Never gotten a ticket at them, and I pay by phone rather than with coins. But I wouldn't recommend them to a tourist because the neighborhood would seem very sketchy to someone unfamiliar with the area (Buzzard Point).
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"You know, you never have a guaranteed spot until you have a spot guaranteed."
—Olaf Kolzig, as quoted in the Washington Times on March 28, 2003,
commenting on the Capitals clinching a playoff spot.

"That sounded stupid, didn't it?"—Kolzig, to the same reporter a few seconds later.

Zeffy

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #9 on: May 17, 2014, 09:43:12 PM »

I know where to find 12-hour meters for a minimal amount of money. Never gotten a ticket at them, and I pay by phone rather than with coins. But I wouldn't recommend them to a tourist because the neighborhood would seem very sketchy to someone unfamiliar with the area (Buzzard Point).

Well, IS the neighborhood sketchy?  :-P

If you don't mind sweating a little, and Metro is being problematic, the Capital Bikeshare system is a pretty good way to get around the DC core, though it requires a credit card.

That would definitely depend on the weather, since I already sweat easily.
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1995hoo

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2014, 08:23:05 AM »

I know where to find 12-hour meters for a minimal amount of money. Never gotten a ticket at them, and I pay by phone rather than with coins. But I wouldn't recommend them to a tourist because the neighborhood would seem very sketchy to someone unfamiliar with the area (Buzzard Point).

Well, IS the neighborhood sketchy?  :-P

It depends on how many people are around at any given time. It's a creepy industrial area and, depending on what route you're using, you walk through a bit of a ghetto going in and out. I wouldn't park there unless there were an event going on at Nationals Park. Safety in numbers and all that. This past Friday night walking back to our car Ms1995hoo was a bit nervous because we walked through the bad residential neighborhood nearby and (post edited here) let's just say we had an uncomfortable encounter with a local resident.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2014, 08:29:51 AM by 1995hoo »
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"You know, you never have a guaranteed spot until you have a spot guaranteed."
—Olaf Kolzig, as quoted in the Washington Times on March 28, 2003,
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"That sounded stupid, didn't it?"—Kolzig, to the same reporter a few seconds later.

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2014, 06:51:06 PM »

To ease your way of getting around the city, use the Metro.  An option is to take it into the city from one of the more northern stops, which will allow you to avoid some of the congestion (ex: Greenbelt).  Last time I was there I had an all day pass and used it as my main source of transportation.

Good suggestion.  Many of the outer stops have parking garages.  Some fill up early, but probably not too early for you.

IIRC all of the county-owned garages in Montgomery County are free on weekends. I'd highly recommend parking for free in, say, Silver Spring and using the Metro.

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2014, 08:42:21 PM »

To ease your way of getting around the city, use the Metro.  An option is to take it into the city from one of the more northern stops, which will allow you to avoid some of the congestion (ex: Greenbelt).  Last time I was there I had an all day pass and used it as my main source of transportation.

Good suggestion.  Many of the outer stops have parking garages.  Some fill up early, but probably not too early for you.

IIRC all of the county-owned garages in Montgomery County are free on weekends. I'd highly recommend parking for free in, say, Silver Spring and using the Metro.

I'd suggest checking WMATA.com first to see what construction is underway. Often they single-track and it can cause big delays.
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"You know, you never have a guaranteed spot until you have a spot guaranteed."
—Olaf Kolzig, as quoted in the Washington Times on March 28, 2003,
commenting on the Capitals clinching a playoff spot.

"That sounded stupid, didn't it?"—Kolzig, to the same reporter a few seconds later.

Zeffy

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Re: Washington DC 2014!
« Reply #13 on: May 19, 2014, 03:49:07 PM »

It depends on how many people are around at any given time. It's a creepy industrial area and, depending on what route you're using, you walk through a bit of a ghetto going in and out. I wouldn't park there unless there were an event going on at Nationals Park. Safety in numbers and all that. This past Friday night walking back to our car Ms1995hoo was a bit nervous because we walked through the bad residential neighborhood nearby and (post edited here) let's just say we had an uncomfortable encounter with a local resident.

Hmm, looking at GMSV it doesn't look too creepy. Still, I'd rather not walk through an area with any bit of sketchyness at night. My friend had to deliver a pizza in Manville NJ, which is literally like 5 minutes away by car, and he almost got robbed. Manville isn't even that bad of an area, let alone one where that would happen. Luckily instinct told him to GTFO as fast as he could. I'm fine with sketchy neighborhoods during the day (don't mind people - ignore them, and they'll ignore you, unless they really want to mess with you, in which case, RUN), but come nighttime, I'm not that dumb without some sort of protection of my own.
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