We are exhausted after this whirlwind trip, but we did have a good time. I appreciate all the advice and tips I received by posting questions and reading other trip reports. Hopefully, others will find some bit of helpful information in the following trip report! Be warned... this is long!
Day 1 – Monday, July 21
My son(15), daughter(11) and I arrived at Reagan National at 1:30pm. After retrieving our luggage, we followed the signs to the Metro station where we each purchased $10 Metro cards. We boarded the blue line headed for McPherson Square. At that time of day, the train wasn’t crowded and we were each able to sit down for the approximately 20 minute trip. When we exited the station, we were happy to see our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, directly across the street.
The hotel was nice but nothing special. The room was clean and had ample room for the 3 of us. There was a microwave and mini fridge in the room. I got a decent rate and it turned out to be a great location for us. We were a few blocks from the White House and having Metro station across the street made traveling to our destinations easy. There was a Starbucks and Au Bon Pain on I street & 14th street, a Cosi sandwich shop next door and a McDonalds around the corner. There were several restaurants a few blocks down on H street. We also bought drinks at the CVS down the street to store in our room.
After dropping of our luggage, we walked to the White House and took the obligatory pictures from the ellipse and Pennsylvania Ave. Then, we walked up the Farragut West Metro station and took the blue line to Arlington National Cemetery. From the metro station you have to walk about ½ mile or so to the entrance of the cemetery. We opted to do the tourmobile ($7/per person) instead of a walking tour because we had reservations for Monuments by Moonlight at 7:30. The cemetery is huge and it was hot so the tourmobile was good choice since we were short on time. Plus, it was nice having the narration. We got off at JFK’s grave site, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and Arlington House. All of us enjoyed the changing of the guard. The ceremony itself was moving, but there was also something so peaceful about watching the lone guard perform his duty. We never really had to wait long for the next tourmobile to show up. We did, however, decide to walk from Arlington House to the visitor center because there so many people waiting for the tourmobile. It wasn’t very far and we needed to start making our way to Union Station.
We grabbed some dinner in Union Station then got in line to check in for our Moonlight tour. They told us to check in at 7:00 for the 7:30 tour, but I wished I would have gotten there a little earlier. The line was a little long but we had our tickets by 7:20. We walked out to the trolleys and the guy said there was room for 3 on the first of the 2 trolleys. Well, each bench style seat holds 2 people so my kids took an empty bench about 3 rows back. The only other open bench was 2 rows up on the other side. I could have sat across the aisle with another woman, but the seats (in my opinion) aren’t really large enough for 2 adults that don’t know each other to share. It would have been a tight fit and it was hot and humid so I sat in the other empty bench. It was fine, but made it difficult to transfer the camera to take pictures out of the other side of the trolley!
Anyway, the tour was really nice. Our driver, Dave, was entertaining and knew his stuff! It was a great way to see a lot of the monuments and memorials without spending an entire day walking. The tour is organized in such a way that you get to see the Lincoln Memorial, Capitol and other major monuments after the sun goes down. It’s truly a beautiful sight at night. We finished our tour about 10pm.
Day 2 – Tuesday, July 22
After eating breakfast at Au Bon Pain, we headed for our 9:30 Capitol tour. I’m glad we got there early because we went to the wrong place to start with! We got off at the Capitol South stop and saw a sign at the back of the Cannon Building that said South Visitor entrance. It made sense that we should go there and the instructions/map provided by our Congressman’s office weren’t very clear. Anyway, we found out from a very nice guard that we really needed to be at the Capitol. Unless you were told to meet at your Congressman’s office, the check-in for Congressional Capitol tours is in small white covered area on the south side of the Capitol on the Capitol grounds. I didn’t feel too bad since another family showed up at the Cannon building, too! After checking in at the Capitol we had about 10 minutes before the tour started so we walked to the front of the Capitol to take some pictures. There was no one there so I got some great shots of the kids without a bunch of people in the background.
The Capitol tour itself only lasted about 45 minutes and we didn’t get started until after 10am. You enter into the Rotunda and are told about the design and artwork. Then, you’re led to Statuary Hall, which is really cool, and given an overview of the statues and a few details about the room. After that you’re led downstairs where there are some exhibits and a small gift shop. I enjoyed the tour, but the kids were underwhelmed and little disappointed. I’m not sure what they really expected. Our guide did tell us that you can also request a “Dome Tour” from your Congressman’s office. They take you up to the dome and you get to go outside and see the view from the top.
A small rain storm hit about the time we finished our tour so we spent a little time wondering around the exhibits waiting for the weather to clear. By the time we left it was about 11am and my son was getting hungry. We ended up at Hard Rock Café (my daughter’s choice). The food was mediocre and expensive, but they both cleaned their plates. We walked awhile to get there, but we didn’t have any other plans until 2pm. I’d suggested eating in National Gallery of Art café since it was close but neither seemed to like that idea.
After eating we went to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. My son thought it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever been to and my daughter loved it. Of course, it was on her “must see” list so he was destined to hate it. I’m not a big modern art person, but I have to admit I enjoyed going.
Next, we headed to the Holocaust Museum since we had 2pm tickets that I order online before we left. The tickets were free but I paid a $5 service charge. When first getting off the elevators, it is so crowded that it’s hard to read about the exhibits. As you go farther, the crowd thins out a little but it’s still full of people. We all enjoyed our visit, even my daughter who thought she’d be grossed out by it. Some things were hard to look at, but I found it very moving. I learned a lot and so did my kids. I’d like to go back during the off-season and spend more time at some the exhibits.
I’d also arranged for a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing through our Congressman’s office. It’s right next door to the Holocaust Museum so we walked over about 4:00 to wait for our 4:30 tour. The tour only lasted about 40 minutes, but we really liked it. It was a small group of people and our tour guide was very knowledgeable. There were young kids in our group and they seemed to enjoy it as much as my 15 year old, so I think it’s a great choice for families.
We swung by the WWII memorial for a quick visit, then went back to our hotel, relaxed a little bit, and walked to dinner. We chose Capitol Brewing Company at 11th and H Street. It was quick walk from the hotel and the food was good. My son had beer bourbon pork chops that were excellent. My shrimp scampi special was good and my daughter enjoyed her cheese pizza. We shared a brownie and ice cream dessert that was okay. We ate for about $70 which I thought was really reasonable for the amount of food we had. The walk back to the hotel after dark was fine. We did see a few homeless people, but never felt unsafe.
Day 3 – Wednesday, July 23
Breakfast again at Au Bon Pain, then we checked out of hotel and took the Metro to Union Station. Since we were taking a MARC train to Baltimore later that afternoon, we decide to store our bags at Best Lockers located at Gate A. We had 2 large suitcases and rolling duffel. Based on the posted prices, I thought we would be charged $20 each bag for all day storage. But, the man “combined” the bags to be one jumbo bag and charged me $25 total for the day for all 3 bags! You have to pay upfront and in cash. I thought it was a great deal and when I picked up the bags the lady working was very nice.
After leaving our bags we got back on the Metro and went to the International Spy Museum. I have to admit that I wasn’t so sure about this, but it turned out to be interesting. There is a lot of interactive stuff for kids and a lot of really neat information for adults.
We ate at ESPN Zone, my son’s choice, and it was surprisingly good. My daughter and I split nachos that were very tasty and we couldn’t finish them all. My son had a burger and cheese fries that disappeared very quickly!
With no definite plans for the afternoon, we decided to go to the Newseum! What a great choice! I’m a news junkie, my son is a news junkie in training, and my daughter couldn’t tell you anything going on in the world today, but we all liked it. There is a ton of stuff to see and read. It was fun to look back at news stories from across your life and remember things you may have forgotten about or remember where you were when it happened. One employee told me that if you read everything posted and watched every film it would take you 26 hours and I believe him! We enjoyed reading the headlines from all over the world and the 9-11 exhibit is very moving. The Pulitzer Prize winning photography display is amazing. Definitely worth the price of admission to me.
After that we went back to Union Station and took the MARC train to Baltimore to meet my husband and take in an Orioles game!
A couple of things…. The Metro is definitely the way to go. We spent about $13 each on Metro during our 3 days. It was clean and very easy to navigate. We also found that locals in the station were very helpful. We live in Texas where public transportation is almost non-existent and we were easily able to navigate it. Don’t be intimidated by lack of experience!
I had a really great map – MapEasy’s Guidemap to Washington D.C. - that showed locations of a lot of restaurants in addition to the museums and monuments. It’s made of a waterproof material and is very colorful. Definitely not your typical plain map. This proved to be very helpful when we couldn’t decide what to eat or what was in the area. It also shows where the exits for each Metro stop are located. Knowing which exit you need to take reach your destination was very useful. I bought it at Barnes and Noble a week or so before the trip, but I saw at a couple of the gift shops in DC.
We crammed a lot into 3 days and we were exhausted. I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way, but it was probably the only time my kids will get to DC while they still live in my house. I wanted them to see as much as possible.