In the spring of 2013, I had a real bee in my bonnet about taking the family to Washington, D.C. The driving factors for this all-American holiday were: 1) my husband and I wanted to take the kids on a trip of cultural and historical significance; 2) Barack Obama had just been re-elected to a second term in office and talk of American politics was still raging and; 3) the girls were just the right age to introduce them to a bigger dose of their American heritage.
My parents took my brothers and me to D.C. when we were about 3, 8 and 9 years old…a trip that took our family of five from Los Angeles, CA to Hartford, CT and return in a 1966 Mustang! Those were the days when a family road trip meant long hours spent playing “spot the license plate” and singing John Denver songs. Nevertheless, the city left such a profound mark on me that I would eventually return many times as a college student to work on Capitol Hill. At one time, I even thought I’d have a career in politics.
From the beginning, my husband and I agreed we wanted to make the most of the experience and come away with a feeling of having garnered some knowledge. This meant planning the trip with military precision because, surprisingly, a week in Washington really isn’t enough time to see everything. Fortunately, there’s no better woman than yours truly to plan a holiday. Heck, if I can plan a July 4th celebration in Ireland for an American Ambassador and a 500+ people cycling event around Dublin City Centre at midnight for a fundraiser, surely I can figure out how a family of four can take in the sites, sounds and tastes of D.C.! Here’s how the trip went:
Day 2 ~Monument Day. Borrow bikes and helmets from the hotel. Breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien. Cycle to Georgetown University to show the girls an American college and then cycle over to the national monuments. You can take a trolley tour or double-decker bus tour, but riding bikes was great fun and left us in control of our day. Visit Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Reflecting Pool, WWII Memorial, and the Washington Monument. Dinner at Meiwah and walk back to Georgetown for an ice cream at Thomas Sweet.
Day 3 ~ Museum Day. Breakfast at the hotel and a walk to the Air & Space Museum, American History Museum, and the Natural History Museum. Tip: Do a Google search of each museum prior to your trip to find out the exhibits you are interested in. Make a list and immediately upon entering a museum go in search of the things on your list. This way, you’ll see what you want to see and probably have time to wander about at your leisure or go to another museum without wasting time! After a day on our feet, we took a taxi back to the hotel and had dinner at Blue Duck Tavern and we walked into Georgetown to have frozen yogurt at Pinkberry.
Day 4 ~ Shopping Day. Back to Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast and then spent the day strolling around Georgetown shopping. The shops range from antiques to wigs, so there’s something for everyone. Pack a spare duffel bag in your luggage, as you’ll find all sorts of wonders to bring home. Here’s a great “Shopping in D.C.” article from the Washingtonian.com. Dinner at Cafe Milano…this isn’t your Cafe Milano as we know it in Ireland. This is better!
Day 5 ~ Capitol Hill Day. Breakfast at the Old Ebbitt Grill, a D.C. institution. Sight-seeing for the day: the Capitol Visitor Center, the Capitol Rotunda, The Senate and House Galleries, Library of Congress, Supreme Court Tour, the White House, and the White House Visitor Center. At White House Gifts we had a family photo taken behind a replica of the Presidents’ Resolute Desk and Press Office Podium, which was fun for the kids. If you’re an American citizen, contact your Senator or State Representative to see about joining a tour led by a member of his or her staff and getting a pass to enter the Senate or House Galleries. For tours of the White House check out this site. Dinner was picked up at Chop’t on our way back to the hotel. We ate in our room and watched Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (a fun way to get the kids to test their memory of the places we visited in D.C.!).
Day 6 ~ Mount Vernon. After breakfast at the hotel, we jumped into a taxi and took a twenty-minute drive to the gorgeous and interesting Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon is the plantation home of America’s first President, George Washington, and his wife Martha. A visit there offers a glimpse into 18th-century life through beautiful gardens and grounds, intriguing museum exhibits, and immersive programs honoring the couple’s life and legacy. There is so much to see, we spent a whole day touring around at our leisure. Dinner at Founding Farmers, farm-to-table restaurant. Later we walked from the hotel into Georgetown to get cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcake.
Day 7 ~ Last day…The Spy Museum and brunch at Poste Moderne Brasserie at the Hotel Monaco. We didn’t have much time on this last day as we were flying back home. The kids loved The Spy Museum…my husband and I not so much…it felt very “touristy”. I have no regrets of going, however, as the kids had been so good all week about visiting places of cultural and historical significance.
1. Wear your runners (tennis shoes) or your most comfortable walking shoes. If you are like us, you will be walking everywhere every day.
2. Do not carry backpacks. Many of the museums and destinations require security searches which can mean waiting in long lines. The girls and I carried cross-body bags and in them we each had a reusable plastic rain poncho, an umbrella, a water bottle, iPod/phone, headphones for using iPod/phone, and a map of DC. I also carried a notepad and pen and every day I had my notes for the places we would be seeing.
3. Pack appropriately for the weather. In the summer, DC is hot and humid. In the winter and early spring, it’s very cold. Autumn is a lovely time to visit, but be ready for rain.
4. Before you travel, research each place you plan to visit online for special exhibit listings and opening and closing times. For each day you will be in DC have a typed agenda highlighting what you want to see and why you’re going. For example, we had five typed packets: Monument Day, Museum Day, Shopping Day, Capitol Hill Day and Mount Vernon Day. Each packet listed the places we were going, the highlights of each place, when the places opened and closed, and the historical or cultural significance of each. I realise this is a lot of extra work, but it saved us from having to carry a travel guide with us.
5. Pick up a map from the concierge of your hotel. They’re light weight and easy to carry.
1. For a resource of things to see and do check out 100 Things to do in Washington, D.C.
2. Excellent responses about what to see in Washington from DC locals at Ree Drummond’s blog.
3. Kid Friendly Museums and Hands On Attractions here.
4. Sight-seeing information from Old Town Trolley Tours here.