No trip around the United States could be complete without a stop in our nation’s capital.
So if you’ve never been to DC, let me help you out a little. One, hotels are expensive. We stayed just outside the city in Arlington at half the price; HALF. Two, parking is tough. We rode the metro (clean and easy) into the city and walked while there. We made sure and picked a hotel close to a metro station. I think DC’s Metro was cleaner and easier to navigate than any of the other subways we’ve used on this trip. However, pricing depends on how far you go as opposed to per trip, so it takes a little more work to figure out how much money to put on your metro card. Kids over 5 have to have their own Metro card and pay unlike in Boston where they we free so that added to the cost. The hotel gave us some cards to use and one of them had over $8 left on it to start us off. Sweet! Three, most all the museums, monuments, and memorials are free even without an America the Beautiful pass. All the ones we went to were free. Four, wear comfy walking shoes or take a bus tour. We walked. Five, most of the museums and all the federal buildings have security screening, so pack light. Sixth, there’s a TON of stuff to see so pick your favorites. There was so much we didn’t get to do.
The Metro Blue Line has a stop at Smithsonian which is pretty much in the middle of the National Mall. I enjoy this area of DC. All your sight seeing is right there so its hard to get lost and you can basically see all your stops. Our first stop was the Smithsonian Castle. It is the visitor center for the Smithsonian Institute, which is made up of 19 museums and the National Zoo. It is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex in the world and it’s all free. The Smithsonian has an intriguing birth. A gift from Englishman James Smithson, his sizable estate was willed to his nephew with the caveat that if his nephew died without an heir then the estate would go to the United States for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Mr. Smithson never traveled to the US nor is it known why he left the estate to the US. But his gift has created an amazing legacy for our nation.
I knew our first stop after the castle would be the Museum of Natural History. Mason loves this stuff. He has such a thirst for knowledge and he loves to read. There was enough hands-on interactive exhibits to keep Tucker entertained until lunch. Mason wasn’t done so we told him we would come back the next day and we did and we let him roam until he was done…mostly. There comes a time when you’ve just got to move on.
We grabbed lunch and then headed to the Capital Building. The Capital Building is pretty strict about their security, you can’t even bring in water. I was toting a small backpack full of water and snacks that I wasn’t willing to part with so we didn’t go in. We decided we would come back another day without the bag but that didn’t happen. 😦 The Capital is huge. I mean, I knew it was big but it was way bigger than I remember when I was here in middle school.
After walking all the way around the Capital and back, what does my knucklehead son do? Yep, jumps into a puddle of water in front of the reflecting pool. What he lacks in self control at this age, he makes up for in spunk. He loves life and lives it full throttle.
Next up, the Supreme Court. I wasn’t sure how long the boys would last here but they did great. What’s cool is that lots of our stops overlap. For example, we learned about Taft in Ohio. Now here in DC, we see Taft again as he was a Supreme Court Justice (after he was president) and he’s the one that felt the Court needed its own building. We watched a video about the court and then attended a court lecture where we got to actual sit in the courtroom. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the courtroom but we were able to snap a few pictures from the doorway. This is one of my favorite buildings. I’m not sure why but it may be the white marble.
The next day we stopped back by the Natural History Museum and then headed to the Museum of American History. The Visitor Center recommended this stop for the kids and told us to check out the Spark Lab. Honestly, Trevor and I didn’t enjoy this museum. It felt kind of hodge-podgy but the boys got to play some and I got to see an actual pair of ruby slippers and Glenda the Good Witch’s wand from the Wizard of Oz. So I wouldn’t call it a total waste.
There aren’t a lot of dining options around the Mall without walking several extra blocks. There are cafes in the some of the museums but we opted for food trucks. There’s a large selection of food to fit your mood. The boys were super excited about this, Mason especially.
The National Archives was a must see. Among all the information of national interest housed there, the most significant to our founding- the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights- are displayed in the Rotunda. There was something impressive with this Rotunda. I don’t know how to describe it but Trev and I both felt it. Not that a picture would have conveyed this feeling anyway, but pictures were not allowed. After viewing the documents, we walked through the Public Vaults permanent exhibition. After awhile, the three of us went and sat on a bench while Mason read until he was ready to go. Then we went to the gift shop, as we always do, looking for pressed pennies and saw the National Treasure poster on the wall. This prompted Mason to do his best Nicholas Cage impression of Ben Gates trying to sneak out with the Declaration of Independence.
Sometimes a boy’s just gotta run.
What trip of DC would be complete with a trip to the White House? They are in the middle of a fencing project (which is set to be complete 2021, I think) so you couldn’t get a good picture and you certainly can’t get up close.
Here’s our fail. You can’t just show up and tour the White House. This has to be requested in advance. I’m sure this is for security reasons. We didn’t know when we would be in Washington until we got close so we knew we were missing that opportunity before we got here. The same goes for the Pentagon. You can tour both but you have to request to do so in advanced so check their websites. The spin on this, is that it gives the kids something to do later in life on their own.
The Executive House for the Vice President was next door.
Then we popped in the Renwick Museum for a potty break. We didn’t visit any art galleries. It’s not really Trev’s thing and you never know what those little eyes might see. I knew I had made the right decision for my family, when we went in the Renwick and saw a statute, Tucker goes, “Mom, I see his butt.” We don’t usually say butt. So I’m telling Trevor and he says, “Yeah, I know. I pointed it out and said, “Look. A butt.”” Oh me. I try but what do you do with that? I think that proves all three of them lack the maturity needed to see such exhibits. We were in and out quickly so I can’t really tell you much about this art gallery. I did see the wooden temple exhibit and the LED binary code light exhibit.
Walking around the block to get a picture of the White Hose from the South Lawn gave me the opportunity to get my picture taken with the National Christmas Tree. I have a Christmas tree obsession so I was geeking out a little just knowing that soon this little fella would be decked out in lights.
We were pretty wore out so we headed back to the hotel.
The next morning was dedicated to seeing some of the monuments and memorials. These are operated by the National Parks Service. The boys completed their Junior Ranger Program. It was like Boston where you have one program for that whole area. So instead of a Lincoln Memorial badge and a Washington Monument badge, etc, they got one National Mall badge.
First up was the Washington Monument. We had seen it when we first arrived. It’s kind of hard to miss. They had been updating the new elevator system so it had been closed for three years. It was set to reopen three days after we planned to leave DC. We were all kind of bummed about that. The NPS was allowing a few people with advanced tickets to go up testing out their new entrance system. We were so close. Oh well, moving on.
Next was the World War II Memorial. I get teary eyed at these kind of things. I am so thankful for our Armed Services. I want our boys to understand the sacrifice these men and women made to protect our freedoms. We may or may not agree with the fight but we should always respect our servicemen. Okay, okay, off my soapbox.
The World War II Memorial is large and it sits between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. There was a ceremony for WW II veterans happening that morning so that was cool for the boys to witness. Trev reminded the boys that Pa was a WWII vet too. I lost it when they started playing Taps.
Next the Lincoln Memorial.
The next two monuments were new for the boys. We had never discussed the Vietnam or Korean War with them nor had they learned about them in school yet but we had good discussions.
Next we headed over to the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. Both boys were familiar with him.
The Jefferson Memorial was being renovated and we were hungry for lunch so we just took our pictures from across the Tidal Basin; skipped the FDR Memorial and headed toward the smell of food trucks…again. Don’t judge.
With our bellies full, we hopped back on the Metro and headed to Arlington National Cemetery.
This picture of the soldier tore me up. (I took a picture of a picture they have in the visitors center. This is not my picture).
The boys were like us, taken back by the sheer volume of headstones; around 290,000+ headstones amounting to over 400,000 people. Some people, like husband and wife, share one headstone.
Freedom most certainly isn’t free. May we never forgot that.
After a pretty heavy day, we headed back to the hotel and got a little silly on the subway.
You simply can’t see it all in a day. Even multiple days. Everywhere you turn is something else to see. Take your time and enjoy what you can.
Next up, a quick stop in a state with country roads and mountain mamas.