(Note: This is Day Two of a series of three posts about our family’s trip to Washington, D.C. In case you missed Day One, here’s where to find it.)
3 Packed Days in D.C. – Where to Go and What to Eat
My dear man LOVES a certain movie. We saw it the first time together, but the million and 12 times after that, he’s seen it on his own. In bits and pieces. In small Saturday afternoon splices and Sunday night special scenes. I don’t think he’s seen it in its entirety more than once, but he NEVER tires of whatever part he gets to see. “Oh, Tombstone is on again! Did you know I love this movie??”
That’s the way it is with Washington, D.C.
One could go, again and again, experiencing the city in special scenes and sorted splices, like an unedited movie, and one would NEVER tire of seeing it.
At least, this one wouldn’t.
It’s not that it’s really worshipful or a religious Mecca or anything like that. It’s just that it’s a little bit like a birthplace.
If you’ve never been to D.C., your heart somehow feels a certain yearning for it. Maybe it’s somewhat similar to that important corner piece that anchors the 1000 others, fitting together to make up the colorful puzzle of our American lives.
In the same way that we once asked our parents to show us where we were born and where we went to grade school and where we lived when we were little, Americans just want to visualize where the events that have formed our collective patriotism are memorialized.
The hardest part is narrowing it down and knowing where to start.
There’s a LOT to see in D.C.!
In three packed days, we saw a whole lot of it!
Fortunately for us, our son had already been there for six weeks, interning by day on the The Hill, and sightseeing by night with his new friends, so he was able to do the narrowing down part for us.
Here are my tips (and our son’s) to help you decide where to go and what to eat.
Plan early and get tickets for a White House tour. The only thing we did NOT get to do that we really wanted to do was take a White House tour. Even with our “connection,” we couldn’t snag tickets, so if that’s something you want to do while you’re there, plan to request tickets about 4 months in advance. We had to satisfy ourselves with a bystander’s view on this trip, but if we ever go back, we’ll try again.
(So much stimulating conversation took place as we walked away from the White House on our first night in D.C. “Would you want to be president?” I asked. While there were lots of interesting answers from this family of mine, there wasn’t a yes in the bunch. No doubt about it – that’s a hard, hard job!)
Plan on going somewhere you didn’t plan on going. Our kids had brainstormed and put together a fabulous itinerary for our trip about 3 weeks out, and for the most part, we were able to follow it. However, there were a few times when we had to adjust, like when the restaurant wait time was too long or when the Library of Congress was shut down due to a suspicious package nearby. Having a couple of Plan B items that can be your fill-ins in the event of a necessary switcharoo will keep everyone happy and on the lookout for adventure.
(When the “suspicious package” incident occurred, we had to rearrange our plans, so we Ubered over to Union Station for lunch at Shake Shack, followed by the Holocaust Museum, and then we were able to meet back up with the most handsome 21-year old in town. While standing on this corner, we heard approaching sirens and got to see a long motorcade of black Suburbans racing toward the Capitol. It wasn’t the President, but it was obviously someone pretty important. Sometimes Plan B turns out better than the intended Plan A!)
Do the FREE museums, but don’t try to see every nook and cranny. The museums are one of the best parts of a trip to Washington, D.C. Do your research ahead of time and know which ones you consider a must, but try not to get hung up on the compulsive thought pattern of having to see every artifact in each one. Most offer a pamphlet when you arrive, so if you all really want to see Lincoln’s glass-encased top hat, find it right away and then see the rest. At some point, though, everyone in your party will have to sing the Frozen song – Let it Go. You just can’t see it all!
On a sidenote, I had just finished reading The Nightingale and was really looking forward to the Holocaust Museum as a way to further experience what I had read. It was so disappointing! The size of the crowd was such that it seemed we were moving along together as one snail. Getting close enough to the walls to read the captions and descriptions was next to impossible. If you’re claustrophobic, think twice, and maybe opt for the Newseum, an interactive museum, highlighting historic news stories and the development of communication through different forms of media.
And yet another side note – there’s a balcony at the Newseum on the 7th floor (if I remember correctly) where you can stand and get an amazing picture of the Capitol as your backdrop! Tickets are around $25 each.
(The only museum we paid to enter was the International Spy Museum, which was interesting, to say the least. Mike and I disagree on whether we’d recommend it. He didn’t really think it was worth the $21.95 ticket price, and while I wasn’t sure he was right about that, I did leave there thinking I kind of wished I didn’t now know what we had just learned. I can’t recommend visiting this museum with children under the age of 17. The gift shop was fun, though.)
Arrange for a tour of the Capitol. Contact the office of your representative and ask if they can put you on the schedule for a Capitol tour. They each have interns (like our son) who arrange and give tours all summer.
(It’s all about who you know in D.C. – lol!)
(A special view of the outside from the inside. Isn’t that pretty?)
(Mr. Thankful and Mother Grateful.)
See the memorials and monuments at night. For me, this may have been the highlight of our trip. The crowds are smaller. The lighting is amazing. The temperature is cooler. This, in my opinion, is the way to see these hugely impressive statues and structures. It’s so easy to Uber to one and walk to some others, and if you’re there a few nights, you can see them all. I just loved this part of the trip.
(This photo was taken when we walked from the Jefferson around to the FDR Memorial. The light shone so pretty through the trees as we meandered along the path.)
Watch the sunset and the planes fly low at Georgetown Waterfront Park. We heard from one of our Uber drivers that the most famous cupcake shop in D.C. was close to where he dropped us off for dinner one night in Georgetown. So, of course, you can probably guess what we did with that information. We purchased one Texas Sheet Cake (to see if they really knew what they were doing – lol) and an Almond Orange, walked two blocks down to the big stone steps on the water’s edge, cut those delicious cupcakes into 8 pieces and shared them, watching the sun setting over the Potomac River. The planes flew low over the water, banking right, over the trees, with only a minute or two between each one. It was so very pleasant and such a different experience for each of us.
(The backdrop of a sunset makes everybody smile – even if they’re not supposed to be in the picture.)
Speaking of cupcakes….
Based on the delicious food we had everywhere we went, I just don’t see how you could go wrong, no matter where you choose to eat in the nation’s capital (which is just exactly how you’ll find it here in the capital of Texas!). So, I won’t go on and on – I’ll just give you the straight skinny (so to speak) in the form my winning picks.
Best appetizer: Artichoke dip with crabmeat at Old Ebbitt Grill.
(So sorry, y’all! I know this is a terrible picture, but I couldn’t get everyone to move their hands and let me adjust the light! Yum. Also, Old Ebbitt Grill is a must if you want to really feel the Capitol-energy in the air. At any moment, someone recognizable could walk in, but, hey, if it’s between watching for political celebs or keeping your attention on the appetizers, there’s no contest. Make your reservations here.)
Best impromptu choice. We had intended to have a burger at Duke’s Grocery, but we were a little too far from there at dinner time, so we made a split-second decision, opting for a cultural experience at Ri Ra Irish Pub in Georgetown. Over fish and chips and shepherd’s pie, we relaxed and laughed and shared bites of everything with each other. We all loved this place!
(Shepherd’s Pie at Ri Ra is a ramped up, piping hot, melting-over-the-side delicious choice. We have a little bit of a fish and chips fetish in our family, though, so that was the majority choice, which did not disappoint.)
Best overall restaurant easily goes to Founding Farmers. The menu changes often, based on what’s in season and available. The restaurant doesn’t use any frozen food – everything is so fresh!
(Table after table starts out by ordering a small skillet of cornbread and honey butter to share. It’s absolutely delicious. And the made-from-scratch sodas? So refreshing and purely flavored. Our drink order: Two Arnold Palmers, three grapefruit sodas, and one muddled strawberry.)
Best dessert. Creme brulee and sparkling wine at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. What was once the old post office is now a luxury hotel, and the perfect place for a D.C. dessert. Since we walked over 15,000 steps each day, we didn’t feel one bit bad about sharing some creme brulee (my all-time fave) and cheesecake pops. Big, big thank you to the kid who treated the whole family to this one-of-a-kind vacation experience!
This trip to the United States Capital was the second time for each of us. Both of our girls went with their 8th grade teachers and classmates, but I’m afraid they don’t remember much more than who they sat beside on the bus! Our SOL went with his family once over the Christmas break. Mike and I were able to spend a weekend in D.C. a few years ago with our youngest, the one who is spending his 21st summer there now.
Maybe I’ll get a chance to see D.C. as many times as Mike has watched Tombstone, but I seriously doubt it.
If I did, though, it’s doubtful that I’d get tired of it at all. Yep, when it comes to traveling across the country to see some monuments and eat some delicious food, I’m your huckleberry.
Encouraging intentional adventure and a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of National History, where you can see the very flag that inspired Francis Scott Key,
PS: Here’s a list of more highly honorable mentions:
The Willard Intercontinental Hotel – Beautiful place to get a cold drink and watch the world go by
Duke’s Grocery – This place gets Keagon’s vote for Best Burger in D.C.
Le Diplomate – rated highly by food and travel bloggers
&pizza – 12 locations for very popular pizza