Best Discovery

In a city of famous monuments and renowned museums, it's good to get off the beaten track now and again. The amiable Anthony S Pitch leads fact-filled walking tours around low-key, artsy neighbourhoods like Adams- Morgan: If you want to see where President Reagan was shot, where Tallulah Bankhead once lived, or where Tom Cruise filmed A Few Good Men, then Mr Pitch is your man. He'll even point you towards a decent Ethiopian restaurant and there's not many tour guides you can say that about.


I'd been saving myself up for the National Museum of American History. Every major American historical artefact, cultural relic, and piece of folk history is stacked up inside and I wanted to wallow in the lot. But Dorothy's slippers from The Wizard of Oz were out on tour, Muhammed Ali's boxing gloves were in storage with the rest of the sporting paraphernalia, and George Washington's wooden false teeth had been stolen. Thank goodness Evil Knievels's Harley Davidson and Bill Clinton's first saxophone were still on display or I'd have been in for an icon-free visit.


The Santa Fe super-chef Mark Miller produces some of the world's most stomach-trembling cookbooks which speak lovingly of arcane (at least to British eyes) ingredients like tomatillos, habanero chillies, and prickly pear cactus. And in the Chilli Bar of his Red Sage restaurant in DC - done out like a snake charmer's boudoir - simple requests like "I'll have another one of those, some more of that and plenty of this please" are met with courteous efficiency and an agreeably large bill.


You like books, you like music, you like double-decaff espresso with a twist of lemon - you'll think you've died and gone to heaven in Borders Books & Music. In fact, people have died in there, lounging in the easy chairs over an open book, unnoticed for months. No one ever suggests that you might want to do anything as vulgar as buy something: nope, grab the Washington Post, settle down with another espresso, slip into the soothing Jacuzzi and sign up for one of the beach volleyball games (oh all right, I made up two out of the last four but you'll have to go to find out which).


The entire city is something of a bargain and it's actually rather a challenge to spend any money at all during the day in DC. Equip yourself with a five-buck travel pass and you don't pay for public transport; all the national museums and art galleries are free, as are the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, White House, US Capitol, Supreme Court, even the FBI headquarters and the Pentagon. Admittedly, at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (where you watch dollar bills being made, again for free) they try to even things out by selling expensive bags of shredded currency to the more cerebrally challenged visitors.


I see now that buying a bag of shredded currency from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing could be construed as a mistake, though I'm sure it's going to make an excellent birthday present for that someone special in my life. Just kidding dear.


Any museum that has got the Wright Brothers' first plane, Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis and the Apollo 11 command module hanging in the lobby is a winner in my eyes. Step forward the National Air and Space Museum, which - among about a billion other exhibits - also has squeezy space food from Apollo 17 and Herman Ecker's flying boat which he built in 1912, rather enterprisingly using bits and pieces bought from his local hardware store. And it worked.


Washington is split into quandrants, and street addresses could be in one of four places depending on the all-important geographical suffix. The President lives in the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Take a cab to 1600 SE instead and you'll almost certainly find it inhabited by a tattooed collection of attack dogs. Asking to see the China Room here would be a big mistake.

t Jules Brown wrote the "Rough Guide to Washington DC" (pounds 8.99) Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter "Rough News" published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free "Rough Guide" to the first three subscribers each week.



Anthony S Pitch Walking Tours on (00-1) 301 294 9514.

Tours of Adams-Morgan depart on Sunday at 11am and cost $5 (pounds 3).

Places to visit

Museum of American History

(14th St NW and Constitution Ave NW); National Air and Space Museum (Independence Ave and 7th St SW). Both open daily 10am-5.30 pm; admission free.

The Red Sage, 605 14th St NW (00-1-202-638 4444) - around $40 a head and upwards in the Chilli Bar, more if you eat in the formal restaurant.

Borders Books & Music is at 1801 K Street NW.

Useful information

A Metrorail One-Day Pass ($5) gives unlimited travel on DC's transport system after 9.30am on weekdays and all day at weekends. Available from any Metro station.

For tourist information, please send pounds 1 in coins or stamps to Destination Washington DC, 375 Upper Richmond Road West, London SW14 7NX.