Some time ago, during the crazy spring tourist season, a reader asked me to discuss options for making it to Mt. Vernon, George Washington's home on the Potomac, a short 16 miles from his namesake city.
Mt. Vernon may be the most popular excursion for DC visitors, and it's certainly worth the trip if you have time in DC. Besides the obvious attraction of being GW's home and final resting place, Mt. Vernon is also a faithfully recreated 19th Century Plantation, with both the "big house" section and replicas of the working farm areas open for visiting. The Ladies of Mt. Vernon, the non-profit group that owns the site, has done an excellent job of recreating it's appearance to General Washington's final year, 1799. While traditionally they may have strayed towards a bit of hero worship, the site does an excellent job of bringing the real, and perhaps more fascinating, historical figure of GW into focus.
But that's all fine, but how do you get there? If you have access to a car, then great, just head over the 14th ST Bridge and head south on the aptly named George Washington Parkway. But what are your options sans auto?
Let's lay out a few:
1. By boat: This is one of the more inventive options. Spirit Cruise offers a daily excursion that leaves at 8:30 every morning and returns at 3. It runs $45.43 (I'd love to know why it ends at 43 cents!) and includes tickets to Mt. Vernon. The boat leaves from Southwest DC, a few blocks from the Waterfront Metro stop on the Green Line. Check their calendar, but the boat runs most days except Mondays during the busy season. The Potomac Riverboat Company offers similar trips from Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor if you are not leaving from DC.
2. Tour bus from DC: Grey Line bus tours leave from Union Station and cost $55. They are daily, and leave at 8 am and last six hours. Tourmobile has one leaving from Arlington National Cemetery from June 15th until Labor Day. It costs $35 and leaves at 11 am. These have the advantage of being direct shots, and you see a bit of Old Town Alexandria on the way, worthy of a post of its own.
3. Mass Transit: While Mt. Vernon is very much on the outskirts of the Washington area, it is possible to take a Metro/bus combination here. Take the Yellow line to its terminus at the Huntington Station. From there, a Fairfax Connector bus leaves every 20 minutes. It sounds daunting, but quite simple in practice. I would use Metro's trip planner to help you out(it includes the Fairfax Connector), at least until Metro lurches forward and gets fully onboard with Google Transit. A word of caution, Metro's trip planner keeps wanting to direct you to Mt. Vernon Square, which is not near Mt. Vernon. Make sure you don't fall for it. Best of all, this option, depending on where you are leaving from, should run under 5 bucks per person. Be sure to have $1.35 per person in exact change for the Connector if you don't have a SmartTrip Card.
So what to take? It depends on how much time and what your plans are, of course, but I'd say the Metro/Bus option has the most flexibility and the best value. It will take longer to get there, but you won't have an artificial time line to meet, either. It doesn't come with the guided tour of the other options, but use the money you save to buy a good guidebook and read it on the bus. Heck, on Grey Line, the "tour" is prerecorded anyway.
That being said, seeing Washington, Alexandria, and Mt. Vernon from the water is fun too, and probably how crazy George would have done it. Taking the return boat is a great break in mid-afternoon, and they're usually fairly good about fishing kids that fall in out, as well.