By Sascha Segan
Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Updated Friday, March 20, 1998
As a person who until recently had no driver's license, I was always considered something of a curiosity.
Store clerks and bar bouncers would become perplexed when I'd present my passport as identification. Midwestern and suburbanite friends raised their eyebrows and queried: "How do you get around?" But living in the Washington area, it was easy. I could pick up computer parts at CompUSA, the suburban superstore. I could browse the Masonic Cemetery in historic Fredericksburg and wander the wharfs of Annapolis. I met friends in Maryland and ventured through Virginia -- all without a car.
A car-free friend of mine and I came up with these places in the metro area to escape to. Baffle your suburban buddies, suffering under their car taxes and parking problems, by using this guide to car-free escapes from Washington.
Maryland's capital city is a beautiful colonial maritime center. You can roam the 18th-century streets, watch boats in the harbor, check out the State House or read on the St. John's College lawn. I head to Annapolis when I want to decompress; it moves at a much slower pace than Washington. To learn more about Annapolis, check out Discover Annapolis, our online guide. Annapolis has a city bus system, but you don't need to use it; the town is pretty small.
Getting there: Dillon's Bus Service runs buses from D.C. and from the New Carrollton Metrorail stop to downtown Annapolis. If you're traveling for pleasure, you'll probably want to take the
Dillon's Bus, Route 921, out of New Carrollton. Elapsed time from Metro Center: about 90 minutes. Round-trip price from D.C.: $6.70 ($3.35 each way). Round-trip price from New Carrollton: $4.70 ($2.35 each way). Restrictions: Buses run Monday through Friday only. Information: Call Dillon's at 1-800-827-3490.
Did you know that Baltimore is more populous than the District? (Check the census figures for Baltimore and D.C. if you don't believe me.) Charm City has a completely different feel than the District. It's much cozier, with neighborhood hangouts, a genuine personality and a terrific waterfront at Harborplace. If you want to find out more about Baltimore, check out Discover Baltimore, our online guide. Baltimore also has a decent public transit system so you can get around once you arrive.
The cheap way: MARC, Maryland's commuter rail system, has two lines from Washington to Baltimore. The Penn Line is quicker but delivers you to a midtown station about a mile's bus ride from the harbor; the Camden Line drops you off right at the harbor but has more restricted hours. Both leave from the gate farthest to the left at Union Station. Elapsed time from Union Station: 55 minutes by Penn Line, about 65 minutes by Camden Line. Round-trip price:$10.25 ($5.75 each way). Restrictions: MARC runs Monday through Friday only, and the last train to D.C. is at 8:25 p.m.
The easy way: When I go to Baltimore, I usually want to stay late. So I take MARC up and Amtrak back. The national rail line leaves from Penn Station in midtown Baltimore and runs practically 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Elapsed time from Union Station: about 40 minutes. Round-trip price: $32 ($16 each way).
If you're craving colonial Virginia, Fredericksburg is easy to get to and easy to navigate on foot. The well-organized walker's tour of the city takes you along a route of well-marked sites, and you can stop along the city's main street to browse a long stretch of stores. Half sell antiques, the others are like flea markets. These outlets remind me of a string of giant attics: You can find everything from a 1950s-era dial telephone to Confederate money to authentic Cabbage Patch dolls to some decent china. The Virginia tourism bureau provides more information about events in Fredericksburg.
The cheap way: The Virginia Railway Express runs a really inexpensive service to Fredericksburg out of Union Station, but the schedules are often inconvenient. Elapsed time from Union Station: about 90 minutes. Round-trip price: $13.40 ($6.70 each way). Restrictions: Trains run Monday to Friday only. The sole morning departure from Washington is at 6:53. VRE is a commuter line that doesn't run afternoon trains to Washington; the last train back to the capital is at 8:10 a.m. So if you don't want to have to stay overnight, you have to use one of the more costly options below.
The easy way:Amtrak has good schedules to and from Fredericksburg. Greyhound also runs to Fredericksburg and is a backup if you miss the last train. The train station is at the foot of Caroline Street in the historic downtown; the bus station is a short cab ride away. Elapsed time from Union Station: about 75 minutes. Round-trip price: $26. Restrictions: Last train leaves Fredericksburg at 4:35 p.m. most days, 7:12 p.m. Fridays and Sundays. Last bus leaves Fredericksburg at 7:30 p.m. daily, arrives in D.C. at 9 p.m. and costs $12 each way.
The home of Washington's namesake is an area must-see. It's educational, with a working farm and cute animals and lots and lots of exhibits about colonial life. And it's also a wonderful site, with great places to sit by the river, a beautiful lawn and wonderful paths to wander. Mount Vernon is pretty easily accessible by Metro and bus.
Getting there: Take the Yellow Line to Huntington, and then get on the #101 or #102 Fairfax Connector bus southbound. Elapsed time from Metro Center: About an hour. Price: Whatever the Metro ride costs. Get a transfer, and the bus is free. Restrictions: Bus runs daily; last bus leaves Mount Vernon at 8:45 p.m. weekdays, 7:04 p.m. Saturdays, and 6:11 p.m. Sundays. Information: Call Metro at 202-637-7000 or Fairfax Connector at 703-339-7200.
The Potomac Mills outlet mall is supposedly Virginia's No. 1 tourist attraction. I personally find that depressing, but you may want to "spave" (as in spend and save) with that television pitchwoman who looks suspiciously like Meredith Baxter-Birney. Fortunately, the helpful Potomac Mills people run a shuttle bus to Metro Center.
Getting there: Take the Potomac Mills shuttle bus, which leaves from various points around the metro area. Price: $8 each way ($12 round trip). Elapsed time from Metro Center: About an hour. Information: Call the Potomac Mills shuttle at 703-551-1050.
Montgomery Mall Montgomery Mall is a more cultured suburban shopping experience. It's full of upscale stores and has a pretty decent movie theater. It's also accessible by several bus lines, making a visit easy without a car. You may want to bring a reinforced bag for your purchases, though.
How to get there: Take the Red Line to Medical Center, then the J2 bus. Elapsed time from Metro Center: About 30 minutes total. Price: Whatever the Metro ride costs, plus $1.10 each way for the bus. Restrictions: Bus runs daily; remember Metro closes at midnight. Information: Call Metro at 202-637-7000.
Tysons Corner Tysons Corner defined the upscale mall experience. Tysons 1 and Tysons 2, together, make the largest mall on the East Coast. This truly mind-boggling paean to materialism is very easily accessed by Metro.
Getting there: Take the Orange Line to West Falls Church. Exit on the south side of the station and take the 28A or 28B bus to Tysons. Elapsed time from Metro Center: about 45 minutes. Price: Cost of the Metro ride plus 85 cents each way for the bus (get a transfer). Restrictions: Bus runs daily; last bus leaves Tysons at 11 p.m. Information: Call Metro at 202-637-7000.