YOU live here, but have you ever really visited the Washington area? The Mall and its monuments and museums may be familiar sights, but a real tour of Washington should focus on Our Town, not the hunt for a parking place next to the Air and Space Museum.
Here are some suggestions:
Forsake the Mall for some neighborhoods. The shops and restaurants of Georgetown's M and Wisconsin corridors may be familiar, but next time walk north of M Street and enjoy the wonderful architecture of this old seaport town. Other neighborhoods worth strolling through are Capitol Hill, particularly the shop-and-saloon district east of the Capitol; 16th Street above M Street and its many old homes; Adams-Morgan, the ethnically diverse area on Columbia Road and 18th Street NW north of U; Arlington's Wilson Boulevard, a strip known by many as Little Saigon, and the District's own Chinatown along H Street NW; Alexandria and its cobblestone streets of historic homes, galleries and restaurants; and Bethesda, remade by Metro, is now a crossroads of nightlife, restaurants, shops and hotels.
Try the shopping malls, monuments to consumption bunkered around the Beltway. Potomac Mills Center in Woodbridge is huge and outlet-like (and what other mall has a museum of Elvis memorabilia?), a contrast to the chic shops of The Shops at National Place in "new" old downtown or at White Flint on Rockville Pike. Georgetown Park on M Street is almost a wonderland at Christmastime; Springfield, Laurel and Landover malls have their legions of fans, while Tysons still attracts the shopping hordes developers say also can't wait for the massive Tysons II to be completed across the way (fall of 1988).
Try the area's many wonderful roads on a sparkling weekend day. Route 193 west from Route 123 in Fairfax County, for instance, is a tree-lined lane that carries you to the village of Great Falls. Other worthy roads are the Rock Creek Parkway and the George Washington Parkway (on both sides of the river, but particularly on the scenery-laden Virginia shore northbound from Mount Vernon to the Beltway). Massachusetts Avenue from Thomas Circle north to the Maryland line is a boulevard lined by embassies, beaux arts mansions and luxurious homes.
Visit the embassies. Many of them are open for limited tours or participate in the annual charity embassy tours. They are in the telephone book.
Go garden-ing. The parks in downtown Washington also have colorful gardens. But did you know that there are a number of gardens -- indoor and outdoor -- outside the Federal district downtown? Try visiting Brookside Gardens (1400 Glenallen Ave., Wheaton); Dumbarton Oaks Park (walk Lovers Lane off R Street just east of 31st Street NW to the park); the Hillwood Museum Gardens, with hundreds of plants outdoors and thousands of orchids indoors (4155 Linnean Ave. NW); Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens has 14 acres of ponds and more than 100,000 water plants (Kenilworth and Douglas NE, near Eastern Avenue) and the National Arboretum, which explodes in azaleas in the spring (on New York Avenue NW about half a block past Bladensburg Road).
A TOURIST IN YOUR OWN TOWN
Here's a sampling of resources to get you started on the road that leads . . . home. TOUR COMPANIES
ACCENT ON TOURS INC. -- Local bus, van and limousine tours for groups, with the intinerary tailored to the interest of the members. Tours last a minimum of 3 1/2 hours and costs begin at $20 per person plus any meals and admission fees. 1982 Lancashire Dr., Rockville. 251-0266.
ADMIRAL LIMOUSINE TOURS -- Limousine tours for one to seven persons, with the stops tailored to the visitors' interests. $120 for a three-hour tour. 1243 First St. SE. 554-1000
GRAY LINE -- This bus company offers full- and half-day tours of downtown Washington and nearby sights across the Potomac River. The tours offered are the Washington, Embassy Row and Arlington National Cemetery ($16 adults, $8 children); Mount Vernon and Alexandria ($17 and $9); three tours of public buildings (Capitol, Supreme Court, Ford's Theater, etc.; all-day, $23 and $12; half-day, $14 and $7); two-day Grand Tour, $50 and $25; Washington After Dark ($14 and $7); and an all-day combination tour ($32 and $17).
TOURMOBILE -- Authorized by the National Park Service, this shuttle service offers a narrated tour of 18 stops on the Mall and at Arlington National Cemetery. The buses start at 9:30 and run until 4:30. You can get off and reboard at the main stops. Adults $7, children 3 to 11, $3.50. Buses come by every 20 minutes. Tickets for the cemetery only are $2.25 adults, $1 children. Buy the tickets at the major monuments and museums or from the driver. A motorcoach tour to Mt. Vernon costs $13.50 and $6.25. The bus leaves from Arlington National Cemetery and the Washington Monument at 10, 12 and 2. You must make reservations in person one hour before the bus leaves. 554-7950. BOOKS AND TAPES
A MUSEUM GUIDE TO WASHINGTON by Betty Ross. $9.95 Americana Press.
CITY OF TREES by Melanie Choukas-Bradley and Polly Alexander. The "guide's guide" to Washington. $6.95 EPM.
FODOR'S WASHINGTON D.C. 1987 -- $7.95 Random House.
FROMMER'S WASHINGTON, D.C.. & HISTORIC VIRGINIA ON $40 A DAY by Rena Bulkin. Includes Annapolis and Baltimore Harbor. $10.95 Simon & Shuster.
GOING PLACES WITH CHILDREN IN WASHINGTON by Green Acres School. $5.95.
RAINY DAYS, SUNNY DAYS -- SATURDAY'S CHILD -- By Anne H. Oman and Deborah Churchman. The Washington Book Trading Co. $6.95.
TAPEWALKS -- Tapewalks, a travel cassette for your Walkman, guides the listener on a walk through a neighborhood, giving him or her a description of the buildings and their history. There are four Tapewalks currently available: two for Georgetown, one each for Dupont Circle, Embassy Row and the White House area. $11.95, available at bookstores, hotels and from Pacesetter Productions, 7316 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, Md. 20814. 961-3529.
THE WASHINGTON D.C. SIGHTSEER'S GUIDE by Anthony Pitch. Compact but useful. $3.95 Mino Publications, Potomac.
THE WASHINGTON ONE-DAY TRIP BOOK by Jane Ockershausen Smith. 101 offbeat excursions in and around the capital. $7.95 EPM.
WASHINGTON EMBASSIES OF THE WORLD by Donald C. Dilworth. Five walking tours and a directory. $7.95 Communications Press Inc.
WASHINGTON ITSELF by E.J. Applewhite. An informal but soaring, sidewalk-level guide to the capital. $8.95 Random House.
WASHINGTON ON FOOT edited by John J. Protopappas and Lin Brown. Walking tours of Washington, Alexandria and Annapolis. $5.95, Smithsonian Institution Press.