As truly outstanding as this site may be (and it is), it has come to my attention that perhaps more is needed to orient visitors to our nation's capital. While I go to great pains to be as informative as possible about getting your bearings, my recommendation inevitably come down to only my opinion, however expert it might be. A quote from my seafaring days comes to mind:
"The prudent mariner will not rely solely on any single aid to navigation."
That being said, where else to turn? Naturally, the web can be helpful and I plan to expand upon online resources in later posts, but I'm a traditionalist at heart and I tend to look for information in books. There are literally thousands of books available on the subject of Washington, DC and I'll discuss several of them over the next couple of months, specifically as to how they help one prepare for a visit to Washington. But I think a well put together guide book should be the jumping off point for a visit to DC.
A guide book should be, before anything else, suited to the user. My suggestion would be to stop reading this (or any other advise); go to a bookstore; spend an hour or so going through guide books; and only then solicit recommendations. In that vein, I do have a few books I like, and I'm happy to share my insights, but what really matters is that it works for you.
So, without further ado, let's throw out some books I use:
1. National Geographic Traveler: Washington D.C.: An excellent first visit to Washington book. It combines National Geographic's trademark photographic style with a well thought out neighborhood by neighborhood layout. It has, as you would expect, particularly good maps and breaks the city into easily digested chunks. If this is your first visit here, this book is the best way to get your feet wet.
2. Blue Guide Washington, D.C.: An tour guide industry standard. This is a comprehensive guide book to Washington, DC and is chock full of background information for just about any sight that might interest you in your visit. I would recommend this one for someone who is looking for a more detailed visit to Washington, perhaps as a return visit, and has a quest to know the story behind everything they come across. It's one of the few guide books I can just sit and read as if it was any other nonfiction work. Which can be helpful if you're resting your feet some afternoon in the Sculpture Garden or some other quiet spot.
3. Not for Tourists Guide to Washington DC: A highly detailed, very granular, comprehensive book covering the mechanics of living in DC. I tend to concur with the title, but it's good if you plan to be here a little while, even if you don't move here. It has a well thought out layout and a very logical information flow. I use it as my first reference for data, even before looking things up online. Little stuff, like where's the closet dry cleaners, or when will the local supermarket close, are what make this book valuable. Things you might not need for a two day trip but certainly will for a two week visit.
In addition to these books, I also like the City Walks (as well as its kids version) products. They are each a collection of 50 cards laying out interesting and fun walks in Washington, DC. If you plan to be out walking around for a while, it's a lot easier to slip one of these cards in your pocket than carry around a guide book. Hey, you don't want to look like a tourist now, do you?
Repeat visitors to this blog may notice a new feature in the sidebar. Having recommended various products over the last few months, I've consolidated them for your viewing (and buying) pleasure in a DC Like a Local Store. As I discuss books, movies, etc. I'll add them to the store to save people the trouble of searching through archives. If there's any item you'd like me to take a look at, feel free to pass it along.