Lynn and Mark Martin's evening of music at the Kennedy Center and late-night supper in Georgetown would have been perfect were it not for the hourlong drive home to Gaithersburg they had to make afterward. "How wonderful it would have been if we could just stroll home, we thought, sleep in, and maybe the next morning check out some artwork at the National Gallery," Lynn recalled. "We were fantasizing."

On their next excursion into the District, the Martins decided to make their fantasy come true. After dinner at Il Radicchio, a trendy 17th Street restaurant, they walked five easy blocks to Swann House, a bed and breakfast where they had taken a room for the night. In a fraction of the time the trip home would have taken, they were already sipping complimentary sherry in the calm of the Swann's elegant Regent Room. The next day, they hopped on the Metro and took in a tour of the National Portrait Gallery.

That was in September. In the nine months since, they have spent two other weekends in the District, basing themselves in a different B&B each time. At first they thought the concept of an in-town escape in a local B&B was their own little secret. But at nearly every place they tried, they ran into other couples from the suburbs who were doing the same thing.

An ever more popular choice of lodging for visitors to Washington in search of a cozy home away from home, in-town bed and breakfasts are also becoming the rage among suburban Maryland and Virginia residents who want to take advantage of the city's rich cultural life without the hassles of commuting.

Aside from using B&Bs for weekend getaways, some suburbanites who find themselves stuck late working in town are using them for weeknight stays, too.

And locals are also recommending B&Bs more and more as a good alternative to hotels for their out-of-town guests. There are three reasons: They are usually less expensive, located in pleasant parts of the District and offer a hearty, home-like setting.

"Lots of people who live in the streets around us put up their guests here for a few nights," a manager at the Capitol Hill Guesthouse told me during a tour of that property. "Many people don't have enough guest rooms, or their guests prefer to stay somewhere else. Sometimes it feels like we're an extension of the homes of our neighbors."

B&B owners in the Dupont Circle, Adams-Morgan and Capitol Hill districts of Washington report that locals seeking lodging for their guests or suburbanites looking for an inexpensive base for a foray into the city are becoming a growing portion of their clientele. "Some folks find it easy to put up their guests with us," said Gretchen Franke, manager of the Dupont at the Circle. "Others like the idea of being in the middle of the city for a weekend. It gives them great access to all the city has to offer. And when the weekend is over, they can head back to the suburbs."

In an effort to help our readers and their guests find the best B&Bs in the District, we visited 18 locations. We flopped down on mattresses, soaked up atmosphere in the common rooms and sampled the muffins and coffee some of them offered for breakfast.

While D.C. has a number of charming inns, small hotels and guesthouses, we decided to focus exclusively on B&Bs. In D.C., the term B&B usually refers to town houses or other spacious homes that have been converted to provide lodging for guests. We narrowed our list down to places in the neighborhoods tourists flock to most, including Adams-Morgan, Du-pont Circle, Capitol Hill and Logan Circle. In each area we recommend two places. Although Georgetown is also a popular district among tourists, it has a dearth of B&Bs, largely because most proprietors there are reluctant to open their homes to travelers.

We did not seek to make a comprehensive compilation of the city's B&Bs, but rather to list a few places that we liked. We visited most of the properties advertised in guidebooks or on the Internet and whittled away those we found lacking. While some good B&Bs are not officially sanctioned by the city, all of the places we recommend are licensed. All but one of our choices serves breakfast. Some have private baths, others shared facilities. We put a special accent on affordability. While some of the rooms in places we mention cost up to $250 a night, most are under $100.

Besides our recommended B&Bs, we include the names of two locally based services that act as agents for strings of B&Bs throughout the city. Many of the establishments they represent are private homes that have one or two guest rooms made available for overnight guests. The services usually take care of reservations and take a percentage of the room rate as a commission. They are a good resource for those in search of lodging in Georgetown, Cleveland Park or other particular neighborhoods.

Dupont Circle

SWANN HOUSE -- 1808 N. Hampshire Ave. NW. 202/265-4414. Web site: www.swannhouse.com. Doubles range from $135 to $250. Nine rooms.

This 1883 red brick mansion, perched regally on a quiet corner a few blocks east of Dupont Circle, is worthy of a birthday or other grand celebration. The sitting rooms have an airy, open ambience enhanced by the 18-foot-high ceilings, woodwork and antique Oriental carpets. The rooms, all with private baths, air conditioning and private telephone lines, are as stylish as a three-star hotel. The breakfast often includes special homemade pastries as well as the usual assortment of coffees, teas and rolls. But it is the extras -- a swimming pool surrounded by a lush private garden, a piano just begging to be played, an open kitchen with complimentary refreshments -- that make this one of the best of the city's B&Bs.

THE DUPONT AT THE CIRCLE -- 1604 19th St. NW. 202/332-5251. Web site: www.dupontatthecircle.com. Double room rates range from $130 to $175. Seven rooms and two apartments available for longer-term stays.

With an air of serenity about it and excellent location (about a block from Dupont Circle), this B&B allows guests to be smack in the swing of things but still retreat into a peaceful corner.

A nicely restored 1885 town house, it has a wonderful Old World mood to it. The living rooms, full of antiques, make for great places to curl up with a book. The guest rooms, complete with Egyptian cotton sheets and embroidered bedspreads, offer just the right mood for relaxation. Equipped to serve the business traveler as well as the leisure weekender, all rooms have private telephones and televisions. The Plum Suite, sprawled across a whole floor of the house and complete with adjoining room and whirlpool, is our favorite. One big draw here is the owners, Alan and Anexora Skvirsky. They host a hearty breakfast, family style around an elegantly appointed dining room table. Longtime Dupont Circle residents, the Skvirskys also offer great advice about the best places to get a romantic dinner or go for an evening of dancing.

Adams-Morgan

THE ADAMS INN -- 1744 Lanier Pl. NW. 202/745-3600. Web site: www.adamsinn.com. A continental breakfast is included. Rates range from $55 for a double with a shared bath to $70 for a private bath. Twenty-five rooms.

This is a well-kept place spread across three town houses on a quiet street in Adams-Morgan. For those who want to be in that haven of ethnic restaurants and clubs, the location is perfect. The setting is best for young couples on a budget who want a taste of D.C.'s most cutting edge neighborhood. Cities and Cashion's Eat Place, two of the most happening restaurants in the city, are a few blocks away. There are no televisions or telephones in rooms, but those amenities are provided in the living room. The National Zoo and the Woodley Park Metro station are within walking distance.

KALORAMA GUEST HOUSE -- 1854 Mintwood Pl. NW. 202/667-6369. Doubles range from $60 a night for a room with shared bath to $90 a night with a private bath. Twenty-nine rooms.

One of the first established B&Bs in D.C., this place is sprawled across a couple of Victorian houses on a residential street in Adams-Morgan. It has everything a good, low cost B&B should have, including clean rooms, a bright common area and helpful hosts. A basic continental breakfast and afternoon aperitifs are part of the room rate. This is a great place for a group of friends on a budget coming into town for a wedding or other special occasion.

Capitol Hill

CAPITOL HILL GUEST HOUSE -- 101 Fifth St. NE. 202/547-1050. Web site: www.guesthse.com. Rates range from $55 to $105 a night. Ten rooms.

The interior of this 19th-century town house is homespun but neat and nicely appointed. The rooms, spread over three floors, are a bit small but clean and air conditioned. The clientele range is wide. Here are parents visiting kids who are interns on Capitol Hill. There is a lawyer in from Philadelphia for a conference. It's also a gay-friendly place. The strength of the place is the neighborhood. The surrounding streets have great personality. The Capitol building and the lively Eastern Market are both a block away.

HEREFORD HOUSE -- 604 S. Carolina Ave. SE. 202/543-0102. Rates range from $50 to $67 a night for doubles. All are shared baths. Four rooms.

This house has the feel of a quaint, low-key home. The rooms are average size and come with comfortable beds and reading chairs. There is a common room with plenty of seating space and a television on the ground floor. One big plus here is the location; the house is excellently situated a block from the Eastern Market Metro station. But it is Ann Edwards, the hostess, who makes Hereford House special. A warm and chatty Brit, she serves up a stick-to-the-ribs full breakfast and a lot of wit and wisdom about the neighborhood.

Hereford would be excellent for a small group of women on an outing in the city.

Logan Circle

SHIPMAN HOUSE -- The address and other details can be obtained from the company Bed and Breakfast Accommodations Ltd., which makes reservations for the house. 202/328-3510. Double room rates range from $60 to $150. Six rooms.

Restored with loving care by the owners, Charles and Jackie Reed, this Victorian mansion is one of the most pleasant B&Bs in D.C. The decor, enhanced by ornate woodwork and art deco lamps and artwork, is dazzling. The elegant gardens, sometimes used for special weddings and receptions, are also free for guests to use.

The full breakfast, served family style by the owners, is a special treat here. One drawback is the neighborhood. It's located near 14th Street, a transitional area where women may not be comfortable walking alone at night.

THE SWISS INN -- 1204 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 202/371-1816. Web site: www.theswissinn.com. No breakfast is served; but all rooms have kitchenettes, making in-room meals easy. Some rooms have an extra bed or an extra bunk bed, which makes it suitable for a couple with one or two children. Summer rates range from $79 to $99 for two. Six rooms.

This is a turn-of-the-century building converted from an apartment building to a guesthouse in the early 1980s. It's a good value for the money, clean and friendly, best for a small family on a budget. Near downtown and the MCI and convention centers, it's an easy walk from the Metro Center subway station. But the decor is basic. And the neighborhood can be a bit risky, particularly at night.

Reservation Services

BED & BREAKFAST ACCOMMODATIONS LTD. -- P.O. Box 12011 Washington, D.C. 20005. 202/328-3510. Web site: www.bnbaccom.com. This place makes reservations for 80 B&Bs of all types throughout the Washington area, including Dupont Circle and Capitol Hill. The Web site includes photos of several properties. I visited

Shipman House and the wonderful Settle House, located on Capitol Hill. Both of which can be reserved only through this service.

BED AND BREAKFAST LEAGUE LTD. -- Obtain a brochure, with complete descriptions of properties from: Box 9490, Washington, D.C. 20016. 202/363-7767. This place has a wide range of properties, including a couple in Georgetown.

CAPTION: Henriette and John Ford at the Dupont at the Circle. Top right, the garden at Shipman House.

CAPTION: Swann House, near Dupont Circle, provides a sumptuous setting for guests.

CAPTION: Joe and Lisa Stofan, left, and Randy and Lauren Smith make themselves at home on a porch at Shipman House.

CAPTION: An elegant dining room enhances breakfast time at Swann House.

CAPTION: Guests breakfast with Alan Skvirsky, co-owner of the Dupont at the Circle.