What qualifies a hotel as one of the best in D.C.? Well, we know that for some the best hotel is the most luxurious, while for others it’s the one that offers, say, the most for kids, or the most bang for the buck. So this list breaks things down by category — in other words, it includes the top hotel from each of our key D.C. “best” lists: best luxury hotels, best value hotels, best kid-friendly hotels, and so on. We’re able to create these rankings because a team of Oyster reporters spent several weeks exploring 61 of the city’s top hotels. We slept in the beds, ate in the restaurants, tested the service, and scoped out the neighborhoods, all with an eye toward selecting the most distinguished properties. Those that made this list are truly the best of the best.
Our pick for the best all-around luxury hotel in D.C. is a bit unusual for us -- the Jefferson doesn't have the awesome range of amenities we usually expect from the top luxury hotels. And some of the rooms are a bit small. But we think the property's extraordinary attention to detail makes up for those issues, from the flat-screen TVs embedded in the bathroom mirrors to the intimate library with vintage hardcovers to the working dumbwaiter (a Thomas Jefferson invention) in the private dining room. But it succeeds at the big things as well: The property was gutted all the way down to the wiring during the 2009 renovation (the cost of which must have been spectacular) and the management gave great care to ensure that every feature improved the guest experience. The rooms are somehow both sophisticated and homey; the French-American cuisine at Plume restaurant is superb; and the lovely luxury spa, which features vinotherapies (to reflect Thomas Jefferson's love of wine), is a rare feature among D.C. hotels.
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 rooms renovated in 2010, 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.
Food freebies and a convenient location make this Residence Inn a great value for families. A free hot breakfast buffet is served each morning, and a free "social hour" dinner buffet is served on Mondays through Wednesdays (which includes a meat, veggie, salad, and dessert). The hotel is a 10-minute walk from the National Mall and the Smithsonian museums. If that isn't enough, kids will love the indoor heated pool, and parents will love the large, suite-style rooms with fully equipped kitchens.
An elite luxury boutique hotel, the Jefferson spoils couples with its near-impeccable service, exceptional spa that includes specialized "vinotherapies" to reflect Thomas Jefferson's love of wine, impressive details (like a TV embedded in the bathroom mirror), and colonial charm -- a cozy library with a fireplace; a working dumbwaiter that delivers wine bottles from the hotel's 1,000-bottle cellar; extra toiletries brought to the room on a silver tray.
The hotel of choice for the world's powerbrokers -- even Obama snagged a suite with his family prior to his inauguration -- the intimate Hay-Adams, located in the White House's unofficial backyard, is quite possibly the most famous hotel in the capital. Built in 1927 over the homes of John Hay and Henry Adams, is a distinctly D.C. boutique hotel, with its stately vibe, exceptionally doting service, classy bar and restaurant, and unique details to individualize each guest room, like an ornamental fireplace or some decorative carvings.