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Washington, D.C.

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Travel Guide North America USA Southern United States Washington, D.C.

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Introduction

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

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Washington, D.C. is America's capital city, and in addition to being the center of the country's politics, it is also home to a large number of significant cultural institutions, memorials and historic monuments. The city lies on the banks of the Potomac River, between Virginia and Maryland, on the east coast of the US. The city was built in the 18th century to serve as the national capital and lies within its own federal district, the District of Columbia (D.C.).

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Neighbourhoods

For travellers, Washington, D.C. can be divided into 4 main areas:

  • Downtown (The National Mall, East End, West End, Waterfront)
  • North Central (Dupont Circle, Shaw, Adams Morgan-Columbia Heights)
  • West (Georgetown, Upper Northwest)
  • East (Capitol Hill, Northeast, Anacostia)

Foggy Bottom

One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Washington, the Foggy Bottom neighbourhood encompasses the areas roughly in between 17th Street/White House (east) and Rock Creek Park (west), and Pennsylvania Avenue (north) and Constitution Avenue (south). The George Washington University main campus, the DAR Constitution Hall, numerous embassies, the American Red Cross National Headquarters, the Watergate complex, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Federal Government (including the Old and New Executive Office Buildings and Department of the Interior) are some of the notable occupants of Foggy Bottom. The George Washington University in particular has grown in the last decade, and has come to dominate much of the neighborhood, although numerous old and historic townhouses and residences still remain. The neighbourhood is served by several bus routes, and a Metro stop on the Blue and Orange lines (called Foggy Bottom-GWU).

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Sights and Activities

The White House

The building on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the residence of every American president since John Adams. While the White House was completed in 1800, it was already expanded a year later. In 1814 the White House burned down during the War of 1812, when it was burned by the British Army. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and President James Monroe could move into a partially reconstructed house in October 1817.

White House

White House

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Over the year's many additions were made to the building, including the famous oval office. Tours of the White House are available for American citizens, which can be requested up to six months in advance, at his or hers member of Congress. Non-Americans have to make a request at their embassy, which can help to request a tour.

The Mall

The Washington D.C. Mall is one of the most amazing sights in city. In this wonderful park located in the heart of Washington, D.C. is home to several amazing sights. Some of these sights are the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Memorial, the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial and several of the of Washington D.C.'s finest museums are located around the edge of the mall. If anything the mall is just nice green space in the heart of the city.

The Lincoln Memorial

The first plans for the memorial date back to 1867 when a commission was formed to work out plans for a memorail in honour of Abraham Lincoln, but the build was not commissioned until 1911, as a suitable piece of land couldn't be found before 1902. The first stone of the memorial was layed on February 12, 1914, the birthday of the President. While Henry Bacon worked on the memorial, Daniel Chester. French designed the statue of Lincoln, which would become the center piece of the memorial. The statue is made from white marble, that was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers in New York, and looks towards the relecting pool and the Washington monument in the distance.

Other Memorials and Monuments

The Lincoln Memorial is just one of many memorials in Washington, D.C. and most are located at the western half of The Mall and around the Tidal Basin, south of The Mall. The biggest and nicest are the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, The Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, The Korean War Veterans Memorial, The World War II Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Other smaller ones are about the relationship with Japan (in the form of a pagoda) and the Albert Einstein monument/statue.

  • Capitol Building - together with The White House probably one of the most famous buildings in the city and still one of the most beautiful and characteristic ones. It marks the eastern end of The Mall, 3 kilometres from the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Arlington National Cemetery is one of the nicest national cemeteries in the country and the changing of the guard can be very moving. There is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as John F. Kennedy's grave, but walking around all the other graves is probably just as nice and much more relaxed and less crowded.

The Smithsonian Institutions

Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral

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Other Museums

Gardens, Farmers Markets and Wineries

Do something different in Washington, D.C. Visit historical and contemporary gardens, farmers markets and even wineries are within driving distance of the city. Have a look at the Mycapitalgardens USA website for more information.

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Events and Festivals

  • Passport DC - This annual event hopes to offer visitors the sensation that they've traveled around the world without leaving Washington, D.C. Featuring exhibits from over 40 worldwide embassies, this event will feature a European festival, an Asian cultural festival, children's events, and much more. This will be a great family event and a wonderful learning experience for all.
  • National Cherry Blossom Festival - - One of the more famous festivals or events in Washington, D.C., the National Cherry Blossom Festival is held every spring in Washington, D.C. The festival dates vary slightly every year because the event is planned as close to the Peak Bloom Date as possible, which is highly dependent on weather that refuses to conform to any sort of scheduling. For the dates of the current year's Festival, visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival homepage. The festival is a celebration of the original 1912 gift from Japan to the United States of more than 3,000 cherry trees as a show of friendship. Activities are held throughout the city, but the main events take place on the Mall, and around the Tidal Basin, where you can see most of the trees. Many of the events showcase Japanese culture, and if you're interested in learning more about the trees themselves, you can partake in tours led by the National Park Service. The festivities culminate in the National Cherry Blossom Parade, which travels down Constitution Avenue with floats, local and international clubs and organizations, and lots of marching bands. Plan ahead if you're traveling to Washignton, D.C. for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and be prepared for any kind of weather. Spring in Washington, D.C. can bring one day of sun and 25 °C weather, followed up by a day of wind, rain, and temperatures in the 5 °C-10 °C range.
  • Capitol Pride - The Capitol Pride event is the 4th-largest GLBT event in the country. This festival is a nine-day celebration of love, diversity, and civil rights advocacy for the GLBT community. This event is held every year in May/June.
  • National Capital Barbecue Battle - Voted as one of the top food events in the country, this BBQ event is full of food, fun, and tons of barbecue! Popular BBQ restaurants from all around the country flock to this event to showcase their culinary skills. Visitors can expect to sample many different kinds of BBQ; cooking demonstrations and some cooking classes will also be available. The highlight of the event is the great BBQ battle, where chefs compete for the winning title.
  • Independence Day (04 Jul 2013) - One of the best Independence Day celebrations occurs rightfully in the heart of the nation's capitol. Known for its dynamic parade, with incredible marching bands and great displays of patriotism. Popular music artists are invited to perform during this event, and visitors can choose from an array of music concerts held throughout the day. In the evening is the finale event, where a beautiful fireworks display takes over the night sky.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

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Weather

Washington is in the humid subtropical climate zone and exhibits four distinct seasons. Its climate is typical of Mid-Atlantic U.S. areas removed from bodies of water. Spring and fall are warm, while winter is cool with annual snowfall averaging 39 cm. Winter temperatures average around 3.3 °C from mid-December to mid-February. Summers are hot and humid with a July daily average of 26.6 °C and average daily relative humidity around 66%, which can cause moderate personal discomfort. The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area.

Blizzards affect Washington on average once every four to six years. The most violent storms are called "nor'easters", which often affect large sections of the U.S. East Coast. Hurricanes (or their remnants) occasionally track through the area in late summer and early fall, but are often weak by the time they reach Washington, partly due to the city's inland location. Flooding of the Potomac River, however, caused by a combination of high tide, storm surge, and runoff, has been known to cause extensive property damage in Georgetown.

The highest recorded temperature was 41 °C on July 20, 1930, and August 6, 1918,] while the lowest recorded temperature was -26 °C on February 11, 1899, during the Great Blizzard of 1899. During a typical year, the city averages about 37 days at or above 32 °C and 64 nights at or below freezing.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max5.7 °C7.7 °C13.6 °C19.3 °C24.6 °C29.3 °C31.4 °C30.5 °C26.7 °C20.6 °C14.6 °C8.3 °C
Avg Min-2.9 °C-1.6 °C3.2 °C8 °C13.7 °C19.2 °C21.9 °C21.1 °C16.9 °C10.2 °C5.1 °C-0.2 °C
Rainfall69.1 mm68.8 mm80.5 mm68.8 mm93 mm85.9 mm96.5 mm99.3 mm84.1 mm76.7 mm79.2 mm79.2 mm
Rain Days7.87.387.68.97.57.87.45.95.76.77.1

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Getting There

By Plane

There are three major airports that serve the Baltimore-Washington Area. Getting from each of these airports into town is a mixed bag. They all have the standard taxi, shuttle services and rental cars. Public transportation on the other hand is lacking.

1. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) - This airport is located 25 miles (40 kilometres) west of Washington, D.C., in Dulles, Virginia. United Airlines, JetBlue Airways and American Airlines are the main airlines in this airport.

To/from Dulles Airport

  • Washington Dulles Airport is served by a private bus company that picks you up at the terminal and drops you off at a Metro station in DC. For a cheaper option, one can take the Metro Bus, which runs on a slightly longer schedule, every hour or so. This 5A express bus makes two to three stops on its way from the airport to downtown Washington, depending on the time of day. Stops include the Herndon–Monroe transfer station in Herndon and the Rosslyn Metro station in Arlington.
  • Loudoun County Transit provides bus service which runs from the Dulles Town Center shopping center, to the airport, then to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Air and Space Museum.
  • Taxis, shuttles and rental cars are widely available and byc ar Dulles is accessible via the Dulles Access Road/Dulles Greenway (State Route 267) and State Route 28.

2. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) - This airport is located three miles (5 kilometres) south of Washington, D.C. in Arlington County, Virginia. US Airways is the carrier with the most flights across the country.

To/from Ronald Reagan Airport

  • Rail: The Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Metro station is located on an elevated outdoor platform (with a canopy) connected to the concourse level of Terminals B and C, and offers service to the Yellow and Blue lines.
  • Bus: Metrobus provides service on weekend mornings before the Metrorail station opens. Door-to-door service is available from several providers.
  • Car: Taxis from DCA to Virginia are metered. Taxis from DCA to the District of Columbia now run on a metered system as well. DCA is located on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and connected to U.S. Route 1 by the Airport Viaduct (State Route 233). Interstate 395 is just north of DCA, and is accessible by the G.W. Parkway and U.S. Route 1. There are numerous car rental facilities and parking places at the airport as well.

3. Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) - Located 10 miles (16 kilometres) south of Baltimore and 30 miles (48 kilometres) north of Washington, D.C., this airport's main carriers are Southwest Airlines and US Airways.

To/from Baltimore-Washington Airport

  • Rail: The airport's station is located about a mile from the airport terminal; a free shuttle bus connects the train station and airport terminals. The station is served by Amtrak Northeast Corridor trains and, on weekdays, by the MARC Penn Line. Travel time by train is about 10 minutes to Baltimore's Penn Station and 35 minutes to Union Station in Washington, D.C. Trains depart at least once an hour seven days a week, with departure times during rush hours and business hours being significantly more frequent. The Maryland Transit Administration's Light Rail line has a stop just outside the entrance to the airport's International Terminal. Passengers can take the Light Rail to a variety of destinations in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, and Baltimore County, and can transfer to the Metro Subway in Baltimore. A ride downtown takes approximately 30 minutes. Trains run every 20 minutes during peak hours, and 30 minutes all other times.
  • Bus: Bus service between the airport and the Greenbelt station of the Washington Metro and MARC Camden Line is provided by WMATA's Metrobus on Route B30 every 40 minutes 6:00am-10:00pm weekdays and 9:00am-10:00pm on weekends. The Maryland Transit Administration's Bus Route 17 serves the airport 24/7. During the hours when the Light Rail operates, buses operate to the Patapsco Light Rail Stop. When the Light Rail is not in service, buses operate to Downtown Baltimore. Howard Transit's Silver route operates between BWI and The Mall in Columbia hourly at most times except overnight. Annapolis Transit's Route C-60 operates between the airport and Annapolis.
  • Car: parking places, rental car facilities and plenty of taxis are available at the Baltimore-Washington Airport.

By Train

Amtrak runs many regularly scheduled trains from Washington, DC to Boston, Chicago and many other cities. The trains are:

  • The Acela Express between Washington and Boston.
  • The Capitol Limited between Washington and Chicago, via Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
  • The Cardinal/Hoosier State between Washington and New York and Washington and Chicago, via Cincinatti and Indianapolis.
  • The Carolinian/Piedmont between Washington and New York and Washington and Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • The Crescent from New York via Washington to Atlanta and New Orleans.
  • The Northeast Regional between Boston and Newport News, via New York and Washington DC.
  • The Silver Service/Palmetto between New York and Tampa/Miami, stopping in Washington DC, Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville.
  • The Vermonter between Washington DC and St. Albans, Vermont, via New York City.

By Car

Washington, D.C. is primarily served by the coastal superhighway, I-95 from Baltimore or Greyhound runs regular bus between all the major cities. Many other bus companies offer services throughout the Northeast of the USA, including Peter Pan Buses, Megabus, BoltBus, DC2NY, Tripper Bus and Vamoose Bus. There exist on the East Coast a system commonly referred to as the 'Chinatown Bus'. These buses are run by several companies, some use old retired buses, other brand new ones. Tickets go from $10 to $20 roundtrip between Washington, D.C. Chinatown to New York, with an optional stop in Baltimore.

By Boat

There are no official public connections, though there are some boats plying the Potomac River south towards Mount Vernon, and also between the waterfront and Georgetown to the northwest.

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Getting Around

By Car

Driving and parking in Washington, D.C. can be hectic and difficult. Street parking downtown is limited to two hours only (even at meters), so be prepared to park in a private lot or garage, which cost anywhere from $10-25 per day. Avoid driving and parking during rush hour (weekdays, 6:00-10:00am and 4:00-8:00pm), since this is when the majority of the city's traffic congestion, street direction changes, and parking restrictions are in effect. If you do park on the street, pay close attention to traffic signs. Most streets downtown restrict parking during rush hour and visitors often return to the spot where they parked only to find that their vehicle has been ticketed and towed!

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

By Public Transport

Washington Metro Station

Washington Metro Station

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The public transportation system in the District consists of the Metrorail and Metrobus (see the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority), and the DC Circulator. These, along with several regional transit systems, such as MARC, VRE, ART, CUE, DASH, and Fairfax Connector, serve Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas of Virginia and Maryland. While the Metrorail and Metrobus serve stations both inside and outside of the District, most of the regional systems listed above do not serve the District itself. Rather, they connect to the Metro system at various points in Virginia and Maryland.

By Foot

Much of Washington, D.C. can easily be navigate on foot, with the occassional metroride for slightly longer distances or across the river into Virginia. The city is split into four quadrants of unequal size, which radiate out from the Capitol Building: Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), and Southwest (SW). The NW quadrant is by far the largest and SW the smallest. Addresses in the city always include the quadrant abbreviation, e.g., 1000 H Street NE. Take note of the quadrant, otherwise you may find yourself on the exact opposite side of town from your destination! City streets are generally laid out in a grid, with east-west streets primarily named with letters (A–W) and north-south streets named with numbers. Complicating the grid are the numerous diagonal avenues, many named after states, that serve as the city's principal arteries. The street numbers and letters increase with distance from the Capitol.

By Bike

Cycling is an increasingly popular form of transportation among Washington, D.C. residents. Bicycling has become a great way for tourists to visit Washington, D.C.'s neighbourhoods as well. Washington, D.C. also became the first city in North America to start a bike-sharing service. That pilot program was replaced in 2010 by the new Capital Bikeshare network, which has over 1,100 bicycles available at more than 100 stations across the entire city and in neighboring Arlington, Virginia. Visitors may use the service for $7/day or $15 for 3 days, payable by using a credit card at the automated kiosks attached to every Capital Bikeshare station.

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Eat

Ben's Chili Bowl

  • Ben's Chili Bowl - - A Washington institution since 1958, Ben's Chili Bowl, located in the U Street corridor, is one of those places that makes a trip to Washington, D.C. complete. A landmark of African American history in DC, Ben's Chili Bowl has hosted the likes of Bill Cosby, Martin Luther King, Jr., sitting Presidents Clinton and Obama, as well as decades of Jazz luminaries like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Cab Calloway. Occupying a space once dedicated to the arts (Minnehaha Theatre), Ben's walls are filled with memorabilia of their decades and decades of service. Plus, the food is good. Ben's serves up chili (obviously), but also fantastic burgers, hot dogs, half smokes, a few vegetarian options, and even a breakfast menu.

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Sleep

Budget

PropertyAddressTypePopularity
Capitol City Hostel2411 Benning Road NEHostel78
District Hotel1440 Rhode Island Ave NWHotel76
Embassy Inn1627 16th Street NW WashingtonHotel77
Gallery Inn Hotel1905 19th Street. N.W. 1850 Florida Ave. N.W.Hotel-
Hilltop Hostel300 Carroll St, 20012 NWHostel70
Laura's House1922 9th St NW Washington, DCHOSTEL-
The Allen Lee Hotel2224 F Street N.W.Hotel-
Washington DC Guesthouse2413 Benning Road, NE Washington DCHostel-
Washington International Student Center2451 18th Street NW DC 20009Hostel75
William Penn House515 East Capitol St SEHostel83
Windsor Inn Hotel1842 16th street NW WashingtonHotel79
International House of Washington (United Tel)1110 6th st. nw Washington, DCHOSTEL82
Aunt Beas Little White House3619 12TH. ST. NE.Guesthouse-
DC Trekker1422 Harvard St.Hostel-
DC Hostel4115 8th Street NWHOSTEL80
Comfort Inn - Arlington Blvd/DC Gateway6111 Arlington Blvd.Hotel-
Comfort Inn - Alexandria/Washington DC5716 S. Van Dorn StreetHotel-
Comfort Inn and Suites1600 New York Avenue NEHOTEL79
The Guest House6025 Arlington Blvd.Hostel-
Quality Inn - Andrews Air Force Base4783 Allentown Road Camp SpringsHotel-
Comfort Inn1587 Springhill RoadHotel80
Comfort Inn & Suites College Park9020 Baltimore Ave.Hotel-
Red Roof Inn - Rockville16001 Shady Grove RoadHotel-
Quality Inn - Mount Vernon/Washington7212 Richmond HwyHotel-
Motel 6 Washington DC SW-Springfield6868 Springfield Boulevard SpringfieldHotel-
Capital View301 i street NWHostel80
Duo Housing DC1223 11th st 11th St NWHOSTEL86
Holiday Inn Express Washington DC/BW Parkway6205 Annapolis RoadHotel-
Downtown Washington Hostel506 H Street NEHostel83
Quality Inn Alexandria8849 Richmond HwyHotel-
Motel 6 Washington, DC SE - Camp Springs #6825701 Allentown RoadHotel-
Hotel Baron1523 22nd street NWHotel80
Red Roof Inn VA5975 Richmond Highway AlexandraHotel-
Red Roof Inn DC827 Elkridge landing Road Linthicum Heights MDHotel-
Capital Comfort Hostel1610 7th street NWHOSTEL76
Dupont Circle Suites1500 Massachusetts avenue Apartment 736Hostel-
Hostelling International - Washington DC1009 11th Street NW WashingtonHOSTEL85
DC Lofty - Convention Center1333 11th st NW Washington DCHOSTEL81
Canal Inn Georgetown1061 31st Street NWHOTEL-
Diplomatic Stay4907 14th St NWHOSTEL-
Serenity Bay Homestay5551 Exeter StreetGUESTHOUSE-
Metro Points Hotel8500 Annapolis RoadHotel-

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Keep Connected

Internet

There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.

Post

The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.

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References

  1. 1 Mid-2008 estimate, U.S. Census Bureau

Quick Facts

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Population
591,833[1]
Coordinates
  • Latitude: 38.892091
  • Longitude: -77.024055

Contributors

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