Both bulging crowds and big expenses dwindle down to a more manageable size in the Capital city this time of year. Because most tourists retreat to warmer climates, cost-conscious travelers searching for intellectual and cultural stimulation share the run of the city.
Often referred to as "our nation's attic," the Smithsonian Institution's 16 museums provide a weekend into world art and civilization. Combined with stops at some of D.C.'s unique restaurants and shops, the Smithsonian is a great way to cozy up to the area this winter.
Elect the Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel as your lodging choice. It sits close to the Smithsonian Castle and offers access to the Metro stop, which should come in handy during rain or snow. Weekend rates range from $110 to $150 during January, a relatively cheap price tag for a central location in D.C.; (202) 484-1000.
Start the quest for culture at Kramerbooks on Connecticut Avenue (off Dupont Circle), which carries titles as varied as a politician's scandals. Then venture into Afterwords, their cafe and grill. The Thai-steamed mussels and noodles ($9.25) will render you speechless.
Next, hit the National Geographic Society headquarters on the corner of M and 17th Streets NW. Their Explorers Hall (free to the public) houses exhibits on dinosaurs, undersea exploration, and other natural history wonders. Global goodies abound in the gift store, whether its books on Africa or tablecloths from India.
Mix up your mealtime with dinner at Jaleo, located on Seventh Street NW. Guests choose from more than 60 Spanish tapas, including the popular gambas piniento (shrimp with garlic, olive oil, and red peppers, $7.95).