It is hard to get to everything you want to see in Washington D.C. if you only have a few days to visit but we managed to hit the basics, despite rain trying to ruin our fun the whole time.
We had wracked up a lot of hotel points from my husband’s work travel and decided to splurge with them and stay at The Willard Intercontinental Hotel. I am so glad we picked this hotel. The concierge was fantastic and offered a lot of information for us as to where to go and what to see. You will be treated like royalty even if you walk in soaking wet, looking homeless and exhausted from a 12hr drive with a child that was bouncing off the walls. Speaking of kids, the hotel has a great kids program. They have a small library of children’s books and a toy box full of board games that you can check out. I recommend the book about presidents as kids, lots of fun little facts about our presidents in their younger years. They also have various ways to earn Millie Bucks, fake duck money that can be spent on deserts at the coffee shop. Riley discovered a love for hot chocolate and was able to earn up his own Millie bucks to purchase one every day.
Our first item on the to do list was a tour of The White House. The only way to get an invite is to request one from your congressman. This is a fairly easy thing to do and we made our request via email. This is a must see item, so do request plenty in advance as they are booked up typically 6 months out from what we were told. It’s a fascinating place to see in person. I had an image in my head of a massive building when in reality it’s much smaller than I thought. It doesn’t seem like a cozy place you would want to live for 4yrs. The history in the place is amazing though. The tour guides are very knowledgeable. We realized a little too late that we could have slowed down instead of rushing through with the crowd and asked more questions. So do take your time if you wish to and don’t succumb to following the tide or before you know it, you’ll be right back out on the steps and feel like you missed something. Also if you are participating in the Jr Park Ranger program, be sure to ask the park ranger for a booklet before you take your tour. Have your kids answer it as they go through the building and turn it in before you leave so they can earn their badges.
Next we had a bit of time to walk around the Washington Monument at the National Mall. We would have loved to have a little more time to enjoy it, but the rain started to soak us through and we returned to the hotel to dry off and take a break.
Day two we had a tour of the U.S. Capital Building. What an amazing place to visit. I had no idea it was so large. Our tour guide was witty and made the history of the place a lot of fun. It can be a bit boring for the younger kids, but we still enjoyed it. Note, it is a long walk down to the U.S. Capital Building from The Willard Hotel… I recommend taking the bus. However, we did walk and stopped to get some food on the way.
We spent the rest of the day wandering through a few of the Smithsonian Museums. These are going to get boring for your kids real fast if you are trying to cram them all in in one day. So we picked the ones we knew would interest us the most. The National Air & Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of American History were the three we picked and took our time walking through. The Smithsonian Museums are free but they do ask for donations if you want a map of the building. Not necessary, but handy to have. Our favorite was the National Museum of Natural History but we are definitely animal and nature lovers and found most all the exhibits to be pretty amazing. We even caught the feeding of a tarantula. My favorite was the mummified cat and the double horned narwhal skull. It’s pretty clear most families hit the National Air & Space Museum, and with good reason as they have several interactive exhibits. However, it made it so loud and crowded that we didn’t really enjoy our time there. Admittedly, we live near the Space & Rocket Center in AL, so there wasn’t much in there that we haven’t seen in some variety. The Museum of American History I found really interesting, but I’m the bigger history buff in the family. Seeing the star spangled banner and civil war era exhibits were awe inspiring for me and I could have lingered through for a while, but for my child they didn’t hold much interest. They do have a great cafeteria downstairs that offers several different selections to fit most any desire.
We also enjoyed walking through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture which featured all kinds of interesting large sculptures in the park area between the National Museum of Natural History and the Gallery Shops.
Our last evening we took a rainy walk down the national mall along the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial. I’m sure it’s lovely during the daylight hours, but in the evening it is such a special place. Climbing up the worn marble steps and looking out the stretch of The National Mall is kind of humbling while you reflect back on all our history to get us where we are today. Our walk back to the hotel led us past the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which in the darkness of night, was also just as humbling.
Some random info for visiting families. 9th and 12th streets intersecting the National Mall between the Smithsonian Museums seems to be packed with food trucks around lunch time. Keep that in mind when your kids all want something different to eat as it makes it pretty easy to get an assortment. The whole city seems to shut down at 6pm. Fast food joints included. So if you aren’t wanting to spend a small fortune at eat in restaurants that aren’t very kid friendly, be prepared before everything closes. We were not and ended up walking down to the George Washington University cafeteria and ordering Chick-Fil-A. Then we felt really awkward being the only “old” people in a room full of college students so we walked back to the hotel with our food and got drenched by a downpour in the process. Lesson learned, we ate early the next evening! We were also not prepared for the rain to soak through everything we owned. There was a Marshalls not far from the hotel and we picked up some new dry clothing. However, they did not offer much in the way for kid selections (Neither did TJ Maxx or Macys) and Riley had to settle for men’s small sweatshirts which were laughably big. Parking is scarce. We left our car in the parking garage for the weekend and walked everywhere.
We didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked due to all the rain, sadly. I would love to return one day when there is better weather, maybe when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.