There are some amazing values to any Washington DC visit. Consider that a ton of attractions are free – okay, paid by your tax dollars, that's true. But the fact you don't have to pay at the door does allow you to be smart about budgeting your vacation, and they do range from the historic – like the White House – to the marvelous – like the 19 Smithsonian Museums. Our nation's capital offers a diversity of visitor experiences that's tough to match by most other American cities. And, although the tried and true attractions are a must for any traveler, many of the most memorable are found well off the beaten path.
See the Island, Skip the City
Just off the shores of Washington, in the Potomac River, lies Roosevelt Island, an 88-acre, totally car-free isle that visitors can access via footbridge. It's been known by a variety of names in the past, including My Lord's Island and Mason's Island. It became Roosevelt Island when it was selected to memorialize President Theodore Roosevelt, and it became a national landmark in 1966. You can only travel the island on foot, and there are several trails that lead to its centerpiece, a 17-foot statue of the 26th president. You can take the metro and get off at Rosslyn or park your car at the lot located along the Virginia bank of the river.
Hit the Spa, Skip the Mall
Need a breather after walking the Mall? Spa World, located about 15 minutes outside DC in Centerville, Virginia, is not your ordinary spa experience. With 50,000 square feet of space, it bills itself as the largest Asian-style spa in the country. In the so-called poultice rooms toxins are removed through thermotherapy; heat is drawn from natural earth elements, like hot red clay, oak wood charcoal and gems, like amethyst and quartz. The huge "bade pool" offers different forms of water massage therapy as guests visit nine unique stations; the wave jet shoots high-pressure water from the walls, to massage the upper body, while the floating jet has jets on the pool floor, to massage the feet and stretch the body. There's a fitness center and a health-driven restaurant and juice bar, too. This family-oriented spa is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Do the Smithsonian, Keep it Fresh
The most visited Smithsonian destinations – like the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum – are amazing, and worth a visit. But remember that there are 19 museums that bear the Smithsonian name, and the one you've never heard of may be the one worth visiting next. The Renwick Gallery, for example, is home to a fascinating array of modern crafts and decorative arts; located just steps from the White House, it's slated to close for a major revamp starting Dec. 9. And at the Freer Gallery of Art, located on the National Mall, there's Asian art spanning thousands of years, from Korean ceramics to Indian sculpture. Don't forget that the National Zoo – with its 2,000 animals, a quarter of which are endangered – is part of the Smithsonian family, too, and is therefore free to the public and open every day of the year, except Christmas Day.
See Glass, Blow Glass