Washington Plaza Hotel Rating: 3.5 Pearls
Opened in 1962 and designed by prolific architect Morris Lapidus -- of Miami Beach's Fontainebleau fame -- the Washington Plaza stands out among the cookie-cutter Marriotts and Hiltons at the center of the city. The convenient central location, cheerful, newly renovated rooms, terrific outdoor pool (once the choice swimming hole for Jackie O. and the kids), and distinctive retro lobby make the Washington Plaza one of the best values in town.
River Inn Rating: 3.0 Pearls
In a city where the dollar usually doesn't stretch very far, the 125-room River Inn is a revelation. Charming and quiet -- it's located in sleepy Foggy Bottom, after all -- the hotel offers great value with a warm, friendly staff and clean, 450-square-foot suites with full kitchens and pullout couches. Add in free perks like Wi-Fi, bike rentals, and passes to Bally Total Fitness, and it's tough to beat this gem.
The Dupont Circle Hotel Rating: 4.0 Pearls
Despite its modest 1940s-era exterior, the Dupont is in the vanguard of modern design among D.C. hotels after a yearlong, top-to-bottom renovation. Handsome, well-appointed rooms are the highlight, but solid service, a popular local bar scene, the excellent Cafe Dupont, and a prime Dupont Circle location complete the substance behind its style.
Donovan House Rating: 4.0 Pearls
The Donovan House is a sleek offering that's helping define Obama-era D.C. cool along with hip counterparts like the W and the Dupont Hotel. From its dark-purple-and-white color scheme, to its pod-shaped "cocoon" showers, to its mod lobby, and rowdy rooftop pool parties, the Donovan House offers a sexy night in the nation's capital.
Hotel Madera Rating: 3.0 Pearls
Tucked away on a quiet, treelined residential street, this 82-room boutique is a good choice for affordable and hip accommodations. Its can-do staff, up-to-date guest quarters, jewel of a restaurant, and free perks like a daily wine reception and early morning coffee, add up to a solid value in the heart of lively Dupont Circle.
The Carlyle Suites Hotel Rating: 3.0 Pearls
Located steps from Dupont Circle, the Carlyle Suites Hotel is set in a handsome Art Deco building with 170 large studio suites with kitchenettes. What it lacks in features (no fitness center, business center, or 24-hour room service), it more than makes up for in charm and location -- it's a largely unknown D.C. jewel.
Residence Inn Washington, DC / Capitol Rating: 3.0 Pearls
The 233 large, suite-style rooms at this property come equipped with kitchens and, often, pullout couches. Freebies like the "social hour" buffet dinners (with wine) Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, hot breakfast buffets daily, and in-room hard-wired Internet make this an especially great bargain, as do standout features like the indoor saltwater pool. Though it's located in a somewhat lifeless part of the city's southwest quadrant, surrounded by federal buildings, the museums and monuments on the National Mall are an easy 10-minute walk.
Hotel Helix Rating: 3.0 Pearls
An eccentric, reasonably priced, 178-room Kimpton hotel (a chain with seven D.C. properties), Hotel Helix opened in 2002 on a once-sketchy but now pretty block of Rhode Island Avenue in the Dupont Circle vicinity. It was revamped with extra-large guest rooms, free Wi-Fi, free wine receptions in the lobby, modish decor, and a relaxed mood in 2009.
Hampton Inn Washington, DC Rating: 3.0 Pearls
Four Points By Sheraton Washington D.C. Downtown Rating: 3.0 Pearls
Smack in the middle of D.C.'s business district and two blocks from the convention center, this mid-tier business hotel has comfortable beds, clean rooms, free Internet, a well-maintained pool, helpful service, and a 24-hour gym. The area is a dead zone at night and on weekends, but downtown nightlife is eight blocks away. All in all, not an inspiring choice, but a solid value nevertheless.