This took place from Tues PM Jul 23 to Friday AM Jul 26. My kids are ages 7 & 5, and this was their second time in DC (1st time was in 2010, so a bit older and wiser, and didn't have to re-see everything) and my 4th. Probably not a typical report, but maybe it might help or at least entertain someone. Start!
We drive from Baltimore where we spent the previous 4 days, in the midst of an 11-day road trip. Our hotel is in Alexandria, the Travelodge. The cheapest rate I could find (considering we had a car) for a hotel in walking distance of the Metro (10 minutes in adult legs, 15 in theirs). I may have splurged a little more if it was the first time, but for the return trip we jam econo. The Travelodge blends in with the Old Town brick, and indeed emphasizes the "Old" in their town. Which is a compliment - a two-story simple motel set-up with about 15 parking spaces (of which I filled #15) was a nice nostalgic throwback. But enough of that - it's 4:45 and time's wasting!
Metro to Smithsonian, for the Museum Of Anerican History. It's the only night of our stay they offered extended hours. Half of the museum is under renovation but everything we wanted to see was viewable - my kids liked Dorothy's shoes and Gabby Douglas's leotard the most, and I enjoyed seeing my old Sony Walkman in a glass case, with accompanying Nine Inch Nails cassette representing the symbol of music in 1980s Anerica.
We exited a little before closing and tromped to the Penn Quarter area for dinner at Teaism. My kids are half-Japanese, and it was nice to find a picturesque place with their fave ochazuke on the menu. As we ate outside, we suddenly saw a band march and set up with their back to us (behind a wall) near the Archives station. It was a free show by the Navy band. We finished eating, grabbed cookies to go, and wandered over to get a view. The show started with Federal-era anthems and hymns, which interested me the most. They then moved into world music representations and a 60s soul style revue, and then we moved on. A nice surprise to stumble on in the midst of a very structured trip, but we had a busy day in front of us.
Got up at 6:15 because we wanted to go to the Bureau Of Engraving and Printing and had to get the 9am opening slot. If it is possible to turn a Travelodge breakfast into a 5-course meal, my kids could do it. I eventually get them out the door and we go to the Metro.
We make it to BoE&P slightly before 8, and after boneheadedly standing in the ticketholders's line (despite reading this forum beforehand and ignoring the sign - the power if seeing a line) about 10 minutes, I go to the 15th St queue and indeed get 9am tickets. Phew! We cross back to 14th and play cards until it's time to go in. A surprisingly enjoyable tour - watching a stream of 20s go by is oddly akin to watching a river stream, discrete particles in a continuous wave.
After this, we head to the Smithsonian's Discovery Theater. I haven't seen a lot of mentions of this on this forum, but they put on a lot of kids shows, and we attended a 10:15 magic/illusion show by Jack Julius. My kids LOVED this, and I really enjoyed it too (especially after getting passed over to go onstage - phew again!).
A ride on the carousel afterwards, which is surprisingly fast compared to my other carousels I've ridden. There's a plaque by it that deserves reading, as it was an all-white carousel in Baltimore that integrated on the same day as the March On Washington, 50 years ago this month.
Lunch and exploration afterwards at the Museum Of The American Indian. My oldest daughter loves studying about Native Americans, and they loved the animated videos that illustrated Native creation myths. Nice doll exhibit on display, too. A little over 2.5 hours there.
Out, and across the Mall to the Museum of Natural History (with a pair of soft pretzels along the way). We were here last time, so just needed to hit a specific itinerary: dinosaurs, the Ice Age, the Hope Diamond, totem poles, and the Insect Zoo. Mission accomplished in about 90 minutes.
A quick break, and then back across the Mall to visit the Air & Space Museum during extended hours. Another repeat trip. Solely space oriented - space rock, lunar module, the planets, etc - 60 minutes.
It's now a little after 6pm. I originally had us staying in Cheverly, MD, and as such we had reservations at Matchbox Capitol Hill for the ride back. But when I changed hotels, I backed out on the reservations, figuring I'd eat in Alexandria near the hotel. Only to find not many options in walking distance of the Travelodge. So in a moment of chance, we went to Gallery Place Metro and took a chance on what to find. Matchbox Chinatown had a 40-min wait by that time. My kids saw Panera and jumped. Not where I would have picked, but it made them happy and it was a huge day for them. And if that ended up being the biggest disappointment of our 11-day trip (and it was), then we had a pretty good trip all things considered. Back to the hotel.
I was originally going to take us to the Supreme Court, where we hadn't been, but decided on an abbreviated Monument walk thinking it would be more memorable. We took an express bus from Alexandria (getting a quick look at Christ Church in the process) and got off at 14th and Independence around 8:15.
MLK was the one we had to see, since it wasn't there last time (and we donated a small amount towards its construction). They had just fenced it off, apparently getting ready to incarcerate a quote from its side, so sadly not the ambiance I hoped for, but still worth seeing. Coupled that with the Lincoln Memorial, and did my grade-school faux-teacher best to tie those into a March On Washington lesson. 9:45 when we descended the steps.
We had a bit of open time on our schedule, so we walked (and later, considering elementary-age legs, hustled) to the White House, North side. An anti-nuclear weapon protest of sorts was going on so we couldn't get too close, but we didn't have much time by this point. We had done the tour on the last trip anyway. Photo-op achieved, we flagged a cab.
Over to the new NPR Building on N Capitol for an 11am tour. This was fantastic, and something else that doesn't get as many shout-outs as it should. An hour-long tour that shows you the new building with it's LEED-friendly grass roof, an overlook of the work area, a tour of the studio where they do "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", etc. We even shared an elevator ride with Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg!
Walked to Union Station for lunch at Yo! Sushi. Pretty expensive, but conveyor-belt sushi is hard to come by in this country and we enjoyed it.
Metro to the National Archives, with timed entry at 2. My kids loved the rooms where they could make family trees and color replicas of the murals. They also liked some of the hands-on exhibits. Didn't expect a 20-minute wait for the Rotunda, but also didn't expect almost no interest in the Magna Carta so it balanced. Out around 3:45.
We walked from here to the American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery. I knew they were neighbors, but didn't realize that it's essentially the same museum. My first time here, and I loved it! Then again, I'm a big fan of 20th Century art and I was psyched for the Nam June Paik exhibit, which was fantastic and clever and easy for kids to enjoy (assuming that one television in the midst of those 215 that showed a topless woman, but if I had a problem with my kids seeing nude people we wouldn't be in art museums anyway. Loved that they are routinely open until 7, but we were out just prior to 6, about 90 minutes.
Reservations at Carmine's nearby for dinner. One entree for the 3 of us worked out just right, with ice cream for dessert. Nice way to end our time in DC proper. Back to the hotel.
Our activity this morning was not technically DC, but it was Mount Vernon which is somewhat connected. We checked out of our hotel and made the pleasant drive south. Realized as we arrived and doled out sunscreen and hats that a hat was left in the Travelodge. Called the hotel, and the manager promptly raced to out room and retrieved it for me to pick it up post-MV. Thumbs-up to Travelodge! This bit into our schedule, but not horribly. Good thing we didn't stay at Cheverly!
Mount Vernon was tightened up like James Brown's backing band as a result, not that we missed much. We had toured Monticello the week before, but the time you need to see MV doesn't seem to be as much. Not a slight against MV in any way. But in 2.5 hours, we had seen everything we needed to see (though we skipped the Educational Center). Giving kids the puzzle with the prize awarded at the end was a brilliant move.
Back to the hotel for the hat, and then off to Front Royal to explore the Shenandoah National Park, which is where this story ends. If I could give a prize for reading this all the way through, you'd earn it, but alas my penny-smashing machine needs some work. Cheers!