Our Washington DC Itinerary
Visiting Washington DC has been on our family vacation to-do list for quite awhile. I had never been there before and my husband hadn’t visited our nation’s capital since he was in middle school. We thought that our children were the perfect age to explore DC as a family because they had the maturity to appreciate the significance of what we would see and the stamina to be on the go from morning till night. We started researching our trip about six months in advance. I really wanted the entire family’s input so that we could prioritize activities that were important to each of us. This book was a huge help in planning our itinerary. We also enjoyed all of the fun facts this book had to offer. It helped us narrow down the spots we most wanted to visit.
Tip: Place travel books in the bathroom family members will all have access to them. I also read some of the museum and landmark descriptions aloud during a family dinner and a long road trip so that we could narrow down our choices together.
We arrived at DCA just before 5:00 pm, picked up our bags and caught a cab to the Capitol Hill Hotel. Once we were settled in our room, we walked around the corner to Good Stuff Eatery. It is a popular DC chain known for their burgers, fries and hand spun milkshakes. We didn’t want to miss our bus tour of Washington DC at night, so we ordered our dinner to-go to munch on while riding the bus. It was a quick 20 minute walk to Union Station where the Big Bus Night Tours depart daily at 7:30 pm.
Tip: There is a great food court at Union Station if you would like to grab a bite to eat right before your tour bus leaves.
The tour guide shared interesting facts and pointed out a majority of the museums, monuments, memorials and historical buildings in The National Mall, Capitol Hill, Foggy Bottom and Penn Quarter areas of Washington DC during the course of the tour. Towards the end of the tour, we disembarked for about a half hour and to walk the area surrounding the Lincoln Memorial which includes the Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial. It was beautiful to gaze across the reflecting pool to see the Washington Monument highlighted against the night sky. Starting our visit in Washington DC off with the Night Tour was an excellent way to get an overview of the city. It was also a great way to take advantage of the time difference. It would have been much harder to take the night tour later in the week after long days spent on our feet sightseeing.
Our stay at the Capitol Hill Hotel included breakfast each morning. After loading up on oatmeal, eggs, toast and sausage we checked out 4 complimentary bikes from the front desk. Our plan was to spend the day riding around the National Mall so that we could cover more ground quickly. We set off to see the Museum of Natural History first because it is one of the more popular Smithsonian Museums and tends to be least crowded when it opens at 10 am. On the ride over we passed the beautiful Bartholdi Park and could not resist stopping for a few pictures in front of the gorgeous fountain with the US Capitol as its backdrop. We arrived at the museum with time to spare, so we took the opportunity to tour the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden directly across the mall. Famous sculptures occupy the room like spaces in the garden and create a whimsical environment. We spent nearly two hours exploring the National Museum of Natural History and viewing it’s dinosaurs, mummies, rare gems and more.
Tip: The Museum of Natural History has a water bottle filling station at the entrance to the restrooms where you can fill your reusable water bottles with cold water.
Next, we pedaled along the National Mall path until we came upon Washington Monument. From there we visited the World War II Memorial, then the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Tip: Challenge your family to search the World War II monument and see who can find an engraved picture of Kilroy first (a cartoon character that would appear wherever American soldiers occupied).
After a quick stop at a National Park Service Refreshment Stand for sandwiches we traveled towards the Tidal Basin to view the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
Tip: Ask each family member to set off in search of a quote that speaks to them while exploring the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Have each person share their favorite quote with the family and take a picture standing next to it.
We rode back towards the Lincoln Memorial and visited our final landmark of the day, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Tip: The names on The Vietnam War Memorial are not listed alphabetically, but rather chronologically by date of death or by date of missing in action, beginning and ending in the center where the two walls meet. Ask your children to look for a spot on the wall where the last name of the fallen soldier starts over alphabetically. This signifies the start of a new day.
After depositing our bikes at the hotel and freshening up, we took an Uber ride to Old Ebbett Grill for dinner.
We started off day 3 with a Starbucks stop after breakfast so that we could enjoy our lattes on our walk to Union Station to catch the Big Bus Hop On, Hop Off Tour. Our main reason for choosing to do the Big Bus Tour again was that the blue line had two stops in Georgetown. Georgetown is not walking distance from where we were staying and does not have a metro stop. The blue line also made sense because it offered us the opportunity to see the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, which were all on our must-see list.
Tip: Download the Big Bus app so that you can see in real time where buses are located and plan how quickly you need to walk to your next stop accordingly.
Arlington National Cemetery was one of the busiest locations we visited. Upon arriving we walked directly to the Tomb of the Unknowns to witness the changing of the guard which occurs every hour on the half hour. We were grateful to arrive just in time to witness this moving ceremony. It was a short walk to the Kennedy Memorial which features an eternal flame burning at President John F, Kennedy’s gravesite.
Georgetown was our next stop. We were starving when we arrived. Luckly, PAUL Bakery, a cafe our neighbors recommended, was just up the street from the bus stop. Tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwiches on baguettes hit the spot before we meandered up and down M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. I wish we had more time to explore the side streets and perhaps the university. My daughter insisted we stop at Georgetown Cupcake, site of a popular TLC show. The cupcakes were beautiful and came in a variety of flavors, but I was underwhelmed by the cupcake itself.
Next, it was back to the bus where we learned more about landmarks surrounding the White House and Foggy Bottom. We hopped off at the Washington Monument East stop so that we could spend the remainder of the afternoon at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The First Ladies exhibit, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Dorothy’s ruby slippers and the Batmobile were all high on our list of items we wanted to see when visiting our capital city.
We made it back to our hotel in time for complimentary wine and cookies before a delicious dinner around the corner at Hawk N Dove.
When planning our trip to Washington DC the spot both our kids felt strongly about visiting was the International Spy Museum. Unfortunately, it is also one of two museums that are not free of charge. It was however worth the hype. We caught the metro down the street from our hotel at the Capitol South Station and took a short ride to L’Enfant Plaza which was right next door to the International Spy Museum. Upon entering the museum we received badges, secret identities and mission to complete during our time there. After a couple hours learning everything there is to know about espionage we grabbed a bite to eat at the L’Enfant Plaza food Court before catching the metro to the McPherson Square station in order to arrive for our scheduled White House tour on time.
Tip: The only ways to visit The White House is to make arrangements through your congressman. We submitted the dates that we would be visiting DC and received a pass via e-mail for a specific time and date two weeks prior to our trip. We also requested passes for an FBI tour and tour of the US Capitol through our congressman. Disappointingly, our FBI tour and White House Tour were scheduled too closely together and we had to choose between them.
Once we had completed our self guided tour of The White House we hopped back on the metro to the Capitol South Station. A tour of the US Capitol was next on our itinerary. We were ushered into a large auditorium to watch an informational video, then placed in large groups and given headphones to hear what our guide was saying while being shown three different areas of the building. We had a little time after our tour before everything closed for the evening, so we walked next door to the US Botanic Gardens. I’m really glad we took the opportunity to walk through the lush glass and stone conservatory. We had reservations at All Purpose Shaw, a top-rated pizza spot in the city. After dinner we couldn’t resist picking up a couple treats from Buttercream Bake Shop next door. Incidentally, I found their cupcakes to be much tastier than Georgetown Cupcake.
Our last day was devoted to visiting spots that we hoped to see, but hadn’t made it to yet. I woke up at 6 am in order to reserve timed same day passes to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I had visited the Los Angeles location years ago and wanted my family to be able to have the same valuable experience.
Tip: The US Holocaust Memorial Museum is free, but you can only access the permanent exhibits with a timed pass. Passes can be purchased online up until two weeks prior to your visit or obtained on a first-come first-served basis both online and on site the day of your visit.
I was able to reserve tickets for the 11:30 time slot at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. We chose to spend our time prior to the reservation to check out the popular National Air and Space Museum. It opened at 10 am and can get quite crowded, so I’m glad we were able to visit first thing. The kids had been begging to ride the motorized scooters parked all over DC for most of the trip. We found two scooters close to our hotel and downloaded the app so that they could ride, while my husband and I walked the short distance from our hotel to the National Air And Space Museum. Quite a few of the exhibits were closed during our visit, but we all enjoyed walking through a space station, touching a sliver of the moon and seeing both the Spirit of St. Luis and the Wright Flyer up close.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum was a short walk away from the National Air and Space Museum. Unlike the other museums on the mall, it is difficult to pick and choose different areas of the museum to see. Visitors are encouraged to walk through the permanent exhibit following a specific path. This is the one museum where you will need at least a full two hours.
Our last stop of the day was the Eastern Market not far from our hotel. We thought we would grab some lunch while exploring Washington’s oldest continually operating public market. With so much yummy food on display it was difficult to come to a consensus, but we finally settled on Le Pain Quitidien. We were able to sit outside and watch the hustle and bustle surrounding the street market out in front. We returned to our hotel to collect our luggage and catch an Uber to the airport.
Tip: Have your camera ready when approaching and departing DCA from the air. There are excellent views of the Pentagon and The National Mall (depending which side of the plane you are seated).
Are you planning a trip to Washington DC with your family? Feel free to message me any additional questions you may have. I have also posted a trip report with all the nitty gritty pros & cons about where we stayed, what we ate and how we got around the city here.