Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Vacation | Spring Break in Washington DC (+ a little film...)

We just returned from a wonderful 5 day trip to DC for spring break.  It was my first visit to our nation's capital and at first I was a bit worried that I hadn't scheduled a full week stay, but it turns out that 5 days was just right for us.  We did everything we wanted to (plus a few extras) and didn't return completely exhausted.   Thanks to many helpful tips and recommendations from all of you through Instagram (THANK YOU!), I was able to navigate our trip and loosely plan our daily itinerary beforehand which made a big difference, especially during the busy spring break season in Washington. Since it might be helpful for others planning future trips, I will give a run down of how we spent our time and and any advice I picked up along the way.... 

Let's start with transportation... We flew instead of driving. I just really, really hate long car rides.  Since we found reasonable airline rates, it was an easy decision.  This allowed us to arrive late on Friday morning, giving us an almost full day to explore.  We did a LOT of walking and took short cab rides when necessary.  We also rented a car for one day to go to Old Town Alexandria and Mount Vernon.  Many suggested using the Metro, but we never did, though I hear it is easy to navigate.

On our first day we went to the International Spy Museum downtown.  A HUGE hit with my boys!  A mix of real spy gadgets, covert operations, and history with a good dose of Hollywood thrown in.  There were interactive exhibits, like crawling through an air duct to eavesdrop on Nixon and comparing your hang time to James Bond on a bar while wind and shakes threatened to make you lose your grip.  Right up any child's alley.  Ok, so I crawled in the duct and hung on the bar too... :) There is a special spy training mission for adults and children over 12.  Since Charlie couldn't participate, we skipped this, but it looked like it would have been an awesome experience.  Something to save for next time..  Afterwards we walked to the White House and a lot of the monuments...Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Lincoln, Vietnam War Memorial and Korean War Memorial.  My boys didn't have any trouble with all the walking, allowing us to get a lot in.  One evening Jimmy took Andrew back to walk the entire National Mall and see it all lit up (too late for Charlie - we stayed back at the hotel and had a dance party before bed..) and they made the trek to the Jefferson Memorial - which was their favorite.

Day 2 we toured the Capitol Building (A must! We got tickets in advance through our Congressman.  They are free.)  It was slightly disappointing that the iconic rotunda was covered in scaffolding for cleaning and repairs, but still a very majestic and impressive building.  The history (and architecture and art)  pretty much take your breathe away.  It is a guided tour but not too long for little people.  Afterwards we went over to the Library of Congress (connected to the Capitol Building).  It is a MUST SEE.  Unbelievable.  Probably the prettiest building we saw in DC.  We didn't have time to explore each room, but I did enjoy the botanical room (probably has a proper term that I'm not using).  I tried to be mindful of when the boys had reached their limit of looking at historical relics and artifacts and more than once we moved along a little quicker than we would have if we were visiting alone.

After touring the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress we went to the Hotel Washington's  rooftop restaurant for a long, late lunch, (it's a pretty hip place for drinks in the evening), with amazing views of the White House and Washington Monument.  Long lunches at nice restaurants were definitely the way to break up our days.  It was nice to have a glass of wine, warm up (we had some very chilly days) and enjoy some good food after lots of walking.  It helped us recharge for the rest of the day too.  Also, we didn't run into any wait times either, which we likely would have if we went to the same places for dinner.  Dinners were quick and easy and sometimes just eaten back at the hotel.  (We stayed in the Foggy Bottom area, nice, but I think I would have preferred staying downtown.)

After lunch we headed to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. This is the one activity that I felt was boring for Charlie.  He is too young to understand the historical significance, plus we had to wait in line for about 45 minutes outside before we got in.  If the wait is long and you have young children, I would say skip this one or try come back on a weekday or non peak time. 

^^ The cherry blossoms are late this year because of such a long and cold winter.  We only saw a few just on the cusp of all their glory.  In about two weeks they should be at their peak! ^^

Day 3 we rented a car and left early to drive to Mt. Vernon (my favorite part of the trip).  The drive is beautiful, about 20 minutes, along the water.  We got there just after they opened and spent about 3-4
hours touring the grounds, mansion and museums (excellent and very well done museums!!).  Afterwards, we went into Old Town Alexandria for lunch and a little shopping.  We ended up sitting on a step outside a coffee and wine bar and enjoying the glorious weather for well over an hour.  Charlie was in heaven playing with his Revolutionary War soldiers that he picked up at Mt. Vernon.  It was battle after battle for the rest of the trip.  Ten dollars very well spent!

It was perfect to break up the trip with a day away from all the DC museums, tour buses, and crowds.  I strategically planned this outing for the day when it was forecast to be the nicest weather.  You are outside for the bulk of the time so it would be tough on a rainy or too cold day.  The grounds are just gorgeous!

Day 4 we went to Ford's Theater (another favorite of our boys), you need to go in advance to buy tickets, which include a play in Ford's Theater and tour of the home where Lincoln died, plus access to a very extensive museum that our boys went through too quickly...  We also went to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving that morning to get tour tickets.  They go fast.  Get there right when it opens if you want your pick of tour times.  We got there at 9:30 (they open at 8:30) and only the 6:00 PM tickets were still available, which worked fine for our day but we had to juggle some things around.  Next to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving is the Holocaust Museum, which we skipped based on reviews for young children.  Andrew would have been old enough to see it, but not Charlie.  We had lunch at the Hamilton (another great spot!) and toured the Museum of American History (free, a Smithsonian  museum) for about an hour - it wasn't my favorite and it was super crowded.  Instead we spent a lot of time at the almost deserted White House Visitor's Center - another free museum full of White House artifacts and stories.  It was a nice surprise!  Things like, the day to day schedules for former presidents and first ladies, pictures and details of birthday celebrations and Christmas parties, china, furniture, art work from different presidents, favorite foods, weddings at the White House, etc.  Sort of a glimpse at the ordinary, everyday ins and outs of the White House and the people that have lived there.  The sorts of little nuggets I just love.  Again, we let the boys run around and get some energy out before we headed back the the Bureau of Printing and Engraving for our evening tour.  Another favorite activity for the boys.  Definitely recommend a visit!! Seeing a pallet stacked with 65 million dollars is just crazy!

On our last day we splurged on a fancy breakfast at Founding Farmers (every other morning we grabbed the complimentary one at the hotel). Founding Farmers came highly recommended from Jimmy, who's eaten there when traveling for business and from many of you.  It was walking distance from our hotel, so I was kind of wishing we eaten there another morning as well. The beignets are a must, as is the leek and potato hash and pork sausage, oh and their pancakes!  I have their cookbook and I'm totally inspired to use it a bit more after eating there.  Dinner sounds really good too!!  We spent the afternoon at the National Zoo (also free) and seeing the Pandas was another highlight of the trip, though I just hate that they keep them separated.  Apparently pandas prefer to be isolated in the wild too.  I worried that they were a bit lonely and bored.  The zoo is close to the National Cathedral, so we hopped over there afterwards.  It wasn't on our list but it was such a spectacular sight, we couldn't pass the chance to visit.  The admission price is a bit steep and children have to pay too.  Just a warning.  We learned that there is a Darth Vader carved into the roof.  Andrew. my Star Wars loving child, thought that was just the coolest. :) Just a block away from the cathedral is 2 Amy's, another highly recommended spot to eat.  Serving traditional Neapolitan style pizza - certified by the Italian government as authentic no less! We stopped there for lunch and yes, amazing.  Between breakfast and lunch that day I felt like I consumed enough food for an entire week.  Totally worth every bite.

^^ Charlie couldn't leave without a stuffed Panda!^^

Annnnnd if all those pics and recap weren't enough, here is a little film.  (filmed using an iphone, edited in iMovie)  Thanks for letting me share.  Such a great trip and such great ages to take our children. 



  1. Your boys will never forget it. Visiting here is an absolute must

  2. Thanks for such a detailed re-cap. We've never taken our youngest, now 16, and your trip really makes me want to plan a visit before she graduates! I'm so glad you loved Mount Vernon--one of my favorites, along with Monticello. Such great pictures and I love the film. Happy Easter!

  3. Thanks for the detailed post. I "pinned" it to refer to later! We have visited a couple of times but still need to see a few more places. I loved Mt. Vernon too!! :)

  4. I'm glad that you enjoyed your visit to our corner of the world. If you have a chance to return in warmer weather someday, the gardens at Mt. Vernon are beautiful in the summer! Since we live nearby, we spend one day every Spring Break as a "DC Day" and visit one or two sights. It has become a favorite ritual for our family.

  5. Looks like you guys had a nice trip. DC is a lovely city with tons to offer. Too bad you couldn't see the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

  6. What a wonderful trip you had! We took our boys to DC a couple years ago and they loved it as well. We plan to go back again because we still have so much to see - especially after reading all the fun things you did! Great post!

  7. You are so sweet! What a special trip for a lovely family! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Loved reading your post and insights. We are taking our kids (9,6,3) in June for 3 days and I am really looking forward to it. Originally we hadn't planned on stopping in Mt. Vernon, but now I want to add an extra day to see it as well.

  9. Such great tips- you make me want to visit and we live just an hour away and are there frequently! I definitely want to try the Founding Farmers, and we have never visited Ford's Theater, so you have inspired me:-)

  10. Tessa,
    We are planning a trip in October. Could you tell me the name of the hotel where you stayed? I enjoy reading your blog!!