Local Scams, Washington D.C.
These are all over place, and if you have ever ventured outside of your hometown in your life, you should know better than to ever shop at one. Why? Because your mom doesn't want a snow globe of the Capitol building. It's cheap and tasteless and, above all, a tourist trap. There are far nicer places to buy souvenirs for yourself, family, and friends.
I've taken a taxi twice since I've lived in DC and I'm always pissed off at myself when I do. So DC just recently did away the zone system of charging for rides and started using meters. Yahoo! Now you can actually watch yourself getting scammed right on the meter! In all honesty it's not really a scam, its just overpriced. When you get in a cab the first thing the cabby will do is add $1.25 (I think) per extra person and add $1.50 (I think) gas tax. So you're already $2.75 in the hole (you plus a friend/spouse/child) and you haven't even gone anywhere. However...if you plan on spending money this way then I guess its not really a problem for you. Or if you have problems walking or if you find yourself in a not-safe situation, buy all means hop in.
Unique Suggestions: At least ask what the numbers on the meter mean for Christ sake! When I got in to a cab recently (my second ever cab ride) I noticed the cabby adding a bunch of money onto the fare. "What's up with that?" I asked. That's how I learned about all the extra's they tack on.
Fun Alternatives: DC has a great metro and bus system! Since DC is pretty much laid out as a grid system if you hop on a bus going north, it will probably keep going north for a while at least. Many bus stops have a map to tell you the route. I think pretty much all buses have automatic stop announcements. And worst case scenario ask the bus driver (stand behind the yellow line!) or ask someone else on the bus. Before you get to DC order a Metro card (hard plastic) and have it sent to you with some money on it. Study the metro and bus system before you get here. Ask your hotel staff where the metro is and where bus stops are.
At Dulles and Reagan National Airports people may ask arriving passengers if they need a taxi inside the airport near baggage claim areas. Do not use these people. They will overcharge you double and/or threaten to keep your luggage. I see these people every day I travel through the airport.
Unique Suggestions: Only take the airport taxi's at the taxi stand.
Fun Alternatives: Both Dulles and Reagan airports have good access to the metro subway. You should use this if possible to get to your hotel or destination.
At the top of the Smithsonian Metro stop is a group of people selling SMILE stickers. If you don't smile, they hand you a sticker, and ask for a cash 'donation.' The sticker is nice, but so not worth it.
In addition, many people will happily give you a map of the monuments that is usually free. They ask for payment.
Keep walking, head for the nearest Smithsonia, or look at my other pages for useful maps and things.
Unique Suggestions: Smile and give them a buck, knowing it'll keep them off the street.
Fun Alternatives: Take another Metro stop. The Navy Memorial stop, L'Enfant Plaza, and Federal Triangle are all close to the major museums and monuments.
There are so many garage places to park your car in Washington DC, thought it will not appear so when you first arrive. HOWEVER, look around in smaller streets, as you will find parking of a reasonable price. We paid waaaay too much and we were far away from a lot of the sights we wanted to see...which was a problem for the family relatives I went with. Parking can be a rip-off so do not make the same mistake we did!!
Unique Suggestions: Look around before you park your car, and definately park in garages in the smaller streets. We parked on K street, between 12th and 13th street, in the Sheraton Hotel garage...it was expensive, like $20 for about 4 hours compared to $12 at some places!!
Fun Alternatives: The best thing would be to avoid taking your car, but sometimes you have to, so again...JUST LOOK AROUND!!
DC was wonderful...we had a great time, except for Budget Rental Cars Dulles Airport location. We were given a dirty car with dents that smelled horrible. The dents were noted with small red stickers which would indicate that the counter was aware of the damage, yet after we returned the car the manager claimed that we damaged the car and tried to bully us into signing a fraudlent accident report. When we refused they put a $500.00 charge on the card used to secure the rental. The customer service department has been no help at all and we have had to complete paperwork to dispute the charge through our bank. Don't be a victim of Budget Car Rentals Dulles location and it's unethical manager Monica Shere.
Fun Alternatives: Any rental car company should be considered as an alternative to Budget, especially in DC!!!
The cafeterias at the Smithsonian are absurdly expensive.
Fun Alternatives: There are better options off the mall:
- on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue near the Archives -Navy Memorial Metro Stop (straight north of the Natural History Museum or National Gallery of Art).
- food court at Union Station (north of the Capitol)
- a number of restaurants on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast between 2nd & 4th (southeast of the Capitol - use Capitol South Metro)
- all over Dupont Circle (15 min by metro) i fyou really want options, or
- pack a lunch and eat anywhere - the TidalBbasin is nice for picnics.
Check out the Washington Post Restaurant section if you are looking for something specific. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/eg/section/restaurants/index.html
The restaurant below and between wings of the National Gallery is pleasant and convenient--but you'll pay for your relaxation and refreshment. I took this photo because my dad loves to see pictures of food (we have pictures of things he's ordered all over the world!). It was $5 for a bottle of Heineken, $6 for an individual-sized bottle of Cavit Pinot Grigio, and pushing $10 (I think) for the nachos. They were good, but not that good!
Unique Suggestions: Enjoy what you buy and indulge in some people watching while you're there.
Fun Alternatives: Most of the food you'll find around the Mall, whether in a museum cafe or from a street vendor, will be overpriced. It's all about the convenience, baybee!
There are many, many stalls scattered throughout the National Mall Area. Some are licensed. Some are not. But they are shabby looking and some of them have inferior quality merchandise. Be care ful what you purchase.
Fun Alternatives: There are many souvenir shops in various malls and in stores.
Many of the cab drivers here are not very strong on the moral side. So watch out for they might take you for a ride! (no pun intended) :)
The system for DC cabs is based on zones rather than distance. A short ride crossing two zones can cost you double the fare of a long leisurely ride through one. Look at a zone map on the back of your driver's seat, and see if you can make sense of it . Some rides seem especially cheap while others are outrageously pricey. Locals know that identical trips in two different cabs rarely cost the same. Accept it or argue, it's up to you.
It is easy to get caught up in the excitment and history of Washington D.C, and there are people that pray on that. Be carefull of what you are buying. If going on a tour of places like the White House, make sure it is a reputable organization that you are dealing with.
Souvenir Warning!!! DC is overflowing with expensive souvenirs: please try to limit yourself to ONE representative souvenir and spend your money on the admission fees, train pass and great food (and possibly nicer accommodations).
In D.C. there are a lot of people trying to sell you stuff... you can bargan with them but be cautioned some of the stuff is either a cheap version of the real thing or it might be a 'HOT' or stolen item. Clothing is not always the top quality and might be made from a very thin cotton and after a couple of years wear might begin to fall apart.