We visited DC the last week of September 2013, just before the shutdown. The time of year was perfect, no scores of tourists, weather was comfortable mid 60's to mid 70's. We stayed in Chinatown which is fairly central, we were between 2 metro stations, 1 line and 1 hub so we could get just about anywhere fast. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites which had breakfast included. Good area for restaurants. A good thing to get for the stay would be a Metro Smartrip card, order it online and have it when you go. We took the yellow line from Reagan straight to Chinatown 2 blocks from our hotel, $2 & 10 minutes, off peak. A cab ride will cost $30 + a charge per bag. If you fly into Dulles you will have a 45 minute to 1 hour bus ride on the 5A bus to the Metro at 2 locations downtown. Most all attractions can be reached by Metro and a short walk, you can spend a bunch of time trying to figure out the buses but you'll waste a bunch of time. The exception is the Lincoln Memorial, you can get off at the Smithsonian stop and walk to it visiting several memorials on the way and back. Everything else is a short walk from a Metro station. Plan to spend a minimum of 2 hours per museum. They are all great depending on your tastes. I did find the National Museum of American History to be just a big building full of kitchy stuff with very little history, you won’t miss much if you don’t have time.
If you want to go to the Air & Space museum by Dulles, Udvar-Hazy Center, you will need to go to Rosslyn or L'Enfant Metro stops and take the 5A bus to Dulles, there you catch a shuttle that goes between the 2. It takes 45 min to an hour 1 way on the bus. You need to see this place it is huge, and you will be feet from space shuttle Discovery, an SR-71, the Concorde, the Enola Gay, and tons more. Incredible. Expect to be there 2 to 3 hours at a minimum.
We stopped at Arlington on the way back from the Udvar-Hazy Center, 1 stop from Rosslyn. You can hike around or pay for the trolley & tour, we hiked. Beautiful and moving. If you didn’t know it the Iwo Jima memorial is outside of the cemetery, you’ll have to walk a little ways to a park next to Arlington.
Overall a great trip but there were some low points. Being a big city there are tons on homeless and literally crazy people around. We saw 1 homeless guy and his dog setting up camp for the night in 1 of the capitol buildings, they are public. Security everywhere, at the entrance to every building, don't take any bags or water, carry as little as possible. Our capitols upkeep is suffering, it’s not overly apparent but you can see it if you pay attention.Edited: 02 October 2013, 20:16