This is my first ever trip report and it's being typed up late (because I don't want to forget details) after an exhausting but great day at the capital! Keep in mind I am a cheapskate dad of 2 teens so no fancy restaurants on our trip (but food reports below), we are not too much into art museums, night life, drinking...just a first ever family vacation to DC, then onto Philly & NYC. This is day one of two days in DC. Here goes:
Thursday, 7/17 - Traffic, Capitol, Archives, Smithsonians, Free Tours by Foot, and best $13 I've spent in my life:
We stayed at Residence Inn in Fairfax off of I-66, which is about a 30-45 min drive into DC if you don't take Metro (I hadn't planned on us riding, but we did-more later). The hotel I will HIGHLY recommend. It's only a couple of years old and is in superb condition. The free breakfast is great, a full breakfast with eggs, sausage, waffles, and the normal continental. Great hotel - 8 thumbs up as it even pleased 2 hard to please teens.
Weather was PERFECT - clear, little humidity and about 82 for a high. This is fantastic compared to Dallas, Texas weather! We decided to drive b/c it would cost about the same for us to all drive to parking garage at nearest Metro stop and pay for our Metro passes there and back to Fairfax. We parked in a garage somewhat near the Capitol bldg for our tour (at 6th & C St SW) - more on parking garage later...almost a complete disaster!
We left at 8:00 and had a 9:45 appt at our congressman's office (thanks Jeb Hensarling from Texas) for a tour of the Capitol building. Traffic going into DC from Fairfax on I-66 wasn't too bad until we got closer to the Potomac River and it backed up pretty bad. It held us up quite a bit, and we arrived at the congressman's office with a couple minutes to spare (and out of breath!). We were able to be toured around by an intern of his and got to skip a few lines. We saw the old Supreme Court room, former House and Senate chambers, rotunda, statue room, and got to hear a short debate about a bill on in the House chamber. This tour was okay, but it was a good start to our day in town. It was a precursor of much walking to come!
After the tour about 11:15 we headed to see the outside of the Library of Congress and Supreme Court buildings. Both beautiful...didn't have time to go inside or tour...would've liked to but the family was getting hungry so we had to get the move on and find food....and fast. We walked onto Union Station (another awesome building inside and out, but they did have some scaffolding going on inside so it took away some photo opps) because well they should have food right...and a bathroom? We found both. It was our first time at the Shake Shack and the burgers and fries were delicious...and very greasy which helps the delish part! Similar to In N Out Burgers if you've had them. We sat on the 2nd floor overlooking the busy Union Station below...pretty cool sight with all the people bustling about. Got in line at 11:20 and it was at this point where we realized we had 1:00 tickets for the National Archives. We scarfed our lunch down and knew we would be late so we decided NOT to walk there (several blocks).
We changed plans on the Metro and bought 4 $10 smartcards at the suggestion of a worker b/c we would only need them today and tomorrow (hopefully we will get our money's worth tomorrow as we only used them once today. We took the red line to the green line to Archives.
Funny subway story, these smart cards are not paper and we've NEVER ridden any subway and were trying to force our cards through the paper card slots to pop up not knowing all the while all we had to do was place it on top of a scanner type security pad that released the gates....DUH...our 15 y/o dtr figured it out finally and I felt so inept at this point!
Stomachs full and my ego a bit drained, off we go to the Archives....I bought the Archives tickets ahead of time b/c I had read that the lines in could be very long....got there and there was very short lines and we were in and out in 20 minutes b/c we only wanted to see the rotunda with the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution. Wasted the ticket purchase ahead of time, but it wasn't much money to assure a timed entrance and skip lines if there were any.
Next up is Smithsonian Air & Space museum. We walked here and saw immediately tons of tour buses parked out front. Don't know if this is a daily occurrence with all the buses but they had a convoy parked out front. This place was pretty crowded....but let me say that I appreciate all Smithsonians being free to the public....very nice. The museum was as expected...lots of planes, space, NASA, flight displays and artifacts. Not a lot of hands-on type things for the teens. We really only browsed in here until we got a bit tired from so much walking, so we found some seats inside to rest our feet and recharge electronics, of course as well as people watch.
Back to the sidewalks and beautiful weather, we walked towards the castle. You can't tell it's a castle inside, but there was a small souvenir shop, restrooms, and Castle Cafe (which had overpriced candy bars at $1.95 each, but free cups of ice water!). We rested and recharged legs and electronics before heading back out and walking towards the.....
.....American History Museum. This was our favorite stop of the day up to this point. Both teenagers (again-hard to please teens) actually took faces out of phones and looked around. I was in AWE of the Star-Spangled Banner that Francis Scott Key saw when he wrote the lyrics. The flag is gigantic (32 X 34 feet) and is on display. It was impressive! The other highlights of the history museum were George Washington's uniform, Abe Lincoln's black suit coat & pants as well as a top hat, a food museum, and others we visited (too many too name). It had a few more hands-on type activities and all 4 of us enjoyed this museum (we spent about an hour there and did NOT see everything and "browsed" often. A strange rumbling in our stomachs reminded us it is time to.....
....go get something to eat (you were thinking bathroom huh?). I had saw on TR about the Reagan Building having a nice food court in the basement/concourse level. We walked on over and decided to try it out ... picky teen eaters would surely find something there...and they did! In the food court there are probably about 13-15 restaurants and it looks much like any food court at a mall. Kids had the usual burger/chicken strips at "Flamers"-similar to a Burger King. The wife had a California Tortilla chicken burrito type dish. I had sesame chicken at a "City Lights of China Express." The food was fine and it satisfied the rumblings. We had to hurry back up to street level and go for what ended up being my favorite part of the day.....
...a Free Tours by Foot tour of the primary mall monuments from 7-9. I cannot recommend enough Free Tours by Foot. We arrived 15 mins early so we enjoyed a watching a co-ed game of softball. There were probably 10-12 games all over the national mall. Look out for foul balls or overthrown balls....headache! Our tour guide was great - his name was Dan and he is a native DC resident who was a social studies teacher (as I'm a former teacher, I think this is a great gig for teachers!) We had a group of about 25 total....from Australia, Canada, Tuscon, and another family from nearby McKinney, TX. Dan took us on a tour starting at the Washington Monument, then off to the WW II memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and finally the Lincoln Memorial.
This sundown tour was FANTASTIC. Not only was the weather perfect, the guide was superb, and the monuments, reflecting pool, fountains, etc....all so picturesque! Loved this part of our day. Again, can't say it enough...HIGHLY recommend FREE TOURS BY FOOT.
Onto the best $13 ever spent and parking garage disaster. IF you park downtown, check when your parking garage closes. We did not and it ended up closing at 10. We were at the Lincoln Mem with legs screaming at us and feet near falling off our bodies. There was no way we could walk all the way back to our parking garage. We have never taken a cab before, but I knew we had to take one to save time and any sense of sanity at this point. The cab driver was great and the fare $9. I added $4 tip and he dropped us off at our garage at 9:45. I was a bit worried as we got down there and we were the ONLY car left besides the attendant's. We packed it up and headed to pay ($25 for the day). He said had we been a few more minutes, our rental car and all it's belonging would be locked in and we wouldn't have access to it til tomorrow (plus take a LONG cab or subway ride back to Fairfax). This was God's good grace (I don't believe in coincidences) that we arrived just in time. That would have been a nightmare and we were just too worn out to deal with that at that point.
30 minute drive back to hotel discussing the highlights of the day (my 14 y/o son's answer was "Sitting down and eating" Can you believe that?!?! We showered up and all three of them crashed an hour ago. Off to bed I go....tomorrow we have much more to do.
Until day 2 next time, hope you enjoy.