Washington, DC, Great Bed & Breakfasts

A weekend away without much planning or driving? Stay at one of these B&Bs and you’ll still feel far away.

By: Ann Cochran

Ann Cochran (traveltales@comcast.net) often writes about travel.

One of the joys of living in Washington is that when you need a weekend break, it’s easy to get away. In a few hours’ drive you can reach the beach or the mountains, Manhattan or Middleburg.

Or it can be even easier. Why not stay at a bed-and-breakfast in downtown DC and enjoy sights normally saved for your out-of-town guests?

Sure, there are good hotels. But these five small, personal accommodations will really make you feel you’re someplace else.

D.C. GuestHouse

Many B&Bs keep their kitchens behind closed doors, but one of the D.C. GuestHouse’s hosts (Tom, Ron, Mike, Randy) will likely usher you into theirs before showing you to your room. Sitting on a kitchen stool sipping Pinot Noir with the guys, I got the scoop on nearby antiques sources that don’t break the bank, like Reincarnations and Ruff & Ready.

The 10,000-square-foot home, one block from the convention center near Logan Circle, was built in 1867 but is not your grandmother’s B&B. You are more likely to find a 1950s desk in your room than a mahogany armoire. Standing in the foyer, I could see a 3,000-year-old stone carving from Africa, a Navajo rug, an Erté print, and a Tibetan altar.

My room—Sage Room—was a decorator’s dream: a bamboo chair with silk brocade seat cushion; a hand-painted, melon-and-turquoise, Chinese-themed mirror; architectural-patterned sheets; a 1930s three-legged lamp. A lot going on, and it worked.

In the morning, I lingered over a feta omelet and lively conversation with three fellow guests—a Swiss painter, a Philadelphia art restorer, and a Monterey Bay innkeeper.

D.C. GuestHouse, 1337 Tenth St., NW; 202-332-2502; dcguesthouse.com. Six rooms from $200.

Akwaaba

I once spent a night at literary-themed Akwaaba when I needed to make headway on a writing project. In my aptly named Inspiration Room, on the third floor of the 1890s mansion, sunlight and then moonlight shone through a skylight. Escaping my distractions, I worked with purpose and slept like a baby—my sleep aided by a soak in the clawfoot tub. (Turndown serv­ice thoughtfully includes candles, roses, chocolates, and a bubble-filled tub.)

Akwaaba is the third of five B&Bs created by former Essence magazine editor Monique Greenwood and her husband, Glenn Pogue. Her love of books led her to name four of the eight rooms for African-American writers: Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley. The cranberry-red Zora Neale Hurston Room features a salmon-colored chaise and a window seat. The Dupont Circle brownstone has many original architectural details, such as elaborate woodwork and ornate fireplaces.

Over a generous breakfast, I met a couple vacationing from West Virginia and two historians—from Alaska and Colorado—in town for a meeting. “I love walking around the neighborhood,” said the Alaskan, “and seeing the architecture.”

Akwaaba DC, 1708 16th St., NW; 866-466-3855; akwaaba.com. Eight rooms from $150.

Aaron Shipman House

A plate of warm cookies greeted me in the entry hall of the Aaron Shipman House, which has all the musts of an elegant B&B: stained glass, baby grand piano, hand-carved fireplace mantels, ornate chandeliers—and parking. Guest rooms are chock full of antiques and decorative objects.

The Victorian was built in 1887 off Logan Circle. Like many old downtown mansions, it fell on hard times until someone came along to save it. I’ll never look at a staircase the same way after hearing our hosts, Charles and Jackie Reed, describe what it took to remove brown paint from hundreds of curvy wooden spindles.

After a brunch-size breakfast in the dining room, guests from North Carolina, Manhattan, and Sierra Leone scattered outside to the latticed porch, manicured garden, and patio.

With the Studio Theatre around the corner, an overnight would be a great add-on to dinner and a show.

Aaron Shipman House, 1310 Q St., NW; 877- 893-3233; bedandbreakfastdc.com. Seven rooms from $100.

Swann House

With eight fireplaces and angel frescoes, Swann House is unabashedly romantic.

Our room in the 1883 Dupont Circle mansion came with a turret, where two overstuffed chairs and a round table fit perfectly for wine and conversation. Friday night, my husband and I walked a few blocks to Hank’s Oyster Bar and ate the best lobster rolls this side of Nantucket, where we spent our honeymoon. On Saturday, we revisited favorite museums.

In addition to over-the-top breakfast spread, a roof deck, and one of the grandest front porches in town, Swann House has a walled garden with a pool.

Swann House, 1808 New Hampshire Ave., NW; 202-265-4414; swannhouse.com. Nine rooms from $165.

Woodley Park Guest House

When a friend came to town for a conference at the Omni Shoreham, I recommended Woodley Park Guest House, near the hotel and less than 500 feet from the Woodley Park Metro.

The building was so completely renovated in 2001 it is hard to see its 1909 bones. The bright and airy rooms are decorated with restraint, and there’s an appealing mix of modern and antique. Paintings on the walls are from around the globe—Vancouver, Brazil, Cape Cod—all created or given by guests. Testimonials on the Web site are in many languages.

In good weather, guests load up hot cinnamon rolls and fruit salad at the buffet and, if there’s an available wicker chair on the front porch, bring breakfast outside.

Woodley Park Guest House, 2647 Woodley Rd., NW; 202-667-0218; wood­leyparkguesthouse.com. Eighteen rooms from $85.

More Hometown B&Bs

Bed and Breakfast Accommodations of Washington lists more than 40 private bed-and-breakfasts and other fine lodgings. Call 877-893-3233 or see bedandbreakfastdc.com.

Falling for DC

Fall is the perfect time to stay in a bed-and-breakfast in DC. For a look at fun things to do, go to Washingtonian.com and click on “fall events and exhibits.”