A Visit to Washington, D.C., with Kids – Day 4

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(Earlier I blogged about Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 of our visit to Washington, D.C.)

For the last full day in Washington, D.C., we planned to take in all the sights. We Ubered into town on this morning and began at the Lincoln Memorial. The statue of Lincoln was powerful, but there is also an exhibit inside that pays tribute to the history of the monument including Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the monument in 1963. It was moving to hear and see the video I’d seen many times before and to actually stand in the very place where such an important moment of 20th Century history occurred.

Lincoln Memorial

We walked along the mall to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (below). It was much smaller than I’d imagined, but meaningful to see nonetheless. All of the monuments and memorials along the National Mall may look very close together on a map, but wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to do a lot of walking! The scale of many of the buildings and popular sights is difficult to appreciate until you’re there in person.

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We continued on to the World War II Memorial, which is a beautiful reminder of those who served from every state and in every theatre of the war.

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The fountains make this space very peaceful.

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My husband and I both had grandfathers who served in World War II, so this memorial held a more personal meaning for us.

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We took pictures of the Washington Monument (above) from this vantage point, but decided to forego touring it in order to walk along the tidal basin where the Cherry Blossom trees were in full bloom. And it was certainly no secret! Thousands of people were walking along the river and enjoying the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which takes place in March and April. It took some patience to navigate through the sea of tourists with three children, but we made it through the most densely crowded areas and arrived at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

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If you are looking for that moment to snap a postcard-worthy photo of the Jefferson Memorial and the surrounding Cherry Blossom trees, the very early morning hours are probably your best bet. We took pictures, but the steps and the inside of the memorial were covered with visitors. We’d packed sandwiches and bottled water in a backpack so we could enjoy a picnic on the lawn outside the monument. (If you plan a picnic lunch, remember to pack a light blanket, too.) This was a great way to take in the scenery and the early spring weather could not have been better. What appeared to be Marine One, the President’s helicopter, flew over while we were there.

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After lunch, we took an Uber to the White House, or at least to the closest point you can take an Uber near the White House. This was actually a wide sidewalk with views of the South Lawn of the White House. We took photos but they were terrible because we were so far away from the White House itself and the sun was almost blinding at this point in the day. I wish we’d taken the time to walk to the other side of the White House to take photos, as I believe you can get a better view on the north side, but negotiating the extra walking with the children would not have been pleasant. We still had seven blocks to walk to get to the Newseum, which was our planned stop for the afternoon.

We passed by the White House Visitor’s Center and stopped in for a restroom break and a little souvenir shopping. Unless you plan ahead and schedule a tour at the White House in advance, I would recommend stopping in the Visitor’s Center. There is a wall with a backdrop of the White House on it and we were able to take a much better family photo there! We also were able to sign the official book of condolences for former First Lady Nancy Reagan who had passed away in the weeks prior to our visit.

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We continued on our walk, passing many government office buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue as well as the National Archives. We reached the Newseum, with the First Amendment displayed boldly on the outside of the building. The day’s newspapers from every state in the country were displayed, too. This place is a news junkie’s dream!

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It really was interesting, especially the exhibits on the varying degrees of freedom of the press around the world, and major crime stories from recent decades. There’s even a large piece of the Berlin Wall and the remains of an antenna from atop the former World Trade Center salvaged from the wreckage of the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

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Some of the subject matter was over the heads of our young daughters, but they liked the interactive exhibits at the end. Kids can create their own news broadcast and play a video game that teaches them the steps to investigating and reporting a news story. This was the only paid museum we visited, but there are so many others in D.C. that I hope to visit one day, too.

We ended our last day in D.C. with a casual dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Arlington. We sat on the patio and it was a good way to wind down our vacation before we drove home the next day. On our return trip, we drove through a more mountainous highway through Blacksburg, Va. (where we saw Virginia Tech), and a few other small towns before stopping to spend one night with our family in Charlotte again. We made it back to Florida the next day – what an adventure! I am so glad we took this trip and look forward to more road trips in our future.

What is your favorite monument or memorial? Have you been to the Newseum? What road trips do you recommend with kids?

A Visit to Washington, D.C., with Kids – Day 3

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Get out early in D.C. to beat the crowds.

(Earlier I blogged about Day 1 and Day 2 of our road trip.)

On our second full day in Washington, D.C., we strategized to beat the crowds of teenagers by waking up early and driving to the Smithsonian National Zoo to be there when it opened.

The Zoo actually never closes, which would be great if you live in the area as it appeared you can take a walk or jog through the winding trails and exhibits at any time. We saw quite a few joggers running alongside the employees who were reporting for work.

By arriving early, we were able to get a great view of the most popular exhibits – starting with the Giant Pandas. We’d heard the pandas are most active in the morning, too.

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The Zoo has 4 giant pandas, including one baby panda, and six elephants.  (If you can’t go to D.C., but want to see the pandas, check out the Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam for a look at what they’re doing any time of day or night. My bet is on eating bamboo or sleeping!)

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Compared to most zoos that struggle for funding, the National Zoo clearly has put its federal subsidies to good use. Admission was free, and it was clean, modern and generally a very pleasant atmosphere. This was our kids’ favorite place in Washington, D.C.

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Where the elephants go for Bingo and family reunions?

We’d driven our car to the Zoo from Arlington. When we left, we drove by the National Cathedral and through the streets of Georgetown on our way back into Virginia.

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We took a few hours to rest in the hotel before heading back out in the early evening. This time we took the metro to the campus of George Washington University, where my husband’s beloved Florida Gators basketball team was playing GWU in the NIT tournament. It was just luck that they were playing in D.C. during our visit and we were able to purchase tickets. The Gators had a respectable contingent of fans in our nation’s capital! Sadly though, G. Dub (as their fans call it) won the game.

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We metroed back to Arlington and called it a night.

Our last day in D.C. (including visits to the monuments and memorials) is up next on the blog.

A Visit to Washington, D.C., with Kids – Day 2

Day 2 of our road trip to Washington, D.C., took us to the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and Arlington National Cemetery.

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We took an Uber from our hotel in Arlington to the Russell Senate Building. The driver navigated the D.C. traffic much better than we could have, even taking us on a shortcut through the parking lot of the Pentagon. I’m not sure he was supposed to do that, but it was interesting to see!

We’d arranged a private tour of the Capitol Building – You can do this by contacting your senator or representative’s office. We first toured the Senate building where we met up with our tour guide. This included a few interesting photo ops in the Senate Rotunda, where you’ll often see senators interviewed on CNN or Fox News. We also had the pleasure of riding the Senator Subway, an underground trolley that carries members of Congress to the Senate floor when the Senate is session. When we visited, the Senate was in recess so it was a light traffic day on the subway. We arrived moments later inside the Capitol.

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In the lobby, we saw the large statue of Freedom, a replica of the actual statue that sits atop the capital rotunda, as well as statues of notable Americans from every state in the union. I wish I had taken notes on all of the rooms we toured, but there were quite a few and it was interesting to stand in the location of so many historic events. Although the capitol rotunda was under construction during our visit and much of the beauty of the building was covered in scaffolding, we were still impressed with the artwork and history of the space. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. Children can come up with some really interesting questions, too!

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Our tour ended with passes to the House Gallery. This is the viewing area that looks down on the House floor. The day’s session had not yet begun when we arrived in the gallery but it was still pretty exciting to sit within the confines of these walls and imagine all of the State of the Union addresses that have been delivered here. Cameras were not allowed here though!

From the Capitol Building we walked to the nearest Metro station. We hadn’t purchased passes in advance so we bought them from a kiosk inside the station. It didn’t take long for our train to arrive and a few minutes later we emerged on the National Mall just a short walk from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

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Admission is free, which is great. But the Museum more than makes up for it in its restaurant. We ate lunch in this cafeteria style cafe. Our bill for the five us to have some very basic food – hamburger, hot dog, chicken fingers – totaled $86! If you go, learn from our experience and grab lunch somewhere else. By this point in the day, the crowds had really picked up, too. The museum was crowded, which is understandable given that we visited during spring break when a large number of school groups apparently visit.

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Hope Diamond displayed at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Because of the crowds, we weren’t able to enjoy the exhibits as much as I think we would have at a non-peak time for visitors. This became a theme throughout our trip and actually led us to change plans on this afternoon. Instead of continuing on to the Air and Space Museum, where the lines to the entrance spilled onto the steps outside, we decided to go back to Arlington and see the cemetery. We took the Metro, which has a stop directly adjacent to the Cemetery.

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Arlington National Cemetery is not a small place, as you might imagine. After entering the cemetery welcome center, you can get a map and walk through at your own pace or you can pay $6 per person for a trolley or tram tour. With our three children in tow, we opted for the trolley. It stops at various points in the cemetery and you can hop off one trolley and get back on a later trolley to continue your tour or return to the exit. We toured in late afternoon and were short on time before closing so we decided to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and we were able to witness the changing of the guard, which takes place at the top of every hour. This was very special to witness in person, but again we were in a large crowd of onlookers so it was not the experience you might have at other times of the year.

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We were not able to stop to see the Eternal Flame at John F. Kennedy’s grave or any of the number of other points of interest within the Cemetery, but if we visit again we’d be sure to allow more time here. It is a truly beautiful place to remember men and women who served our country.

Since visiting Washington, D.C., I definitely believe it is a place that all Americans should visit at least once.

(Read on for Day 3 and Day 4 of our Washington, D.C. road trip, or take a look back at Day 1.)

Have you visited Washington, D.C.? What are your favorite sites?

A Visit to Washington, D.C. with Kids – Day 1

Washington, D.C., had been on the short list of places I want to visit in the United States for a long time. Neither my husband nor I had been before and we knew we wanted to take our kids because, well, let’s see…history, government, museums. There is so much to see and learn for all ages. We also wanted to take a good long road trip and, with family and friends we wanted to visit along the way in North Carolina, our plans quickly took shape for a spring break adventure from Florida to our nation’s capital.

After the first leg of the trip and a couple of days spent staying with family in Charlotte, NC, we headed north on Monday morning. We made brief stops in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina to see the campuses of UNC and Duke University.

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Well at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Our kids are still a decade away from going to college so this wasn’t a college scouting trip, but they are both good schools. And for us as sports fans, seeing the campuses of two basketball powerhouses was appealing, especially in the middle of March Madness. We snapped the requisite pictures of campus landmarks and got back in the car.

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Duke University Chapel

After that, passing through Richmond, Virginia, where we crossed the James River is the only thing I remember before we eventually ran into afternoon traffic in the D.C. area.

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We made it to our hotel in Arlington, Va., the Residence Inn – Ballston. We’d considered choosing a hotel in D.C., but we had accumulated enough Marriott points to cover the entire stay in Arlington, which is a short Metro or cab ride away from D.C.

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Washington, DC Metro

We also are big fans of the Residence Inn concept because of their two-bedroom, two-bath suites. It is perfect for family travel. Even though we didn’t plan to spend much time in the hotel room, we didn’t want our family of five to be on top of each other in one room for four nights.

The suite gave us a lot of extra space with a living area and a kitchenette where we were able to make some sandwiches and store groceries to save on our food costs for the week. Residence Inn offered free hot breakfast every morning, and free food and happy hour drinks on some of the nights, as well. What’s not to love? The kids enjoyed the indoor pool, too. Somehow they still had energy to burn after our day-long escapades through the city!

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Indoor pool at Residence Inn, Arlington, Va. – Ballston

Arlington, like D.C. itself, is a very walkable city. On the night we arrived, we found a Chipotle a couple of blocks from the hotel (there are many different restaurant options in this area). We had a quick dinner and made our way back to the hotel to get ready for our first day navigating Capitol Hill, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and Arlington National Cemetery, which I cover in my next post.

Have you taken a long road trip with kids? Are there hotel chains or restaurants you love for family travel? Please share your favorites by leaving a comment.