When you consider the prestige level of its free tourist attractions - and of many of its affordable hotels - the nation's capital also qualifies as America's vacation-value center.
Most of the year, Washington's midweek hotel rates require the expense account of a visiting sultan or a fervent lobbyist. But on weekends, you can often stay in top spots for half the price. And during Congress' summer recess - usually starting around the July 4 weekend - most D.C. lodgings cut their rates up to 50 percent seven days a week.Here's a sampling of family packages at major downtown hotels, subject to availability.
Loews L'Enfant Plaza, at 480 L'Enfant Plaza S.W., near the Smithsonian, has a Patriots Pride weekend package, Friday through Sunday year-round. It's $129 daily for a room that can accommodate a family of five. Guests get 25 percent off food and beverage purchases and kids get a goodie bag that includes a card they can use to borrow books and videos from the hotel's library. July 1 through Sept. 9, the straight room rate will start at $119 any day of the week. Info: (800) 635-5065.
The grand dame Stouffer Renaissance Mayflower at 1127 Connecticut Ave. N.W., walking distance to the White House and other major sights, has a $129-a-day weekend package through Labor Day. It includes deluxe accommodations, daily full breakfast for two people, free parking and free limo service within a three-mile radius of the hotel (without breakfast it's $119). Children of any age stay free in the room. Info: (800) HOTELS-1.
The Washington Court Hotel at 525 New Jersey Ave. N.W. on Capitol Hill has weekend packages from $109 daily for bed and breakfast to $139 daily for a Capitol-view room, breakfast, valet parking and Tourmobile sightseeing passes. July 1 to Labor Day, all but the $109 package will be available weekdays, as well. Kids under 16 stay free in the room. Info: (800) 321-3010.
Embassy Suites Downtown, 1250 22nd St. N.W., at the edge of trendy Georgetown, has a Masterpiece Package at $114 to $164 daily in suites with two distinct rooms, two TVs and two phones. It includes cooked-to-order breakfast, daily reception and a photo album for your masterpiece family snapshots. Stay three nights and you qualify for the Family Package rate of $149 to $164 daily for up to four adults. Kids 12 and under always stay free. Info: (800) EMBASSY.
The Embassy Row Hotel at Dupont Circle (2015 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.) has a summer midweek special June 20 to Sept. 3 for $120 daily including accommodations, full breakfast for two and free parking. A similar package is available weekends till June 18 and again Sept. 15 till Nov. 20 at $269 for two nights. A $329 three-night holiday weekend package - good Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day as well as on any weekend of your choice between June 23 and Sept. 3 - includes lodging, buffet breakfasts and parking. In all cases, kids under 12 stay free in the same room (but don't get free breakfast except on the three-night holiday-weekend package). Info: (800) 424-2400.
The Washington Convention and Visitors Association provides a free Visitors Guide that includes hotel information. Call (202) 789-7000. A number of private reservations agencies offer preferred rates that undercut the best advertised prices at some hotels. Two free reservation services that specialize in Washington are Capitol Reservations, (800) VISIT-DC, and Washington, D.C., Accommodations, (800) 554-2220.