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WASHINGTON, D.C.

A monumental cruise of the Potomac

After a hot day of walking around the Mall, cool off with an evening riverboat tour of some of Washington's many landmarks.

October 11, 2009|Martin Miller

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As a tourist in Washington, D.C., you can do a lot of walking. I repeat, a lot of walking and on pavement. Then couple that with some of Washington's famous heat and humidity.

It's mostly a sweaty haze of a memory at this point, but I seem to recall both my sons -- ages 10 and 7 -- asking to be carried (who says kids don't have a sense of humor?) after a day of walking around the museums on the Mall. Meanwhile, even my hike-happy wife looked longingly at air-conditioned taxi cabs as they whizzed by, but maybe that's because she was giving me a piggyback ride.

So, let me assure you, when our family of four got the chance to take a load off and float -- instead of walk -- to see the sights, we eagerly grabbed it. And though we had already seen most of the monuments up close, they all took on a new beauty at sunset as we drifted down the Potomac River past many of them.

There is no shortage of vessels or routes to choose from in navigating the main waterway of the nation's capital. (For information, see www. washington.org.) It was hot and muggy on our June trip, so we chose a boat that had air conditioning on the bottom deck and was open air up top. But autumn brings some of the area's best weather, so that may not be a concern.

Our boat ride began in Georgetown and made its way leisurely downriver to Alexandria, Va. -- that and the return trip lasted about 90 minutes.

Before departing, we enjoyed the Sequoia restaurant, which sort of reminded me of Malibu's Gladstone's -- great views of the water and a fine, if somewhat overpriced, meal. This area, known as Washington Harbour, is quite the evening scene, with bustling riverfront restaurants, party boats and tourists.

After our meal, we jumped on our boat, about 100 yards away, and bought soda and popcorn for the kids and a couple of glasses of wine for the grown-ups (that's about all the food and beverages offered on board). We knew we were in for one of the highlights of our D.C. vacation when, even before leaving the dock, we were staring straight at the Watergate complex and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Once the ride was underway, after passing underneath the Roosevelt Bridge, we got a magnificent look at the Lincoln Memorial. We soon learned, thanks to a recorded tour playing overhead, that the monument's steps and accompanying walkway were designed to reach the river for a reason: They were meant as a grand way to greet foreign dignitaries before whisking them by carriage to the White House.

Occasionally, the boat would slow to a crawl as it crept underneath one of the city's many bridges. Indeed, under one bridge, the clearance between the boat's top deck and the bottom of the rusted rail structure was a couple of feet. (One of the captains later told me that at high tide, the distance shrinks to inches.)

As the vessel powered its way down the muddy waters of the Potomac, the Beltway's other notable landmarks -- the Washington Monument, the Capitol, the Custis-Lee Mansion, the Naval Research Laboratory -- slowly began rolling by in the calming rhythms of water travel. With the kids' potential mischief limited by their new confinement and the welcome measured pace, it was truly relaxing -- something rarely scheduled on vacations.

We stopped for about 15 minutes in Alexandria's historic Old Town, which also has its own busy riverfront scene. It can make the additional boast of the eclectic three-story Torpedo Factory Art Center, which, as its name suggests, is a onetime torpedo factory that has since beaten its swords into, not plowshares, but artworks.

The return trip was just as soothing. The kids took a seat on the stern, laughing and leaning over the edge occasionally to catch the water spray produced by the boat's engine. We adults remained on the top deck, letting the lush scenery wash over us and postponing the thought of that long, long walk back to our car and the city.

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martin.miller@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

If you go

POTOMAC RIVERBOAT CO.

The sightseeing tours run daily during the high season, but beginning this week, trips are weekends only until Nov. 1.

Round-trip prices: Adults, $26; children (ages 2 to 11), $14

Info: (877) 511-2628, www.potomacriverboatco.com

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