Jump to content

Menu

Things to do in Washington DC


Recommended Posts

We are taking a vacation to Washington DC in March! Yay!!

 

We will be there for 9 days. We live in a small town in Hawaii, so this is a big trip for us and a very big change from our norm. My kids are 8 and almost 6.

 

Any recommendations for things we must do or see while we are there?

 

How cold is it usually around that time (end of March)? We live in a warm tropical place so I am trying to plan clothing we may need to purchase before we go.

 

 

Thanks so much!

 

Tamara

 

 

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Link to post
Share on other sites

The weather in March is completely unpredictable, especially if you'll be here in early March. Could be hot or blizzard. You never know. Look ahead of time to get an idea. I would say bring light coats/jackets and some things to layer. If, on the off chance, we have a late bout of winter weather, you can find gear then, but chances are you'll be okay. Best guess - you'll want long pants, T-shirts, hoodies, and maybe a light jacket and you'll want to shed the jackets midday. Note that time of year can be wet and rainy here, but, again, unpredictable.

 

All the standard things are good - monuments, museums, government buildings. And that stuff will easily take up several days.

 

Other stuff...

 

I like to encourage people to see some art while they're here. Some people come and never see art but we have so much! We have North America's only da Vinci. For younger kids like yours, if you go to the Smithsonian American Art they often have something going in their art room with a story and a project on the weekends. There are other kid programs at all the museums some weekends - some are really good and free too. Look at family programs on the specific websites. Also, you will be here while Wonder is still at the Renwick. YOU MUST GO. Really, you must. I'm requiring it.

 

Check Kid Friendly DC to see if there's anything else fun going on while you're here. They'll list things in the suburbs too and all the various children's theater and so forth.

 

The zoo is fine. Don't listen to the weird naysayers. Unless, of course, you also have a good zoo nearby. In which case, it's just okay. It's not, like, better than your good zoo.

 

The Building Museum has some cool exhibits for kids. It also has a giant open space that's neat to see and experience. Maybe worth the cost. The Spy Museum on the other hand isn't great for those ages. I'd skip it.

 

There's plenty of off the beaten path historic stuff... We really like Lincoln's Cottage, for example, but it depends on what you're into.

 

There's plenty of nature. My top two in the area picks are Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (though you may be here at a time when they're not so amazing, pre-lotus growth) and Great Falls. I especially like the Maryland side of Great Falls, where you can take a canal boat tour and the "hike" to the falls is really short but nice. The Arboretum is also cool. You need a car for all those places.

 

Mt. Vernon is worth the trip and it's really close. The drive along the river is nice.

 

Um... yeah... other people will chime in. Have fun!

  • Like 5
Link to post
Share on other sites

9 days is along time. Are you visiting friends/family too? If you are visiting, I'd spread the tourist stuff out.

 

What are you and your kids into? There's lots of stuff that is generally great for kids, but if you have specific interests we can give more direction.

 

Generally, lots of museums. Smithsonians are all free. Closer to your visit you can go to the smithsonian website you can get a calendar and see schedules of activities and events that are kid friendly. The spy museum is fun. There is admission. There are good art galleries. On a nice day try the zoo. It is part of the smithsonian and free admission.

 

If you aren't visiting anyone, you may want to take a side trip or two. Three days visiting Williamsburg would be nice add on. Williamsburg is 3 hours drive southeast.

Link to post
Share on other sites

We often have snow at the beginning of March but usually at the end that threat is past (usually!).  I agree with the idea of bringing long pants, and a light jacket.  Good walking shoes too!

 

When I have guests from out of town (or out of the country), I like to get a day long ticket to the trolley tours.  You can ride around the city and even over to Arlington Cemetery.  You can pick which stops you want to off at and then get back on when the next trolley comes along.  That way you get to see a lot of the city but can stop at place you are especially interested in  

 

In addition to the regular things like the Smithsonian museums, the capitol, the Washington monument, I'd recommend the WWII Memorial is amazing!  I would highly recommend going to that, also the Ford's Theater where Lincoln was shot and also the house across the street where he died.  And also the Frederick Douglass house in Anacostia.  Really interesting.

 

We go to Mount Vernon every couple of years and we've lived here for decades.  It's that interesting!  You might want to check out Old Town Alexandria while you are over on the other side of the river.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, go to the Renwick.  It's small and kids love it right now.  And I also think it's worth going out to Anacostia, both to the Smithsonian there and the Frederick Douglass House. We also like to poke around Georgetown by the canal. All of my children love it when we go up the Washington Monument. If you want to do that, get tickets in advance- it's worth the fee unless you want to get up at 7:30 to wait in line for an hour.

 

We moved to DC at the end of March in falling snow one time.  But there are plenty of years when it's just fine then.  It wouldn't likely be cold the entire time you're here and you could plan indoor things if it is cold- you have enough time here to be flexible.  The Botanic Garden is a lovely stop on a chilly day.  You could combine it with the Museum of the American Indian- my now-8yo has loved that place since he was 5.

 

If you'll have a car, we've enjoyed going to some of the smaller historic places in and around the city like the Lincoln Cottage, Fort Washington, Peirce Mill, and various Civil War forts.  You don't have to have a car for all of those, but it makes things easier. 

 

We like to go to the Building Museum to see the building itself.  They have wonderful free tours that wouldn't work for your kids, but you can still go see the building (they're recarpeting right now but it'll be back to normal in a few weeks).  Their gift shop is lots of fun, you can go in the Great Hall, and we like to go upstairs (not to the exhibits) to the SW corner of the building (I think that's the right corner) to see how the rooms looked when the building was built.  Also, fun story: When you're outside, notice that there are three small holes beneath each window.  The building was designed to allow air to flow in those holes and up through the roof for a ventilation system (there were radiators to heat the air in cold weather). But the system worked too well and it was so drafty inside that people started to block off the holes.  And notice the stairs- they aren't at all steep because the building was designed for pensioners and they needed to be able to climb the stairs more easily.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Again, thank you so much everyone for the great info!

 

Wow! I didn't realize it was still that cold there! Lol. We are used to 80 degrees year round, so that will be an experience in itself. I am secretly hoping it snows a little so the kids can see snow fall!

 

My husband actually got sent over for a conference, so we decided that the kids and I would fly over and he would extend his trip so we could make a family trip of it.

 

I love the idea of going to see some theater. We really have no access to that where we live and I think the kids would love it. Literally the most exciting thing at our local zoo is the feral pigs, so yeah, I think the zoo will be a must.

 

I really want to take them to some museums because, again, we just don't have anything like that where we are. It feels like there are so many to choose from there I don't know where to start!

 

I would't have really thought of mount Vernon for kids, but I know nothing about it, and many of you recommended it, that we will have to check that out.

 

We sort of planned this so last minute, I wish I had more time to do some US history with the kids before we go...we literally haven't done any. I am hoping I can read them some books about some specific things we might be able to go see so at least they will know what they are looking at. Are there specific monuments or historical sites that you would say are more worth it for young kids (8 and 6)?

 

I would also love to take them to do stuff like ice skating, or places like itrampoline, or I guess just normal kid fun type things that we don't have available to us here. Any suggestions on that type of thing?

 

Thanks again for all the great information!

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Link to post
Share on other sites

In terms of the weather, when we say unpredictable, it really is. There's a chance it'll be snowy... but also a chance it'll be 80 and sunny. Who the heck knows when you're talking March. It's a total gamble.

 

Ice Skating - you'll be on the Mall anyway, so I think you'll be in time to do the ice skating in the sculpture garden. If you want something different, we like the rink by Navy Yard. It's not usually crowded and has a nice sort of track.

 

Cool "kid" things - Climbzone is really fun. It's out in Laurel, but it's still pretty cool. There is a trampoline place but we haven't been. All that stuff is way out in the suburbs for the most part though. If you want to do a day trip - Baltimore is excellent. Not far and both the children's museum and the science center are great and very kid friendly. Plus, a great aquarium. I think of Baltimore as DC counter-programming - they have all the stuff we don't. Even their zoo is, like, all the cool animals the National Zoo lacks, like penguins and polar bears and giraffes and a rhino and chimps (we have, instead, Asian elephants, pandas, lions, tigers, gorillas and orangutans, among other things).

 

Historic stuff is historic stuff. If you haven't been doing a ton of US history and you and your dh aren't real US history buffs, I wouldn't make too much of an effort to do the off the beaten path stuff. Do the American History Museum and the monuments and maybe pick one other thing. Mt. Vernon is really fun though - it's just big and sort of neat to see. The actual plantation is pretty. The tour is pretty quick (able to keep the attention of small children). If you're there on the weekend, the blacksmith will be there (other times too, just less predictably). I agree with Amira that the Frederick Douglass House is a hidden gem... but... it's not a must. You have to pick and choose. Ditto Ford's Theater - the exhibit in the basement is excellent, but... it's not so exciting for younger kids who haven't had any history background.

 

In terms of the monuments, it's just a long walk basically (or you do a tour bus for this one) - you'll just inevitably see them all. They're all worth it.

Edited by Farrar
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, and theater. There are several big children's theaters here. Imagination Stage and Adventure Theater are the two biggest. They'll have shows going. Imagination Stage does more elementary level stuff and Adventure does more preschool and younger elementary stuff. But it depends. There are also free shows at National Theater on Saturdays (I think they're still doing this...) and Discovery Theater has a bunch of short term show - not always theater, but music and so forth too - they have a couple of different spaces in the Smithsonian.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

The zoo is great because there isn't an entrance fee; you only pay for parking. The National Mall is a great walking/running and photo opportunities in front of iconic monuments. I would also call your congressional representatives and see if they will show you around congress. Most of them will help make arrangements and it is also free. I am not familiar with parks in the area, but if you have a car it is absolutely worth the 3 hour trip to Williamsburg/Jamestown. Jamestown has an excellent outdoor interactive program for kids that will teach the kids more US history in a fun way than any book possibly could. They have a native American side and a settler side with hands on exhibits for both. My kids loved it tremendously. Then Colonial Williamsburg...which is within minutes. And Yorktown is 15 minutes up the Colonial Parkway and the kids can run on battlefields overlooking the beach and river where Cornwallis surrendered. The visitor center offers a tape player and tape that you can play that allows you to listen to the sounds of battle and different characters tell what it was like from their vantage point. Bring a kite for the battlefields and beach.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Making a huge list of things! I am so excited to sit down with my family and figure out what we want to do. Thanks you all for the great tips and ideas! I am SO excited [emoji38]

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Link to post
Share on other sites

My kids' favorites at that age were the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Washington Monument. Both require a ticket (free) so you have to plan ahead a little. When we went again this past year their favorites were the National Gallery and the National Cathedral. There is SO MUCH to see. We've been twice and still haven't nearly seen it all.

 

I'd put Mt. Vernon on the definite list.

Edited by mom2att
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Has anyone mentioned that the end of March is the start of Cherry Blossom Festival?

 

You should check the dates of the festival and see if they overlap with your trip. We love cherry blossom festival, but you definitely want to know if you are coming in then- things will be a lot more crowded...

 

And yes, weather is crazy then.... we've gone to see Cherry Blossoms in 20-30 degree weather with cold, biting wind. We've seen them in sweltering heat. We've seen them in absolutely perfect spring weather. One year, we didn't see them at all because of ice/snow/rain- or something like that.... it's a total crap shoot.

 

http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/visitor-information/faq/

Edited by *lifeoftheparty*
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

We have thoroughly enjoyed:  all of the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, Capitol Hill, Library of Congress, Spy Museum, a Monument tour, Arlington National Cemetery (the most meaningful of them all), Mt. Vernon, the Air and Space Annex at Dulles Airport (highly recommend as the BIG stuff is there - the shuttle, jets, etc.), Manassas Battlefield, and visits with our state senators.

Link to post
Share on other sites

No one had talked about traffic and driving in DC/VA/MD.  It can be VERY congested and the drivers are....something else.  I live in Boston so I am used to aggressive, unpredictable drivers.  DC/VA/MD is similar in that regard (I lived in Silver Spring for a year recently).  Rush hour lasts forever and if you plan on heading to the MD suburbs, take the time you think it will take to get there and double or triple it (unless you are doing the trip between 11am-3pm).  If you only plan on staying in the immediate DC area use the subways, buses, and Uber/taxis.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll chime in with my favorites that I don't think have been mentioned yet : Dumbarton Oaks formal gardens (also the museum) in Georgetown and a ride along the canal. Oh, and don't forget free performances at the Kennedy Center's Millenium Stage every night!

 

And for the zoo, I would take the metro rather than deal with parking. Or it is a lovely walk through Rock Creek Park from Georgetown (provided there is no snow!).

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I saw this book, Awesome Adventures at the Smithsonian, in one of the Smithsonian gift shops one time and thought it would've been a great book to have prior to a big DC trip. Might help build some excitement in your kids, and help them pick out some particular things they'd like to see.

 

Air and Space at Dulles is awesome but keep in mind that it's quite a ways away from "downtown." Plan ahead! My kids like it much better than Air and Space on the Mall.

 

I'm a *big* fan of the American Art and National Portrait Museums and especially the Kogod Courtyard -- my favorite place in DC. Check out a "portrait discovery kit" and your kids can search for a particular person's portrait and do other activities related to the person too.

 

The Botanic Garden is great, never crowded, and a great place to hang out if the weather is bad.

 

I love the Spy Museum but I think it's not really aimed at a young kids crowd. Lots of detailed reading, etc.

 

As Farrar mentioned, Climb Zone is a great climbing gym, very accessible for kids. Flight in Alexandria is a pretty good trampoline place -- not the best I've been to, but the only one I've been to in the DC area. Start checking now for Groupons or CertifiKids specials to make them more affordable. Also agreeing with her that if you can ice skate at the Sculpture Garden, do so. Just a neat thing to have done. Also, there's skiing within a couple of hours drive from DC, if there's still snow and if that would be something your family would like to do.

 

It's expensive, but eating at the cafeteria at the American Indian museum is neat. And the kids' section of American Indian is by far the best part of the museum, IMO.

 

You can catch a free concert at Kennedy, each evening at 6.

 

Don't miss the Lincoln Memorial. I'd plan a full afternoon to do the monuments on the Mall, at least. Start with a ticketed entrance to Washington, then work your way down. Hopefully you'll have beautiful weather!

 

I like the suggestions of a trip to Williamsburg. Your kids are the perfect age to really enjoy it - rent costumes and really get into it. Busch Gardens is a nice amusement park if that would interest your family. I'm not sure of March hours -- maybe weekends?

 

You would definitely need a rental car for Air and Space at Dulles, Mount Vernon, going to Baltimore or Williamsburg, things like that. But as much as possible, avoid driving to downtown stuff. Park and walk, or take the Metro - which would probably be fun for kids from a small town!

 

OH! OH! OH! Take the train to Baltimore and go to a baseball game at Camden Yards!

 

Have fun!

 

 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks avian to everyone one who has responded. I am keeping a running list and starting to look things up on line and try to par it down, lol. So many fun possibilities!

 

We will have a car, but yeah, our plan is to avoid driving if possible since we are NOT used to city driving at all. Our major highway on our island is one lane in each direction, lol. I am hoping we can get most places using public transportation.

 

We are thinking of trying to go too a DC United soccer game. My son is REALLY into soccer so it would be a cool opportunity for him to see a professional game. Again, no access to that sort of thing where we live. Anyone ever done that?

 

Thanks again, all this advice is awesome!

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks avian to everyone one who has responded. I am keeping a running list and starting to look things up on line and try to par it down, lol. So many fun possibilities!

 

We will have a car, but yeah, our plan is to avoid driving if possible since we are NOT used to city driving at all. Our major highway on our island is one lane in each direction, lol. I am hoping we can get most places using public transportation.

 

We are thinking of trying to go too a DC United soccer game. My son is REALLY into soccer so it would be a cool opportunity for him to see a professional game. Again, no access to that sort of thing where we live. Anyone ever done that?

 

Thanks again, all this advice is awesome!

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

 

I absolutely wouldn't drive in the city, I'd take metro and the bus (an adventure in itself) and install the uber app on a cell phone.  But I do think it's worth it to drive to some of the places outside the city like: Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Monticello, Annapolis Skyline Drive.  

 

I'd also think of taking a day trip to the Baltimore Inner Harbor.  if you choose a weekday you can take the double decker MARC commuter train up there!  It's not that expensive.  I'd think about a half day at the Port Discovery Children's museum which has a giant indoor climbing structure, and a half a day at the harbor, looking at the sub and the tall ship and eating some traditional Maryland crabs, but there's also the science center, and the aquarium and the train museum if one of those appeals to your kids more.

 

Where are you staying? 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd do the aquarium in Baltimore over the children's museum. It's a great one, but it's not much different from other children's museums. And the aquarium is spectacular.

 

I love the aquarium, but was thinking that someone from rural Hawaii might have more access to fish than children's museums.  

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I absolutely wouldn't drive in the city, I'd take metro and the bus (an adventure in itself) and install the uber app on a cell phone. But I do think it's worth it to drive to some of the places outside the city like: Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Monticello, Annapolis Skyline Drive.

 

I'd also think of taking a day trip to the Baltimore Inner Harbor. if you choose a weekday you can take the double decker MARC commuter train up there! It's not that expensive. I'd think about a half day at the Port Discovery Children's museum which has a giant indoor climbing structure, and a half a day at the harbor, looking at the sub and the tall ship and eating some traditional Maryland crabs, but there's also the science center, and the aquarium and the train museum if one of those appeals to your kids more.

 

Where are you staying?

We are actually staying at a friend's apartment. They won't be there but offered to let us stay at their place to save money on hotel 😠I am not super familiar with the area, but she told me they are about a 10 minute drive from the White House, so I guess right in the middle of the city? I am assuming it will be easy to get to a metro stop from there.

 

I know my kids would love the science center or children's discover museum type places too.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd find out more about exactly where you'll be staying.  A 10-minute drive from the White House in no traffic could very well not be in the middle of the city and you wouldn't necessarily be near a Metro stop. The DC Metro has lots of gaps in coverage although Metrobuses make up for a lot of that.  Not to discourage you at all- I'd stay in the friend's apartment over a hotel for sure- but the location of the apartment would make at least a small difference for some of your planning.

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites

I saw this book, Awesome Adventures at the Smithsonian, in one of the Smithsonian gift shops one time and thought it would've been a great book to have prior to a big DC trip. Might help build some excitement in your kids, and help them pick out some particular things they'd like to see.

 

Also agreeing with her that if you can ice skate at the Sculpture Garden, do so. Just a neat thing to have done.

 

It's expensive, but eating at the cafeteria at the American Indian museum is neat. And the kids' section of American Indian is by far the best part of the museum, IMO!

I hope you don't mind me quoting part of your post!

 

I just wanted to add, we went to DC right after Christmas with my dd6 and the baby. It was awesome! She is a bit of a history lover, so everything was amazing to her. I will put together a post with our faves as well, but the Smithsonian book you linked above was one of the best purchases and investments. I ordered it off Amazin in advance and it was a scavenger hunt like no other:) I highly recommend doing this.

Also, each of the Smithsonian museums has a coin you can get in the gift shops to collect. I wish we had known that in advance:)

One thing. I hadn't realized that was awesome with kids- all of the Smithsonians and monuments were free--so it was perfect for wandering in and out if the kids needed a break, or to have lunch elsewhere. Amazing.

 

Skating in the sculpture garden was an unexpected hit! One thing I wish I had known was that tickets were timed. Plan on having to wait:)

 

The American Indian museum was so much fun, and had awesome food! Eat there:)

We also really enjoyed eating in the National Art museum. And the children's store is SO cool!

 

Speaking of eating. Can I just suggest eating at Carmine's?! Italian style family dining, so huge proportions. It was expensive for us as dd6 and baby didn't eat anything (Alex will only eat plain pasta?!) but still well worth it. Make a reservation:)

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Bring clothing for all,kinds of weather in March. Hot, cold, wind, rain. It's a gamble in DC in March.

 

Everyone has mentioned great places, but has anyone mentioned taking a day trip to skyline drive to visit the mountains in virginia? Probably a 2 hour drive but it would be neat to leave the city. Will you have a vehicle?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Bring clothing for all,kinds of weather in March. Hot, cold, wind, rain. It's a gamble in DC in March.

 

Everyone has mentioned great places, but has anyone mentioned taking a day trip to skyline drive to visit the mountains in virginia? Probably a 2 hour drive but it would be neat to leave the city. Will you have a vehicle?

 

Layers will be key, because not only can you expect to experience all kinds of weather, you can expect to experience all kinds of weather in the time it takes you to make your way from the back to the front of the line to go up the Washington Monument.

 

I think the suggestion of sneakers, jeans (or similar) and tshirts as a base, with long sleeved t-shirt, hoodie sweatshirt, and windbreaker/rain jacket.  Then you can choose what to put on on top of the t-shirt based on the temp and precipitation.  If you're wearing the other things on top of a t-shirt, and take them off at meals (if your kids are like mine and spill when they eat) you should be able to get multiple days out of them, and just need one of each layering item.  Especially if they place you're staying has laundry access. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I would caution you to not cram too much in.  With kids and jet lag and the adjusting to the weather, etc.  It can be very stressful.  So build in downtime where you can just walk around.  Sometimes it's just fun for kids to hang out in the hotel room.

 

Williamsburg is a solid 3 hour drive.  I would say that is too much to do!  There's plenty to see just in town and on the other side of the Potomac.  

 

I forgot about the Cherry Blossom festival!  Here's a link: https://www.everfest.com/e/national-cherry-blossom-festival-washington-d-c

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was planning the same trip last year! We were there in June....such a fantastic time for our family. It will be awesome.

 

I spent a lot of time brainstorming ideas....there is so much to do. I made a huge list and kind of mapped out the areas (organized by metro stop). Then we would go to one area a day...planning for a major museum/visit in the morning and another relatively nearby location in the afternoon. We took our lunches...(planned visits in museums that wouldn't allow backpacks for after lunch). I also listed any possible nearby places we might be interested if there was extra time/energy.

 

Definitely get on the websites now to request tickets (mostly free)....for the Washington Monument, Capitol Building, and to go into the Senate Chamber. You will also need tickets for the Bureau of Printing & Engraving but can only get those the day of. My dd8 loved watching the money being made...actually we were all fascinated (but a little disappointed at how quickly the tour moved you through!). We also got tickets to tour the Pentagon.

 

We had a bit of a challenge to keep our 8 year old happy as the rest of us (12, 16, 18, mom, dad) usually wanted to spend a little more time reading displays than she did. My number one suggestion is a sticker book....about Washington, DC printed by DK, I think. It has stickers for the major monuments/museums. As we visited them, or passed by them, dd8 could put the sticker in her book. I bought hers there at the Museum of Art...but you can get it on amazon ahead of time...and look through it before you go. (Buy two....they will each want their own!).

 

There is a series of early chapter books by Ron Roy (I think) similar to A-Z Mysteries, but they take place in different monuments in DC. Not highly educational, but dd8 had fun reading a few of them...and then she loved seeing the buildings. We also did very educational things like watching Night at the Museum 2? and National Treasure. :-)

 

Also...don't drive into the city each day...ride the metro. Seriously so easy...even for small-town people like me. So nice not dealing with traffic and parking. How awesome that you have friends with free lodging. Yeah for you!

 

We didn't do Mt Vernon because it was so expensive to visit....we did go to Annapolis (to visit the Naval Academy) and Baltimore (aquarium, old battleships, Fort McHenry) for a day each. Fort McHenry was awesome--history behind the Star Spangled Banner--and then we saw it at the museum in DC a few days later. Neat experience.

 

I think right after we got home, someone here asked for ideas, and I remember posting our schedule...it helped me to see how others planned it out.

 

Happy planning!

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

As to driving... don't be too intimidated by it. DC driving isn't perfect, but it's not horrible. Believe in the parking fairies and all will be well (at least, this is what I always tell myself). Metro is great for some things, but lousy for others. You're better off driving to the zoo, for example. I really second what Amira said about finding out more about where you're staying. Ten minutes from the White House in no traffic could so be anywhere. It could be Virginia, honestly. And metro really doesn't go everywhere. We're extremely unusual in having a very short walk to two metro stops. Many people we know in the city are really far from even one.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was planning the same trip last year! We were there in June....such a fantastic time for our family. It will be awesome.

 

I spent a lot of time brainstorming ideas....there is so much to do. I made a huge list and kind of mapped out the areas (organized by metro stop). Then we would go to one area a day...planning for a major museum/visit in the morning and another relatively nearby location in the afternoon. We took our lunches...(planned visits in museums that wouldn't allow backpacks for after lunch). I also listed any possible nearby places we might be interested if there was extra time/energy.

 

Definitely get on the websites now to request tickets (mostly free)....for the Washington Monument, Capitol Building, and to go into the Senate Chamber. You will also need tickets for the Bureau of Printing & Engraving but can only get those the day of. My dd8 loved watching the money being made...actually we were all fascinated (but a little disappointed at how quickly the tour moved you through!). We also got tickets to tour the Pentagon.

 

We had a bit of a challenge to keep our 8 year old happy as the rest of us (12, 16, 18, mom, dad) usually wanted to spend a little more time reading displays than she did. My number one suggestion is a sticker book....about Washington, DC printed by DK, I think. It has stickers for the major monuments/museums. As we visited them, or passed by them, dd8 could put the sticker in her book. I bought hers there at the Museum of Art...but you can get it on amazon ahead of time...and look through it before you go. (Buy two....they will each want their own!).

 

There is a series of early chapter books by Ron Roy (I think) similar to A-Z Mysteries, but they take place in different monuments in DC. Not highly educational, but dd8 had fun reading a few of them...and then she loved seeing the buildings. We also did very educational things like watching Night at the Museum 2? and National Treasure. :-)

 

Also...don't drive into the city each day...ride the metro. Seriously so easy...even for small-town people like me. So nice not dealing with traffic and parking. How awesome that you have friends with free lodging. Yeah for you!

 

We didn't do Mt Vernon because it was so expensive to visit....we did go to Annapolis (to visit the Naval Academy) and Baltimore (aquarium, old battleships, Fort McHenry) for a day each. Fort McHenry was awesome--history behind the Star Spangled Banner--and then we saw it at the museum in DC a few days later. Neat experience.

 

I think right after we got home, someone here asked for ideas, and I remember posting our schedule...it helped me to see how others planned it out.

 

Happy planning!

Thank you so much for the books recommendations!

Link to post
Share on other sites

As to driving... don't be too intimidated by it. DC driving isn't perfect, but it's not horrible. Believe in the parking fairies and all will be well (at least, this is what I always tell myself). Metro is great for some things, but lousy for others. You're better off driving to the zoo, for example. I really second what Amira said about finding out more about where you're staying. Ten minutes from the White House in no traffic could so be anywhere. It could be Virginia, honestly. And metro really doesn't go everywhere. We're extremely unusual in having a very short walk to two metro stops. Many people we know in the city are really far from even one.

I have a date with google maps tonight. Got my friend's address and am looking forward to familiarizing myself with the area. The apartment we are in is in Falls Church....so I gotta look at the maps but I see some city driving in my future? LOL

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a date with google maps tonight. Got my friend's address and am looking forward to familiarizing myself with the area. The apartment we are in is in Falls Church....so I gotta look at the maps but I see some city driving in my future? LOL

 

Nope, If I were you and didn't want to drive in the city, I'd leave my car at the East Falls Church or West Falls Church metro and take the train in every day.  I'd only drive if I was doing something in the VA suburbs (e.g. Udvar-Hazy, Old Town, Mount Vernon, maybe Arlington Cemetery depending on what you combine it with), or if I was leaving the metro area altogether (e.g. Williamsburg, Skyline Drive, not Baltimore, I'd take the train up there).  

 

I have trouble believing that someone can get from any part of Falls Church to the white house in 10 minutes.  But the benefits of being outside the city and near a metro will outweigh that since you don't like to drive in the city.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

We were there in October. Our kids range from 4 to 12. Here are our favorite things we did:

 

Udvar-Hazy Museum- this is the newer site of the Smithsonian Aerospace. Because it's new, it's set up beautifully, and it seems like everything you see is the biggest or oldest or something. Amazing collection. The aerospace museum downtown is worth a visit, too, but mostly for the few really famous items in it.

 

Newseum - I might have liked this even more than our kids did. It's worth the entry price to see the huge section of the Berlin Wall they have. The layout is super annoying. It's hard to get from floor to floor if you aren't doing it in the order they recommend.

 

Mount Vernon - I feel like going to DC, you want some feeling of the history that happened there, and Mount Vernon is where we got that. The museum is very kid-friendly (it even has a play area), as are the grounds, and the house tour didn't take too long.

 

ETA: Oh, and Arlington National Cemetery. It really hit one of my kids hard, so that was worth the trek over.

Edited by basketcase
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, your friend was definitely overly optimistic about the drive from Falls Church into DC. Maybe you can be at the White House in fifteen minutes if there really is absolutely no traffic and you're staying very close to an entrance to 66.

I'm really familiar with that area and getting into the city from there. Generally we Metro into the city when there are one or two of us going and we drive when there are more of us. Metro is fairly expensive and round trip for four people from Falls Church is about $25. We can always find cheaper parking than that (usually much cheaper) and it's nearly always faster to drive than to take Metro and DC really isn't that bad for traffic if you can avoid rush hour. It's also nice to have your car at the end of the day rather than having a long trip back on Metro (you can plan on its taking about 45 minutes from the western end of the Smithsonians to your apartment in Falls Church if all goes well).

I'm going to send you a PM soon with more opinions. :)

Edited by Amira
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

As to driving... don't be too intimidated by it. DC driving isn't perfect, but it's not horrible. Believe in the parking fairies and all will be well (at least, this is what I always tell myself). Metro is great for some things, but lousy for others. You're better off driving to the zoo, for example. I really second what Amira said about finding out more about where you're staying. Ten minutes from the White House in no traffic could so be anywhere. It could be Virginia, honestly. And metro really doesn't go everywhere. We're extremely unusual in having a very short walk to two metro stops. Many people we know in the city are really far from even one.

But when you park, READ THE SIGNS ON THE STREET NEAR YOUR CAR!  I am yelling, but a friend's car got towed after a lovely day of touring downtown DC.  The parking police are fast, amazingly fast.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

But when you park, READ THE SIGNS ON THE STREET NEAR YOUR CAR! I am yelling, but a friend's car got towed after a lovely day of touring downtown DC. The parking police are fast, amazingly fast.

Thank you the heads up!

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a date with google maps tonight. Got my friend's address and am looking forward to familiarizing myself with the area. The apartment we are in is in Falls Church....so I gotta look at the maps but I see some city driving in my future? LOL

 

I don't have much to add to the list of things to do, you've gotten enough already. I will second or third the Renwick and Wonder exhibit. Seriously cool. 

 

We live near Falls Church. Definitely more than 10 min to the White House unless it's a Sunday morning at 5 am. :) 

 

If you want to Metro I would recommend driving to the Dunn Loring station. It's west from Falls Church so might seem weird to go that way. But the two Falls Church stations have very limited parking and often fill up early on weekdays. I think they also require you to purchase the special parking pass to park there. Dunn Loring is just a bit outside Falls Church, right outside the beltway and the station has a new parking garage that has very cheap parking. Not as many commuters park there so it's easy to find a space. Another option for Metro parking I like a lot is to go to Ballston Mall, which is in Arlington and park there. It's also cheap and you can get to the Ballston Metro through the Mall (it's a little hard to find but there are lost of signs and people will know if you ask them how to get to the Metro). Parking at the Mall is also relatively cheap. Another advantage of parking there is that they have an ice skating rink, it's where the Capitals practice. You can skate there if you were looking to ice skate. On Tuesdays from 2-3:30 it's $1 for skating plus skate rental. 

 

If you want to drive into the city Parking Panda is my new favorite tool. It's a website where you search for a garage near where you want to go and then pre-pay. Usually the cost is less than if you just pulled up to the garage and you are guaranteed a spot which can be nice as some garages will fill up. The other nice thing is that I've found garages on there that I never knew existed even after living here 20 years. 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

To piggyback on the parking -- if you plan to drive downtown and park on the street, download ahead of time and set up the Parkmobile app. Most of the street parking in DC, and actually lots of other places*, uses Parkmobile. Once you park, you go to the app, type in the zone number on the parking meter, select your vehicle (by license plate) and select your time. Then you're good to go -- and you can add time from inside a building if you have signal or wifi!

 

I have friends that always use Parking Panda and garages. I have to admit, I never have. I always feel like I can get away cheaper with street parking, but I don't know if that's actually true or not.

 

And yes, observe parking signs VERY carefully, especially if you're in residential areas/zoned parking/street sweeping area. Tickets are expensive. Don't ask how I know! :-)

 

*like Atlanta, GA!

Link to post
Share on other sites

If there was an apocalypse that cleared away all the traffic and all the cops to give you a ticket, then maybe you'd be able to get from Falls Church to the White House in ten minutes. Otherwise, hahahahaha. You'd be lucky to be able to get from downtown Arlington to Georgetown in ten minutes sometimes and that's walking distance.

 

The parking will work out. Seconding to download Parkmobile ahead of time, though really setting it up from your phone by calling the number is also fine. You'll be okay. It's definitely a bad city for driving, but not the worst (I give that honor to Boston or possibly Atlanta).

Link to post
Share on other sites

To piggyback on the parking -- if you plan to drive downtown and park on the street, download ahead of time and set up the Parkmobile app. Most of the street parking in DC, and actually lots of other places*, uses Parkmobile. Once you park, you go to the app, type in the zone number on the parking meter, select your vehicle (by license plate) and select your time. Then you're good to go -- and you can add time from inside a building if you have signal or wifi!

 

I have friends that always use Parking Panda and garages. I have to admit, I never have. I always feel like I can get away cheaper with street parking, but I don't know if that's actually true or not.

 

And yes, observe parking signs VERY carefully, especially if you're in residential areas/zoned parking/street sweeping area. Tickets are expensive. Don't ask how I know! :-)

 

*like Atlanta, GA!

 

Agree on Parkmobile, it's very helpful. Street parking is definitely cheaper. The only reason I would use Parking Panda over it is that so many of the spaces on the street are 2 hours. I know there are ways to get around that but if I know we will be downtown for more than 2 hours I'd rather just park in a garage and not have to worry about the time. 

Edited by Alice
Link to post
Share on other sites

As someone who grew up with small-town driving and transplanted to the area, here is my DC-driving-phobic opinion:

 

Metro to everywhere in DC, even the zoo. I'd much rather walk to the zoo and museums than park there during the day. I mean, zoo parking is easy, but you have to drive to it, so yuck.

 

Drive to Mt Vernon, The Arboretum, and even Baltimore. Mt Vernon and the Arboretum have super easy parking. Baltimore is just a lot less intimidating traffic-wise and you can always find parking quickly. DC parking exists but can be an exercise in perseverance and the walk back to your car never seems to be as close as the nearest metro stop. If you can't parallel park, definitely don't drive in DC. That said, driving around the monuments at night isn't that hard because SO much traffic leaves the city after work. Also, they're really pretty lit up at night.

 

I don't consider Williamsburg, Skyline Drive, or Skiing to be remotely "D.C. area" trips. You're really adding a completely new leg to the trip with those suggestions and it might be too long of a day to start and return to Falls Church.

 

Keep in mind that your kids might get tired. It's an all-day walking situation. Those tourist maps can give you the impression that things are much closer than they really are. You walk on pavement then walk around the museums probably only sitting to eat and take short breaks. If you've got a kid who wears out after two laps around your local mall, you might want to be cautious about how much you squeeze into a day.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

As someone who grew up with small-town driving and transplanted to the area, here is my DC-driving-phobic opinion:

 

Metro to everywhere in DC, even the zoo. I'd much rather walk to the zoo and museums than park there during the day. I mean, zoo parking is easy, but you have to drive to it, so yuck.

 

Drive to Mt Vernon, The Arboretum, and even Baltimore. Mt Vernon and the Arboretum have super easy parking. Baltimore is just a lot less intimidating traffic-wise and you can always find parking quickly. DC parking exists but can be an exercise in perseverance and the walk back to your car never seems to be as close as the nearest metro stop. If you can't parallel park, definitely don't drive in DC. That said, driving around the monuments at night isn't that hard because SO much traffic leaves the city after work. Also, they're really pretty lit up at night.

 

I don't consider Williamsburg, Skyline Drive, or Skiing to be remotely "D.C. area" trips. You're really adding a completely new leg to the trip with those suggestions and it might be too long of a day to start and return to Falls Church.

 

Keep in mind that your kids might get tired. It's an all-day walking situation. Those tourist maps can give you the impression that things are much closer than they really are. You walk on pavement then walk around the museums probably only sitting to eat and take short breaks. If you've got a kid who wears out after two laps around your local mall, you might want to be cautious about how much you squeeze into a day.

 

Did someone suggest skiing?  We're a DC skiing family and I can't think of a year when there was a local hill open past the first weekend in March.  Maybe if you travel to Northern PA, but that's not a day trip.

 

I just double checked because skating at the sculpture garden has come up several times, and they close March 13.  I think she'll need to skate indoors if that's the goal.  Kettler in Arlington is a really nice rink with good rental skates, and not too far from Falls Church.  

Link to post
Share on other sites

If you're on the Mall at lunchtime, you'll find that most places are terribly expensive to eat. We're talking hot dog carts, one hot dog, chips, and a can of soda for $10+. 

 

We much preferred walking over to Union Station at eating lunch at the food court.  Everyone got their choice of food, which included some well known places and unfamiliar ones.  We've also taken the Metro to Union Station, ate lunch, and then went out on the Mall.  It was 2-3 block walk to the Capitol.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

Just found out my husband has a work conference in DC in early April so I'm going to tag along with the kids. This thread is helpful, I'm guessing we will be there too early to see the cherry blossoms.

 

Is the zoo much better than an average zoo? I've never seen a panda but I've taken my kids to 3-4 zoos over the years. We will be there about a week so I want to hit a couple of the Smithsonians and maybe the mint and spy museum.

 

We have been hoping to do a family vacation in DC once our youngest is a bit older so he will remember it so this won't be likely to be our only trip.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...