The short answer is this: Do you want urban or suburban?
"There are whole new neighbourhoods emerging as cultural and residential hubs – H Street NE, Navy Yard, Bloomingdale, Petworth. This means a lot more things to do, see and visit, and an infusion of much-needed cool," says Sophie Gilbert, associate arts editor at the Washingtonian.
Julia Christian, managing director of the H Street Playhouse and frequent tweeter of city happenings (@capitolhilldc), is more emphatic about the choice. "I would choose D.C. over Arlington any day of the week. The diversity of offerings – the ability to truly experience the variety … of each neighbourhood just doesn't exist in Arlington."
Her case in point? Her own home hood of Capitol Hill with its farm-and-crafts Eastern Market or the nightlife scene of H Street NE, with offerings ranging from DJs at sushi bar Sticky Rice (stickyricedc.com) to the arts hub that is the H Street Playhouse. For lodging, Christian recommends Hotel George and Phoenix Park Hotel.
But Arlington, Va., located just across the Potomac River, has its own merits. Sure, to some it's suburban and boring, but it's also Metro-accessible and closer to must-sees, such as Arlington National Cemetery and Old Town Alexandria, Gilbert says. Plus, staying farther from the President's house means you can save on room rates.
Where to stay? The local experts also suggest the following:
The Donovan House is in D.C.'s Logan Circle, "a very cool neighbourhood, but one that isn't that near too many tourist spots, so it tends to be less expensive," Gilbert says. Here you can enjoy swing chairs in the lobby, a roof-top pool and a pan-Asian restaurant created by Susur Lee. 14th Street has a ton of good, mid-priced restaurants (including Estadio, Bar Pilar and Pearl Dive) and interesting shops, says Gilbert, who edits a twice-annual visitors guide for the Washingtonian.
If you want to stay near the President, consider the Willard InterContinental, a historic and grand hotel located a block from the White House where presidents, authors and politicians have stayed. (Martin Luther King is said to have worked on his I Have a Dream speech here.)
In Arlington, look for a hotel on the Metro line or in one of the more happening neighbourhoods, such as Clarendon and Courthouse, Gilbert says. "The Hyatt Arlington is right near Arlington National Cemetery and only a short walk across the Key Bridge from tony Georgetown." So you can be back in D.C. in no time.