First of all, abandon your White House ambitions; you’ll stand for hours on line to see a few chintzy rooms and never catch a glimpse of George W. Instead, try the Capitol: Its nifty metro is actually open to the public, its 535 elected officials roam the halls unaccompanied and available for pestering (Hey Strom … wait up!), and a phenomenal Calder sculpture beckons in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. Call Old Town Trolley for tours, or just wander into your local congressman’s office for gallery passes. On the north side of the Mall, the uninitiated rush to the Air and Space Museum but miss the Natural History Museum’s Insect Zoo; further west, they see the Vietnam Memorial but miss the spectacular, twenty-foot-tall Albert Einstein memorial statue just across the way. The guidebooks obsess over the Willard, the Mayflower, and the Watergate, but visitors who know better stay at the Tabard Inn, a charming snuggery at the south end of Dupont Circle where nonpolitical Washingtonians meet for drinks and dinner. The bedrooms all differ, but share a tattered country sensibility – claw-foot tubs, scuffed-up armoires. The rates can’t be beat – so you can keep your savings in a lockbox.
Details Old Town Trolley Tours, 202-832-9800; Tabard Inn, 202-785-1277 (rooms start at $105); National Museum of Natural History, 202-357-2700.