Our family trip to Washington, DC was everything I had hoped it would be.
Since I spent so much time planning and obsessing about this trip, I wanted to write a follow-up trip report in hopes it might offer some tips if you are planning a visit.
First of all, I must say that all the planning I did really paid off, but even with all the planning, there were things that I missed/could have planned for better. A couple of notes to mention before getting into the details of the trip:
- Washington, DC is expensive! Even though many of the attractions are free, accommodations, food and transportation are very expensive.
- Attractions that seem close are really far apart. Plan to walk a lot and make sure you have comfortable shoes.
- Advance reservations are required for some of the attractions. I knew to plan for the White House and Capitol tour but had no idea that reservations were required for the Washington Monument, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
We were in Washington, DC during the April break and had four full days to take in the sights. We flew into Washington Reagan airport, which is the closest airport to the city. We met friends who drove from Massachusetts, and who provided our transportation from and to the airport.
We rented a house located on Capitol Hill through homeaway.com. It was minutes from the Eastern Market Metro stop. The location was great and although it took several Metro stops to get into the city, it worked out for us. It is also important to note that this location offered us more bang for our buck. We were able to rent a much larger house for less than $2000 a week. We split the cost with our friends so our accommodations were less than $150 per night- which is very reasonable for Washington DC.
We arrived on a Monday and had no plans other than settling in and grocery shopping. That evening we mapped out our visit using our planned itinerary as a guide. To maximize our time and help with transportation, we opted to purchase a two-day pass for a tour bus which cost $144 for two adults and a child. The tickets are discounted if purchased in advance online. The tour bus allowed us to get from point to point a little faster and allowed for some sightseeing while we were on the bus. My daughter loved riding the bus with no roof and since I didn’t think that she would be that interested in seeing the monuments up close, this gave us an opportunity to see most of the monuments from a distance, and the tour guide even provided information about the monuments.
Our White House tour was scheduled at 9:00 am. Note that this time is assigned by the White House and can’t be changed. We planned to get there no later than 8:15 not knowing what to expect for lines and security. We opted for a one week pass on the metro which costs $114 for the three of us and took the metro from Eastern Market to Farragut West which took about 20 minutes. The Washington, DC metro map and Google Maps were very helpful in determining how long it would take to get to different points of interest.
As you can imagine, security at the White House is intense. I had previously given all of our personal information to Senator Leahy’s office when requesting the tour. Even though we were already cleared, we hit a snag as one of the names in our party was misspelled- thus, we had to wait for security to confirm her name with Senator Leahy’s office. After going through a long line, two security checkpoints and a metal detector, we were finally inside.
I can say without question that this was the highlight of the trip for me.
I always wanted to see the inside of the White House but the current occupants made it more special and very emotional for me.
I was completely moved and in tears for the first few minutes. My daughter thought this was funny but I was comforted by other black visitors who told me they felt the same. The tour is about 30 minutes long and is self-guided. There is a member of the secret service in each room who can give information and history about the room. Unfortunately, we had no sightings of the First Family or their dogs (*frown.*)
We were scheduled for a tour of the Capitol at 1:00 pm. We took a scenic tour bus route from near the White House through some of the Smithsonian sites, the City Center and Chinatown. We arrived at the Capitol building with enough time to have lunch in their enormous cafeteria. The Capitol tour is about 30 minutes long and is guided. The guide did a great job of showing us some highlights and answering questions.
We were excited to receive an invitation to coffee hour with Senator Leahy at 9:00 am. Although we wanted to feel special for receiving the invite, we found out that he invites all his constituents that are in town. It was a quick ride on the Metro back into town and we found his office building easily. It was an amazing honor to meet the Senator and his wife. They are sweet and sincere and made us proud to be Vermonters! We obtained Capitol chamber passes from his aides and headed back to the Capitol to see the House and Senate in session.
Luckily, the Senate was in session and we were able to witness a bill being debated by Senators. The political nerd in me was ecstatic to see Senators Schumer, Gillibrand and Murkowski in person. The House was not in session but we did get to go in the gallery and see the inside.
That afternoon, we spent several hours at the Air and Space Museum, rode around on the on the tour bus, checking out the monuments, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Pentagon, and ended the day at the Museum of Natural History.
Our tour bus pass expired so we planned to spend this day on the Mall visiting other Smithsonian sites. We went back to the Air and Space Museum for an Imax movie about D-Day (the only thing that my husband requested to do), visited the Botanic Gardens and spent time at the American History Museum.
Our last day was devoted to the National Zoo. The Zoo is not right in the city and we were lucky to have had my friend’s car to drive there. In general, we were unimpressed with the zoo. We didn’t see many animals and there are no playgrounds for kids. We did get to see the pandas which made it worthwhile.
Food in Washington, DC
There are so many options for food in Washington, DC that it is difficult to plan ahead. I had done some research on places to try but we did not make it to any of them. We were fortunate to be staying in a neighborhood with lots of great restaurants. We ate at the following restaurants that were near the house we rented:
La Plaza – Latin American, Mexican. Decent Mexican food, but not the best we have ever had- but good price and fun atmosphere. Great sangrias!
Matchbox – American, pizza. This place was recommended by a friend from DC who met us there for dinner. The food was delicious and prices were fair.
District Taco – Fast food, Mexican. Loved this place. Great tacos, a fresh salsa bar and really inexpensive.
We also took advantage of the Eastern Market for food shopping. We often got meat and veggies to grill at the house.
The biggest surprise was the lack of decent food around the Mall. The Air and Space Museum has a McDonald’s inside and although we are not frequent McDonald’s visitors, we ate there several times during this trip. It was convenient, reasonably priced and familiar. There are also lots of food trucks with generic food such as pretzels, hot dogs and hamburgers. Other than that there are not many places to eat while you are museum hopping.