We just finished nearly a week in Washington D.C. – myself, my wife and our three kids – ages 5, 8 and 11. It was the first time for any of them and the first time I had been there in at least twenty years. My defining visit there was when I was eight, I believe, with my family.
I set up the trip so we would not be rushed. There’s a ton to see there and the last thing I wanted was to feel like we needed to schlep everywhere to get it all in. Yes, we schlepped, but we also took our time. We had five full days there. It was during “high season",” just before the July 4 week, and the weather ranged from warm to freakin’ crazy uncomfortable warm. Typical Dad uniform – t-shirt, shorts, baseball cap and Converse slip-ons with Dr. Scholl’s gel insoles. Gellin’!
I found a good deal at Embassy Suites on 22nd Street. A few blocks from DuPont Circle Metro, you get two rooms, one with two Queen beds and the other with a pull-out Queen sofa bed. Two flat screen TVs, fridge, microwave, big bathroom, free breakfast, nice if smallish pool, etc. The kids thought we were at Buckingham Palace. Tip: pay for the room in advance for a big discount.
We did not rent a car. Given the Metro and cabs, and lack of parking, there’s just no point in wasting the money. You can even Metro it from Ronald Reagan airport into the city. As for the Metro, I just bought some pre-paid tix on the first day for each family member – $20 each. At the end of the trip I still had almost half left on them, so I would suggest going with $10 and seeing how it goes – you can always add fare. The Metro is clean, pretty clear and has plenty of stops in key places. Yes, there is some walking involved but it won’t kill you to get some exercise. When we needed it we fit five of us into a cab.
Months ago I contacted our congressmen’s office to arrange some tours. Back when I was eight you just showed up. Now, post-9/11, you need scheduled tours that include social security numbers. Also I am not a fan of Dave Reichert I was impressed by their tour booking operation (I am still voting for Suzan DelBene in November, not just because she’s a Democrat, and not just because I used to work for her). You need to book tours for the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, etc. We did not get into the “first come first served” WH tour but we made it into Congress and the Supreme Court. Make sure you ask for the permissions to actually see the House in operation (you need a separate rectangular sticker), otherwise you get the perfunctory tour from folks in red blazers.
Supreme Court was very cool – spent time in the actual court room hearing about very interesting history.
We also spent time at the Smithsonians. All the museums are free, which counterbalances the outrageous prices for lunch in the cafeterias. American History, Natural History and Air & Space were all big winners.
Coincidentally we were in D.C. at the same time as friends of ours from our neighborhood so we teamed up for sightseeing and a night out. This enabled me and the other Dad, with his two oldest sons, to visit the Holocaust Museum while the rest of the gang hit the Smithsonian American Museum. This is a fantastic place but I will caution it is not for kids. Not even close. I would suggest 11 and up, even then it is pretty severe. Walking through the rail car that transported my ancestors to their deaths, seeing the crematorium ovens, the piles of kids shoes – very heavy duty. It took me two hours to go through the permanent exhibit and it was a chilling experience (literally, they must have had that place at 60 degrees).
Other big highlights:
- Georgetown – we walked down M street the first night with nice restaurants, shops, etc. Ice cream on 31st and M.
- Big Planet Comics – went here with my son one morning, also in Georgetown, then we walked from there to the Potomac and around to the Lincoln Memorial. Great adventure.
- Frozenyo – a few of these in the city – self serve frozen yogurt shops where you pay by the ounce. Great biz model - tiny real estate, seemed to be staffed by one person.
- Eli’s – excellent kosher restaurant
- Botanical Garden - -on your way to the U.S. Capitol, check this very well done building and set of exhibits.
Gear list: we had three Zunes - two HDs and one "old skool" 30Gb. Content was mainly Rocky & Bullwinkle, Brady Bunch and some choice movies. I tried to keep the media load identical amongst the three devices.I had my notebook for photo management, a Nikon D60 with 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses, two KIN phones, and one Droid Eris that I used as the dedicated map/nav device. Helpful tip - if you have a five year-old that doesn't feel like walking anymore, give them a phone with real-time navigation on it - does wonders for their motivation.
Net net, a great time. Kids had a blast, we endured the heat, and I think we had our fill of D.C. until one of our children gets inaugurated.