Our family took a quick trip to D.C. after Christmas. We only spent 3 nights, giving us two full days to cram in as much sightseeing as we possibly could! It was a great trip. Here’s what we learned on our whirlwind tour:
Lodging: Don’t be afraid to stay across the river in Arlington, VA. You can find better rates on hotel rooms, and take the metro into D.C. Your hotel will likely provide a free shuttle to a metro stop. Once you ride the metro into the city, you can walk to all the major highlights, and take the metro back to your hotel in the late afternoon before resting up and driving to dinner. The metro to and from any outlying location will cost around $7.00 per day, per person. We stayed at the Sheraton Pentagon City and had a good experience, and our room had an amazing view of D.C.
|View from our hotel room: The Pentagon in the foreground and D.C. in the distance
|The kids became pros at using their metro card!
Our top three spots:
1. The Lincoln Memorial at night
2. National Museum of American History
3. National Air and Space Museum
(Close runner-ups are the Natural History Museum and a tour of The Capitol. Contact your congressman to ensure an appointment for a tour. You can also secure a tour time of the National Archives via their website, and avoid the wait in line!)
|We drove directly here. From the steps of our front porch to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Don’t miss visiting at night, then make your way over to the equally sobering Korean War Memorial.
Also fun was taking our van into Georgetown one evening. The fight to find on-street parking is worth the fun walk around Georgetown. After a great dinner at Pizzeria Paradiso we had planned to get dessert at the famed Georgetown Cupcakes. After seeing the line was around the block, we opted for brownies and coffee at Dean and Deluca’s across the street instead.
Mistakes we made that you should avoid:
1. We spent our entire first morning touring The Capitol, making a stop at our state senator’s office, and visiting the National Archives. All of those things are great….but can get a little tedious for the wee ones. If I had it to do over, I would have spent our mornings being the first ones in line for our favorite museums, to avoid the crowds and to enjoy the experience while we were fresh. The tours of buildings and the viewing of documents aren’t quite the crowd pleasers for the younger set – intersperse those instead of tackling them all at once.
2. Not prepping the 8 year old better. One example: The rest of the family was totally pumped about seeing The Declaration of Independence…and the way we were all acting she must have thought “The Declaration!” was the latest roller coaster at a theme park. She needed more context, and frankly needed to be prepped that “Yes. We are indeed standing in line to see an old piece of paper.”
3. Not having a meal plan for lunch time. We knew that none of the museums or government buildings allow food inside, so we knew we couldn’t brown bag it or even take along snacks and water bottles. I assumed, however, we would stumble onto some family friendly (aka budget-friendly-fast-food) options, and we didn’t on day one. We ended up overspending on a not-great lunch at a super crowded restaurant.
TIP: There’s a McDonald’s inside The National Air and Space Museum. If you’re pinching pennies it’s your best option! Our advice is to make lunch quick and cheap to get back to sightseeing, and spend your money on a relaxing dinner.
4. Not checking the times things open and close. We arrived at The National Air and Space Museum a bit before 9:00…only to discover it didn’t open until 10:00. What?!? It left us time to spend exploring statues along the National Mall and doing cartwheels on the lawn…but still frustrating.
5. Over dressing the first day. We knew the weather was on the cold side, so on day one we all bundled up with heavy coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. It was a big pain to keep up with all that stuff once we were inside the buildings. (Many places did offer a coat check, but the lines were long and we opted not to bother with it.) The second day, we just wore light jackets with hoods. There were times we were on the chilly side, but it was worth it not to have to keep up with all that paraphernalia! And there’s plenty of walking and exercise to keep you warmed up. On day two…I didn’t even carry a purse. I stuck my license, some cash and a credit card, and my phone in my jean pockets. It’s the only way to go!
Other miscellaneous tips:
1. Check out some kid-friendly books on our Nation’s capitol and our Founding Fathers before your visit
2. Remember: all the museums have free entrance, so with good planning this can be a budget vacation!
3. Take advantage of the free guided tours offered by most of the museums, if your kids are late elementary age or older. The younger crowd wants to move at a faster pace than the tour group.
4. Decide what you think will most interest your kid (The dinosaurs at Natural History? The planes at Air and Space? The automobiles and trains at American History?) and make that your FIRST stop. You’ll be fresh, and the crowds are thinnest in the mornings.
We had a GREAT time and I would love to visit again. There are several things I want to see that we had to miss this trip, and several places I would love to devote more time to. (We all agreed we could have stayed much, much longer at the American History Museum, had we visited earlier in the day before our legs were jello and our patience with each other was thin. So much cool stuff to see!)
To see more pics of our whirl wind tour and all we managed to cram in, check out our Washington D.C. Flickr set!