After returning from a week's trip to the east coast, I've come back with a number of ideas to try, and others to avoid for your travel plans.
Public transportation. Use it! We spent time in Washington, D.C, Providence, RI and Boston. In nearly all cases, the metro buses, trains and subways were clean, cheap, plentiful and on time. Washington could do a better job of publishing metro bus schedules, but the trains there are phenomenal. There is absolutely no reason to try to drive in that mess.
Taxis in Washington are actually relatively cheap since they don't charge for waiting and have set fees for trips into different zones. And, of course, there's several on every corner in the downtown area.
By the way, contrary to what you might think, we found people in the big cities to be courteous and helpful. We had people hold the elevator for us and even offer to help with directions when they saw us looking at a city map. Very pleasant surprise. Even when it was obvious that they were in a hurry, they always seemed willing to take a moment to help a stranger and share information about the best way to get places.
Getting there and back:
Amtrak was a mixed bag. The trip out was very nice...really a relaxing way to travel. The food isn't bad either, which was a nice surprise after years of airline uh, cuisine. The trip back was less nice, with a lengthy delay because Amtrak trains have a lower priority than freight trains for track space. That's great if you're a lump of coal, but not so good if you're tired and ready to get home.
I did have one flight, from Washington Dulles to Boston. Bad idea in the summer. There was one thunderstorm cell and we ended up with one cancellation and a nine hour delay, arriving in Boston in the middle of the night. I don't want to turn this into a diatribe against the airlines, but they just don't seem to care any more, and that is truly sad for a mode of transportation that once held so much promise.
The National Mall at night. We were out until 10:30 at night and didn't feel unsafe at all. Do yourself a favor and see this national treasure in the cool part of the day.
The Freedom Trail in Boston. Just follow the red line that winds through downtown Boston and the North End. You can just feel the history there, from Paul Revere's ride to the Boston Tea Party.
For us Midwest folk who don't use public transportation that often, make sure you get on going the right direction for your destination. We got on the correct bus one afternoon in Washington, but headed the wrong direction, and ended up in Friendship Heights.
Boston Taxis from Logan Airport. Can be very expensive because of the tremendous traffic tie-ups. At 2am when I arrived there, I spent $4 waiting time just to get into the tunnel that goes under Boston Harbor. Take the "T" metro train instead. It's faster and much, much cheaper.
Watch out for the Metro Express Bus from downtown Washington to Dulles Airport. It's a nice concept, but boy, try cramming 70 people and their baggage into one bus for the hour long trip. I couldn't feel my feet and one of my hands when I got there from having the blood circulation cut off.