The best way to get to know a new city, experienced travelers will tell you, is to walk in it.

Not just from the tour bus to the museum or out of your hotel to a nearby restaurant. But for blocks that add up to miles, from one neighborhood to another.

Rambling. Browsing. Watching the people. Sampling the food along the way. Coffee at an outdoor cafe. An ice-cream cone . . . even though you bought a pastry at the bakery you just passed.

The best way to get to know your own city -- especially if it is Washington, believe Allan and Carol Hodges -- is to do the same thing.

"The unexpected shop window, a tile mosaic on a garden wall, a framed view of a church dome from a narrow street. These are the visual rewards for the pedestrian," they write in the preface of the guidebook they have edited, "Washington on Foot" (Smithsonian Institution Press, 202 pages, $4.25 paper).

"You have to get down to street level," says Carol Hodges, who with her husband has explored on foot many of the major cities of this country and Europe. "It's the only way."

It's good advice whether you're sightseeing the monuments on the Mall or simply passing through your own neighborhood.

Washington's neighborhoods, say the couple, are full of pleasures -- large and small. The city, as their book points out, is a "treasure house" of Victorian architecture.

The guide is aimed at tourists as an introduction to Washington-Beyond-the-Mall -- "where the people live." But, say the Hodgeses, they are getting "lots of positive feedback" from readers who find it helpful in exploring their hometown. Until recently the couple spent part of each evening taking walks in their Bethesda neighborhood.

"It we're tired after a big day, it's very peaceful to walk the back streets."

The guide describes 21 tours in Washington and one each in Alexandria and Annapolis, ranging in length from just over 1 mile to the longest at 4. Each was written by a city planner, historian and preservation expert familiar with the neighborhood.

Allan and Carol Hodges have walked most of them -- not always at the most opportune time. They covered the Capitol Hill route (2 3/4 miles, 1 1/4 hours) "on the coldest day of the year. We kept stopping into wine and cheese shops to keep warm."

Sometimes the guide cites a historical footnote of which even longtime residents may be unaware.

Foggy Bottom (2 3/4 miles, 1 1/4 hours) once was known as "Funkstown," named after Jacob Funk, who purchased 130 acres in the area in 1765. Later it "became the site of a glass factory, brewery and gas works -- all of which contributed to the unpleasant stench and smoke which befouled the air" and led to its present nickname.

When the couple travels, says Carol Hodges, they often find themselves at noon looking for some agreeable place to lunch. So they added to the guide cafes and carryouts for hungry walkers.

"I'm always very interested where my next meal is coming from," says Hodges, a food writer now preparing a cookbook.

The first version of the book, for which the Hodgeses volunteered their services, was published in 1978 by the D.C. chapter of the American Institute of Planners as a Bicentennial guide for 3,000 urban planners attending a conference here. The Smithsonian published the revised edition, with profits going to the local chapter of the planners association.

The Hodgeses moved recently to Boston, a home on Beacon Hill and, perhaps, another walking book. Boston, says Allan Hodges, who is employed by a private firm and teaching at Boston University, "is the most walkable city in the United States."

Walking guides, he says, "draw attention to what's in a city -- so the people don't flee them in time of a crisis."