When Forbes ranked DC the coolest city in America earlier this year, it drew plenty of internet ire. But maybe the magazine wasn’t so far off, after all: Travel publishing company Lonely Planet has named the District the top spot to visit in 2015. It’s not just Washington’s first time at the top of the list; this is the only time it’s ever been included, Washington Business Journal reports. It’s also the only US city in the top ten, which includes Vienna, Toronto, and Milan (see below for the full top ten).
Lonely Planet praises Washington’s “vibrant gay scene and incredible ethnic eats,” and its museum scene, citing Ford’s Theatre’s upcoming exhibit to mark the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination. Other highlights: the “life-changing” experience of visiting the Holocaust Museum, the cuisine at José Andrés’s Jaleo, the Georgetown shopping scene, and the historic charm of the Willard InterContinental.
Quite a distinction for our nation’s capital. Better start mentally preparing yourself for the influx of tourists—there's a reason Washington residents are more stressed out than the rest of the country.
Lonely Planet's Top 10 Destinations for 2015
1) Washington, DC
2) El Chaltén, Argentina
3) Milan, Italy
4) Zermatt, Switzerland
5) Valletta, Malta
6) Plovdiv, Bulgaria
7) Salisbury, UK
8) Vienna, Austria
9) Chennai, India
10) Toronto, Canada
With three airports in and around Washington, it’s always been fairly easy to get where you want to go—often without having to change planes. But it’s getting even better.
That’s partly due to the US Airways/American Airlines merger. The federal government required both airlines to give up some slots, making them available to other carriers and paving the way for new nonstops at Reagan National. The federal requirement didn’t open up slots at Dulles and BWI—where there are no caps—but both airports have their share of new nonstops as well.
“Travelers have more choices when booking out of our area airports,” says Robert Yingling, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees Dulles and Reagan National. “Increasing choices to nonstop destinations is a sign the market is healthy.”
Southwest, for example, has added new nonstops in the past year to Aruba, Montego Bay, Nassau, Cancún, and Oakland, all out of BWI. Meanwhile, at Reagan National, JetBlue is now flying nonstop to Nassau plus three Florida cities—Jacksonville, Fort Myers, and West Palm Beach. At Dulles, Frontier Airlines is making a push into Florida, with nonstops to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando, and Tampa to go along with new nonstops to Memphis and Las Vegas.
While most of the new nonstops go to places that already had at least one other one from this area, many are new nonstops to that destination from that airport or airline. Better yet, the competition presented by these flights could mean lower fares.
We chose a half dozen of the new nonstops for their getaway appeal. Skiing in Wyoming? Beachcombing in Punta Cana? And we threw in some tips from locals.
Flying From Dulles
New nonstop on: United Airlines.
Flight time: About 4½ hours westbound, 4 hours eastbound.
Lowest round-trip fare we found: $528.
Downhill devotees flock to this Wyoming winter paradise—last season, it got 500 inches of snow. There are ski trails for every skill, fine hotels and dining, and a lively après-ski scene. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has new runs, and fans of DC’s Bourbon Steak will be happy to know that owner/chef Michael Mina has opened the Handle Bar at the Jackson Hole Four Seasons. United’s new nonstop runs daily December 20 through January 3, then weekly on Saturdays through March 21.
New nonstop on: Frontier Airlines.
Flight time: About 2 hours.
Lowest round-trip fare we found: $105.
This Florida town is one of the earliest Spanish settlements in the United States and a very walkable city with some good restaurants. Nearby Anastasia State Park is a 1,600-plus-acre peninsula notable for white-sand beaches, water sports, RV and tent camping, and bird-watching. St. Augustine is also home to historic Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fortress in the mainland US, now managed by the National Park Service.
Flying From BWI
New nonstop on: Southwest, beginning in November.
Flight time: About 4 hours.
Lowest round-trip fare we found: $424
Reality-TV stars travel to some of the world’s most beautiful spots—among them, beachy Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. In a notorious two-parter of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, the Gorgas, Giudices, Manzos, and Lauritas checked into the massive Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (causing a 300-percent jump in the hotel’s web traffic). Name-calling and brawls aside, most people go to Punta Cana for winter warmth (the average temp in January and February is 82) and to relax, swim, or get out on the links—there are about a dozen well-regarded golf courses attached to resorts on the Caribbean and Atlantic sides. For the non-golfer, there’s a day trip by speedboat or catamaran to Sanoa Island, part of the National Park of the East and, according to USA Today, known for its “unspoiled hotel-free beaches lined with palms.” For history buffs, there’s the home of Ponce de León in nearby San Rafael de Yuma. Dating to the early 1500s, it was where he planned his expeditions. For thrill-seekers, there’s cave rappelling and ziplining.
New nonstop on: Alaska Airlines.
Flight time: About 5½ hours.
Lowest round-trip fare we found: $344.
What started as a timber town is now one of the nation’s fastest-growing and most culturally modern cities. Sure, the rainy weather is legendary, but there’s a lot to do indoors and out. Visit the original Starbucks at the historic and vast Pike Place Market, which claims to be one of the nation’s oldest farmers markets. Go old-school and ride to the top of the Space Needle (at 605 feet, it’s taller than the Washington Monument). Get out on the water by taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island, grabbing breakfast or lunch at Streamliner, then wandering the Bloedel Reserve, a 150-acre garden and arboretum with a mission to provide a “tranquil” experience. If you’re a football fan, catch a Seahawks game at the loudest stadium in the NFL, CenturyLink Field. Film buff? At your hotel, grab a copy of the “Reel Life in Seattle” brochure, which pinpoints locations used in Sleepless in Seattle and other movies. Alaska Airlines also runs a twice-daily nonstop to Seattle out of Reagan National.
From Reagan National
New nonstop on: JetBlue.
Flight time: About 2 hours.
Lowest round-trip fare we found: $98.
The climate in Charleston, South Carolina, is comparable to Bermuda’s, meaning fall and winter temperatures are pleasant, sometimes warm. Just outside town there are historic plantations to visit, such as Middleton Place, which was settled in the 17th century. In town, the charming streets are lined with architectural eye candy. Though it may surprise you, Charleston also has a nightlife scene. Whitney Sudler-Smith, producer and cast member of the Charleston-shot Bravo show Southern Charm, says that the Cocktail Club is a favorite. He also recommends the Ordinary, an “oyster hall” created by James Beard Award winner Mike Lata, and the Rarebit, where some go for the classic grilled cheese sandwich, others for the Moscow Mule. Says Sudler-Smith: “The whole area of Upper King is the new nightlife district.”
New nonstop on: Southwest.
Flight time: 2½ hours.
Lowest round-trip fare we found: $288.
Though this city is famous for Mardi Gras, there’s plenty of good jazz, fine food, and interesting art to see between now and Fat Tuesday. The city’s third International Contemporary Art Biennial runs October 25 through January 25 in spaces throughout town, including the exhibit “Basquiat and the Bayou” at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The Simpsons cast member and NoLa habitué Harry Shearer recommends the galleries along the St. Claude corridor and the Arthur Roger Gallery on Julia Street. He’s also a fan of Domenica, a “brilliant” Italian restaurant at the Roosevelt Hotel. Make time to stroll the Riverwalk along the Mississippi and visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, adjacent to the French Quarter.
This article appears in the October 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Little Washington, Virginia, has been a hot draw for travelers both local and far-flung for decades, thanks to the acclaimed Inn at Little Washington, which boasts luxurious rooms upstairs and in several nearby restored buildings, and whose restaurant—number one on our 100 Very Best list this year—serves dinner every evening. Due to the cost and the limited availability, not everyone can stay at the inn—but the town offers several options for lodging, including the newest: the just-opened White Moose Inn. If the Inn is Little Washington’s venerable grand dame, the nearby “Moose,” as it’s called, is the contemporary—dare we say “hipster”—alternative.
The Moose offers a relaxed vibe from the moment guests enter through the bright-yellow front door to be greeted by manager Christina Luke, who offers wine, whiskey, and even M&Ms. The front room, with its white-painted wood floors and white beamed ceiling, is adorned in shades of beige and gray with boldly patterned seating or the choice of a furry or leather ottoman. Over the fireplace is a custom-made white moose head, illuminated from within. Nearby is a self-service bar with water, sodas, and a Keurig coffee maker. On a sunny day, light streams in through the windows.
The dining area, adjacent to the front room, hosts complimentary breakfast each morning, sourced from the Red Truck Bakery in nearby Warrenton. The round breakfast table is also used for occasional guest-chef dinners—this past weekend, Seasonal Pantry’s Dan O’Brien was behind the meal—and the fee for dinner also includes a room for the night. The Moose serves no other meals, but there are other restaurants nearby, including the Inn at Little Washington just a short walk up Main Street.
I was there as a guest of owner Jim Abdo, the Washington developer who bought and converted the old Heritage House. I stayed in room three, also known as the Suite, which features a king-size bed with plush white linens and four big windows that look toward the mountains; a bedside device quietly lowers the shades at the touch of a button. For a quiet night in, there’s a TV offering the full range of Comcast channels and free Netflix; there’s also free wi-fi.
The bathroom features rustic tile flooring, piles of white towels, and bath amenities from L’Occitane. Manager Christina likes to point out that embedded in the shower head is a device that enables a guest to use Bluetooth to access the music on a smartphone. Still, don’t expect to make a lot of cell-phone calls; the cell signal in Rappahannock County is limited at best. The room includes a landline phone.
Adjacent to the main building, which has five rooms, is a converted ice house known as the Cottage, a romantic one-bedroom with a bay window that looks out on Main Street. We checked room rates online, and for a random Friday in May prices range from $675 for the Cottage to $375 for the Mountain or Piedmont superior rooms. Every room has its own bathroom. The Cottage also has a fireplace and a flagstone terrace.
It’s worth noting that the Inn at Little Washington recently expanded its existing inventory of 18 rooms, adding six in the newly renovated Parsonage, which is across the street from the inn itself.
With W Hotel’s Valentine’s Day Package, couples can enjoy two complimentary drinks at the POV Roof Terrace. Photograph courtesy of W Hotel.
Date Night in DC at Savory Suites Hotel
Guests receive a box of gourmet truffles from Artfully Chocolate, a $20 gift card to the Arlington shop, a bottle of bubbly, complimentary garage parking, and wi-fi access. Available through December 31. Rates from $164 on Valentine’s Day.
The Valentine’s Suite Deal Package at St. Gregory Hotel
Sweet Spark Romance Package at W Hotel
Couples receive a colorful box of Dominique Ansel “mini-me” meringues, a bottle of Champagne, an in-room movie, and late checkout. Flavors of the “mini-me” collection, created exclusively for W Hotel, include Vietnamese hot cinnamon and cherry; white truffle, white rose, and lychee; and pink Champagne. Available February 9 to 20. Rates from $299 on Valentine’s Day.
For most Washingtonians, the biggest worry about driving to the beach is Bay Bridge traffic. But Terri Robinson has gotten to know a different type of beachgoer—one who is paralyzed with fear by the sight of the bridge’s sweeping twin spans.
A driver for Kent Island Express, Robinson has shuttled thousands of drivers over the four-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which whisks cars 186 feet into the air as they cross the Chesapeake to get to and from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The bridge was named one of the ten scariest in the world by Travel & Leisure magazine.
Each year as the temperature rises, so does the cost of fuel. This summer is no exception, with gas often topping $4 a gallon in the DC metro area. While commuters are feeling pain at the pump, some of the inexpensive intercity bus lines that serve Washington are not.
Sure, the buses that travel from DC to New York and other east coast cities run on gasoline, but most companies say their fares will not rise in response to the high price of fuel. Instead, some bus companies are seeing an increase in ridership, which is helping make up for rising fuel costs. None of the major carriers, Greyhound, Megabus, and Vamoose Bus, have raised ticket prices this summer.
“In the big picture we continue to see growth with passenger volume, which is more than offsetting the price of fuel,” says Dale Moser, president and chief operating officer of Megabus. “We’re taking advantage of this opportunity to get people out of their automobiles and onto the bus.”
Moser says summer is traditionally a very profitable time for Megabus, and so far this summer is no exception. With more people traveling thanks to school being out, his company is able to pick up more riders than ever.
“We strategically just try to control the pricing and keep it at a price point that is receptive to the market,” Moser says. “We’ll take a view of it constantly, but right now we haven’t made any decisions to raise fares.”
While Megabus credits an increase in ridership with keeping ticket prices down, Greyhound has another strategy.
“Greyhound builds in the cost of fuel as part of its cost of business,” says spokeswoman Maureen Richmond, adding that like Megabus, Greyhound has seen an increase in ridership since gas prices spiked. “So Greyhound doesn’t need to worry about raising fares.”
While Greyhound may be immune to high gas costs, its sister company Bolt Bus is not.
“Bolt Bus conversely has raised prices slightly because it’s a curbside service,” Richmond says. “It’s a different model, of course. As a curbside carrier it doesn’t have a lot of the overhead you get with a Greyhound.”
Richmond was unable to say exactly how much Bolt Bus has increased prices, and a quick glance at their Web site shows it’s difficult to even see the difference: Same-day fares to New York are still running at about $25, while advance purchase tickets about a month away are as low as $13. Richmond does say Bolt Bus fares are unlikely to increase again this summer. In fact, if fuel costs drop back down in the fall she says there’s a possibility that ticket prices will decrease.
Stephania Melo, a 24-year-old Ecuadorian who lives in Quito, has visited family members in DC on a few occasions recently, and each time she has taken a Bolt Bus down from her original stateside destination, New York City, where she also has family. On those trips, the bus had always dropped her off at the same location: the old convention-center parking lot at Tenth and H streets, Northwest. But a few weeks ago, after construction finally got under way on the massive CityCenterDC development, her bus deposited passengers on the curb at F Street and New Jersey Avenue, Northwest, a location unfamiliar to Melo—not to mention to her aunt, who was expecting to pick up her niece at CityCenter.
“My aunt was picking us up and was waiting for us for an hour,” Melo says while waiting at Bolt Bus’s new departure location for a bus back to New York. Because Melo doesn’t own a cell phone, she borrowed a stranger’s and eventually connected with her aunt.
Pickup and drop-off locations for Bolt Bus and its principal competitor, Megabus, have changed several times since they both began serving Washington in 2008. The two lines first shared a stop at 11th Street, Northwest, near G Street, then moved over to G Street, Northwest, between Ninth and Tenth streets, and now to the CityCenter lot. To confuse matters more, Bolt Bus, along with DC2NY and Washington Deluxe, began to offer additional service from Union Station in January 2010. Then this February, with construction beginning on CityCenter, Bolt Bus and Megabus had to move yet again. The former divided its service between the F Street and Union Station locations, while the latter moved to a lot at North Capitol and K streets.
The next time Melo returns to DC, she’s likely to find herself disembarking at yet another new location, because Bolt Bus eliminated its F Street stop. As of last week, the company now operates only out of the parking garage at Union Station. Megabus, meanwhile, remains at the North Capitol lot, though Dale Moser, president of Megabus operator Coach USA, confirms that his company is “in discussions to relocate to the bus parking deck of Union Station,” adding that he hopes to do so “within the next few months.”
Hotels have found one way to save money (beyond charging $10 for bottles of water): Tracking devices have been rolled out in three US hotels that actually keep tabs on hotel linens, from dressing gowns to pillowcases. So those 300-count Egyptian cotton sheets you’ve been resting on? They could be fitted with a microchip to help managers keep on top of inventory—and of course, deter sticky-fingered guests.
We have two upgraded hotel deals for you this week. Affinia Hotels recently launched its For the Love of the Game package in New York City for $216 a night. The deal, intended for sports fans everywhere, includes an upgraded accommodation to a one-bedroom suite, a $10 Metrocard, a $10 Modell’s gift card, late check out, and either a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine. The package is valid for stays through the end of the year at one of five New York locations; to book or for more information, see this link.
We heard a few months ago that the government was doing away with the old color-coded system for terror alerts (when it’s orange for more than five years, people tend to stop paying attention). But are Facebook and Twitter alerts really the best replacement? As this Associated Press story explains, one system in the works will operate with only two levels of warnings, publicized through social-networking sites, and they’ll expire on certain dates, “like a gallon of milk.”
Looking for a quick getaway? One of our favorite B&Bs, the Lake Pointe Inn in McHenry, Maryland, is offering a special “tax break” deal nights booked Sunday through Thursday in April. A double-occupancy room is available for $185 per night, a 30-percent saving on the regular rate (and just right for an unexpected furlough day). Activities include kayaking, bike rides, and golf, and architecture buffs can visit two Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses nearby: Fallingwater and Kentucky Knob. Visit the Lake Pointe Inn’s Web site for reservations or more information.