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Help me plan a trip to DC? I'm feeling overwhelmed!


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I've never planned a trip to somewhere like DC, where there's a ton of things to see and do. I'm feeling overwhelmed trying to figure out where to stay, walking distance between things, planning meals, etc. And doing it on a budget. Some thoughts....


How many days do you think we will need in DC as a family of 5 (kids will be 12, 9, and 4 when we go)? We want to move at a comfortable pace. We currently have 4 full days planned. However, we're also driving north to go to Pennsylvania as well, and if needed we can drop those days off of our trip and save them for another time. So we could add some more days to DC if we need to.


Where should we stay? I'd like to be as close to the mall as possible, but stay within a reasonable price for lodging. That's probably not feasible, huh? I'd love to stay $150 per night or less. I thought of staying in a VRBO property or something like that. We don't mind air mattresses where the kids have to sleep on the floor if we need to in order to keep costs down.


Getting around.....I've heard that biking it a good way to get around. Are we able to bring our own bikes? I'm thinking that if we stay in a rental property we can just keep them there when we don't need them (would be more difficult if we stayed in a hotel though). Is there any reason we cannot do this? Would it be safe for children to bike in DC? Too many vehicles/people? Are there places to lock up our bikes outside of museums and such?


Meals....I've heard that there are not a lot of meal options available around the mall/museums. Is that true? And no lunches are allowed to be taken inside? I was thinking that bringing our lunches and snacks each day would really cut down on the cost of our meals. We could eat breakfast in our room/condo, pack a lunch, and maybe do dinner out or cook it at our condo some nights. What would be a good way to save on meals?


As for things to do, our must sees right now are: Natural History museum, American History museum, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the monuments (specifically Lincoln if for some reason we didn't get to the others), and possibly the zoo but I'm not sure. I've heard Georgetown is neat....but I don't know anything about it. And I also heard that  Mount Vernon is a good place to visit. Possibly Arlington too?


And if you have any information or tips on seeing Jamestown/Williamsburg, I'd love to hear those as well! That's going to be our first stop.


Someone plan my trip LOL.

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I've visited DC many, many times, lived there for 6 months, and we're moving back there again this year with a huge list of things I'm planning to do- I don't think I'll ever run out of things to do there. If this is likely to be your only chance to visit, I'd focus on DC.  But if you'll be getting back there sometime, then I'd not worry about spending all my time in the city.


It would be hard to find a hotel near the mall that would allow 5 people for under $150.  But it's probably not impossible and the time of year would make a difference.  Airbnb or VRBO are good ideas if you can find something.  It really does make a difference to go at less popular times of the year.  I'm trying to remember the name of the hotel dh stayed in one time that was a pretty good location and not so expensive.  I'll add that later if I can think of something.  We've had good luck staying outside the District in hotels near Metro stops.  


Biking would work, although I wouldn't really want to bike around the Mall when it's crowded, especially with younger children. There are bike racks around.  You can take bikes on Metro but it would be somewhat complicated.  There definitely can be a lot of walking in DC, but it helps if you can organize yourself so that you're seeing things in certain areas on certain days to cut down on walking.   We've always been fine on foot and using Metro. 


Yes, you can carry your own lunches to save money.  You can't pull your food out and eat it everywhere, but it's a good option and we've certainly done that.  


I like the zoo, but it wouldn't be on my list of top must-dos in DC if I were just there for a few days.  I didn't make it there till I lived there. Georgetown is fun to wander around but maybe not so much for a 4yo. It's always worth seeing what local events are going on in town. 


I think this book is helpful for figuring out good things to do with a family in DC.  And really, there is so much to do that even if you don't plan anything, you'll be able to fill your days with lots of interesting things. 

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Quick comments....


W/ your kids' ages, I would skip Arlington. Mt. Vernon is a definite must, imo.


You can take lunch w/ you to the museums on the mall, but you will not be able to eat in the museums. As long as you have it in a closed cooler bag, though, we never had trouble w/ those. You are just not allowed to open/eat your food in the museums (even their cafeterias). Mt. Vernon does not allow you to carry in any food at all, so your stuff would need to stay in the car there. (Some picnic tables around the parking area, though, or I'd recommend going down the road a couple of miles to the related Gristmill & eating on their grounds, which are often relatively empty & very nice & pleasant.)


I would skip the bikes. The mall area is flat, but there are tons of pedestrians, buses, some of the walkways are gravel/dirt, etc.... The metro is a great way to get around. Since the museums on the mall tend to close around the time of rush hour for the metro, we always hung out on the mall awhile, snacking, playing frisbee, etc... for about an hour after the museums closed before heading back on the metro.


To see the monuments, you may want to do a tour that drops you at each site &/or get a taxi to take you there. The distances are longer than they seem, esp. if you are walking. The FDR monument is really very neat & definitely worth seeing if you can get over to it.


I'm not a fan of the Am. History museum. Imo, it just doesn't have that much & I think time is better spent seeing other things. (Yes, I say this even after the so-called big renovation they did at Am. History.) For kids, Natural History is always a hit, Air & Space is cool, some of the art museums are actually quite neat too. If you have time to go by the Smithsonian Castle (which opens earlier than the museums), stop in there. They have one room at the end that has a display case from each of their museums so you get a really nice little snippet/overview of the types of things each museum has to offer. Plus, they have a live camera feed from the zoo. The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian is a great one, lots of neat hands-on stuff for the kids on one of the floors, plus neat foods in the cafeteria. (Worth getting a snack of flatbread there at least.)


If you do the zoo, pick the metro stop that is higher than it (so you walk downhill to get there), then leave by the metro stop that is lower than it (so you walk downhill to get there). Google it & you will be able to find the info; I think the info is also on the zoo website.


I guess I'd recommend:

Mt. Vernon, plus the associated Gristmill & Distillery (imo, you can easily spend a day doing just this, plus stops by the Potomac)

Natural History Museum (half day)

Museum of the Am. Indian (half day)

Air & Space (at least a quick visit)

Smithsonian Castle (first thing in the a.m., just to see the one room w/ all the displays)

Monuments/the Mall (including riding the carousel on the Mall)

maybe an art museum or at least the outdoor art gardens along the Mall

maybe the zoo


There are so many things to do there, you could spend a long time. But, I think it's better to concentrate on a few things, take your time & enjoy them (& take breaks for your kids).



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Different opinions. The American History Museum is hands down my kids favorite. And has been since they were preschoolers. Their other musts every time we go back (we lived there 9 years and get back every summer) besides Smericsn History are the National Archives and the Building Museum.


Bring your own food in a background and water bottles you can refill at fountains. Food is really pricey. Metro is best option. Maybe stay somewhere around Arlington. We love anywhere with a free breakfast; it's worth a lot to us. Mount Vernon is very nice as others suggested.

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If you decide to go to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (and/or the Washington Monument, which is pretty neat), reserve tickets now if you can. Not sure how much in advance you're planning. :)  If you're going soon, the reserve tickets may be gone. They're free through the national park service except for a $1.50 service fee. Go to the website for the site you'd like to visit and you'll find a link to reserve tickets. If you want free same-day tickets, you'll want to line up early, like 45 min-1 hour before the ticket window opens. 1 person can stand in line to get up to 6 tickets, so you wouldn't have to wait in line with all of the kids.


Also, walking the monuments and memorials between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial is a lovely way to spend time. My sister and I really enjoyed spending an afternoon strolling around. Strolling and sweating. If it's summer still, you'll probably want to walk around in the morning while it's still relatively cool, then head for an air conditioned museum in the afternoon.


My sister and I went mostly to the art museums because our families don't enjoy those so much, and we wanted to focus our time there, but we did hit most of the other major museums. I think my kids would have most enjoyed the Natural History Museum (ds12 is BEGGING me to take him there, based on my reports), and the Air and Space Museum.


We visited my mom for two weeks, and aside from 2-3 days hiking and a day visiting Annapolis, we were on the mall every day, and we still didn't see everything we wanted to see. Probably because we had the luxury of browsing the art museums without anyone saying "Are we done yet? Can we go now? My feet hurt!" (From the husbands. LOL) Our surprise favorite art museum was the American Art/National Portrait Gallery. A little out of the way, but easy to access by Metro.


FYI, souvenir t-shirts were between $15-20 at the museum gift shops, which is a bit pricey (imo) but not as bad as I expected, and $5-10 at the shirt trucks scattered around on the streets. Since we were on Mom vacation, we needed to bring back souvenirs for everyone, so we needed to know this. :p


Have fun! :)

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We went there last November and one thing I want to point out is to not forget to look into parking. I was taken by surprise at the cost of parking--it was around $50 a day for our valet where we stayed a couple blocks from the White House.  You could probably park elsewhere but I would recommend checking into that beforehand.  That added a lot to the cost of our stay.   And although we were by the White House, there was still a ton of walking.  It might be better to stay somewhere where you can get on the metro and arrive right at the mall, which is where most of the things are that you would want to see.  When we went it was freezing cold, so we ended up taking a lot of taxis.  Yes to reserving tickets or getting in line early for the Bureau of Engraving.  The first time we went there, the tickets were all handed out so we had to go the next day and still wait quite a long time to get in.  Kind of a pain but I did like the tour.  Some of the money had been damaged by their machines on our tour and it was cool to see them having to account for every piece of that.   Mount Vernon was a nice change of pace. 


Do you know when you are planning to go?  Williamsburg has a special homeschool days where is it cheaper.  Someone said they have homeschool discounts year round but I'm not seeing that.  Does anyone know?


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My notes are below from our fabulous trip to DC a couple of years ago.  I'd check into the times as they may have changed since we were there.  Also, use an online parking reservation service like Parking Panda to prepurchase spots in parking garages.  It's a lot cheaper that way.  We left food in the car and went back for it to have picnic lunches.  We did both air and space sites, and it was worth it; get a docent tour.  I'd be sure to go in the fall - avoid the summer tourist crowds and the spring school trips.


DC by Foot - 7-9pm

Downtown/Penn Quarter/Chinatown

1740 18th St. NW, #304, Washington, DC 20009


National Mall Tour

WhereTour departs from the SW corner of 15th and Constituion Ave NW (map)

DescriptionDC By Foot is pleased to present the original name your own price walking tour of the monuments and memorials of the National Mall in Washington DC! This highly engaging tour will take you through the heart of the National Mall entertaining you and your family with stories, hidden secrets and historical information. Washington D.C. has played a pivotal role on every step of America's journey. And on every step of the tour, our expert guides, part professors, part performers, will explain how. See schedule below. Sights we cover on the tour Washington Monument White House* Thomas Jefferson Memorial* National WW2 Memorial Reflecting Pool Vietnam Veterans Memorial Lincoln Memorial and much more

*Sights we cover from a distance



National Zoological Park

Adams Morgan

3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008


All animal exhibits and most concessions are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Visitors can park and enter the grounds beginning at 8:30 a.m. The Visitor Center and Panda Plaza open at 9 a.m. daily.

The Zoo is a popular destination and crowds are large in April and May. Parking is limited; parking lots fill up by 10:30 a.m. this time of year. Take the Metro via the Red Line and exit at the Cleveland Park station.

If you exit at the Cleveland Park stop, take the exit on the east side of the street and walk south, toward the Uptown movie theater and the restaurants that line Connecticut Avenue (away from 7-11 and the Exxon station). The Zoo is on the east side of the street, about three blocks from the stop, after a bridge and just past a large apartment building.  Note: The walk from Cleveland Park is about half a mile.

To get to the Zoo by car:

You can enter the Zoo from Connecticut Avenue, Harvard Street, or Rock Creek Parkway. Parking in the Zoo and nearby is limited, so we strongly encourage you to use public transportation.

On Monday, January 14, Olmsted Walk will be closed to all traffic in front of the Great Ape House from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. The Beach Drive Gate will also need to be closed from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. to all traffic.


Parking at the Zoo costs $16 for the first 3 hours, and $22 for more than 3 hours. Parking during regular Zoo hours is free for FONZ members. Every dollar you spend at the Zoo—for parking, food, and gifts—supports our education, research, and conservation efforts.

Lemur Feeding 10:30am

Elephant Training 11

Sea Lion Feeding 11:15

Great Cats 1pm

Great Ape Research 1:30

Meet a Small Animal 2

Octopus Feeding 3




National Air and Space Museum


Downtown/Penn Quarter/Chinatown

6th St. & Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC

10-5:30: Tour at 10:30 & 1pm

Telescope Observation of Space 12-3pm


This testament to human ingenuity houses a vast display of the machines we've created to fly through air and space. And yet, one of this museum's enduring attractions is something that puts those human accomplishments in perspective: the Albert Einstein Planetarium (you'll need a ticket to enter). It coaxes you to wonder about the dimensions of the universe.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway
Chantilly, Virginia 20151
10:00 am - 5:30 pm



National Museum of Natural History

Downtown/Penn Quarter/Chinatown

Constitution Ave. at 10th St. NW, Washington, DC

10am - 5:30pm

T-F Highlight Tours 10:30am & 1:30pm


Live Tarantula Feedings T-F 10:30, 11:30, & 1:30

Forensics Anthropology Lab T, R, F 1-5


This is a so-much-to-see, so-little-time venue, especially given the fact that this is the largest natural-history museum in the world. Do take a gander at the Hope Diamond and other gems and minerals, and don't miss the fossil collection and the dinosaur hall. But if your time is limited, visit two of the museum's newer exhibits. The 23,000-square-foot Ocean Hall, the museum's largest permanent exhibit, aims to explain the essential connection between oceans and all life. Displays include a life-size replica of a North Atlantic whale and an 1,800-gallon-tank display of coral reef. "Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution" is two exhibits in one. Partners in Evolution explores the relationship between plants and insects and animals



National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden

Downtown/Penn Quarter/Chinatown

6th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20565

10-5     Free Concert Sunday 6:30pm


1900 to Now: An Introduction to the East Building Collection 11:30, 1:30

American Collection   Tue, Thu at 1:30

Early Italian to Early Modern: An Introduction to the West Building Collection  10:30, 3:30

French Collection: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries      12:30

Glimpses of 17th-Century Life           Tue at 11:30

Italian Renaissance Collection            Tue, Thu, Sat at 2:30

Points of View: The Painter's Choices            Mon, Wed, Fri at 2:30

The Sculpture Galleries           Mon, Wed, Fri at 1:30

The Sculpture Garden (weather permitting)   Fri at 12:30


The National Gallery's special exhibits are always amazing, so if there's one being staged, go, no matter who the artist. For example, head to the East Wing and go straight up to the tower to take a look at the latest show in a series that focuses on developments in art since the 1970s. The tower gets less traffic than other spots in the museum, mostly because not everyone's hip to it. (FYI: The Matisse cutouts that used to be on view here are now found on the concourse level.) From here, you'll want to high-tail it over to the West Wing, to view as much of the grand sculpture galleries, European paintings from the 13th to the 19th century, and modern artworks in the Sculpture Garden, as time allows.



United States Botanic Garden

100 Maryland Avenue Southwest, Washington, DC

10am – 5pm   

Check for free 45-minute tours

MW Lunchtime tour

TWR Big Band Concert




National Museum of American History

14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C., 20001



Highlights Tour 10:15 & 1pm

19th Century Laundry W-Sat 11am

Changing America Tour: 1863 vs 1963 TWR 10:30, WR noon & 1:30


This ponderous museum is much improved after a mighty renovation and retooled approach: Lots of live musical and theatrical performances play up American history and culture, the whole point of the museum. You won't have time to view everything on display, but certain things you shouldn't miss: the magnificent, original Star-Spangled Banner, now on display in its own multistory, glass-paneled gallery; 10-foot-high, glass-paned artifact walls showcasing choice items from the museum's three-million-piece collection, from an 1815 tavern sign to Helen Keller's watch; and a favorite, Julia Child's kitchen, moved from the famous chef's home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to its permanent niche here.


National Museum of the American Indian

Fourth Street & Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20560

10- 5:30

Orientation Film: Who We Are

Tour T noon
Family Program TR 1pm
Cultural Presentation TR 2pm
Interpretive Program TR 3pm



Bureau of Engraving & Printing

Downtown/Penn Quarter/Chinatown

14th and C Sts. SW, Washington, DC 20228


March - August

Free tickets required

Tours will run every 15 minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. with advanced reservations held for large groups between 11:00 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.

 The Visitor Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (door closes at 3:00 p.m.) in March, and 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (door closes at 7:00 p.m.), April through August.

Please bear in mind that during peak season (Cherry Blossom, Easter and Spring Break) lines form very early at the ticket booth.  Most days if you are not in line by 6:30-7:00 a.m. you will not get tickets for that day.  Tickets are same-day only.  Tickets are limited, please plan your trip accordingly.  One person can get up to four tickets.  The ticket booth opens for ticket distribution at 8:00 a.m.

Take the Blue or Orange Line to the Smithsonian Station. Leave through the Independence Avenue/Bureau of Engraving and Printing Exit. As you step off the escalator go straight ahead on Independence Avenue towards 14th Street. Cross and turn left on 14th Street and the BEP is one block away. During peak season, please make your way to the front of the building on Raoul Wallenberg Place (formerly 15th Street), where you will find the ticket booth. When it is time to take your tour, or if it is non-peak season, please proceed to the entrance on 14th Street.





National Archives & Records Administration

Constitution Ave. NW, Between 7th & 9th Sts., Washington, DC 20408




Magna Carta

Declaration of Independence


Bill of Rights


Special Exhibit: Searching for the 1970s


Capitol – Wednesday 1:00 pm

contact the office of your state's representatives


The US Capitol is the simplest tour to book – you just have to pick a day and time. We run those tours through our office in the Cannon Office Building. We can accommodate anytime from 10:00am until 4:00pm


A Capitol tour takes about an hour and a half – but it might be a bit longer that that with the spring crowd. Additionally there is the option to go up into the House gallery which adds a bit of time as well.







City Layout

Washington's appearance today pays homage to the 1791 vision of French engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who created the capital's grand design of sweeping avenues intersected by spacious circles, directed that the Capitol and the White House be placed on prominent hilltops at either end of a wide stretch of avenue, and superimposed this overall plan upon a traditional street grid. The city's quadrants, grand avenues named after states, alphabetically ordered streets crossed by numerically ordered streets, and parks integrated with urban features are all ideas that started with L'Enfant. President George Washington, who had hired L'Enfant, was forced to dismiss the temperamental genius after L'Enfant apparently offended quite a number of people. But Washington recognized the brilliance of the city plan and hired surveyors Benjamin Banneker and Andrew Ellicott, who had worked with L'Enfant, to continue to implement L'Enfant's design.

The U.S. Capitol marks the center of the city, which is divided into northwest (NW), northeast (NE), southwest (SW), and southeast (SE) quadrants. Most, but not all, areas of interest to tourists are in the northwest. The boundary demarcations are often seamless; for instance, you are in the northwest quadrant when you visit the National Museum of Natural History, but by crossing the National Mall to the other side to visit the Freer Gallery, you put yourself in the southwest quadrant. Pay attention to the quadrant's geographic suffix; as you'll notice when you look on a map, some addresses -- for instance, the corner of G and 7th streets -- appear in all quadrants.

Main Arteries and Streets -- From the Capitol, North Capitol Street and South Capitol Street run north and south, respectively. East Capitol Street divides the city north and south. The area west of the Capitol is not a street at all, but the National Mall, which is bounded on the north by Constitution Avenue and on the south by Independence Avenue.

The primary artery of Washington is Pennsylvania Avenue, which is the scene of parades, inaugurations, and other splashy events. Pennsylvania runs northwest in a direct line between the Capitol and the White House -- if it weren't for the Treasury Building, the president would have a clear view of the Capitol -- before continuing on a northwest angle to Georgetown, where it becomes M Street.

Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House -- between 15th and 17th streets NW -- remains closed to cars for security reasons but has been remade into an attractive pedestrian plaza, lined with 88 Princeton American Elm trees.

Constitution Avenue, paralleled to the south most of the way by Independence Avenue, runs east-west, flanking the Capitol and the Mall. If you hear Washingtonians talk about the "House" side of the Hill, they're referring to the southern half of the Capitol, the side closest to Independence Avenue, and home to Congressional House offices and the House Chamber. Conversely, the Senate side is the northern half of the Capitol, where Senate offices and the Senate Chamber are found, closer to Constitution Avenue.


Washington's longest avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, runs parallel to Pennsylvania (a few avenues north). Along the way, you'll find Union Station and then Dupont Circle, which is central to the area known as Embassy Row. Farther out are the Naval Observatory (the vice president's residence is on the premises), Washington National Cathedral, American University, and, eventually, Maryland.

Connecticut Avenue, which runs more directly north (the other avenues run southeast to northwest), starts at Lafayette Square, intersects Dupont Circle, and eventually takes you to the National Zoo, on to the charming residential neighborhood known as Cleveland Park, and into Chevy Chase, Maryland, where you can pick up the Beltway to head out of town. Connecticut Avenue, with its chic-to-funky array of shops and clusters of top-dollar to good-value restaurants, is an interesting street to stroll.

Wisconsin Avenue originates in Georgetown; its intersection with M Street forms Georgetown's hub. Antiques shops, trendy boutiques, nightclubs, restaurants, and pubs all vie for attention. Wisconsin Avenue basically parallels Connecticut Avenue; one of the few irritating things about the city's transportation system is that the Metro does not connect these two major arteries in the heart of the city. (Buses do, and, of course, you can always walk or take a taxi from one avenue to the other; read about the supplemental bus system, the D.C. Circulator, below.) Metrorail's first stop on Wisconsin Avenue is in Tenleytown, a residential area. Follow the avenue north and you land in the affluent Maryland cities of Chevy Chase and Bethesda.

Finding an Address

If you understand the city's layout, it's easy to find your way around. As you read this, have a map handy.

Each of the four corners of the District of Columbia is exactly the same distance from the Capitol dome. The White House and most government buildings and important monuments are west of the Capitol (in the northwest and southwest quadrants), as are major hotels and tourist facilities.

Numbered streets run north-south, beginning on either side of the Capitol with 1st Street. Lettered streets run east-west and are named alphabetically, beginning with A Street. (Don't look for a B, a J, an X, a Y, or a Z st., however.) After W Street, street names of two syllables continue in alphabetical order, followed by street names of three syllables; the more syllables in a name, the farther the street is from the Capitol.

Avenues, named for U.S. states, run at angles across the grid pattern and often intersect at traffic circles. For example, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts avenues intersect at Dupont Circle.

With this in mind, you can easily find an address. On lettered streets, the address tells you exactly where to go. For instance, 1776 K St. NW is between 17th and 18th streets (the first two digits of 1776 tell you that) in the northwest quadrant (NW). Note: I Street is often written as "Eye" Street to prevent confusion with 1st Street.


Places to Eat

  1. The handwritten sign above the register in Ben’s Chili Bowl lists Bill Cosby and Barack Obama as the only customers who can eat for free. But you can sup inexpensively at this city signature, where the famous chili half-smoke is $5.45.
  2. Head over to Julia's Empanadas for a taste of South America. A variety of handmade, generously stuffed, freshly baked hand-pies are $3.49 each.
  3. Ten bucks will get you falafel, twice-fried fries and change until 4 a.m. on weekends at Amsterdam Falafelshop. Make sure to snag a napkin; in an effort to reduce waste, they don’t use spoons, forks or plates.  The falafel was great, but the owner was an a$$.
  4. Take pictures at the Chinatown Friendship Arch at the corner of 7th and H Streets NW, then head to Tony Cheng’s for dim sum at a deal. Two steamed pork buns are less than $5.
  5. Watch the chef make ropes of skinny noodles in the window of Chinatown Express before ordering a big bowl for under $5.


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Another place that my dc loved & we visited more than once over the years is the Smithsonian Postal Museum. It's not on the Mall, but it's across the street from Union Station. Union Station is neat to see too & they also have a big food court area.


If you can't get into the Washington Monument, I was going to suggest the Old Post Office Tower, but it looks like it is closed for renovations until 2016.


I would skip Georgetown; however, if you're over there, the National Cathedral is another great stop with kids. Did you know they even have a Darth Vader grotesque? (You could picnic in the area & spend some time w/ binoculars outside looking at all the gargoyles & grotesques. Then head in for a tour of the Cathedral.)

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Someone plan my trip LOL.


Lodging will be much less expensive on weekends.  We're going later this summer, I just spent two hours looking at hotels mostly inside the city but ended up choosing Holiday Inn Key Bridge in Rosslyn, right by Arlington, for just under $100 night. The parking is free (that is HUGE!!), and it's a five minute walk to the Metro station.  My kids are dying to Metro again.


Meal options, imo, along the National Mall are awful. I don't remember specifics, but it was a crappy hot dog, can of soda, and bag of chips for something like $6.  I've since noticed food trucks parked along the streets, and I'd check those out next time.  We'll be eating at Union Station, which has a food court. I looked at menus online, and prices were reasonable, what you would expect to pay anywhere.


The Lincoln Memorial is allllll the way at the end of the memorials, at the end of the National Mall.  If you go there, you'll walk right past Washington Memorial, the new WWII Memorial, the Vietnam Wall, the Korean War memorial (surely more, that's off the top of my head).  I've heard that the time to see the Memorials is at night, when they are all lit up, but I've never done that. (How fun does it sound though?!)


At least some of the museums have inexpensive lockers just inside the doors that would be great for storing lunches.  Yes, the buildings are very strict about bringing food in, even banning bottled water.  There are exceptions, I believe, for babies/toddlers, but if that's the case, get confirmation from someone else.


People love Williamsburg, but I don't get it.  I was looking forward to it and was very disappointed.  But we went to Jamestown a few years later and all enjoyed that a lot!


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We just visited in May. We stayed at The Americana. The room was decent, it had a free light breakfast and free parking, and it was a block walk to the Metro station. They also have a shuttle to the airport and local restaurants. I think they even will take you to the Metro if the walk is too far or the weather is bad.


Which museums to visit depends entirely on your family. The Natural History and American Indian museums were great for us, YMMV. They all have cafeterias, but they are a bit pricey. There are places within walking distance, but it might be a few blocks. Also there were food trucks when we were there.


We really enjoyed the monuments at night tour. Well, the little one fell asleep, but Brotherman and I enjoyed it. We all loved Mt Vernon. 

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We just visited in May. We stayed at The Americana. The room was decent, it had a free light breakfast and free parking, and it was a block walk to the Metro station. They also have a shuttle to the airport and local restaurants. I think they even will take you to the Metro if the walk is too far or the weather is bad.


Which museums to visit depends entirely on your family. The Natural History and American Indian museums were great for us, YMMV. They all have cafeterias, but they are a bit pricey. There are places within walking distance, but it might be a few blocks. Also there were food trucks when we were there.


We really enjoyed the monuments at night tour. Well, the little one fell asleep, but Brotherman and I enjoyed it. We all loved Mt Vernon. 


We lived across the street from the Americana and I think it's a great location.  Friends of ours had their relatives stay in the Americana when they'd come to visit.  It looks a bit sketchy but I'd stay there. :)

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We just visited in May. We stayed at The Americana. The room was decent, it had a free light breakfast and free parking, and it was a block walk to the Metro station. They also have a shuttle to the airport and local restaurants. I think they even will take you to the Metro if the walk is too far or the weather is bad.



We lived across the street from the Americana and I think it's a great location.  Friends of ours had their relatives stay in the Americana when they'd come to visit.  It looks a bit sketchy but I'd stay there. :)



We've stayed at the Americana three or four times now. It's not fancy, but the location and the price are right. My one suggestion? Spring the extra $10-$20/night for a renovated room. We stayed in one of the older rooms the last time we were there and it was way shabbier than we remembered from previous visits.


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We lived across the street from the Americana and I think it's a great location.  Friends of ours had their relatives stay in the Americana when they'd come to visit.  It looks a bit sketchy but I'd stay there. :)


It does look a bit sketchy from the outside but the inside is clean and the staff was friendly and helpful.


We've stayed at the Americana three or four times now. It's not fancy, but the location and the price are right. My one suggestion? Spring the extra $10-$20/night for a renovated room. We stayed in one of the older rooms the last time we were there and it was way shabbier than we remembered from previous visits.


We stayed in a renovated room. It was nice enough. I haven't seen the unrenovated rooms.

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My advice is to skip the zoo and focus on the Mall.

I would take a day to see Mt. Vernon--very kid-friendly (and close to my house, if you want to stop by!).

I would not bike--too hard with all the people.

I would also try to see the Nat'l Cathedral--it is on par with the European cathedrals and very impressive. They have a neat gift shop, too, and an herb/plant shop that is nice.

The Botanical Gardens are quite fun--it's all the way up by the Capitol, but worth it. There's even a children's garden play area that has some water to splash in and is darling.


Have a great time!

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Seconding the Americana and the Harington for location and reputation (we live here so I never need a hotel!).


For bikes, I didn't see anyone mention Capitol Bikeshare, which could be an option. They're seemingly everywhere these days and I see tourists on the all the time.


You could spend several weeks and still not do everything. I mean, we live here and there are things we've never done and we do a ton. Just pick what you want - concentrate on the Mall - be flexible. Don't forget to see at least a little art if you don't hate art.

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You've gotten a lot of great advice.  I'm just here to talk about food.  We live near DC, and if possible, I try to pack a picnic in.  When I don't, I usually regret it... Food is just expensive and not worth it.  I don't mind spending money on food if it's good, but $20 for a mushy sandwich = no bueno.


But there are a few places to eat.  


There is a food court in the Reagan International Trade Center.  You have to get searched to go in the building, but it is close to the White House, across the street from the Museum of American History, and right by a metro stop - Federal Triangle.  There is also parking there for about $20 a day.  Last year there was a pizza restaurant right there, too, but last time I was there the pizza place was closed.  Maybe there is something else there now - no security check needed.  Also, there is a farmers market in the same plaza on Fridays.  Lots of yummy food and treats.


There is a McDonald's/Boston Market/pizza place inside of the Air and Space Museum. It is on the East end of the building, and It is set up to feed a lot of people fast!  There is also a mini McDonald's right outside of the Air and Space Museum, on the West end of the building.  I know it's silly to go all the way to dc and find a McDonald's, but sometimes that's just what your 4 year old needs, you know?


The last time we were in DC, there were lots of (less sketchy) food trucks near L'Enfant Plaza.


Did you know there is a Dunkin' Donut shop inside the Library of Congress?


There is a cafeteria under the National Gallery of Art.  Spend-y, but pretty good, plus it's fun to go way down under the museum.  There is also a fancy place to eat inside the National Gallery of Art Atrium, and another place to eat in the sculpture garden.


We have walked to a few different places to eat that are east of the White House/ north of the mall.  Those city blocks don't look so big on your phone, but it can be a LOT of walking.


When we were playing tourist last summer when we first moved here, I would block out about 3 things I wanted to do in a day, planning about a 2 hour limit per activity.  So, get up and metro to Arlington Cemetery in the morning; metro back to mall and eat lunch and walk around White House; back to the hotel for a nap and pool time; then back to the mall to see the monuments as night falls.  Or National Gallery of Art in the morning, picnic lunch in Sculpture Garden, paddle boats on the potomac in the afternoon,  Museum of Natural History in the evening as they have late hours in the summer.  We would often not make it to all 3 activities, but that was okay.  


Best of luck on your adventure!

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We were just in DC in June. I'll try to revisit this thread when I have a few more minutes to respond, but I wanted to say something about the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, since several people have commented on the difficulty of getting tickets.


We didn't have advanced tickets, so we planned to get there at the beginning of the day. We did not show up at the ticket booth right at the opening time, but it was not soon after. I think it opened at 8 am and we were there by 8:20. There was no line. We got tickets for the 9:45 tour, and while we waited, we walked over to see the Jefferson Memorial. It's not a bad idea to get tickets in advance, but since there were not crowds of school children wanting to take tours, we didn't have trouble. Definitely get your tickets right away in the morning, even if you don't want to take a tour until the afternoon, because they will sell out.


By the way, the ticket booth is all the way around the back of the building in an inconvenient spot -- it is not near the actual tour entrance. Leave some extra time to walk around the building to find the booth.

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If you really want to stay close to the Mall check out Hotel Harrington. I have stayed there with a Girl Scout group. It is not a luxury hotel or even a nice chain hotel, but it was clean and convienient. It is actually quite historical on its own.


The Harrington has been recommended on these boards many times. 

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We just returned from a trip in June with our family of 6 (kids ages 17-7).  We loved our trip!  You have quite an adventure ahead of you!


We stayed at a condo I found on vrbo in Arlington/Pentagon City--it had a free shuttle to the metro, so we just rode that the entire time.  (The property number on the website is 578050 if you want to check it out…it was listed to sleep 4, but the owner allowed sleeping bags on the floor for two of our kids…was only $125 a night…definitely a bargain, but neighboring condo residents were not thrilled with the number of people in our family so that stressed me out a bit).  I was so surprised at how easy the metro system was for us country folks to navigate.  The shuttle/bus service was different on the weekends, so keep that in mind when planning.  I'd advise against the bikes.  Not only was it crowded, but it was hot and there is a lot of construction going on.  Having a kitchen was so nice--we didn't buy a single food item within DC, so that saved us a lot of money.  We brought our lunches--most places were okay if you had it closed within your backpack.  The only place there was a problem was at the Capitol Building--but I planned our tour for after lunch so we just ate before we went in.  Bags were searched most places as you enter; a few places you had to take a drink of your water; a few places you had to check your bags in at a desk.


We spent 7 days in DC.


Day 1--*Museum of American History, walk to White House (didn't get to tour), White House Visitor's Center

Day 2--Monument Walk from Washington Monument to Lincoln Memorial, war memorials along the way, Washington Monument tour, Holocaust Museum

Day 3--Pentagon tour, *Museum of Natural History, National Archives

Day 4--Library of Congress, Capitol Building tour, *Senate Chamber visit, National Art Museums

Day 5--*Air & Space Museum, ^American Indian Museum, ^Smithsonian Castle

Day 6--*Washington DC LDS Temple Visitor's Center, *Arlington Cemetery

Day 7--^National Building Museum, ^Museum of American Art, Bureau of Engraving/Printing

*=our favorites, must-sees, ^=we could have skipped (obviously YMMV)


My biggest bit of advice--don't be afraid to ask about tickets everywhere you go.  Even if you tried ahead of time online or if you missed them handing them out in the morning, we seemed to luck out with someone overhearing us & sharing their extras, or a nice museum guide offering tickets she had access to, etc.  


Also, this was perhaps the best part of our trip for our 7 year old:  Ultimate Sticker Book: Washington, D.C. (Ultimate Sticker Books) (The National Art Museum gift shop has it for the same price as amazon).  Great activity to keep her interested in things, but also a great souvenir now as she tells others about our trip.  


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