My kids (age 14 & 13), my mom (age 68) and I went to Washington D.C. earlier this June. We decided to go to Washington D.C. (instead of New York) due to the expense. This is one of the first trips I have made with my kids where we would fly. The expense of the airline tickets and the hotel was going to be enough for me to handle – but I would not be able to budget for entertainment if we went to NYC. So we decided to go check out all the free things in our nation’s capitol. Additionally, it was good timing in that my son had just studied US History in his 8th grade classes and my daughter will be there next year. My mom has been a big history buff all her life – but somehow never made it to D.C. (my dad didn’t really want to go) so we decided to invite her along as well.
We stayed at the Washington Hilton on the NW side of town (near Dupont Circle – which is referred to in one of my favorite movies, The American President). The hotel was BIG. It most definitely is a conference hotel. It was outside of the hub-bub of the national mall in a far more residential area. The room was decent average size room for a hotel. Two queen beds, dresser, desk, bathroom (although the sliding bathroom door with frosted glass center was a bit strange). It was “average” nothing spectacular and nothing gross or inadequate.
I somehow always forget to budget in transportation (aside from getting to the destination). The Metro is inexpensive, clean and easy to navigate in D.C. and very popular. For me (and my kids) it was an easy walk to the Metro Stop just about 6 blocks away. However, once my mom developed blisters – it was not an easy walk for her. If we were to take a taxi to and from the National Mall it is approximately $14 each way – whereas the metro is about $4 round trip.
The first night at the hotel we swam (getting to the pool was a bit weird – as we literally had to walk down the hall to some stair well) and then we had to go through the gym to the locked door. When we arrived at the pool though – it was nice enough. We could see the Washington Monument shining above the city. That night, they were showing a family movie from the roof-top terrace just on the other side of the hotel (they had the most amazing popcorn and lemonade).
I should say that day one was really the day that was devoted to airplane and airports. Plus a long (expensive) cab ride from Dulles Airport (about $78), arriving at our hotel, grabbing dinner there and chilling out at the pool. But for the purposes here – day 1 below listed as “itinerary days” is really day two on the road with us.
Day 1: We tried to pack in as much as we could in each day – but also plan to give ourselves time to enjoy whatever sites we were seeing (read all the stuff in any particular museum we were in – or at least find the things most interesting to us). The day was spent wandering aimlessly around the National Mall and White House Tour which was (in)conveniently at 1:30 pm. We decided to walk up to the Washington Monument, See the World War II Memorial (it was just a day past the DDay Anniversary so there were still some flowers there), walk along the reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial and then back toward the Washington Monument – along the way marveling at the White House. We had a tour of the White House arranged by our Senator’s office. Which meant that we needed to eat some lunch (went to a deli) and then get in line. The White House was cool to say we were there – but really, it wasn’t much “tour” to it. It took almost long to go through the security part as it did the tour. (Plan on security being a part of entry to ANY building). As if we hadn’t had enough – we decided to head over to end the day at the Museum of Portraiture and Photography (which is one of the few museums that stays open until 7 p.m.). We wandered around in there for several hours and then back to the Metro Stop. There was a Metro stop very close. And ate at Flippin’ Pizza in Dupont Circle on the way home (great pizza, super price, just what the kids wanted!)
Day 2: Ride around on the double-decker bus called the “Big Bus”. The Bus is a super convenient way to see town and get some tour-y (is that a word) nuggets. The bus has four colored loops that take you all around town and the Yellow loop has a stop right in front of the hotel. We drove through Georgetown – the bus points out highlights and talks about “olden times” by using a geo-tripped voice over. The headphones (free) can be plugged in to hear the descriptions of places in different languages. The simplicity of the Big Bus is that you can hop off one Big Bus and on to another – just show your receipt – and get anywhere in the city (the big monuments). The “color” of the route bus is easy to see as it is marked in the front window of each bus. We got off at the Lincoln Memorial and boarded the Blue loop which took us past a real mall (the shopping kind) and the Pentagon on to Arlington.
We rode out to Arlington National Cemetery and walked around. My mom and son were brought to tears at President Kennedy’s grave and the tomb of the unknown with a guard marching in front of it.
We rode the Blue Line back to the National Mall. We got off the bus near the Washington Monument – near a line-up of food trucks. We had heard a lot about how great they are. My kids chose hot dogs, I chose a mexican dish (much like a naked burrito from Chipotle) and mom chose a burrito. None of us were all that impressed with the food. But sitting outside in the shade on the grass was kind of a fun picnic. We are beginning to understand why when I had asked people where to eat – no one could really say with any great enthusiasm anywhere in particular. Cheap tip: Hot dogs are the best buy.
The highlight of this day was all the great photos we took atop the roof of the bus and the actual “tour”. On the way back to the hotel we were able to past other museums, monuments and historical places that we would return to in later days of this trip. The train station – was the one place that we would not get back to that I would have liked to stop in. Also, it was a warm day – so at one point I literally hopped off the bus to purchase a water from a street vendor (they run about $2) and right back on the bus before it departed that stop again.
Cheap tip: The bus sounds like it is expensive at $40+ for adults – but probably one of the best things we did there. Worth the money!
Day 3 (Monday): Tour of Congress and the Smithsonian. The tour of Congress building started at 9:30 which meant that we had to leave the hotel around 8:30 to give ourselves enough time to walk to the metro, ride the metro, walk to the other side of the Congress Building, and enter the security area to get to the statue of “Jack” (one of two Colorado statues) by the appointed time. We arrived on time – and even got to take some great photos outside before entering.
We were met by one of our Senator’s Interns. Skylar was warm, intelligent and friendly. She said this was her 2nd tour by herself. She did a great job. She showed us spaces and places concentrating on Colorado’s contributions. She told us stories (like the pretty chandelier was purchased at a garage sale) and even let us sit in on the Representatives chambers (where we see the State of the Union Address).
We ate lunch at the cafe at the Congress building. It was big portions and decent prices. Felt a little bit like a school cafeteria. But the kids were happy with their chicken nuggets. My mom was happy to have ice to chew on. *cheap tip: we shared 1 soda they are free refills. Also, we could have had just 1 order of chicken nuggets for the kids (it was BIG portions).
My mom is ready to kill me. I have let the blisters go on long enough. I made her stop by the Rite Aid and get giant band-aids and I’m popping them. That is the night’s fun. Fun?
Day 4 (Tues): We are pretty bored with the hotels “concierge” level options for breakfast. They are the same that they have been for days. We can choose bagels, a few assorted muffins, a hard boiled egg, cold cereal and cut up melon (the strawberries don’t even look fresh anymore). The lounge is a great escape in the morning – so I am out of everyone’s space while they are getting ready. But almost every day I come back to the room and they’re all still sleeping. Today we went to the Museum of American History and the National Archives We really had to see the monuments at night. They are spectacular all light up. plus we went over to the Vietnam wall. It didn’t look at all like we thought. I thought it was more of just one wall. But the idea that it comes to a point and the names start in the middle and end in the middle – to signify that it goes full circle.
Day 5 (Weds): We started the day at the air and space museum. Ate at the biggest McDonald’s operation I have ever seen. We walked to the Smithsonian to see the Hope Diamond (we also spent a lot of other time looking at the other gems). In an effort to plug in as many place as we could – we also walked over to the Holocaust museum.
Day 6 (Thurs): We headed out to Mt. Vernon. This meant that we had to get on the Metro and ride it literally to the end of the yellow line – and then board a city bus. But this was probably one of my more favorite days (despite the rain). The homestead of our first President is beautiful. We all loved the little shop and restaurant, the tour (we also got the audio tour which was just about $6 per person – if you were really going cheap you could probably share one audible tour with two people). The part tour – (going through the house there were docents in each room giving a bit of a story to each room) and having the audio tour made it enjoyable with a mix of history lesson with a bit of “real life” story (Martha’s cake recipe begins with 40 eggs!!!).
We headed back toward Dupont Circle to head “home” and grab some dinner. We couldn’t really decide on a place to eat dinner. Decided that we wanted to try to eat at a place near the hotel. We were going to go to Tomato (an italian place at the corner near the hotel). Instead we decided on dinner at Buca Di Beppo – the food was great and decent priced based on the fact that it is “family style”. But I didn’t love the choice – as we have a Buca here in Denver. I wanted to try to eat things that you can only get in the place where you are located. All in all though everyone was satisfied – especially after gorging on the giant brownie.
Day 7 (Fri): The kids and I struck out on our own. We decided to visit the National Spy Museum and the Wax Museum. These are the only places we have paid for to visit (since Nanny took care of the cost for Mt. Vernon). I tweeted to the Spy Museum and they told me where to download a coupon and we had received free tickets to the Wax museum with the Big Bus tickets. So since it was raining (best souvenier was the umbrellas) we ducked in there.
The spy museum was a lot of fun, with several interactive exhibits to keep the kids (of all ages) busy – including upon arrival you are to pick an alias and see how well you do remembering the details via different “quizzes” through the entire venue.
My daughter enjoyed taking selfies with several different Presidents and other famous figures at the wax museum.
That afternoon, we shopped at several stores along Dupont Circle and enjoyed a leisure stroll around (and we finally allowed my mom to enter a shoe store).
Day 8 (Sat): Since we had a half a day until we headed back toward Colorado, we decided to visit National Zoo because we had heard that it was close to us (a tirade on zoos at another time). The zoo was a short city bus ride up the street. Just a few blocks (just a bit longer than a walk – however if you wanted to rent a bike it would be a nice ride). We rather quickly went through the zoo and saw the animals that we DONT have here at the Denver Zoo – namely the Giant Pandas. They were very cute. We stayed until about noon. When we decided to try to find a place to eat lunch. We took a walk for about 10 blocks and located a great section of restaurants. We chose one that served breakfast and lunch. We ate outside on the patio there and then walked the additional 7 blocks back to hotel. Upon arriving at the hotel – we got in a cab and headed back to the airport.
I think we all had a great time. Yes, there were somethings that we missed. And some days when I look back at the trip – I think that we really could have done it and packed it in in a few fewer days. (We think you could probably do it very quickly if you do it in five days or so – or you could stretch it a few more days if you really wanted to delve into any of the museums longer than we did).