Enjoy the capital -- without spending your own

Planning a trip to Washington this year? Don't be surprised if everything rises to the occasion -- temperature, humidity, and prices. Vacationing in the nation's capital can be frustrating and expensive, but don't be discouraged. It can also be an exciting adventure.

Here are some tips to help you keep your cool and beat the high costs of a Washington vacation.

Stay with friends or relatives and you have it made. But if you have to find accommodations, it's smart to make reservations early and shop around for bargains.

One way to save money is to stay in the suburbs -- 20 or 30 minutes from the city. For example, a motel like Howard Johnson's costs $46 for a double room in downtown Washington, but only $36 in the Maryland suburbs and $24 in nearby Virginia. There is a $4 charge for each additional person. And if you stay in Silver Spring, Maryland, or Alexandria, Virginia, you can ride the Metro, Washington's sparkling new subway system, to the museums, the airport, or the Capitol.

Another way to stretch your budget is to stay in rooms equipped with a kitchenette. By fixing some of all of its meals, a family can avoid the cost of eating out.

For example, the Anthony House on L Street, six blocks from the White House, has weekend rates of $29 a night for a double kitchenette room. During the week the same room is $48, with children under 14 free.

The Gralyn, near Dupont Circle, also six blocks from the White House, is $30, with an $8 charge for each additional person.

The Georgetown Dutch Inn is $62, children under 15 free; at One Washington Circle, seven blocks from the White House, the rates are $76, children under 12 free. All of these have kitchenettes. Most have baby-sitting services, and some have pools.

Eating out in Washington can vary in price as much as the accommodations. A couple has no trouble spending $50 to $80 for dinner at the Bagatelle, Tiberio's , or Le Pavillon.

But for less than $4 a person you can dine in some of the most exciting places in the country. How about lunch at the Supreme Court Cafeteria or the Senate Office Building? When standing in line for your 40-cent bowl of the famous Senate Bean Soup, you may find yourself right in front of your own senator or congressman.

Inexpensive cafeterias can be found all over Washington: in the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian buildings -- the one in the National Collection of Fine Arts is called Patent Pending -- the Court of Claims, and the Kennedy Center.

Have lunch with a four-legged friend at the National Zoo. Eat at the Panda Garden, the cheese Kiosk, or the appropriately named Mane Restaurant.

Four dollars will buy a full meal at a Yummy Yogurt, People's Drug Stores, or the Afterwords Cafe in Kramerbooks, a popular bookstore on Connecticut Avenue.

Three all-you-can-eat restaurants with several locations and unlimited portions of seafood are the Family Fish House, the Chesapeake Bay Seafood House, and the Dancing Crab on Wisconsin Avenue. Dinners start at $4 and nobody leaves hungry, not even teen-agers.

A couple can dine for $10 to $15 at the Proud Popover, Booeymonger's Yes! (a vegetarian's delight), the Gate Soup Kitchen, Hamburger Hamlet, the Greenery, or Hot Diggity Dog in Georgetown. And for the best French food in town, try Le Gaulots on Pennsylvania Avenue.

But the most exciting way to eat in Washington is outdoors. Everyone here loves to eat al fresco. Many stores sell takeout salads and sandwiches. The city is a picnicker's paradise, with the Potomac River, the Mall, city parks, and grassy squares. Listen to an outdoor concert and kick off your shoes while you enjoy lunch.

One way to get an all-over view of Washington is to take a Tourmobile. A Tourmobile is an open-air bus that makes 14 stops around Washington's tourist attractions. Tickets are $3 for adults, $1.65 for children. You can ride all day, getting on and off at your leisure. After seeing the high spots, you can decide which places you want to explore more thoroughly.

Children may get frustrated by the "Do Not Touch" signs in the Hirshhorn Museum, but most of the other Smithsonian buildings have exhibits for all ages.The zoo has two hands-on labs for children. There is a walk-through exhibit, the Sky Orbital Workshop, and a movie shown on a five-story screen in the Air and Space Museum. At the Capital Children's Museum, children can create their own Mexican art from tin, adobe, and wood.

Most museums are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Washington Monument is open from 8 a.m. until midnight. The best time to see the city from the top of the monument is at night.

The Capitol is also special at night. You can park on the grounds and walk around. Seen from the grand marble steps the city is awesome.On an evening after a fresh rain you may see the Capitol reflected in a pool of rainwater. It's a sight hard to forget.

Here is a clip-and-save list of telephone numbers with recorded information on events, schedules, prices, and free entertainment to enhance a visit to Washington:

* Welcome to Washington, 737-8866, general information.

* Dial-a-park, 426-6975, scheduled events.

* Dial-a-zoo, 387-7400 feeding times, new animal births.

* Dial-a-museum, 737-8811, Smithsonian events.

* Dial-a-phenomenon, 737-8855, planet and star information.

* President Carter's schedule, 456-2343

* Dial-a-story, 638-5717, stories read aloud for children.

* Concert Line, 654-6996, live-music information.

* Van Leer Circuit, 652-1556, zany up-to- the-minute laughs.

The four theaters of the Kennedy Center are devoted to music, drama, and film. But if they are sold out, take the free tour, listen to an organ concert, eat in the Gallery Cafeteria, and go to one of the following theaters: the Ford Theater, where Lincoln was shot; the National of the Warner, for historic and current drama; the Arena Stage, Kreeger, or the Old Vat, near the waterfront for more offbeat productions, and, for Shakespeare, the Folger Library, near the Capitol. TBut why pay Washington prices when you can have free entertainment? There is free music somewhere in the city every day. Army and Navy Band concerts are scheduled four evenings a week at the Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial. The marines march and play each Tuesday in Arlington. There is live theater and music in the parks, at the galleries, museums, the Library of Congress, and at Glen Echo Park in Bethesda.

Wolf Trap Farm is an open-air entertainment center in the Virginia countryside offering everything from bluegrass to opera. Tickets start at $3. Some people picnic before the performance, and a picnic at Wolf Trap is a happening. Food is served, from elegant silver bowls or takeout chicken. In food or dress at Wolf Trap, anything goes.

When sightseeing becomes tiring and you're bored with culture, take a break. Fly a kite on the Mall, join a Frisbee game; take a swanboat ride in the Tidal Basin; hike or jog along the historic C&O Canal; or take a barge and let the mule do the work.

Rent a bike or canoe, go rock climbing, spelunking, bird watching, kayaking, or just walk in the woods. There's lots to do in Washington.

But if you can spare a couple of hours, get out of the city. Drive to Great Falls to see the Potomac at its wildest; to Glen Echo for a 25- cent merry-go-round ride; to Turkey Run Farm in McLean to relive Colonial days.

It takes only a few minutes to get to Potomac, Maryland, to dig for gold at an old mine; to stroll through cobblestone streets in Washington's Georgetown section; or shop in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia.

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