Rachel Lieberman, 22, spread out a striped beach towel, put on stereo headphones and lay back on the grass at Dupont Circle, reading "Jobs for English Majors and Other Smart People."

"I would love to be at the beach," sighed Lieberman, a recent George Washington University graduate. "That would be wonderful. But I have no way to get there. I have no money -- I'm just about to hit the job market. Do you want to pay to send me?"

While thousands of vacationers crowded the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and jammed highways heading east to the beaches, others like Lieberman launched the 1985 summer season here at home -- and many preferred it that way.

The weather in the city was sunny, with light winds and a high of 86 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. More of the same is expected today, with highs in the low 90s.

"Everybody else goes to the beach, and I figured it would be just too crowded, so I decided to stay," said Marta Blanford, 24, who cruised Connecticut Avenue yesterday in a white Mustang LX with her friend, Marykay Laird, 23. "I just hate crowds," said Laird. "I want serenity. Quiet. Peace."

"I don't like it when it's standing room only, even in the water," said Gerry Sheffield, 50, who strolled the sidewalks along Connecticut Avenue with a friend. "Besides, I'll spend July in Maine, on an island. So, what the heck -- I can afford to miss three days of beach."

Sadiqa Bay, 12, rode up and down the mostly empty streets off Connecticut on her bike. She said all her friends were at afternoon picnics or had left town for the weekend.

That didn't bother Sadiqa at all. "I like it here in Washington," she said. "I like this place. I like just hanging around it."

"I don't feel like I'm stuck here," said Harry Cooper, 25, an art student who spent part of yesterday afternoon in a bathing suit, reading the paper and eating glazed doughnuts at Dupont Circle park. "I only live three blocks away, and the beach is three hours away," he said. "This is as good as the beach -- almost."

One of the few who said he would have been happier elsewhere was Dwight Brown, 39, a mason, who spent yesterday building a brick manhole on Connecticut Avenue.

It was cool and shady in the construction pit, but he said where he really wanted to be was trout fishing in Maryland.

Some who were still in the city yesterday were about to make their Great Escape.

Evelyn Woodhead, for example, a part-time sales clerk at Woodward & Lothrop, had just come from church and said she was going to hop on a bus for Atlantic City, where she planned to gamble. "I never win, but I like it," she said.

"I'm leaving right now for Mount Vernon," said Jeff Pierson, 26, who was withdrawing money from an automatic bank teller. "I want to see George Washington's house. The traffic going to the beaches would have been too much, so I'm taking a look at the alternatives."