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Visiting Washington DC? Any DC natives here?

iLander

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I'm dropping the camping idea and thinking about visiting Washington DC within the next couple of months.

DH and I have never been, and we're mostly interested in the Smithsonian.

We feel like we can navigate the metro, since we have done okay with the NYC subway.

Are there any hotels or areas that you would recommend? Which airport is easiest? What do cabs cost from airport into the "city"? We've driven through Washington and some areas seem pretty shady, what areas should we avoid? Are there outlying areas with walkable/evening areas that are near the metro into the tourist area?

Or do you think renting a car is better?

I'm looking to do this on a budget, and I've noticed that not all hotels are on expedia. Is there one you like and find inexpensive?

All tips for the noobs would be appreciated. :bigsmile:
 

PintoBean

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For work, I have stayed at the Hilton in Gaithersburg. The staff was SO NICE! I was told that DC tours often stay there, but it's like 45 minutes away from DC?
 

mary poppins

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Fly into Reagan National airport. It's just across the Potomac River from DC and much closer than Dulles airport.

If you are looking for less expensive hotel alternatives, you can stay in Arlington, Virginia (particularly, Rosslyn) which is one metro stop out of DC and walkable to Georgetown where there is no metro stop. Alternatively, you can stay in Bethesda, Maryland which is very close to DC and has a lot of hotels near a metro station. Note, however, that there is often track work in the metro system during the weekends so service can vary and be limited. Uber and and taxi cabs are common and very available throughout the area. The price difference of staying in a DC hotels vs. a nearby suburb depends on how much you anticipate having to pay for transportation to get around. You may also want to look into Air BnB for lodging options.

The Smithsonian is interesting, and there are a lot of other free museums. Popular ones include the Portrait Gallery, the Newseum and Air and Space museum.

See if you are interested in any upcoming events at The Kennedy Center.

Pedal boating at the Tidal Basin is a fun activity.

Summer in DC can be brutal in terms of heat and humidity, so if that's the time of year you are coming, be prepared for that.

Stay out of Southeast DC.
 

blingbunny10

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Not a DC native, but have been to DC a lot. I would definitely fly into DCA, not Dulles and definitely not BWI. A cab into the city will run you about $18-30 + tip depending on the day/time and location of your hotel. The cab ride from the airport is kind of nice because it's scenic and you ride along the river and past many of the monuments. There's a lot of development along 14th St NW with cool bars and restaurants, though this area can be "shady" at night depending on your personal comfort level. Columbia Heights, U Street Corridor, and Logan Circle are all areas along 14th St. to check out. Avoid Chinatown - there's nothing to see and there's a lot of crime/theft.

Don't rent a car! Driving in DC is a pain and all the roundabouts are confusing and congested. The Metro system is ok, but the trains don't run nearly as often as the NYC subway does. You could be waiting over 20 minutes for a train on the weekend. I would take a cab from the airport to hotel, and then just use UberX.

If you're going to DC sometime over the next few weeks, check out the Cherry Blossom Festival events or at least take a stroll among the trees.
 

mary poppins

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Another option, depending on where you live, is taking a train to DC's Union Station which connects to the metro system.

Depending on time, distance and cost factors, I often prefer traveling by train rather than plane. No need to arrive as early before departure, no or limited bag restrictions, no TSA and associated restrictions, bigger seats, more leg room, scenery as you pass through towns, no restrictions on when you can walk around or use the bathroom, power outlets at the seat and wifi so you can use gadgets, and a quiet car if you don't want to hear people around you yammer.
 

ihy138

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Not a native, but DH's brother lives there and we have gone quite a few times. Definitely fly into Reagan/DCA. If memory serves you can hop on the metro right from there, and a cab ride would be short into the city. Dulles is far and Baltimore is even farther. Of course it depends on where you stay. I also recommend staying in Arlington. My BIL/SIL lived there for a while and it is SO convenient, much cheaper, and has a lot of really fun restaurants/bars right there! I'm not sure spots to avoid, as my husband's family sort of guided us through that. I love, love, loved the Smithsonian museums and all of the monuments. Lots of great restaurants as well. Last time we were there we went to West Virginia, which is a pretty short drive away, and other times we have gone to Annapolis and Alexandria. It's a great place to visit! The cherry blossoms are divine. :love:
 

iLander

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Okay, this is very helpful, you guys! :appl:

Definitely flying into Reagan.

Totally staying in Arlington/Rosslyn.

Taking Metro around.

Thank you! :wavey: :wavey: :wavey:

Any other hints?

I understand the Smithsonian is free? Any other free museums? More crowded/less crowded times?

What about food?
 

iLander

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blingbunny10|1457716493|4003471 said:
Not a DC native, but have been to DC a lot. I would definitely fly into DCA, not Dulles and definitely not BWI. A cab into the city will run you about $18-30 + tip depending on the day/time and location of your hotel. The cab ride from the airport is kind of nice because it's scenic and you ride along the river and past many of the monuments. There's a lot of development along 14th St NW with cool bars and restaurants, though this area can be "shady" at night depending on your personal comfort level. Columbia Heights, U Street Corridor, and Logan Circle are all areas along 14th St. to check out. Avoid Chinatown - there's nothing to see and there's a lot of crime/theft.

Don't rent a car! Driving in DC is a pain and all the roundabouts are confusing and congested. The Metro system is ok, but the trains don't run nearly as often as the NYC subway does. You could be waiting over 20 minutes for a train on the weekend. I would take a cab from the airport to hotel, and then just use UberX.

If you're going to DC sometime over the next few weeks, check out the Cherry Blossom Festival events or at least take a stroll among the trees.
What's UberX? Is that like Uber?
 

PintoBean

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mary poppins

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iLander|1457734723|4003640 said:
blingbunny10|1457716493|4003471 said:
Not a DC native, but have been to DC a lot. I would definitely fly into DCA, not Dulles and definitely not BWI. A cab into the city will run you about $18-30 + tip depending on the day/time and location of your hotel. The cab ride from the airport is kind of nice because it's scenic and you ride along the river and past many of the monuments. There's a lot of development along 14th St NW with cool bars and restaurants, though this area can be "shady" at night depending on your personal comfort level. Columbia Heights, U Street Corridor, and Logan Circle are all areas along 14th St. to check out. Avoid Chinatown - there's nothing to see and there's a lot of crime/theft.

Don't rent a car! Driving in DC is a pain and all the roundabouts are confusing and congested. The Metro system is ok, but the trains don't run nearly as often as the NYC subway does. You could be waiting over 20 minutes for a train on the weekend. I would take a cab from the airport to hotel, and then just use UberX.

If you're going to DC sometime over the next few weeks, check out the Cherry Blossom Festival events or at least take a stroll among the trees.
What's UberX? Is that like Uber?
Lower cost Uber option. Instead of an Escalade showing up, you'll get something more like a Camry or Prius.
 

Logan Sapphire

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I work in Chinatown and would avoid it too. There's nothing uniquely DC about it, although if you like ramen, they have a terrific ramen restaurant there.

I'd definitely plan well if you intend to take the metro, especially on the weekends or non-peak hours. Like someone said, they often do track work on the weekends and service is slower anyway, so combine the 2 factors and you'll be waiting a long time, particularly if you have to transfer trains.
 

Mayk

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I've only been twice. On our first trip my favorites were the museums. We loved the Newseum. It was our favorite stop. http://www.newseum.org/.... We also did the Library of Congress and the Surpeme Court. One day we walked a million miles seeing all the war memorials, the White House, Washington Monument, MLK memorial and the Linclon Memorial. Wear comfortable shoes. I really wanted to do the mint but didn't make it there. This was my first trip we were total tourists.

Our second trip we made to pay respects and honor a fallen hero. Arlington Cemetary was so moving. I took this picture as we walked from the chapel to the final resting place. I highly recommend seeing it.

_2384.jpeg
 

MollyMalone

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Not a DC native, but I visit there frequently (and have been one of the "Destination Experts" on TripAdvisor's DC forum). Might you reconsider the idea of staying in Arlington/Rosslyn? Much more of a suburban corporate park feel -- instead of "hey, we're in DC!" -- to the Arlington/Rosslyn hotel properties & the room rates are not necessarily cheaper there. E.g., I checked a couple of random sets of dates in the next several months & there are rooms available in some perfectly fine, nicely situated DC hotels for less money than, e.g., the Holiday Inn and the Courtyard in Arlington.
I'm happy to make hotel suggestions & help you avoid dates during the college/university graduation "season" & when large conferences are scheduled (both of which will hike hotel rates) if you'd like to give some idea of possible time frames, how many nights you think you'd stay. Hotel rates in the DC area can fluctuate widely, even within the same week.

The DC Metro System offers a handy little Pocket Guide map that tells you what Metro rail stations are closest to what sightseeing attractions; you can print off the map from PDF on this page, but I'd call the toll-free number & ask them to send you their complete Visitors Kit because includes the pocket map and more:
http://www.wmata.com/getting_around/visitor_info/visitorkit.cfm
Metro rail service advisories here:
http://www.wmata.com/rider_tools/metro_service_status/rail_bus.cfm?#rail

A pleasant, transportation alternative: the Circulator buses are clean, comfortable, and the routes are very well suited to tourists (which was a primary intent):
http://www.dccirculator.com/ride/rider-tools/schedule/
Plus, a 3-day pass costs just $7; a 7-day pass is $11.

And BikeShare!
https://www.capitalbikeshare.com

Cultural Tourism DC does a nice job of compiling various kinds of activities, etc. -- especially good at synthesizing the terrific, and free, programs offered by the U.S. Park Rangers. But do check the calendar again before you leave home (or upon your arrival in DC); things often get added to the Events Calendar close-in-time:
https://www.culturaltourismdc.org/portal/home

Goldstar offers nicely discounted tix/vouchers (can be 50% off or more) for attractions, tours, shows, etc. in DC (like the Newseum) and major cities around the USA. Costs nothing to become a "member" & they won't bombard your In box with spam. Here's the home page for Goldstar DC:
https://www.goldstar.com/washington-dc
If you'll be in town when one of the special tours of Arlington Cemetery & the US Army Caisson horse stables is offered, it's well worth the $10:
https://www.goldstar.com/washington-dc/events/arlington-va/tour-of-arlington-cemetery-with-special-visit-to-fort-myer-stables

I love DC :))
 

caf

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Wow - all your information is terrific. Coincidentally, I am taking DD to DC next weekend to look at colleges. So this was very timely. I have been many times but DD has not. Great information.

Logan Sapphire - what is the great ramen place? Also is there a good dim sum place in DC? Thanks.
 

BeekeeperBetty

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I wouldn't stay in Arlington, personally, but a hotel in the Capitol Hill area near the Metro, or up the red line in NW. Id' have to look, because it's been a lot of years since we lived in DC (thankfully), so I can't recommend one specifically.

If you can handle the worst drivers in the nation and road rage, renting a car could be beneficial. Then you can go further afield and see Mount Vernon, and other historic sites. We used to pop up to Gettsyburg for the day when we lived there. The Naval Academy in Annapolis is a bit of a drive, but quite interesting as well, as is the entire town of Annapolis.

Don't forget the Holocaust museum. See if you can tour the White House. I've been, but even when we lived there it was hard to get in for a tour. And the Constitution may be on display, and of course check out the Supreme Court. And walk the entire Tidal Basin, if you can handle a long walk, and the Ford's Theater is quite interesting. We used to grab lunch at the Old Post office when we were downtown. They have a food court kind of like a mall. We were poor as church mice when we were living there, so I don't know about any fine dining.

The zoo is nice, and free, as well. It's a bit of a metro ride from downtown, though.
 

MollyMalone

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caf|1457758631|4003770 said:
Wow - all your information is terrific. Coincidentally, I am taking DD to DC next weekend to look at colleges. So this was very timely. I have been many times but DD has not. Great information.
Logan Sapphire - what is the great ramen place? Also is there a good dim sum place in DC? Thanks.
Oh, you're welcome! Based on the timing, I'm guessing you two are scoping out schools where she's been accepted? I have such fond memories of those trips with my son -- hope you have as much fun & good, parent-teen bonding time, as we did!

Several lesser known possibilities that are off many tourists' radar screens:
* The National Japanese-American Memorial to Patriotism in WW II, in a pocket park 2 blocks down Louisiana Ave. NW from Union Station:
https://goo.gl/maps/YdGoSrYUqL62
It's a tribute to the Japanese-Americans who served in the Armed Forces & a quietly powerful reminder of all those who were forced from their homes and sent to the internment camps:
https://asla.org/guide/site.aspx?id=35744

* A 10-minute walk from the J-A Memorial is the National Building Museum, housed in what was originally the Civil War Pension Building; the grand, inside courtyard -- always the scene for inaugural balls -- is almost the size of a football field. But the exhibition spaces (they always have one or more intriguing exhibitions) are not nearly so sprawling, so it doesn't induce "museum fatigue". Plus, it has a terrific gift shop with a wide variety of merchandise at all price points.
http://www.nbm.org

* The free, live performances, at 6:30 PM every day, at the Kennedy Center; the programming is very eclectic, so there very well may be something of interest while you're in town:
http://www.kennedy-center.org/video/upcoming

* Visting the L. Ron Hubbard House a/k/a the Original Founding Church of Scientology is quite an experience! But don't give them your real name and contact info.
http://www.scientology-washingtondc.org/inside-our-church.html

* Grabbing a bite to eat at the food court in the Old Post Office Building is, however, a thing of the past. Regardless of whether he occupies the White House come January, The Donald will have a visible presence in DC:

dc_oldpostoffice.jpg
 

AGBF

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BeekeeperBetty|1457758865|4003771 said:
If you can handle the worst drivers in the nation and road rage, renting a car could be beneficial. Then you can go further afield and see Mount Vernon, and other historic sites. We used to pop up to Gettsyburg for the day when we lived there. The Naval Academy in Annapolis is a bit of a drive, but quite interesting as well, as is the entire town of Annapolis.
BeekeeperBetty mentioned Annapolis and Mount Vernon. Someone else mentioned Alexandria and West Virginia. (I love Alexandria.) If you are going to be getting into a car for road trip of about an hour, I think I might go to Middleburg, Virginia. At least if you like atmosphere. If you are strictly in pursuit of historic buildings and monuments, of course you would prefer to stick with the Naval Academy and George Washington's home!

Although, like almost every other poster, I am not a native of the area, my husband's job moved from New York to Washington, DC in 2004 and he still works there now. So he has been there for 12 years and we have had a home in Virginia (metropolitan DC) since then. My daughter and I like to go to Middleburg for the ride, which features the white fences we see all the time on "The Georgetown Pike" which runs by our home and is designated "a historic byway" but which becomes clogged with traffic at rush hour because it is in the suburbs of the District but which also has far less traffic.

Middleburg is horse country. It is what our suburb used to be 20 years ago. It is peaceful, green, and beautiful, although only the wealthy can afford to buy homes out there now. Anyone can go out and walk around in the small town and have a sandwich in one of the restaurants and shop the small shops. It is charming and restful, as is he drive. If you do not know northern Virginia and are here in good weather, it is lovely place to visit.

AGBF

middleburg1.jpg

middleburg2.jpg
 

mary poppins

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To clarify, Rosslyn is not a suburban corporate park area as mischaracterized by a prior poster. It is a high-density, mixed-use (commercial business and residential buildings including many high rises) urban location in close proximity to DC with good transportation options. The suggestion was in response to iLander's inquiry about outlying areas with walkable/evening areas that are near the metro into the tourist area and was made so she would not end up far from the city or in an dangerous or sketchy location if she chooses to stay outside DC.

Bethesda and Rosslyn are often less expensive, nearby urban alternatives to staying in DC, depending on timing, a variety of locations in DC, and also type and amount of transportation anticipated to be used. Like any other city center, there are deals to be found in DC through a variety of resources.
 

4_cs

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Just came back from a trip to DC. We stayed in the Foggy Bottom area at Hotel Lombardy. Free WiFi,in room refrigerator and coffee and Whole Foods was 2 blocks away. A great restaurant close to our hotel was Founding Farmers. Time it right or get reservations.
Great location. 2 blocks to metro. We flew into Reagan. Took uber to our hotel. It was around $14.00 and only 15 minutes. I did not want to manage with luggage on the metro.
We walked to the White House in the evening. Another day we walked to the Lincoln Memorial.
One evening we walked to Baked and Wire in Georgetown. That was a bit of a distance but completely doable if you like to walk. Needed to walk after eating the baked goods.
We had business on Capitol Hill and took uber instead of the metro. If I was going to the Smithsonian Museums I would take the metro. Hope this helps.
 

vc10um

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iLander...I was a DC-Area resident for 5 years and I noticed some unclear information in the above posts, so I wanted to clairfy, as well as add some of my own opinions/information:

1) Not ALL museums in DC are free. The ones you have to pay for include the Newseum (GO SEE THIS, IT IS WORTH EVERY PENNY), the Spy Museum, and the Crime and Punishment Museum. Additionally, there are several private galleries in the district which also charge admission, my favorite of which is The Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle.

2) I really love some of the off-the-beaten-path Smithsonians, particularly the National Portrait Gallery (up near the Verizon Center) and the Renwick Gallery.

3) I wouldn't discount ALL of Southeast DC: the Southeast Waterfront is being well-built-up and the area around the Nationals Ballpark is just fine. Just don't go as far as Anacostia.

4) I'm still a member of the National Zoo (also part of the Smithsonian)...I'd have a car take you up Rock Creek Parkway to get there, skip the Metro. It's a lovely (hilly) zoo, and Bei Bei recently went on exhibit, so you might catch glimpses of him, his big sister Bao Bao, and parents Tai Shan and Mei Xiang.

5) I love the suggestion for the National Building Museum, it's a super interesting space!

6) The Holocaust Museum is incredibly well-done. I recommend that everyone see and experience it at least once.

7) If you're there after Memorial Day, head to the Sculpture Gardens outside the Museum of Art on Friday afternoon for Jazz in the Sculpture Garden...pack a picnic and bring a blanket!

8) 4_cs had a great mention of Founding Farmers and Baked and Wired for food. I'd also suggest Old Ebbitt Grill near the White House...very very "DC" and I've never been let down by the food or service. I love the Teaism restaurants, particularly the one by Navy Memorial (the salmon bento is amazing, with the moroccan mint iced tea) and they're more than reasonably priced. Take it to go and eat out at Navy Memorial if it's a nice day. (Also advise doing this with a Shake Shack burger and milkshake...)

9) Book a White House Tour through your Senator's office if possible. I think they require at least 6 weeks of lead time. Don't bring anything in with you, except I believe they now allow cameras and phones. Please double-check on that one, though...you should get a list from them!

10) Old Town Alexandria is a lovely little area to visit. You can Metro to King Street and take the Trolley to the waterfront, or just cab/Uber it from wherever you stay. I'd recommend a visit to the Torpedo Factory art center right on the water. And if you're into cocktails, I recommend making reservations at PX, a speakeasy located above Eamonn's in Old Town. The vibe is fantastic, the drinks are delicious, and if you go on Thursday night, tell the bartender (Jorge) that Victoria sent you.

And with that, I think I'm going to hush up and let you plan!
 

MollyMalone

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mary poppins|1457797296|4003912 said:
To clarify, Rosslyn is not a suburban corporate park area as mischaracterized by a prior poster. It is a high-density, mixed-use (commercial business and residential buildings including many high rises) urban location in close proximity to DC with good transportation options. * * *
My query
MollyMalone said:
Might you reconsider the idea of staying in Arlington/Rosslyn? Much more of a suburban corporate park feel -- instead of "hey, we're in DC!" -- to the Arlington/Rosslyn hotel properties & the room rates are not necessarily cheaper there. E.g., I checked a couple of random sets of dates in the next several months & there are rooms available in some perfectly fine, nicely situated DC hotels for less money than, e.g., the Holiday Inn and the Courtyard in Arlington.
referred to hotel properties, and not just in Rosslyn & was in response to ILander's Totally staying in Arlington/Rosslyn, which suggested to me that she wasn't confining her hotel hunt to Rosslyn alone. My encouragement to not rule out staying in DC proper is because I think it's always more fun-interesting (especially for first-times) to stay, if the budget permits, in one's destination town/city & preferably in non-chain hotels (e.g., The Lombardy in DC, 4_cs very recent choice) rather than cookie-cutter hotels that could be in AnyWhere, USA. But I should have taken the time to write that out instead of grabbing for imprecise "shorthand" that didn't convey what I was thinking, and so I thank you for calling me out.

A note on museum admission costs: it's entirely possible to happily spend days on end in DC without ever stepping foot into one of the museums that charge admission. But if you are a member of one of your local museums, you may have (depending on your category of local museum membership) reciprocal, free entry privileges at, e.g., The National Building Museum & the Phillips Collection. Here's the December 2015 roster of the ~800 museums, historical associations sites, etc. in the North American Reciprocal Museum Association -- the largest, but there are other, reciprocal associations, so check your local museum's membership materials/web site.
http://narmassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/2015_4thQNARM_4pages.pdf

ETA: admission to the oh-so-worthwhile U.S. Holocaust Museum is free, but March-August, you need timed entry tix; more info here:
https://www.ushmm.org/information/plan-a-visit#Admission%20and%20Ticketing
 

iLander

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Thank you, everyone!! :wavey: :wavey:

We ended up booking for the Reagan airport, in a hotel near there, in Arlington. It has a free airport shuttle and we're fairly close to the Metro. DH has some health issues, so we will use Uber or the new Washington taxi app that I read about in the Washington Post. We can't wander too far afield because of the health issues, we may need to retreat to the hotel for a quick rest at any time.

We are not foodies and are trying to find inexpensive food places. Are there food trucks in DC, like there are in NYC? The Arlington area seems to have a Crystal City area with Chick Fil A and that kind of thing, so we have some cheap options there.

We are huge art museum fans (DH has a MFA) and will be hitting a lot of "Stuff" museums like the Smithsonian. We're not into history (sorry about that . . . :oops: ) so probably not any monuments or historic sites.

MollyMalone: will be correlating the Cirulator buses to our intinerary, and will be checking the Kennedy center. Thank you!

You guys are all so awesome, we've learned so much from these invaluable tips. Thank you. :appl:
 

mary poppins

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iLander, did you get a hotel in Crystal City? While that may appear close on the map and a free airport shuttle may be appealing, it is not close for someone who may need to retreat to the hotel for a quick rest at any time, especially when you factor in wait times for metro (particularly during weekday off-peak times or weekends) or horrendous DC rush hour traffic for Uber. Rush hour in the DC area is 6-10 in the morning and again from 3-7 pm.

To accommodate the health issue, it would be best to stay in DC, and second best to stay somewhere closer than Crystal City.

There are food trucks in DC and some outlying areas, but it depends on location and time of day. Usually lunch-time in the business areas.
 

BeekeeperBetty

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I feel ridiculously sad that you can't eat at the Old Post Office anymore. When did this happen?
 

VRBeauty

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Even if you're not there for the history, consider a car tour of the monuments at the end of the national mall (I'm not sure, is that the tidal basin?). The Lincoln monument is gorgeous, especially at night.
 

AGBF

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I saw this beautiful picture in the paper today! (The District really does look like that in the area where the cherry trees are, when they are blooming.)

_36756.jpg
 

MollyMalone

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iLander|1458053244|4005609 said:
* * * We are not foodies and are trying to find inexpensive food places. Are there food trucks in DC, like there are in NYC? The Arlington area seems to have a Crystal City area with Chick Fil A and that kind of thing, so we have some cheap options there.
We are huge art museum fans (DH has a MFA) and will be hitting a lot of "Stuff" museums like the Smithsonian. We're not into history (sorry about that . . . :oops: ) so probably not any monuments or historic sites. * * *
Here's the food truck site, with tracker, that my son used when he was most recently in DC:
http://foodtruckfiesta.com

The National Portrait Gallery is far more wide-ranging and interesting than the name alone might suggest & it sounds as if you two would especially enjoy it. No charge for admission (it's one of the many Smithsonian Institution museums), and there is a pleasant, albeit not remarkable, cafe there.
https://npg.si.edu

But check out the menu at the cheap and cheerful Amorini Panini around the corner (F & 9th Streets, NW) to see if it appeals to you:
http://www.amorinipanini.com
There is a Shake Shack across the street from Amorini (and the backside of the National Portrait Gallery), next to the International Spy Musuem. Although I'm indifferent to Shake Shack, many people like 'em:
https://www.shakeshack.com/location/f-street-dc/

And in case you've not already seen it, here's the Smithsonian Institution's Events home page where you can see what all is happening (tours, programs, films, evening concerts, etc) at any and all of their sites during your time in town:
https://www.si.edu/Events
 
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