Help a Westerner plan a trip to the Eastern U.S

I am planning to participate in a three-day dressage clinic in West Chester, PA, in mid-October. Since I’ll have traveled all the way from the West Coast, I want to see as much as I can in the area in the remaining five days of vacation time I’ll have, either before or after the clinic. I know I want to spend some time in Gettysburg and maybe see other Civil War sites, probably spend a day in Philadelphia, and definitely go to Washington DC. I have never been further east than Louisville, Kentucky, and don’t know how far apart these places are.

Here’s the very preliminary plan: I am thinking that I will fly into Philadelphia and rent a car, drive to West Chester and have the car to go back and forth from my b-n-b to the clinic . . .

Yeah, that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Do I then drive myself to Gettysburg after the clinic? Is there some other way to get to Gettysburg? Then what do I do with the rental? Do I then drive back to Philadelphia, dump the car and take a bus/train/rickshaw to DC? How do I get around in DC?

Here in the Wild West, most of us drive ourselves everywhere. Public transportation is a mystery to me but I’m willing to learn it. I’m daunted by the idea of driving in Washington DC or Philly and, frankly, don’t really want to bear the expense of a rental car.

I am open to suggestions of all kinds, from how to travel, where to stay, what to see and what to avoid. Bring it on! And, thanks!

I’m a fellow westerner now, but went to college outside Philadelphia. A car is probably going to be the quickest thing for West Chester and Gettysburg. If you rent a car at the airport you could do those things first, then return the car and easily take the train into downtown Philadelphia from the airport.

I would also recommend taking the train from Philadelphia to D.C. and then using the subway in D.C. It’s great and super easy for someone not used to mass transit. (I really miss good transit systems!)

It’s a bad idea to try to travel in the middle of a downtown city in your own vehicle - especially in places like Boston or Manhattan. You’re better off getting close enough to the heart of the city that you can hook up with the local public transportation system and then parking your vehicle for the day.

Here’s a possibility you might consider.

Fly to Philadelphia and get a rental car, go to the dressage clinic in West Chester, drive to Gettysburg, then drive to Washington and turn in the rental car. Use public transit while you’re in Washington, take the train to Philadelphia, and fly home. Work out how much time you want to spend in each place. If you want to see the sights in Philly, you can do it at the beginning or end of the itinerary.

Pros: The drive from Gettysburg to Washington isn’t very far. It’s pretty easy to find your way around the D.C. Metro, it gets a lot of tourists so it’s set up well to handle visitors, and most of the Washington sites are within a reasonable walk from a station. Taking the train between Washington and Philly is part of the East Coast experience and the two stations are gorgeous in their own ways. You won’t be paying for a rental car for the whole trip (but find out if there’s a charge for dropping off in a different city). You’ll still get the round-trip fare for your plane ticket, since you’re flying to and from Philadelphia, and that can be cheaper than an open-jaw ticket.

Cons: The traffic on the drive into D.C. could be nasty, depending on the time of day. Some people really hate driving in a city, and an unfamiliar city makes it even worse. And I suspect the hotels within walking distance of a Metro station might be more expensive than somewhere driveable.

The Fella’s daughter does dressage–where is your HORSE!!!:wink:

When ever I’ve gone east, my advice is: Use public transportation when you can. Avoid cars. Driving, as we know it in larger spaces, is not the same.

Yea, I don’t think I’m familiar with a city in the US where the traffic and parking situation is as bad as the DC area. Definately take the train in and out of the city. If you want to keep your car, there are plenty of train stops outside the belt-way that have park-and-ride garages.

But the mass-trans system is good, and almost all the big-name tourist spots are within easy walking distance of eachother. Also, one of the nice things about DC is almost all the gov’t run museums/parks/zoo/etc. are free. So you can just kinda wander in and out of them, without feeling like you have to spend the whole day in a single museum to get your money’s worth.

I like this itinerary. Both Washington and Philadelphia have good mass transit links to Amtrak. It’s maybe an hour, two hours tops from Washington to Philadelphia on the regional (as opposed to the Acela). Take the SEPTA in Philly to wherever you want to go.

For Philly, there used to be (probably still is), a Microtel one SEPTA stop away from the airport. I was happy enough with it when I stayed there in 2008. More importantly, it was only a few minutes walk from the hotel to the stop, which could then be used to get to downtown fairly quickly. Grab a one-day pass for $12 and get anywhere on SEPTA without having to worry about costs.

Well, he’s not traveling east with me, that’s for sure! (Although I did find a listing on Airbnb for a place that offers both rooms for rent and short-term horse boarding close to West Chester. But I don’t think he’d enjoy the plane ride. :D) He gets to stay home for this clinic; the trainer provides schoolmasters for us to ride. And before anyone comments, “schoolmasters” are retired show horses used for lessons. Get your mind outta the gutter! :dubious:

I would amend that if you want to see places outside central DC, like Washington’s home and some Civil War Battlefields, you might take the advice above and keep your car all the way and return it to Philly. IIRC, some of the charges for returning it to another location, even if only a couple of hours away, can be high. So be sure to check.

If you do have an interest in Civil War sites, on your way from Gettysburg to DC, be sure and stop at Sharpburg/Antietam. Unless it has changed in the 8 years since I was last there, the town is still very tiny and the battlefield, if not pristine, is still mostly clear of development and probably looks a lot like it did in 1862.

Bull Run(s) are OK, Fredicksburg is built up all the way to Marye’s Heights and Jackson’s line, and Spotsylvania-to-Cold Harbor are spread out and not always easy to understand.

Antietam and Gettysburg are the best. If you ever get out my way, Shiloh is well worth a visit