Visitors to Washington, D.C. face multiple choices -- what to see, how to find good value at mealtime, where to catch the First Family walking Bo, and so on. Deciding the best way to get from Point A to Point B is also a top consideration. Variables may include distance, the weather, cost, and physical limitations. I encourage travelers to think outside the box: The memory of a boat ride on the Potomac, perhaps from Georgetown to Old Town Alexandria, will linger far longer than any store-bought souvenirs.
Metrorail, the D.C. metro area's subway system, is the most efficient way to get around the capital city. Trains run from pre-dawn to midnight or later. Be aware that peak hours (weekdays 5-9:30am and 3-7pm) mean higher fares. When escalators break down -- and they do -- ask the station clerk to direct you to an elevator. Pick up a Pocket Guide in any station, and tuck it in your bag or use it as a bookmark. Save time and purchase a fare card online before you leave home. Call 202/637-7000 with your questions, or go to www.wmata.com.
Metrobus (and the buses listed below) are swell if you're not in a hurry and you prefer natural light to underground grayness. Because of D.C. gridlock, I suggest restricting bus rides to weekends and weekdays between 9:30am and 4pm and 7-10pm. Exact fares are required: $1.35 or $1.25 with a SmarTrip card. Access routing and fare information online. It's easy as 1-2-3. Key in your departure point, your destination, and the time you want to go or arrive. Call 202/637-7000; www.wmata.com.
The D.C. Circulator buses run about every 10 minutes and circulate daily between (1) Union Station and Georgetown and (2) Woodley Park-Adams Morgan Metro station and McPherson Square Metro. Buses loop around the National Mall weekends only. The fare is $1 (exact change) or a tap from your SmarTrip card. For pick-up locations, hours and the fine print, phone 202/962-1423; www.dccirculator.com.
Georgetown Metro Connection, a privately run shuttle service, transports visitors from the Dupont Circle and Rosslyn, Virginia, Metro stations, making various stops in Georgetown, a top destination for shoppers, diners and partyin' people. Fare is $1 cash or 50¢ with a SmarTrip card. Ask the driver for the stop nearest your destination. Daily hours of operation are 7am to midnight Mon-Thurs; 7am-2am Fri; 8am to 2am Sat; 8am-midnight Sun. 202/625-RIDE; www.georgetowndc.com.
Tourmobile lets riders to have it their way, once they've paid the fare, that is ($27 adults, $13 kids 3-11, free 2 and under). Ride all day between 9:30am and 4:30pm, getting on and off the blue and white trams as many times as you wish at or near 20 of D.C.'s top sightseeing attractions. The American Heritage Tour includes stops in Arlington National Cemetery. Tourmobile is a wise choice with young children, the elderly and the disabled. 202/554-5100; www.tourmobile.com.
Old Town Trolley Tours, a longtime competitor of Tourmobile, stops near, but not on, the National Mall. The tradeoff: the trams travel farther from downtown, making stops at the National Zoo and National Cathedral. As the saying goes, you pay your money and you make your choices. Fares are $35 adults, $18 kids 4-12, free 3 and under. 800/868-7482; www.trolleytours.com.
Cabs must contend with D.C.'s notorious traffic. My feeling is, why pay good money to remain at a standstill or creep at 5 m.p.h.? In most cases, you could walk faster. After eons with an illogical zone-based fare system, D.C. taxis went mainstream in 2008 with meters (what a concept!). The minimum fare is $3 for 1/6 of a mile. Be forewarned, there are lots of add-ons -- for waiting, making extra stops, having luggage in excess of one bag, snow emergency and so on. If you want a pickup, call a private company (Capitol, Diamond or Yellow cab). Otherwise, do like the natives and just hail a taxi on the street. For a breakdown of rates, visit www.dctaxi.dc.gov.
Biking in a group is a singular experience March to November when Bike the Sites offers professionally guided 3-hour tours of downtown landmarks. Try this on a weekend when the traffic (theoretically, at least) is lighter. (tel. 202/842 BIKE; www.bikethesites.com). For info on biking the Capital Crescent Trail between Georgetown and Bethesda, Maryland, visit www.cctrail.org. The Mount Vernon Trail parallels the GW Memorial Parkway in Virginia. Those in shape may pedal from president to president -- from Theodore Roosevelt Island to G.W.'s Mount Vernon. (tel. 703/289-2500; www.nps.gov/gwmp/mtvernontrail.htm).
Cruises afford visitors a chance to ogle D.C.'s pretty face from the water. The Matthew Hayes water taxi runs April to November, with departures from Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria, VA. (tel. 703/548-9000; www.potomacriverboatco.com). On more elaborate cruises, participants sip cocktails and dine on brunch, lunch or dinner. Some feature live music, dancing and/or a show. You might try the Spirit of Washington or Spirit of Mount Vernon (with admission to Mount Vernon included) (tel. 866/302-2469; www.spiritcruises.com).
Driving is the least effective way to navigate the capital city. Drive to D.C. if you must, then garage your car until you leave. Why? The District ties with LA for worst traffic in the U.S. And the one-way streets, closings and traffic circles have pushed many a driver to the brink. Trust me on this. I've lived in the area for 45 years. Because I value my sanity, I take Metro and/or walk.
Beth Rubin is the author of Frommer's Washington, D.C. With Kids. Weather permitting, she puts on sensible (read, ugly) shoes and hoofs it through D.C.