Our Nations Capitol ..Washington D.C. ! For the past 8 years we have been blessed to live just 90 miles south of the capital of the United States of America. While we happen to be living here, we have been trying to take advantage of our close proximity to the vast array of sights and activities. Seat of our government, it’s the heartbeat of this Nation ! The District of Columbia encompasses only 69 square miles and is bordered by Virginia to the South and Maryland to the North . Most of the buildings are made of white marble and are all low lying ( not a skyscraper in sight ! ) This is an exciting city filled with people of many nations, the countries best museums, government head quarters, tourist sights, incredible history, and where our money is printed. Being a large family ( 9 of us ), we need to be resourceful and find as many free and inexpensive activities as possible! Washington D.C. happens to have most of it’s tourism geared towards all destinations being free. The only challenge is in parking. Getting in and out of the city is easy if you don’t count rush hour traffic . This always needs to be taken into consideration. We take day trips, so I can’t give any examples on hotel accommodations just yet.
It’s very difficult to decide on our 5 favorite locations to see in Washington D.C. There is so much to do in this exciting area. I’ll just mention some of the places we have visited so far.
Not to be ignored by any age is the National Mall which is a 2 mile long expanse of Monuments, parks and Museums. This rectangular area is marked by the Lincoln Memorial on the East end facing the Capital Reflecting Pool and the Capitol Building at the West end. This is a good hike..146 acres to explore ! Don your best walking shoes ( I learned this the hard way this summer! ) We make sure that our kids ( and our foreign exchange students ) wear comfortable clothes and good shoes . If you are taking small ones ( 6 and under) take along the stroller . Along the Mall you can walk to visit the main monuments and government buildings: The Lincoln, The Washington, The Capitol Building, the various war memorials ( Vietnam Wall, Korean , WW I and WW II ) and most of the Smithsonian Museums ( including the Smithsonian Castle which houses the visitors center.) All of our kids ( right now ages 9-21), enjoy all of the sights. Once we were able to get a private tour of the Capitol Building ( 2nd oldest public building in DC, the White House is the oldest) by our Congressman Eric Cantor’s office ( he is our nations current House Leader). By appointment, we were led through the underground tunnels that lead from his office to the Capitol Building and got to sit in on a live session in The House and Senate Chambers to witness some legislation in action! Another time my two oldest daughters and I were privileged to attend a film screening at the Capitol Theater and got to meet and chat with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. !
With all the walking we do, stopping and resting on the cool white marble steps of the monuments is a good idea. We sit to people watch and plan our next destination. For eats and drinks, we pack backpacks with food and water from home. There are not too many choices for eating along the Mall. Our kids are content to eat our food on the Mall lawn and watch the gatherings of impromptu soccer and frisbee games that seem ubiquitous in this park ! A few times a year, we take in foreign exchange students. This is a perfect field trip destination for them. We get to be cultural ambassadors for these kids ! Some of these photos show a guest we had from France this past summer.
THE SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS
All free..most times that is a prerequisite for our large family ! We do drive around in circles for a while to find a place to park on the streets ( pay attention to the signs..we got ticketed for not leaving the spot by 4 pm outside the Museum of Natural History). The most popular museums for our family are :
The National Museum of American History, 1400 Constitution ave. See Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Edith and Archie Bunker’s chairs from All in the Family sitcom, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Thomas Edison’s electric light bulb and the first record player. But the most impressive to us is the room that holds the Star Spangled Banner ! The flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore , Md. during the British attack in the War of 1812 ! As it is for most all of the Museums, you will need many hours to really see all that is on display.
The Natural History Museum, 10th st. and Constitution ave. Our kids always want to head to this museum first. Thousands of real, but stuffed, : animals ( greeting you upon entrance is the 13 foot tall African Bush elephant), insects ( gigantic cockroaches), marine life ( giant squid found off the coast of Spain), dinosaurs ( an 80 foot long Diplodoccus), human mummies, the Hope diamond and Moon rocks ! This place can get pretty crowded if you are visiting during the summer or on school breaks. Because we home educate, we can go on a weekday and off season. Being able to let our kids spend as long as they like to view and read about each display makes such a difference in what they can learn. If we go on a weekend in the summer, I don’t get to see any of the sights..I am keeping a close eye on my kids the whole time !
The National Air and Space Museum, Independence av. between 4th and 7th st. I grew up with the American Space Program from it’s very beginnings due to my fathers work( 1st landing on the Moon all the way through to the Space Station, and the government Aeronautics industry.. F-14 fighter jets..some sold to Iran back in the mid 70′s and because of that, we got to live there for 3 years ! ) So this museum is an exciting one for us ! See up close the Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk and the command module of the Apollo 11. There is a more recent Air and Space museum now located near the Dulles airport that holds a Concord and a Space Shuttle ! These are very impressive destinations and there is an incredible amount to see.
Of course, there are so many more museums in D.C. that are just amazing: U.S. Botanic Gardens ( live plant species from around the world) , National Galley of Art ( da Vinci, Rembrandt , Georgia O’Keeffe) National Museum of African Art ( bronze sculptures of Nigerian Kings), U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum ( replica of a Jewish ghetto), National Archives ( Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are all on display here.) My kids love this place due to the ” National Treasure” films. What an education we all get going to these museums !
THE NATIONAL ZOO and THE WHITE HOUSE
Not to confuse the two : )
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my ! The National Zoo is also free ( but parking makes up for it..$22 for the day) We try to find a free spot on the street and just hike over to the Zoo. Here too, we pack our own food from home. Sounds dull, I know, but because we visit there so frequently, we need to make it affordable. There are so many delicious and diverse restaurants in D.C. , and we have been to some. Just can’t do it every time ( remember there are 9 of us and our exchange students on occasion : ) Here at the Zoo you can see the orangutan crossings over head, the panda village, replicas of most of the world regions with their indigenous animals, birds, reptiles and plant life. It’s a very pleasant and well designed zoo. Our kids can spend the whole day here. One of my friends teenaged guest from Provence, France, visited the zoo with her and her family. After the excursion she asked him what he thought of the place. ” This was the first time I have seen an American Bison”…then she finds out he has been on safari in Tanzania, Africa..whoop dee doo American zoo : ) At least he was very gracious.
The White House ( 1600 Pennsylvania ave. ) is directly across and in walking distance from the Washington monument. It was originally called the Presidents House and has 132 rooms. Depending on what is happening at the moment in regards to national security or if the President or someone from his family are out on the lawn, blockades are now put up so that your view is much further back. Usually we are able to get right up to the front iron fence to look at the house ( and of course take pictures). Not much else to do after that at the spot. To get a tour now of the inside, you need to apply for free tickets online and it could be a 6 month wait. We have never been inside yet. But it is a good idea to at least go and see it with your kids. It faces the Ellipse park that is an enjoyable circular walk that contains a few more memorials and always seems to have some sort of live Military activity ; U.S. Army Drill Team and Band and The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. Concerts on the Ellipse are also free ! Mid April you can see the Cherry Tree blossoms and enjoy many of the festivities.
TOO MANY MORE FAVORITES !
Much to learn too at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. Hard to believe when you see how our currency bills are printed..huge stacks of paper money ( really made of cotton and linen) being printed right in front of you. Sufficed to say, NO cameras are allowed to be used in the entire building ( only in the gift shop ). This is a facility that you and your kids won’t forget ( and it’s free too, you just need to check in up front to get tickets for a certain time during the day in advance). We saw a funny sign that read, to this effect, “Free $20 bills as a souvenir being given out tomorrow” After our whole tour with a guided speaker, when asked if we had any questions, my husband asked ” Who wrote Little Women?” ( family joke ..my husband always asks that question any where we go ) A lady next to us started cracking up when he said that : )
We have yet been to Arlington Cemetery, the National Cathedral, Fords Theater, up inside the Washington Monument, The National Geographic Museum, The Library of Congress and so many other great places that I can’t list with out writing a travel brochure ! I will post more stories and photos as we experience them. Hope that you all get the opportunity to see our beautiful nations Capital !
May God continue to Bless America !
Please feel free to share with us your comments and stories about family travel ( to D.C. or elsewhere). If we can help you with any questions in regards to our travel destinations, we will try to answer them. Peace !
For more interesting and helpful stories about favorite destinations, read these following articles from other travel loving families !
South Australia – Amy Page – Livin On The Road
The Holy Land: Israel- Gabi Klaf- The Nomadic Family
Sunset Coast, Michigan, USA – Jessie Voigts – WanderingEducators.com (twitter @WanderingEds)
Vancouver, B.C. Canada-Jess Farrugia – With 2 Kids In Tow
Costa Rica- Mary-Bohemian Travelers
Brisbane, Australia – Tracy – OurTravelLifestyle