Last week we travelled to the Washington DC area from Southern Ontario, Canada. We crossed the border in Buffalo, NY. Here are my tips and tricks:
1) Take the scenic highways. We took scenic highways on the way down, and some of the interstate highways on the way home. The scenic highways, particularly those in Pennsylvania were absolutely gorgeous. Travelling through the mountains is a must! However, I wouldn't advise this trip for winter, as the slopes on some of the roads were crazy steep, and very well could be treacherous for inexperienced drivers in the winter.
2) Stay outside of DC. Accomodation within DC is extremely expensive, and still not cheap on the outskirts. We stayed in Silver Springs one night, and in Bethesda for three nights. Both are on the metro (subway) line, which makes downtown DC easily accessible. We used Hotwire to book our hotels.
3) Take the Metro (Subway). Don't attempt driving to any of the tourist sites. Traffic is ridiculous. Take the metro instead! Buy a Metro card for $2.00, (the website says $5, but it changed to $2 in October) and put some money on it. If you don't buy a card, every time you use a paper pass it costs $1 more than the fare using the card. The subway system was easy to use, especially when using Google maps for directions. There are day passes available for the Metro, but unless you are travelling to many places in one day, I don't think it would be cheaper. They are $14.00/day. We did have someone pass us a couple day passes they were done with when we were putting money on our Metro card, and when we were done with them for the day, passed them on to someone else who was putting money on their card.
4) Smithsonian Museums. Go to a couple of the Smithsonian museums. Although accommodation is expensive as mentioned above, once you are there, being a tourist is inexpensive. All the Smithsonian museums/galleries/zoo are FREE admission.
5) Panera is better than Starbucks. If you are looking for a good coffee, a bite to eat, and free wifi, head to a Panera. It is a chain, that we do not have anywhere near us here in Canada. The food was delicious, and everyone goes to use their wifi. Nearly everyone had a laptop or tablet out while there. I had a bearclaw, which is apparently an American pastry that I was not aware of. I will buy one again!
We'll be heading back down next month for a couple days for a medical appointment, and I look forward to taking in a couple more Smithsonian museums, and having some delicious DC food. We've kept our Metro cards, so we're all set!