I’ve long recommend to visitors that driving in DC is a bad idea for the uninitiated and to instead take Metro.
Metro is relatively simple to figure out, comparatively inexpensive, hits a good chunk of the places visitors want to take in. What's more, it’s concrete, both figuratively and literally. Their is no doubt when you are in a station, the station is clearly named, and the whole thing is color coded. Sure, there’s a bit of confusion for visitors about which side of the platform to get on the train from, and the pricing is becoming increasingly complex; but the average tourist can get on, spend a minute or two looking at the map, and get where they’re going.
The problem: the Rail system doesn’t go everywhere. Georgetown, the Frederick Douglas House, the National Arboretum, Adams-Morgan, the National Cathedral, and, yes, the Lincoln Memorial, are but a few of the incredible things Washington has to offer that ill-served by the train. They all, of course, are accessible by Metro Bus, but most visitors shy away from it.
Entries in getting around (10)
I’ve long recommend to visitors that driving in DC is a bad idea for the uninitiated and to instead take Metro.
So, it looks like we're going to get a few visitors this weekend that will want to visit the Lincoln Memorial. They're about to find out what legions of previous visitors have found: it's pretty darn hard to get to.
Sure, if you want to disregard our advice and drive, feel free, but parking is limited at best. For every lucky person that finds a spot along Ohio Drive, there are a dozen frustrated out of state cars circling around. And just assume you're going to get a ticket. I live here, and barely understand the enforcement of parking regulations on the Mall.
The Park Service has some handy tips from their website: "It is highly recommended that you make use of the efficient public transit system (Metro rail and Metro bus) as well as Tourmobile, the official interpretive visitor transportation service for the National Mall and Memorial Parks."
Well, great. Except that the Tourmobile costs $27 and generally sucks. And don't get me started on their ridiculous government sponsored monopoly that the Park Service gave them that hinders the "efficient public transit system" that the Park Service speaks so highly of.
Walking along the National Mall, distances become quite deceptive. The compulsion to see "just one more museum" can lead you further and further astray. Before you know it, you're a good mile away from the Metro, which in normal times would be but a fifteen minute stroll.
But it's not normal times. It's hot. The kids are clamoring for ice cream and rides on the carousel. Your feet hurt. The damned stroller keeps getting stuck with the godforsaken gravel along the paths. You're not even sure you are going the right way. And your wife is looking at you as if this is all your fault. I've been there before, and as I can't permanently stand outside the Air and Space museum bailing all of you out, I do what I can to point you in the right direction.
But with a little planning some more professional help is available, for the transportation problem at least. Starting this Saturday, March 27th, the Circulator will be re-starting it's National Mall loop. Unfortunatly, it only runs on weekends, from 10 am till 6 pm, but it's better than nothing. For those of you not familiar with this service, the Circulator is a bus system run by the District Department of Transportation, not the regional system that runs the Metro buses (WMATA). It offers a few advantages over the Metro bus system, especially for our out of town visitors. Unlike Metro bus, you don't need a Masters in Systems Engineering to understand the routing, it's somewhat cheaper at an uncomplicated $1 per ride, and the buses stand out with a distinctive color scheme.
The Smithsonian-National Mall loop, which runs in a loop around the outside of the museums (i.e. along Constitution and Independence Avenues) can be picked up on various spots and swings (with short walks) near the Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, Archives-Navy Memorial, L'Enfant Plaza, and Federal Center SW Metro stops (see here for more info on taking the Metro to the Mall). It also has the advantage of getting near the World War II Memorial. Unfortunately, it doesn't continue to the Lincoln Memorial so your options to get all the way down there are to walk or pay $27 for the Tourmobile, which I'm not linking to because it sucks.
So take a few minutes before you come, and familiarize yourself with the route. No doubt, you've already listened to me and purchased SmartTrip cards for your family, but if not, have a crisp $1 bill for everyone. This bus is designed to run every ten minutes, so don't worry about a schedule, although you can showoff and save this link for your smart phone. It'll finally answer the perennial question from your kids: "when is the bus going to be here" (the mass transit version of "are we there yet" for you auto types).
Pull this all together and your kids will have a fun ride and your wife can go back to wondering if you remembered to mow the lawn before you left home. That I can't help you with.
Ok, we've talked about the Holocaust Memorial Museum in general terms, and we've gone into what we expect to see in the individual exhibits. Let's dig into those little logistical details that can make or break a visit anywhere, so we can dispense with this crap and spend our time focusing on what really matters.
First off, timing is important. No doubt, you're a faithful reader of DC Like a Local, and know to come to DC in the fall. However, perhaps due to circumstance out of your control, you happen to be visiting in the Spring. It's going to make a difference at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Tickets to the Permanent Exhibit are required from March to August, and if you plan to be here then, try and order them ahead of time. Otherwise, no advance planning is required, other than making sure you have enough time.
Now, if all the tickets are sold out, don't despair. Only a portion of them are given away ahead of time; the remainder are available at the door starting at 10 am. A line will form an hour or so earlier, and if it's a very busy day (Cherry Blossom Festival, Memorial Day, etc.), you may consider joining it. However, I find that tickets are still available to 11, if not noon on most days. After the initial rush, ticket distribution moves indoors to the Information Desk in the main lobby (Hall of Witness on the maps). Either way, ask for the earliest tickets available (as you should do if you get them online as well). The great thing about the timed tickets at the Holocaust is that they're good for any time after the time on the ticket, as long as it's the same day. So if you score 11 am tickets, you can use them at 2 pm. No point on getting 3:45 tickets, then is there.
Now, it's important to note again that your tickets are only for the Permanent Exhibit. The Holocaust Memorial Museum itself does not require tickets, nor do the temporary exhibits, Daniel's Story, museum shop, or the cafe.
To get there, I strongly recommend the Metro, as parking nearby is scarce to nonexistent. The Orange/Blue lines stop a block away at the Smithsonian station. Follow the signs for the Department of Agriculture/Independence Ave exit, and when you get out walk straight along Independence one block (towards the Washington Monument), cross 14th ST, and walk half a block to your left. The general visitors line forms from one of the two entrances on 14th ST (hint: just get in the shorter one).
Tragically, we've all had a reminder as to why we need to go through security to enter. I personally find the security officers at the Holocaust Memorial Museum to be the most professional in DC, both in their thoroughness of ensuring our security and in the courtesy they extend to visitors. Help them out by having all electronic equipment (cell phone, cameras,etc.) out as well as any metal object. I leave change in my pocket and never set off the detectors. Incidentally, video/audio recording is not allowed, and photography is not permitted in the exhibit spaces.
You may wish to bring your camera for the Museum itself though, especially the Hall of Witness. It's an incredible building, and try to catch the presentation the staff puts together in the lobby. Look for the cart with the mock up of the building. It's a great discussion of how the design and architecture complements and reinforces your experience at the Museum. Be warned though, the design of the Museum is intended to jar you from your normal reality and separate you from your experience of walking the streets of Washington. At times, you will feel herded, crowded, and dislocated. This is not accidental, so be ready for it, especially if you are traveling in a group or with kids. Plan on meeting up back in the lobby if you get separated, and give everyone a time to meet.
If you plan on visiting the Museum around breakfast or lunch you have a couple of options. The Museum Cafe is quite good, if a bit pricey. It is vegetarian, and has kosher meals, naturally. To get there, exit the building through the rear entrance, walk across the plaza to the red brick building to your right, and go in. You will have to go through security again, but normally just takes a second. To return to the museum proper, you're supposed to go back to the 14th St entrance, but often a security guard at the rear, group entrance will give you a break. If you're looking for another option, I recommend the Department of Agriculture cafeteria a couple of blocks down C St, across 14th.
And finally, let's touch on the most asked question of any tour to the Holocaust Memorial Museum: where are the bathrooms? Let me say this. I think James Ingo Freed is a genius. The way he uses architecture to heighten and enhance the telling of a profound story in many ways, both great and subtle, is incredible. No other museum in Washington is so sympathetic and compatible with its subject matter. But, for the love is all that is good, could the man just put a bathroom on the first floor? Would that have killed the art?
It's down the stairs to the left.
Today we complete our thrilling series of discussions about DC area airports with a discussion of the logistics of Thurgood Marshall International Airport (Baltimore-Washington).
The airport has recently been renamed for Thurgood Marshall, the first African American appointed as a justice to the US Supreme court. It is BWI on your luggage tag. This is really the airport for Baltimore, but you may end up using it because you get a cheaper fare. Do not be deceived by the use of "Washington" in its name. Interestingly, the website for the airport is not forthcoming about its actual distance from Washington--one can assume it is because the airport really does not really want you to know. So, DC Like a Local went to google maps and came up with rougly 35 miles. Logistically, it can be the most difficult of the airports from which to get to downtown DC—especially if you arrive on a weekend.
Metrobus #B30 runs from the airport to the Greenbelt Metro Station. Fare is $3.10. When you get to the Metro, hop on the Green Line and take Metro to DC. The only problem is that the B30 runs every 40 minutes. I did try and confirm the schedule with Metro, but had persistent trouble doing so, so I am relying on memory here. You can check the schedule online or use NextBus. If the bus just left, you can have a very long wait. There are two Metro bus stops at BWI, both on the lower level. Think of the airport as a giant "U"; they are at either end of the U.
If you arrive during the week, you can take the shuttle bus from BWI to the train station and hop on a MARC commuter train. These trains run frequently during the week, but not at all on the weekend. Fare is $6.00 one way to Union Station. Look for the shuttle busses to the BWI train station on the lower level.
On the weekends, if you do not take Metrobus #B30, your only choice will be Amtrak. You take the bus to the train station just as you would to pick up the MARC train. One way fare from BWI to Union Station in DC on Amtrak can vary. It will be more than double what MARC charges and service is relatively infrequent. Check the times of the trains with Amtrak when you make your airline reservations to be certain you do not head over to the train station and wait a very long time, for the money, it can't be beat. Metro fare to downtown (using the Farragut West Station as the point of arrival) is $2.35 in the non rush hour and $3.80 in the rush hour. If you want to calculate the fare yourself to your specific destination, go to Metro's fare finder. When you get to the site, just click on any station, by the way, and information will be there for the station including an option to calculate fares.
Whether you take MARC or Amtrak, you may take the train to either New Carrollton or Union Station. While Union Station is in DC proper and closer to downtown, it is only on the Red line. You may wish to get off to New Carrollton if your plans include the Orange line, and save yourself a transfer.
The other options are the Super Shuttle. Taxi fare to downtown DC is estimated at $90.00 (ouch!) The Taxi Fare Finder site gives an estimated fare of $67.50 including the tip (using the Penn Quarter in DC as the point of destination)--a veritable bargain!
If you are going to use Thurgood Marshall/BWI, make certain that the savings on your airline ticket is not eclipsed on what you will pay to get into DC. We at DC Like a Local have heard plenty of stories here. If you are arriving during the work week, however, you should have no problems if you take the MARC train. But on weekends, look out!
We know we sound like a broken record, but please note that all fares can change and taxi fares may depend on the traffic at the time of the day when you arrive.