Over fall break we took a road trip east for Chris’ brother’s wedding and since we were already so close, we decided to stay the week in nearby Washington, DC, so we could explore the city. I’ve only been to DC once on a high school trip, and Chris hadn’t been since he was in middle school so we got to see the city anew through the eyes of our children and from the perspective of adults who understand a lot more about how amazing this country is that we call home.
If you follow me on Instagram, you got glimpses of our adventures, but I’ve had lots of questions about where we stayed and what we did so I’m sharing the kid-friendly places we went and where we crashed because, I’m not going to lie, Washington, DC, with kids is a little difficult. We had to balance stuff Chris and I found interesting with stuff that the girls loved because, hello, those are very different things.
But we had a great trip, learned a lot (which is nice since we let Ellie skip a week of school…), and came home with full bellies, happy hearts, and tired feet.
Washington, DC, was fun and I’m so glad we got to spend a week there.
-We stayed at a house rented through AirBNB. This is the one we used and while it was more expensive than we would have liked, DC isn’t actually an expensive place to visit. Almost all museums and attractions are free so we bit the bullet on lodging because we knew we’d save money elsewhere. [If you want to book it or something else on AirBNB, could you use my referral link? You earn a $20 credit for your booking and so do I!)
Places to Visit
–U.S. Capitol Building (We didn’t go inside because it was at the beginning of our day when our backpacks were full of snacks and drinks and you’re not allowed to bring any food or drink in so we would have had to throw everything away. But exploring the outside was fun too.)
–National Botanical Gardens (Beautiful and huge! Places to explore inside and out, the girls loved it and so did we. It did activate some pretty powerful allergies that stuck around for a few days so be warned if you’ve got them.)
–Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (Of all the Smithsonian Museums, this one was the most kid friendly and where we spent the most time exploring. You could easily spend half a day here.)
–National Gallery of Art (Okay, so we just played outside of it and went in for the restroom, but from what we saw it was nice. I don’t think my kids would have enjoyed it much though.)
–Guy Mason Playground in Georgetown (We spent a day exploring Georgetown and found a really great playground the girls loved. The weather was perfect all week and so after lunch one afternoon, we just relaxed at the park while they ran themselves ragged. It was wonderful.)
–Chinatown (We were there a few times, to eat and later to see a move. Good luck with parking, it’s insane.)
–Eisenhower Executive Office Building (We stayed up late one night to explore DC after dark and just walking around this mammoth building and checking out the architecture was ridiculous. This is when the girls had their scooters which made the random wandering around less boring for them.)
–Great Falls National Park (One day we packed some lunches and spent some time at a national park in Virginia. It was about a half hour drive out of the city, but absolutely beautiful. It was October so the trees were changing, the weather was cool, the trails were easy, and the falls were breathtaking. It was nice to be spending a week in a busy city and then just drive a little bit to be in a whole different world.)
–Freer and Sackler: The Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art (We were here briefly but the girls were not entertained. But I would have loved to have spent more time looking around.)
–Lincoln Memorial (We got to see this at night and it felt very somber and important. I don’t remember if it felt like that during the day too, but the Lincoln Memorial at night is moving.)
–Vietnam Wall (Ellie was very interested in the Wall and the story of the Vietnam War. If you go with kids, take something to do a rubbing. I was impressed with how much the girls liked it.)
–Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (This one was a big hit with both adults and kids but it was so so busy that it made it hard to enjoy. There is plenty of stuff to see and do, but the crowds make it hard to have fun.)
–Washington Monument (We didn’t go in, but it was shocking how tall it is once you get up close.)
–Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument (We happened to be in town as they were preparing for the twentieth anniversary of the Million Man March so it felt extra special that we got to visit the newest monument with that in the back of our heads. As we pulled out of the city the next day, people were making their way down to the National Mall for the march and the air felt alive with excitement.)
–National Harbor (You’ll have to drive here, but it’s not far. Originally we went here for the children’s museum but that doesn’t actually exist anymore [SURPRISE!]. Luckily, the area was full of other fun stuff to do. There’s a giant Ferris wheel you can ride (it’s expensive, so we didn’t), a sandy area for kids to play in and sculptures to climb on, delicious restaurants, fun stores like the Peeps Store, and a little amusement park for kids that had a climbing wall, carousel, and playground in it. It was $5 per kid and you could come and go as you pleased all day. It was a big hit with the girls and well worth the $10 we spent.
–Eastern Market (After we checked out of our house on Saturday morning, we made our way to this place for breakfast and wandering. We had driven by the previous weekend when we entered the city and it was overflowing with booths full of wares and delicious-smelling food. The girls got fresh mini-donuts from DC Donuts, Chris got meat-on-a-stick, and I had a warm-from-the-oven buttery pretzel for breakfast. Vacation breakfasts are the best. We wandered the blocks, people watching and window shopping. There’s an indoor market full of fresh meats, produce, and baked goods that I absolutely loved. We got to explore Capitol Hill Books and I do not have words to explain how weird and wonderful it is. You just have to experience it for yourself. Then on the way out we stopped at Fairy Godmothers, a kids toy and bookstore where the girls got new books to read on the way home. We’ve started buying books as souvenirs on our trips, and it’s an accidental tradition that I’m intent on keeping.)
–World War II Memorial (This was a great place to just sit and people watch. We found our state listed and it’s absolutely beautiful there. It was also nice to just relax after a long morning of trekking around the Mall.)
–White House (We saw this at night and it seemed more magical this way. We also got stopped by the vice president’s motor brigade and so that was fun to witness.)
Places to Eat
–Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company (located in Georgetown across the street from the Guy Mason Park, delicious BBQ and sweet potato fries!)
–Shake Shack (We stick to local places when we travel, but since we don’t have a Shake Shack in Indiana, we allowed a trip there. It’s good, but this Midwestern girl still prefers Steak-n-Shake. Sorry.)
–We, the Pizza (We ordered in one night after a long day of walking around–almost ten miles!–and the girls were exhausted so we got in pajamas early, filled out bellies with pizza, and had a lovely, lazy evening. This pizza was DELICIOUS. It made me want to actually go to their restaurant and get more pizza before we left.)
–Baked and Wired (A follower on Instagram recommended this bakery and coffee shop in Georgetown and I’m so glad she did. It was decadent and delicious.)
–Potbellys (There is not much in food options around the National Mall and all the monuments. We ate at this sandwich place one day when we were starving and had to have food immediately. I didn’t realize how there would be no where to eat close to the tourist stuff so we learned that lesson fast with two hungry, whiny kids.)
–food trucks on Maryland Ave. & 7th St. SW (One day after walking around the city, we found a line up of food trucks at least 35 deep. Everything you could possibly imagine, waiting for you on the curb. It was set up in a business district for all the workers, but we got some lunch for the girls there and were overwhelmed with options.)
–Crab Cake Cafe/Pinkberry (This was located at National Harbor within walking distance of the Ferris wheel and play areas. There were a lot of food options and more ice cream shops so it was a good day to go to a museum that didn’t exist and have to find other things to do.)
–La Loma Mexican Restaurant (GROSS. Do not eat here. This Mexican restaurant was a five minute walk from our house and on the last night in town, after the girls went to bed, we left for a little date. Don’t freak out, my mother-in-law was there. We didn’t check Yelp which we normally do while traveling and I regretted that oversight immediately. It was probably the worst Mexican food I’ve ever had and I don’t have that high of standards for greasy, delicious Mexican food. This was bad. SO BAD.)
Our house was about a ten minute walk to the Metro so most days we just walked to the monuments or rode the Metro because it was easier than finding parking (blah, good luck with that). Our girls loved riding public transportation, because it’s something we don’t have to do in Indy and so that novelty didn’t wear off all week. One day we even took their scooters on the Metro with us so they could scoot around the National Mall and it was quite the adventure. Our closest station was Union Station which has tons of restaurants, a few places to shop, a beautiful main hall that seems out of a movie, and a Greyhound transfer also so it was always bustling and really convenient.
We lucked out with how perfectly located our house was and by how easy it was for us to get around the city. We had perfect weather all week and it only rained the last night we were there. We had such a good trip and if you’re from Indy, it’s only a nine hour drive which is totally do-able with small kids. I highly recommend a vacation to our nation’s capitol. Although, I’m still kinda disappointed we didn’t see Olivia Pope. I guess there’s always next time.