Travel Visiting the Nation’s capital and its surrounding history is a must for everyone living in the states especially if you have kids. Visiting from California, we were all just blown away with the rich collection of American history on the East Coast. I highly recommend that you wait until the kids are 1st or 2nd grade and or learning about American history in school before taking them to get the full experience of your trip. If you are going to do this trip I suggest you start planning at least 6 months ahead as places that require tickets fill up pretty fast. If you are planning on going during peak season such as spring break or summer break, buy your tickets ASAP to avoid being disappointed at the time of your trip. Luckily you don’t need to pay for any of the museums with the exception of African American History Museum for which tickets were sold out for the next 3 months . For our trip I spent about 3 months researching and mapping out our excursions by the day and hour to hour. Our trip was only 10 days so it was very important to know museum hours, tour hours, ticket prices, location, parking (we had a rental which we left at the hotel most of the time… don’t get a rental, Uber is cheaper, and convenient). I spent many hours thumbing through Pinterest blogs to get the scoop on do’s and don’ts, tips and must see places.
- Summer time is hot and humid. Be prepared with plenty of water and snacks. While in Washington DC, we were lucky enough to stay at a hotel just 10 minutes walking distance to the wall and 5 minutes by Uber. We also got a room with a Kitchen and stocked up on water and snacks. We saved money by making breakfast before leaving in the mornings and cooked simple meals with Trader Joe’s just around the corner.
- Take a water squirting fan with you as it will become very useful while you wait in lines for the museums. I purchased this one from amazon: https://amzn.to/2Pgn3HV
- Speaking of lines…. even though the museums are free I strongly recommend going on the individual museum websites and purchase tickets online if it is an option. They are very cheap. I paid anywhere from $6-$12 for a family of four. With our pre paid tickets we were able to skip the huge free lines and get in faster which allowed us more time to do other things during the day. You don’t have to buy for each and every museum, just the popular ones with long lines. If you are traveling with kids, you will be glad you purchased the to tickets ahead unless of course you like to stand in long lines on humid days with crying , whining hungry children. Again keep plenty of snacks on hand, however there were plenty of restaurants and sandwich shops everywhere.
- I’m going to be bad mom here but traveling with kids in Washington is a lot of walking and tiring for both you and your kiddos. I found that giving soda to the kids for lunch really got their energy going and allowed us to power through the museums. Take a break inside the museums also If they have a café you cool down in the air conditioning and grab a bite.Plan your day so that you can go back to the hotel and rest before continuing your adventure in the evenings.
- Clothes: cotton, cotton and cotton. I got this tip from Pinterest and bought a lot of my cotton clothes from children’s place and I was glad that I did because they were light breathable and comfortable in that humid weather.
- Shoes: Don’t be cheap. Spend some extra bucks and buy really comfortable walking shoes for the family. Take a foot massaging cream and give each other foot rubs at bedtime especially the kids because their little feet will be so tired from walking but they won’t complain because of all the soda you gave them earlier 😉.
- Carry plenty of water, fruits, snacks for the kids to eat especially for long car rides to places and while standing in line waiting to get into places. Stock up the evening before as there are plenty of grocery stores and Walgreens etc. around.
- Duck Tour: We had an extra day as we cancelled our plans to go see the Liberty Bell so we went on a Duck tour. It was a nice way to wrap up our time in DC and see and learn about places we saw or were not able to see. Also the bus becomes a boat and took us into the Potomac River where we were able to see the Pentagon.
- Research all websites for places you want to see to check what is or is not allowed inside, hours of operation, ID requirements, pre-approval from your congress leader to visit( places like the White House and other federal buildings need an application to visit, information can be found on their websites), photography rules, availability of restrooms, cafes etc.
- Be sure to watch all the documentary movies that are offered at the various museums. We truly enjoyed watching America’s history at each and every site we went to. It really has given us a new appreciation of the land we live in.
- Also be sure to watch the documentaries on websites before your trip. These really helped the kids understand where we were going and its significance. You can do this during downtime at the hotel.
- Visiting Federal buildings will need approval and background clearance for each member of your party. You can find information on how to apply on your city’s congress member’s website.
Famous Places to Visit
Monticello: Thomas Jefferson’s Home
Our vacation started in Hollywood, Maryland far away from the city amongst lush green scenery and cute colonial style homes. The cool breeze, peace and quite of the day and the magical fire flies at night was like we had entered a fairytale. From here we traveled about 2 and half hours to Charlottesville, Virginia to visit Monticello. We had a rental car solely for traveling to Virginia and back into Washington DC. If you have young ones and traveling to different states this is the way to go. Keep in mind however that you have to pay for parking in DC, even at the hotels unless you find one with parking included.
Monticello was gorgeous, small but so much history within it. You do have to purchase tickets for this place and I suggest start looking at them several months ahead of time especially if you are going in peak season. Plan your trip and reservation time keeping in mind bathroom breaks etc. so that you can arrive at your tour time one time. The tour guides were awesome and as long as you arrive on time with your tickets there were no major delays getting Into the home. Do give yourself At least 30 minutes extra time as you have to go through the visitor center first and then take a shuttle up the mountain to the house. The tour does not include the tombs but they guide you to where it is. Photography is absolutely not allowed inside the house. However when you come back to the visitor center at the bottom of the hill, visit the kids center, it has all the cool gadgets that you see in the house and can actually take pictures of it in there. Make sure to watch any movies or documentaries they are showing that day as they are very good. Give yourself a good 3-4 hours to see the whole place here. We thought we could make it to our next destination however ended up getting. Hotel and heading out the next morning.https://www.monticello.org/
2. Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Home
Like the Monticello you have to the tickets in advance. We went in June so I think I had the tickets purchased by March. Again arrive about 30 minutes before your tour time and expect to spend about 3-4 hours here too. The tour is awesome and the views at the back of the house overlooking the river is a good family picture spot, so wear clothes that would look good framed up on the wall. https://www.mountvernon.org/
3. Arlington Cemetery:
We squeezed this trip in after Mount Vernon and I was glad we did because after this visit we headed Into Washington DC and did not have to make a trip back into Virginia. I did not buy tickets ahead of time for this but I remember they had a good deal at their ticket booth that included entry fee and a train ride/tour. I highly recommend this as the cemetery is huge and it will take forever to find the famous sites on foot especially with the kids not to mention the blazing hot sun burning up the back of your neck. The train rides are unlimited and it’s hop on hop off so you can stop anywhere you want. Be sure to check the Changing of Guards schedule to plan your ride.
4. Washington DC
The mall is beautiful. I would look up some maps of the mall and plan your route. We could not see every single monument but we did all the popular ones. Wear appropriate shoes and clothes that you are comfortable in but also photo ready as there are many beautiful picture spots. The Lincoln memorial has lots of steps so be prepared with the kiddos. The Jefferson memorial was a little farther away so we drove by it at night. You can visit the website here to prepare for your visit:https://www.nps.gov/nama/index.htm
Marine Corps Monument : https://www.nps.gov/gwmp/learn/historyculture/usmcwarmemorial.htm
5. The Museums:
There are tons of Museums! And they are FREE!! With the exception of the African American History museum which does have an entry fee and you actually have to get tickets months In advance. Even though these museum are free I highly suggest visit their websites and see if you can “buy” ticket ahead of time. I bought what’s was available to purchase online and only had to pay online processing fee which was most of the time $6 for a family of four. But for $6 we were able to avoid long lines ( and whining kids waiting in the lines) and skip to the front of the lines. Some places had signs that said we couldn’t but the staff were nice and saw pre purchased tickets and let us in. The bureau of printing and engraving tickets are hard to get online but if you get to the ticket booth right outside really early ( we were there by 8) they have few tickets they give out for free every few hours. Be sure to check out National Archives and see the original Declaration of Independence!Check out all the museums here: https://washington.org/find-dc-listings/museums
6. Ford’s Theater: Site of Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination
This was a extra little trip from my daughter who is absolutely fascinated with Abraham Lincoln. the theater is small but beautiful. Again I highly recommend buying tickets ahead of time online as space will be limited. We only bought tickets to the theater walk through and the museum. The Museum was really nice as it had Lincoln’s original bloody pillow, his gloves and the original door with the bullet hole. Be sure to check out the free movie playing in the museum too. https://www.nps.gov/foth/planyourvisit/index.htm
7: The White House
Honestly speaking I was not too impressed with the White House in person…..It looks so much nicer on TV. First of all expect security all over the place. Also if the president or his family is out and about, expect the police and special agents to suddenly show up and close up the area so that they can pass. There are two sides to the White House. The back side is facing a park area where we sat and ate lunch. We tired to take pictures but were disappointed that it didn’t look instragramable. We finally approached on of the guards and he told us to walk over to the front of the house which was on Pennsylvania AVE. We walked around and found the White House we always see on TV. There will be tons of people taking pictures and guards making sure you don’t get to close to the gates. FYI the White House Viewing promptly closes at 5 Pm and the guards are very quick to shut down roads and move out all visitors. We were lucky that we made it in the nick of time and got to snap some pictures for our wall. https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/tours-events/
8: The US Capital Building
This is was the only Federal Building that our family was approved to visit by our congress member. Being from California, we received an email from our Congress member, Ami Berra’s office on all the details on our VIP tour of the US capital Building. We met the awesome staff in their office after taking some selfies out side of Mr. Berra’s office. The staff took us on the most fascinating tour ever, taking us through underground routes, and taught us many fun facts about the capital building and its history.https://www.visitthecapitol.gov