Destination D.C. is the official tourism and convention corporation for Washington, D.C., 901 7th St. NW, 4th Floor, Washington, DC 20001-3719 (tel. 800/422-8644 or 202/789-7000; www.destinationdc.org). Before you leave home, order (or download from the website) a free copy of the bureau's Washington, D.C. Visitors Guide, which covers hotels, restaurants, sights, shops, and more and is updated twice yearly. At the tel. 202/789-7000 number, you can speak directly to a staff "visitor services specialist" and get answers to your specific questions about the city.
Besides using Destination D.C.'s website to obtain a copy of the visitors guide, you can read about the latest travel information, including upcoming exhibits at the museums and anticipated closings of tourist attractions. The website is also a source for maps, which you can download and print from the site or order for delivery by mail.
Once in D.C., you can stop by Destination D.C.'s offices on 7th Street NW (Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown, H St. exit), to pick up the visitors guide and maps, and to talk to visitors services specialists. Office hours are Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm.
If you're arriving by plane or train, you can think of your airport or the train station as visitor information centers; all three Washington-area airports and Union Station offer all sorts of visitor services.
Also look for business improvement district (BID) offices and their patrolling "ambassadors," who dispense information, directions, and other assistance in their individual neighborhoods. Among the most established are: the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District (Downtown D.C. BID), 1250 H St. NW (tel. 202/638-3232; www.downtowndc.org), the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District (Golden Triangle BID), 1120 Connecticut Ave. NW (tel. 202/463-3400; www.goldentriangledc.com); and the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District (Capitol Hill BID), 30 Massachusetts Ave. NE, inside Union Station's garage (tel. 202/842-3333; www.capitolhillbid.org).
National Park Service information kiosks are located inside or near the Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, Vietnam Veterans, Korean War, and World War II memorials and at the Washington Monument (tel. 202/426-6841 or 202/619-7222; www.nps.gov/state/dc for all national parklands in D.C. or www.nps.gov/nama for National Mall and Memorial Parks sites).
The White House Visitor Center, on the first floor of the Herbert Hoover Building, Department of Commerce, 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (btw. 14th and 15th sts.; tel. 202/208-1631, or 202/456-7041 for recorded information), is open daily (except for Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Day) from 7:30am to 4pm.
The Smithsonian Information Center, in "the Castle," 1000 Jefferson Dr. SW (tel. 202/633-1000, or TTY [text telephone] 633-5285; www.si.edu), is open every day but Christmas from 8:30am to 5:30pm; knowledgeable staff answer questions and dispense maps and brochures.
Take a look at the D.C. government's website, www.dc.gov, and that of the nonprofit organization Cultural Tourism D.C., www.culturaltourismdc.org, for more information about the city. The Cultural Tourism D.C. site, in particular, provides helpful and interesting background knowledge of D.C.'s historic and cultural landmarks, especially in neighborhoods, or in parts of neighborhoods, not usually visited by tourists.
Check out the websites and blogs of www.washingtonpost.com, www.washingtonian.com, www.dcist.com, and my new favorite, www.welovedc.com for the latest commentary and information about Washington happenings.
Also consider buying the Frommer's D.C. travel app, at www.frommers.com/go/mobile.