An Overview of Washington, DC Lodging Options and Neighborhoods
It being the nation's capital, Washington, DC has an impressive selection of hotels. Also given its international stature and popularity with tourists, the city can sometimes book up almost completely weeks in advance, especially when there are major events or conventions in town. But on the whole, this is a great hotel, with an especially impressive selection of stylish and intimate boutique properties, quite of few of which are in appealing (and less touristy) semi-residential neighborhoods like gay-popular Dupont Circle and ever-increasingly hip Logan Circle.
Many of Washington's top hotels are operated by the gay-popular Kimpton Hotels brand. Also very gay-forward in its employee policies and customer attitudes, Marriott Hotels is based in Washington, DC and has several first-rate hotels around the city, and the expansive Hilton Hotels brand is just outside the city in McLean, Virginia. But you'll find excellent outposts of many other popular, and especially upscale, brands in town, including Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Starwood (soon to merge with Marriott), InterContinental (of which Kimpton is a subsidiary), and Fairmont. If you're looking to earn or spend hotel loyalty points, you shouldn't expect to have much trouble doing so in Washington, DC.
If you're mission in visiting the nation's capital is to spend a good bit of your time visiting key attractions, such as the several superb (and free) Smithsonian museums and other draws along the iconic Washington Mall, you should consider staying at one of the many hotels on or east of 16th Street and on or south of K Street over to about 6th Street - this quadrant, which includes Federal Triangle and Metro Center, is extremely handy to major attractions. You can also expect consistently higher rates in this part of town than in some other areas.
Choose a hotel in or near Dupont Circle and, just east, Logan Circle, if you'd rather be a bit farther from the city's legions of visitors, and you'd like to be able to walk easily to trendy DC gay bars and stylish, farm-to-table restaurants, craft-beer bars, and scene-y cocktail lounges. Farther west, historic and pedestrian-friendly Georgetown has a handful of luxe hotels. And in these western and northwestern neighborhoods, which are a bit more residential than other parts of the city, you'll also find a handful of gay-friendly B&Bs as well as a growing number of Air B&B options.
See below for a list, in alphabetical order, of some of the best lodging options in Washington DC for gay travelers.
Staying Across the River in Virginia
Given that Washington, DC, has an easy and efficient metro system that reaches well into the surrounding suburbs, and that the cost of hotels just across the Potomac in Virginia can be significantly lower than in the District of Columbia, choosing a hotel in Arlington or Alexandria, Virginia can make a lot of sense. Arlington and Alexandria hotels generally cost from 20% to 50% less than similar properties in DC (and often have much cheaper parking rates) - for top deals, look into Arlington hotel rates on weekends, as this business-minded metropolis tends to book up fully on weekdays with biz travelers.
If you've landed at Reagan National Airport (DCA), driven along I-395 past the formidable Pentagon complex, or taken the Washington, DC Metro's Orange, Yellow, or Blue, lines to the south or west, you've been to Arlington, Virginia, which is right across the Potomoc River from Washington, DC. In fact, from the Lincoln Memorial, it's only about a half-mile stroll across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to access this city of about 221,000 people that claims such notable attractions as Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, and countless swanky shopping malls, restaurants, and hotels.
Arlington comprises several eclectic "urban villages": Ballston, Pentagon City, Clarendon, Crystal City, Rosslyn, Courthouse, and Shirlington. Specifically, hotels abound in Ballston, Rosslyn, Crystal City, and Pentagon City. To this extent, Arlington is a great base for visiting Washington, DC, and many properties provide free and quick shuttle bus service to Reagan National Airport as well as easy proximity to a bunch of Metro stops.
Via the Metro you can get from the gay bars and restaurants around Dupont Circle to your Arlington hotel in about a half-hour. Also,Arlington does have its own gay nightspot, Freddie's Beach Bar (555 S. 23rd St., Arlington, 703-685-0555), which within walking distance of several hotels.
The next town south from Arlington, Alexandria is a fast-growing yet immensely charming suburb with an atmospheric Old Town neighborhood and several outstanding hotels, including three members of modish Kimpton Hotel chain. DC's yellow and blue Metro lines lead right to Alexandria (at the King St./Old Town and Braddock Road stops), and this city of about 150,000 has much to offer in the way of historic attractions, tony shopping, and inviting restaurants. In addition to Old Town, the dynamic Del Ray neighborhood - just a short drive north of downtown - has many gay-friendly coffeehouses, bars, and other businesses.
Beyond those properties with more extensive reviews in this article, some reliably good places to stay in Arlington include the posh Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City (1250 S. Hayes St., 703-415-5000), right by Fashion Centre mall; and the shimmering Westin Arlington Gateway (801 N. Glebe Rd., 703-717-6200), just two blocks from the Ballston Metro stop. Many of Arlington's better lodging choices are in Crystal City, a planned community by Reagan National Airport, the 18-mile Mount Vernon mixed-use jogging and bike trail, Freddie's gay bar, and the Crystal City Metro (Pentagon City is very close, too). Here you'll find the attractive Hyatt Regency Crystal City at Reagan National Airport (2799 Jefferson Davis Hwy., 703-418-1234), the fashionable Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport (1999 Jefferson Davis Hwy., 703-413-5500), the reliably comfortable Hilton Crystal City at Washington Reagan National Airport (2399 Jefferson Davis Hwy., 703-418-6800), and the clean and simple Hampton Inn & Suites Reagan National Airport Hotel (2000 Jefferson Davis Hwy., 703-418-8181).
At the budget end, you can often find rates well under $100 at local motels - Arlington has a few independent properties that also happen to be excllent bargains, given how well-maintained they are. Try the Highlander Motel (3336 Wilson Blvd., 877-786-4301), near the Clarendon and Virginia Square metro stops, and Crystal City's Americana Hotel (1400 Jefferson Davis Hwy., 703-979-3772), an affordable option decorated in the spirit of the retro-1960s style that characterizes when the motel was built. Rooms offer free Wi-Fi, and in the lobby, guests have complimentary use of a microwave and iPad; there's even free parking.
A handsome, art deco mid-rise hotel that had long needed a bit of a makeover before gay-popular and design-driven Kimpton Hotels took it over, the reasonably priced, pet-friendly Carlyle Dupont Circle has one of the best locations in Washington, DC for gay visitors. It's a short walk from the clusters of gay bars in Dupont Circle, yet the location is relatively peaceful and residential - well away from the more touristy parts of the city. Just a few blocks north of here, you can also easily visit the many ethnic restaurants of Adams-Morgan, and the trendy mixed gay-straight dining and bar-going of the U Street corridor. Kimpton has completely renovated this stately property, which also contains an large, excellent fitness center and a popular neighborhood eatery, The Riggsby. There are 198 rooms, many of them quite spacious, and some with kitchenettes and sofa beds. In-room spa services and morning coffee and tea service are also available. The hotel also has fairly cheap (by DC standards) parking at just $15 nightly if you park yourself (it's $42 if you valet).
The sleek and handsomely designed Hotel Palomar DC is one of 13 properties in metro Washington operated by the super gay-friendly Kimpton brand. Among these, it's also a top location for visitors wanting to be close to the hip and lively gay bars and restaurants in and around Dupont Circle. Rooms in this 335-room mid-rise property are filled with contemporary artwork and done in bold colors and styles; those with Kimpton Karma Rewards membership (which is free) receive free Wi-Fi and a $10 "raid the minibar" credit. One major asset at the Palomar is the restaurant, Urbana (202-956-6650), a stylish space on the hotel's lower level that serves stunningly delicious contemporary Italian food - think beautifully plated grilled calamari with salsa verde and red-pepper almond pesto, yellowfin tuna with braised white beans and house-made pancetta, and potato gnocchi with braised lamb and harissa. Everything here is top-notch - go for a meal, whether or not you stay as a guest (if you do overnight, there's 24-hour room service). For overnight guests, other perks include large flat-screen TVs, a pet-friendly policy, comfy Frette linens, and specialty rooms with Fuji soaking tubs and fitness equipment. There's also a heated outdoor pool and top-notch exercise room. The Palomar's location, on the northwest side of the city, is also very close to the fine shopping and dining of historic Georgetown.
Logan Circle continues to rank among the trendiest, hipster-hallowed neighborhoods in the country, as new highly acclaimed restaurants and bars open at break-neck speed, and the city's gentrification shifts ever-farther east, into areas like Shaw, Bloomingdale, and beyond. There aren't a ton of hotels in this part of town, although the gay-popular Kimpton boutique brand is currently transforming the former Helix into the Mason & Rook Hotel (1430 Rhode Island Ave. NW, 202-742-3100), which will open in spring 2016. It'll be steps from Logan Circle dining, but the sophisticated Hotel Rouge is also very close, and it's also a short walk from the gay clubbing scene around Dupont Circle. It's room decked in bold-red color schemes and outfitted with expansive work desks, iHome docking stations, and other handy perks, the Rouge is also noteworthy for its trendy Bar Rouge, and for the Kimpton-trademarked hosted evening happy hours. This is a great overnight option for clubbers and revelers, and it's by Scott Circle, which makes it convenient to area attractions yet far enough from downtown to avoid being overly touristy.
Founded in the 1950s and now comprising more than 4,000 properties, the Marriott Hotels & Resorts hospitality is based right here in Washington, DC, and this company that's long received strong marks for its LGBT-friendliness is also home to the first property in its luxe JW Marriott brand. the JW Marriott Washington DC has quite a lot going for it. The location is absolutely ideal for touring key DC attractions, such as the White House (two blocks west), the Smithsonian Museums (the mall and Smithsonian museums of American history, natural history, and gallery of art are just a few blocks south), and the outstanding Newseum (just a 10-minute walk east). To be sure, the location is a little farther from gay nightlife, although it's only a 20-minute walk or 8-minute Uber/cab ride north to hip Logan Circle and just a bit longer to the gay scene in Dupont Circle. Stay at the JW Marriott because the rooms are plush, beautifully designed, and superbly comfortable, and because proximity to key DC attractions is important to you. It's a less ideal choice if you want to be close to trendy bar- and restaurant-hopping. Accommodations have plenty of high-tech amenities, and the hotel is is home to a full-service restaurant and bar, a Starbucks, and a lovely indoor pool and well-equipped fitness center.
The capital's definitive luxury urban retreat, the Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC enjoys a relatively peaceful location across 14th Street from the picturesque Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial, and just a couple of blocks south of the National Mall and Smithsonian museums (and Smithsonian Metro stop). This Hong Kong–based brand known for its genial service, serene aesthetic, and first-rate amenities has just a handful of U.S. properties. Rooms and suites at this nine-story hotel sport a low-keyed, Asian-inspired look and have floor-to-ceiling windows (try to request a room with a Tidal Basin view), generous proportions, opulent marble bathrooms with both walk-in showers and deep soaking tubs, and plenty of high-tech perks handy for both business and leisure travelers. For many guests, a top reason for choosing the Mandarin Oriental is the supremely relaxing Mandarin Oriental Spa and Fitness Center, which offers a full menu of rejuvenating treatments plus a gorgeous light-filled indoor pool, men's and women's water treatment areas (sauna, whirlpool tub, steam room), and a 1,400-square-foot fitness center. Also popular is the stunningly decorated Empress Lounge for traditional tea in the afternoon and hobnobbing over cocktails and light dining in the evening, and the highly regarded Asian-inflected Muze restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Mandarin Oriental is ideal for couples seeking a romantic getaway. There isn't much in the way of dining and nightlife within easy walking distance, but the Metro is short walk away, and it's a 15-minute Uber or cab ride to Logan or Dupont circles.
The regal Queen Anne Victorian inn that's home to Swann House B&B ranks among the most romantic and intimate hideaways in Washington, DC, and it's long been a favorite among gays and lesbians - it's even hosted a number of weddings. The luxury inn contains 12 rooms and suites, with rates starting a little under $200 nightly for the more intimate quarters (including a couple of basement-level rooms that receive no natural light but are still charming and extremely inviting) to the decidedly lavish suites, such as the Parisienne, with its brick fireplace, large corner sitting area, private entrance off the courtyard, and sumptuous bathroom with heated floors and an arched marble shower with double rain-style shower heads. Guests are treated to an extensive Continental breakfast and afternoon refreshments, rooms have fluffy feather beds (and some have whirlpool tubs), and behind the house is a lovely outdoor swimming pool that's perfect for cooling off after walking around DC on a warm summer day. The Swann House is set along a block of architecturally significant houses and buildings a few blocks north of Dupont Circle and a short walk from the buzzy and hip nightlife and dining of U Street and 14th Street.