Wanderlust {Washington DC}

We’ve officially picked Washington DC as our big family trip for 2018!!!  I’ll admit, I feel a little overwhelmed with all there is to do and how to pick and choose the most interesting, fun, don’t-miss-that things.

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We will have 5 days in the city and have a hotel close to the White House.  Y’all have been spot on every single time I’ve asked for your suggestions so let’s hear them!!!

  • Where should we eat?
  • What do we HAVE to see / do?
  • What should we skip?
  • What are your best tips?
  • What do I need to do or book in advance?
  • Do we need a car?
  • Are there any particular city tours you would recommend?

As y’all know, we love adventure, history, and a good meal!

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51 thoughts on “Wanderlust {Washington DC}

  1. This will be such a fun trip! The boys will love it! I have no advice since I haven’t been since I was 13, but I know you will make the most of it. xoxo

  2. We LOVED our visit to Washington DC! Here are a few of my recommendations:

    – the Smithsonian museums tend to be busier on the weekends, so plan accordingly. Each is very unique, so find the ones that you and the boys would be most interested in. (For example, my husband had to pull me out of the Air & Space Museum and I had to pull him out of the WWII section of the Museum of American History.)
    – many of the monuments can be seen in one day, if you plan well. We also went up the Washington Monument and the views were spectacular! Make sure you get your tickets early (for later in the day).
    – check with your Congress person to see if they can get you a tour of the Capitol. So many fun facts and we were able to see the House of Representatives Chamber.
    – if you go to Arlington (which you should), it’s quite emotional so be prepared. It’s also a LOT bigger than you think – lots of walking! And don’t miss the changing of the guards.
    – you can’t get very close to the White House, but be sure to go to both sides!
    – the metro is also easy to use!

    1. We just got back from D.C. and the Washington Monument elevators are closed indefinitely for repairs. We were sad to miss this. The Spy Museum and Newseum are quite expensive in my opinion. Maybe we were just spoiled to the free admission everywhere else. (;

  3. Definitely go to Georgetown. If it’s a hot day, enjoy a frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity. Another great stop is DC Cupcakes. Order and pay ahead online. You will be so glad that you did because the line is always long! You’ll be able to walk right up to the counter – no waiting . Finally, a great restaurant with lots of DC history is Old Ebbitt Grill. The Spy Museum is a lot of fun and your boys would love it. My daughters liked it and they were in their mid-teens.!

  4. My husband and I went to DC this spring! It is a wonderful city!

    Places To Eat:
    Ted’s Bulletin- Fun atmosphere, amazing food, and wonderful homemade poptarts you can get to have for breakfast the next morning
    Old Ebbitt Grill- We ate breakfast here and it was great!
    Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken- This restaurant has the best doughnuts I’ve ever had!
    Food Trucks- At lunch time there are food trucks parked all over the national mall. It makes for a fun lunch and everyone can get exactly what they want!

    Things To Do:
    Washington Nationals Game- Since your boys love baseball, they will love this ballpark!
    Holocaust Museum- You have to get advance tickets for this!
    Monuments at Sunset/Night- The monuments themselves are beautiful but especially if you take them in at the prettiest part of the day!
    Cherry Blossoms- In the spring, the cherry blossom trees are in full bloom. Be sure to head to the Potomac River to see them. It is a gorgeous sight!
    Smithsonian Museums- All of these museums are fun and free!
    Georgetown- This is a small town outside of DC. It has lots of wonderful shops, good restaurants, and is home to Georgetown Cupcakes (TLC Show and the cupcakes are delicious).

    Things To Consider Skipping:
    National Zoo- The zoo is fun but we were there during Spring Break and it was extremely crowded. We had to wait in long lines multiple times to see several of the animals. I have also been too much prettier zoos.

    We drove to DC but did not use our car much. When a place was to far away to walk, we would use Uber. Parking is outrageously expensive in DC and there is a lot of traffic. The less you have to drive the better. Also, if you are staying near the White House, you will be able to walk to most places. Make sure everyone has good walking shoes!

    I can’t wait to see everything you plan! DC is my favorite city! Your family is going to love it!

  5. Exciting! Question: what time of year will you be there? That makes a difference in what you see and do.

    I wouldn’t rent a car. A ride-sharing service is so cheap compared to parking plus you get dropped at the door and you all get to enjoy the scenery rather than watching for an exit. You’ll be able to walk to a lot.

    We love all of the monuments but especially the Korean, the Natural History Museum, first ladies dress exhibit. Years ago the FBI had an amazing tour but I don’t think they offer it anymore.

  6. We just did D.C. for Spring Break! No, a car is not needed. We used local taxis around town and it was never more than $8 a ride. Hihky recommend the Moonlight Monuments Trolley Tour! We saw all the monuments lit up, it was stunning! It’s a hop off, hop on trolley tour that departs Union Station. I made our reservations the week of to ensure good weather. We also did the trolley tour inside Arlington National Cemetery. Again, hop on, hop off. We chose to hop off at the Kennedy’s grave and Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. The remaining we stayed on. The driver narrates the tour. My boys (10 and 13 enjoyed it). Afterwards, we took a taxi to Filamena’s in Georgetown for lunch. Wonderful Italian restaurant. As for museums, highly recommend you reserve a spot for the Lincoln Assasination Experience. You tour the theater, the museum, the home where he died and then an after Museum. For the Smithsonian of American History, download and bring with you the Top 10 Must Sees. This was invaluable. The museum is large and this tip sheet got us to the best items that we would have easily missed. My younger son loved seeing George Washington’s uniform. I loved the Pavillion housing the Star Spangled Banner. It’s sponsored by Ralph Lauren and it’s very well done. We also enjoyed a pit stop at the White House Visitors Center. We picked up the official Christmas ornament there. There is a $1 bus called the D.C. circulator that hits all the major stops around town. My only regret was running out of time to see the documents at the National Archives and the Bureau of Engraving so see money being made. Oh and don’t forget Georgetown Cupcakes! We couldn’t get in. The line was insane!

  7. Can’t wait to hear all about your trip bc we want to do the D.C. Trip too and like you, I’m a bit overwhelmed and not sure where to start!

  8. Be sure to have pie at Dangerously Delicious Pies.

    See the monuments both in the day and at night.

    Go to a baseball game.

    Take a hike in Rock Creek Park to get a break from the city.

    If you have any connections, get a private tour of the West Wing of the White House.

    Go to the Library of Congress which is a beautiful buildiing.

    Number one priority on the Smithsonian museum should be the American History Museum, and your boys would love the Air and Space Museum. I recommend the African American museum as a third choice but book tickets waaaaaay in advance).

    Eat at The Diplomat

    Our son and daughter-in-law live there, and we love it. Hope these help.

  9. We just went on a family trip there over the 4th of July, and our 8 & 6 year-olds loved it. I agree with many of the above comments, and just wanted to chime in on a few extra ones.

    Restaurants:
    Founding Farmers
    Old Ebbitt

    Tours:
    Bike and Roll– you can go on a tour or do a self-guided one. We rode bikes to all of the monuments during the day. Historical and adventurous and fun. Highlight for the girls. (We also saw the monuments at night. If you have time, try to do both!)

    Smithsonians–
    In addition to the already mentioned ones– the African American is the newest Smithsonian, and you have to register for tickets far in advance.

    Love Arlington and Georgetown and seeing the Capital through our local congresswoman. One additional place I would highly recommend is the Library of Congress. Simply amazing.

    Look into the Intl Spy Museum as a possibility.

    We ubered and rode the metro, walked and biked.

    Such a great trip. I hope you get to see the Cherry Blossoms!

  10. I was born in DC and have lived in the area all my life. The Spy Museum would be great for your boys — though it’s one of the few museums that has a charge. Be sure to do the “Operation Spy” adventure. It’s the closest thing to disney you’ll get in DC — “it’s a one-hour live action spy adventure. This adrenaline-fueled mission gives you the chance to become an intelligence officer on an international mission.” Also Astro Donuts & Fried Chicken seems right up your alley. The Zoo is also a great all day experience, and of course the Mall with all of the free Museums is a must. Email me when it’s close to your trip, I have a contact at Library of Congress that might be able to give you a tour.

  11. I lived there for 15 years. Eat at Old Ebbitts Grill. Go to a Nats game. Your boys will love it, they have fun food. My son was one of the running Presidents one year after college, make sure you watch them at the game. Get tickets from your congressman for the WH and the Capitol. Wander thru the Botanic Gardens next to the Capitol. Visit the 911 Memorial at the Pentagon and take the train tour at Arlington Cemetery. If you get a car, spend an afternoon at Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton VA (closest winery to the White House). Its a fun place to bring some snacks and drink good wine while the kids can run around. If you do go there, stop at the Pub in Clifton (the old gas station) for a bite. You won’t be disappointed. Ice cream parlor next door for dessert. Not sure when it starts but on Tues evenings (mostly in the summer), the Marine Corp Drill Team performs at the Iwo Jima

  12. We were just there over the Fourth of July this year. My kids are 11 and 14. Their favorite, actually was the national zoo though I know not other people on here enjoyed it. However on July 4 it was relatively empty. We stayed at the Mayflower, can’t recommend it enough in terms of walk ability. Somebody else voted for a meal at Ted’s Bulletin, definitely make that a priority. We got to watch Bedknobs and Broomsticks while we ate… and the Poptarts… yum! I think the Holocaust Museum is still too heavy for your kids, but I thought their children’s exhibit (Daniel’s Story) to be absolutely excellent. Have you and Honey put out a call, we had some connections so were able to bowl at the White House, technically the executive office building. Definitely a highlight! We did the White House tour the same day, my kids were surprisingly engaged with that. We did not spend enough time in the Smithsonian, they were all supremely crowded because it was very hot when we were there. We preferred walking around to see all of the monuments. I think out of everything memorial-wise we saw, the kids liked Jefferson with his eye on the oval office, and the 911 Memorial at the Pentagon best.

  13. Hi there! Long time reader, first time poster. I live in D.C. – in Georgetown – and there are some great recs posted here! I’ll leave out the monuments and museums as that’s covered above. The weather can change a lot from March to April as well as what’s open with outdoor activities. When is your spring break?

    More Georgetown recs:
    – Agree with ordering ahead for Georgetown Cupcake. Don’t waste time in that line :) Baked and Wired is also in Gtown and just as loved
    – If you want a quick, local eat (and HUGE sandwiches for the guys!) go to Stachowski’s Deli on P Street. Take your sandwiches and enjoy a picnic in Rose Park or Montrose Park if the weather is nice. You’ll see more of the neighborhood this way
    – M Street is super busy and a bit touristy, but no trip to D.C. is complete without walking around. Maybe an hour max as you’ll see lots of stores you have in Atlanta
    – Wisconsin Ave between P St. and Reservoir Road has a charming vibe that feels a little more local. This area is dotted with small restaurants, coffee shops, and local boutiques
    – The Georgetown Waterfont (just south of M street) is also nice to walk along with views of the river and the Kennedy Center
    – Rent kayaks at the Key Bridge Boat House – they open in mid April
    – My Gtown reliable restaurants: Chez Billy Sud (French and so charming) and il Canale (pizza)

    Do not rent a car. Uber/taxis are abundant and reliable.

    The metro is a pain on the weekends if you’re switching lines, but mostly reliable during the weekday…. rush hour is crazy but doable. Just be prepared for people running up and down the escalators! Union Station is beautiful and has a lot of fast casual food if you’re passing through.

    The bus system is great and cheap – especially the Circulator!

    14th Street/U Street have a ton of the best and happening restaurants and bars. Check in the spring to what’s opened and closed. I can’t even name a favorite because there. are. so. many. Le Diplomate, Pearl Dive, Lupo Verde, Ted’s Bulletin are just a few reliable staples. Check out https://dc.eater.com/ now and a few months before your trip. Email me with more questions! D.C. is big on brunch, too.

    Other areas with great restaurants – Shaw (All Purpose Pizza), Penn Quarter, Navy Yard, H Street

    If you want to get really adventurous with food, D.C. has great Ethiopian cuisine and it is DELICIOUS. A quick Google search will show you that. Gtown has Das, an Ethiopian restaurant, but there’s quite a few more in other neighborhoods!

    Enjoy!!

  14. The boys are at a great age for this kind of trip. Have to laugh, the last time I was there was for the 5th grade patrol trip!! We took Amtrak from Atlanta. Fun trip. I remember at that age loving the museums, monuments and our side trip to Mount Vernon.

      1. We’ve taken Amtrak’s Auto Train from VA-FL several times. Bring food! We were surprised to see people bring fried chicken and Chinese take out! We always being deli sandwiches. You can bring your own drinks and get ice onboard. Bring lots of snacks too.

        Wifi is hit or miss. You can lose it for several hours. Have movies downloaded on the boys iPads just in case. Card games will also save your sanity.

        Forgot to mention that the museums all have security similar to the airports TSA. During spring break, you may encounter lines as long as 30 mins to enter a museum. It’s due to the security. Once inside, it’s manageable. You are permitted to bring one bottle of water (I used my swell) and small prepacked snacks (nuts).

        You will need dining reservations. The restaurants all use Open Table.

        Yes! Read Shay Shull’s trip report on D.C.! She thought the Holocaust Museum was very well done for young children and felt the Spy museum was a waste of money. We decided to skip both. You should plan a minimum of 3 hours per Museum.

        Many attractions you can reserve entry tickets online for a small fee ($1-$3 per ticket) this is the way to go during spring break.

        Totally agree planning a D.C. Trip is very similar to planning WDW. My most challenging part was mapping it all out. You need to know which attractions are close to each other (many are!).

        We did the monument trolley tour specifically to knock out all the monuments in one evening. It was a huge time saver and really beautiful to see especially during twilight. We have stunning pictures of the sun setting on capital hill.

  15. Oh! How could I forget Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown?? Frequented by politicos for decades, and supposedly where JFK proposed to Jackie. You can sit in that booth :) Both locals and tourists love it. It’s a Georgetown staple! I think the food is decent, but you really go more for the atmosphere and history.

  16. Filomena’s (Pasta Mama) Restaurant in Georgetown. Walk the Eleanore Roosevelt memorial at dusk/dark. . I agree with the Spy museum.

  17. Longtime reader and DC native here. You’re picking a great time to visit! Spring break will be crowded, but MUCH more comfortable weather-wise than summer, and your boys are the perfect age! The best part about touring DC is that the vast majority of the attractions are free!

    Car is not at all necessary. Metro and Circulator buses are easy to use and the city is very walkable. Wear super comfortable shoes.

    Strongly agree with the recommendation to visit the monuments at night. It’s magical.

    U.S. Capitol and Library of Congress tours are well worth it, as is Ford’s Theater for history buffs. And you really shouldn’t visit DC without seeing the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives.

    Everyone visits Smithsonian Air & Space, American History, and Natural History museums for good reason. I’d also argue that you shouldn’t miss the new museum of African American History & Culture (book tickets now!), Holocaust Museum, and if you don’t do the National Gallery of Art, at least take a break in the outdoor sculpture garden. I’d generally recommend dining outside the museums, but if you have to dine in, the art gallery café and American Indian have better options than the others.

    The sheer vastness of Arlington National Ceremony, along with the Tomb of the Unknowns, are incredibly moving.

    I’d be more likely to recommend the zoo if your kids were younger. Spy Museum and Newseum are fine, but I’d prioritize the above first.

    The Georgetown neighborhood is architecturally beautiful and lovely to walk around, but expect to find many of the chain stores you’re used to from home. And Georgetown cupcake is famous with lines to match, but many locals prefer to visit Baked & Wired, Kafe Leopold or Café Bonaparte for crepes.

    The Potomac Riverboat Company operates between Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria, another beautiful historic neighborhood. You’ll get a lovely view of the monuments and the Kennedy Center from the river.

    Union Market is off the beaten path but a very popular food emporium. There’s local DC and official DC. It’s local DC.  Same goes for Eastern Market.

    Old Ebbit is very much an “official DC” classic. There are also lots of good dining options further up 14th Street from where you’ll be staying, roughly between P and V Streets. Ted’s Bulletin and Le Diplomate are good but generally quite crowded. Astro Chicken & Donuts is fabulous. Read some of Tom Sietsema’s reviews (he’s the Washington Post food critic) for ideas.

    Have a great trip! I think you all will love it. And happy to answer questions if you have any as you’re planning.

  18. All great selections and I too would not rent a car. I really enjoy the Hillwood Estate, the Marjorie Merriweather Post mansion that was turned in to a museum and gardens. Lots of pretty but the boys may be bored. Have a great time reseaching!

  19. I would not miss Arlington cemetery or the memorials. In the summer, there are twilight tattoos that you can book in advance at some of the military installations. They are fantastic and give a sense of military history. They also have helicopters and such on sight that the boys can check out. We also liked the parade at the marine corps barracks. Both of those you need tickets in advance. Definitely go to a Nats game. (One of our favorite things to do in the city.) And we loved Mount Vernon. The Air and Space Museum is great. We liked the one further out from DC a little better, but they are both good. We also liked the Museum of Natural History. We also went to the United States Naval Observatory, which we loved. You need to get reservations in advance. I think we booked it months out, but cannot recall. I would also visit the National Cathedral. It has great architecture. DC is such a great city, you will have so much fun!!

  20. Depending upon your Spring Break dates, you might be in DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival. It is beautiful! A fun place to have lunch or early dinner (to watch the sunset) is the rooftop terrace at the Hotel Washington. You get an awesome semi-aerial view of the White House and Treasury Building. Make sure to do Air and Space, and if you have kids who really love space/NASA go out to the overflow for the Air and Space out near Dulles Airport. Take the metro (during non-rush-hours)- my kids always liked that.

  21. All of these recommendations are “spot on.” The National Cathrdral is fascinating but I believe I enjoyed it more than my 3 boys. There is also an admission fee. My 3 guys (16,14,12) also love to visit Quantico. But they are very much into all things associated with “the Bureau” since every friend & neighbor we have is affiliated with the FBI. Also, we love to take Amtrak into NYC. It’s only a few hours away from DC … just something to consider 😉
    There are a few maranthons occurring in the spring. My crew plans to run in the RockNRoll half on March 10th. You may want to see if there are festivals or activities overlapping your visit so you can plan to avoid or participate.

  22. Check out Shay Shull’s (Mix and Match Mama) posts on her family’s vacation to DC during spring break this year. It was so helpful!

  23. We visit DC often as our daughter lives on Capitol Hill. I agree with much of the previous suggestions– contact your US Senator or Congressman for a private guided tour of the Capitol and also for the contact to tour the White House. You can get tickets online for the Washington Monument — highly recommend doing this. Mount Vernon is great– beautiful Drive also– you can get a tour there– even one down the Potomac. Arlington is a must– take the tour– Fords Theatre and museum very interesting. Eastern Market on Saturday and Sunday mornings is fun– eat homemade Pop Tarts at Teds Bulletin– they have a great “adult” milkshake! Tunniclifs for brunch– awesome Bloody Mary’s and fabulous crab dishes. For burgers Good Stuff near the Capitol is wonderful– don’t miss the seasoned fries. We love Medium Rare on Barracks Row– great steak at a reasonable price — and fun! District Taco can’t be beat for a quick bite of Mexican. We also have enjoyed the DC free walking tours– fun and you pay what you want afterwards. My advice for the Smithsonians is make a list of what you absolutely have to see and do those things first– it can be overwhelming — especially for young children– but they can learn sooo much!!! Washington is one of my family’s favorite places– I know you will have a blast‼️🇺🇸🇺🇸

  24. Planning DC is like planning WDW, you need to research and know the dates things open up to get tickets. I think the WA monument will still be closed next year for it’s refurb. Tours you can schedule yourself I would. I tried to go through my congress person for a Pentagon tour in May and by the time they got back to me with the link, the same I could have gotten myself, the tours were full. I’ve always arraigned tours and tickets myself for prior trips and learned my lesson this time.

    There’s a monuments tour on the Potomac that is really neat, it’s also seen as a water taxi and you can take it a few different places. I think the zoo is worth it because of the Panda’s. If you’ve seen panda’s elsewhere then it’s not much different from other zoos. Udvar Hazy Air and Space museum is great and out by Dulles so it might be out of the way. Look for docent tours, they are free and a great way to see a lot of stuff in a shorter time. I’ve done them at Air & Space, Library of Congress (Can’t recommend this one enough and there’s sports connections/frescoes they’ll love) and Udvar Hazy.

    The African American History Museum is good, and will probably still be crowded. Do the downstairs first, it’s set up as a great walk through. If you don’t have time, while the upstairs is great some is repeated and it’s more pop culture than history. Holocaust museum is also very well set up, you each get a passport and will be prompted when to read it. Some of those people die and others make it through. I don’t know if it will be good for both boys, I’m not a parent, so I would read up on it more. While it’s all emotional and disturbing the smells got to me the most.

    I would do the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, it’s so cool getting to see and learn how money is printed. I don’t think you can get tickets early and have to get them first thing in the morning. Their site explains it all.

    There are some great apps the Smithsonian has one that gives info on the museums and their hours. It’s important to see what museums have stuff closed or what special exhibits they might have. Also handy if you finish some place early and want to see if there’s anything close by. The national parks also has a good one for the monuments. I was able to use it this last trip to plot my path to see what I hadn’t seen in previous trips. The FDR one is amazing.

    As with WDW, you won’t be able to do it and see it all in one trip. I’ve gone 4 times and am mostly to the point that I feel like I’ve seen everything and can start repeating some things.

  25. Jazz brunch at Georgia Brown’s is fantastic! We have been to D.C several times and only on our last trip did we make it to the Library of Congress- one of our favorite things!

  26. Long-time reader and another DC-area local! Lots of good recs above.
    -Would echo Arlington Cemetery as a must-do. It’s a moving experience for all ages.
    -Skip the hype at Georgetown Cupcake and go for Baked & Wired.
    -All-Purpose in Shaw for great family-friendly eats.
    -Contact your local Congressman’s office to see if you can get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Capitol building.
    -Monuments at night is the way to see them!
    -It sounds like you might be a bit early for baseball season, but if not, definitely get to a Nats game.
    Have a wonderful time!

  27. Exciting and the boys are the perfect age! When you say Spring break I hope that’s when the Cherry Blossoms are blooming. Expect big crowds around the tidal basin during that time especially on the weekends.

    I think the boys would enjoy the Air & Space Museum, the Spy Museum and the Museum of American History the most. You can do the monuments later in the evening especially at night when they are lit up. I think a side trip to Mount Vernon and Georgetown would be great also.

    I would skip the Zoo as in my opinion its not the prettiest and often very crowded. I think someone else mentioned requesting tickets for a White House Tour from you congressman. Just remember that needs to be done usually at least 6 months in advance. Have Fun!! Glad you guys aren’t going in the summer as DC can be very hot & humid.

  28. So exciting! We took the kids to DC a few years ago and have been planning to go back one of these days. Here is the link to those posts – http://calypsointhecountry.blogspot.com/2013/08/washington-dc-with-boys.html
    http://calypsointhecountry.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-w.html
    We drove to DC but we didn’t use the car the whole time we were there. There are two Air and Space Museums – one in the city and one about a half hour out of the city. I think you can get public transportation to the one outside the city but if not, that would be the only reason I could see you needing a car.
    Contact your congressman if you want to get a tour of the White House. They accept requests starting 6 months before your visiting date but they only allow a limited number so apply as soon as you hit the 6 month mark. (or possibly before depending on your representative.) Last year we thought about going to DC for a weekend and I applied for a White House tour about 2 or 3 months beforehand but got declined because they were filled. We ended up not going to DC that weekend anyway.
    Good luck with all the planning. It looks like you have a ton of suggestions above. There really is SO much to see!
    Shelley

  29. My husband took both my sons on their fifth grade field trip to DC. He said to make sure you see the Holocaust Museum and Daniel’s story. It is the Holocaust seen through the eyes of a young boy. He loved Mt. Vernon and all the other stuff, but said this was a most moving experience. One day they ate lunch at the Native American Museum at the Smithsonian. He said the menu was very diverse. Not necessarily good, but diverse…

  30. My girls are near your age and we took them on spring break in 6th grade! So it’s been awhile. You’ve got lots of good suggestions, and I would echo the no rental car. All the big things to see are fairly close together – one of our favorite things was to pick up sandwiches at union station and walk to the mall to find a shady spot to eat lunch. We had the dubious advantage of going the spring break when the gulf war first started. The town was deserted. Every tour guide commented on the lack of lines everywhere we went. My favorite was the National Cathedral – I remember we took the subway. 😬 We have been back since for a wedding and took a moonlight cruise. The monuments are beautiful at night. Have fun!

  31. We have been living in Maryland for 10 years now and our favorite spot is Mount Vernon! You will love the history there and find it quite different from any Southern plantation homes you have visited. We love going to the wine festival they do twice a year for a date night but they offer a ton of family friendly activities as well. We’re actually taking our 6 year old son for the first time soon as he’s been asking to visit!

    Also, the Sunday Jazz Brunch at Georgia Brown’s is fantastic! It can be a bit loud but the food is wonderful! There is a buffet and a served entrée-we end up only eating the buffet and taking our plated meal home for dinner! As a fellow Georgia girl born and raised and I can promise you won’t be disappointed :)

    Other restaurants we enjoy are Lincoln (small plates), Birch & Barley and Good Stuff (amazing burgers and shakes-if you watch Top Chef this is owned by Spike Mendelsohn). Truthfully we are not big fans of the Old Ebbitt Grill but it is just one of those places you need to visit in DC and see for yourself! Also, I would agree with all of the Filomena recs-all of our friends rave about it but we haven’t been yet (we really need to get there!).

    One last recommendation though I admit this one is more for the adults, is visiting the Northern VA wineries. There are actually some nice vineyards producing some lovely wines in the area. For this you would need a car though.

  32. We just got back from another trip to DC. Our kids, 11 & 14, love DC! There is too much to do in one trip, which is why we’ve taken several trips over the years. Lots of walking and a car isn’t needed. If you stay outside DC, pick a hotel near the metro line. It’s easy to use.

    Our girls loved:
    1) Capitol building tour, White House tour, Supreme Court tour (Contact your senators and congressman via their websites to request tickets ASAP.) All 3 tours are excellent and educational. Via your senator and congressman you may request tickets for other tours too. (I’d skip the Bureau of Engraving tour – unimpressive.)
    2) We loved the Newseum & Spy Museum (cost for both, but worth it.) The Newseum has a memorial for 911, which was emotional to tour for my husband and me. Both museums are fun for the kids.
    3) Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, is worth the trip! Our kids loved it! The Behind the Scenes tour was fantastic and educational. The tour guides are exceptional. I enjoyed the Garden and Grounds tour – my kids – not so much. We didn’t get to do the Slavery on a Plantation tour, but wanted too. You do need to rent a car for the day. It’s a picturesque drive.
    4) Tour any and all monuments/memorials – day and night.
    5) African American History Museum – wonderful and we learned a lot we never knew. Tickets are very, very hard to get though.
    6) National Archives – to see the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights is inspiring.
    7) Holocaust Museum – We visited this museum when the girls were 7 & 10. I was hesitant to take them to this museum, but I am glad we did. We were also able to shield them from the parts that weren’t age appropriate for them. The tour begins on the top floor, which explains how Hitler came to power, what lead up to WWII and how the holocaust came to be. The middle floor provides a history of the holocaust. Graphic materials are hidden behind walls, so parents can choose what children see. We whisked our girls through the middle floor. The bottom floor shares inspirational stories of the camp liberations & those who helped save, protect and rescue those persecuted. Daniel’s Story is worth experiencing too. We were deeply touched by our experience.
    8) Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, is great to visit. The home sits beautifully on the Potomac River.
    9) Arlington National Cemetery – must see the Changing of the Guards.
    10) Any of the Smithsonian museums or art galleries.

    I stopped at 10 suggestions, but could certainly recommend more sites to see and tour. If your family loves history, you’ll enjoy DC. The kids learn a lot while having fun.

    1. Oh yeah. Forgot to add Colonial Williamsburg. Need to stay for a few days. It’s worth the trip. Our kids loved it and keep asking to go back. Definitely stay on property to be immersed in the experience. We stayed at the Williamsburg Inn and it was lovely.

  33. Agreed that you won’t need to rent a car if you plan to stay in DC. But, if you do decide to go that route, there are some fabulous historical sites within driving distance in Virginia. Of note, Monticello, Ash Lawn, UVA in Charlottesville, and James Madison’s home, Montpelier, nearby. Also, Jamestown and Williamsburg if you are up for a bit further drive. Udvar-Hazy in Chantilly has already been mentioned here.

    Have a fun trip!

  34. Agreed that you won’t need a car if you plan to stay in DC. However, if you do decide to go that route, there are some fabulous historical sites to explore within driving distance in Virginia. Of note, Monticello, Ash Lawn, UVA in Charlottesville, and James Madison’s home, Montpelier, nearby. Also, Jamestown and Williamsburg if you are up for a slightly longer drive. Udvar-Hazy in Chantilly has already been mentioned here, but is highly recommended as well.

    Have a fun trip!

  35. Just a few recommendations to add to the above…

    I would try to visit National Cathedral. Make sure to follow the self-guided tour, as there are so many little details that could be missed otherwise, and visit the gardens as well. And for Disney lovers, look out for the Darth Vader gargoyle :)

    Old Town Alexandria is also beautiful and full of history, not to mention cute boutiques and great restaurants. You can get there by Metro, and walk or use the free trolley to get around. The scavenger hunt may be fun for the boys, and take you around to some of the sights.

    Finally, I’d throw in a visit to the restaurant Coco Sala if you can. I mean, it’s a restaurant specializing in chocolate, so what’s not to love? Brunch is great, or try the dessert tasting menu. I would reserve ahead of time.

  36. Woo my neck of the woods! My number one tip is, of course, to add a day and spend it 45 minutes north of the city in Frederick. It has the most charming Downtown you’ve ever seen and a ton of great things to do.

    If you aren’t planning to head to Frederick you do not need a car. DC has one of the cleanest and most easy to navigate metro systems in the country. They also have Uber, Lyft, and are walkable in many areas.

    Spend some time on the national mall. My favorite museum is American history, but Natural History and Air and Space are great too. All are free and easy to walk between.

    Eat at Old Ebit Grill for great history and tasty food. My very favorite restaurant is Founding Farmers.

    A great way to see Georgetown is on a cupcake tour! Lots of history mixed with lots of eating.

    Take a White House tour but be warned that you will only see a few rooms and you will wait in several crazy lines. You need advance tickets for this.

    I will send more recommendations as I think of them. I’m so excited, you are going to love this area so much!

  37. Two more things to add :)

    As much as I love Monticello, it is not close and convenient to where you will be. You really need a separate trip for that area, which is beautiful and worthy of its own several days. I’d recommend skipping this on a first time several day trip to DC. If you want to see a presidential home, head to Mount Vernon which is very close by and equally fun.

    If you pay for any museum (and you really shouldn’t have to) make it the newseum. This museum of news and press is enthralling, appropriate for all ages, and offers a one of kind rooftop view of the Capitol.

  38. We took our boys on this trip when they were young and I lived in DC when I was just out of college. Call your Congressman/Senator tomorrow!!! to see about tickets to the gallery if they will be in session when you are there. They can also give you White House tickets but honestly that tour is not great and takes a lot of time. Two “sleeper” tours that your boys would probably enjoy are The Bureau of Printing and Engraving (The Mint) and the Library of Congress. My boys loved the Spy Museum and my younger son could have used a little more prep on the fact that there were no gift shops since he had mostly only been to WDW at that age!!

  39. Long time reader, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented!
    Agree with not getting a car. Between the metro, Uber, and walking, you’ll be fine. Founding Farmers, Le Diplomate, Hank’s Oyster Bar, Medium Rare (great for boys because they give you a second helping of steak and fries for free!), and the Dabney are great restaurants. Download the Open Table app and make sure to get reservations though!!
    Hit up the monuments at night…not as crowded, and they are beautiful!
    I HIGHLY recommend going to Mount Vernon. It is so well maintained and amazing that it is George Washington’s home. If you do go to Mount Vernon, tack on the “National Treasure Tour”. It is not much more, and me (30), my husband (31), brother-in-law (33), and sister-in-law (28) thought it was pretty cool. We also just rode the metro out there and back. Have a great trip! http://www.mountvernon.org/plan-your-visit/admission/national-treasure-tour/

  40. We just got back from a two day trip to DC. As many have mentioned, we did a night time monument tour which included the Washington monument, WW2 memorial, Lincoln Memorial and Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
    We also did the White House tour which we really enjoyed. We got in line at 10:30 for our 11am scheduled tour and were out by 12. https://www.nps.gov/whho/planyourvisit/the-white-house-tour.htm. You can request tickets 3 months from the date you want, but I only got confirmation about 10 days before the date.
    We did a tour of the Capital through our representative’s office and enjoyed this as well. It lasted about 1 and a half hours.
    There is so much to do and enjoy. Lots of walking! My 3 boys all enjoy it even though they are older than yours.

  41. Skip the zoo unless you just really want to see the pandas. I would definitely take the bus tour when you get to Arlington that allows you to hop on and off and see the highlights of the cemetery. As an eighth grade teacher, I think the Holocaust Museum is too much for your children at their current ages. Daniel’s Story, which many have suggested, is better for them and you do not need a ticket for entry to that (I don’t think), but there are so many other things to see and do in DC. I personally would come back another time when they are older to experience the full museum. If you do decide to go to the Holocaust museum, those tickets can be reserved and sometimes are all gone a year in advance! The Spy Museum would be FUN for them. If you want to see the Washington Monument, I would order tickets online in advance and pay the small processing fee so you don’t have to go early and pick up your tickets. It’s great that you are staying close to the White House if you plan to tour that because you are VERY limited in what you can take in there and there are no lockers to hold your things. When I traveled with a friend a few years we walked there for our morning tour and then had to walk back to the hotel to pick up our purses and cameras for the rest of the day. The rules may have changed by now, but check! I really like the tour of the Capitol. You can reserve these tickets online too. I took several trips before visiting Ford’s Theater, and I’m not sure why. It was fun. And the National Archives . . . the list could go on and on . . . one visit is never enough!

  42. I haven’t been to D.C. In awhile but the one thing I would not miss is the changing of the guard in Arlington Cemetary. Make sure the boys know the history and meaning of this monument. As an adult it will bring tears to your eyes as it’s a very poignant moment. It is so silent during the change you can hear a pin drop!

  43. From the huge list of restaurants and museums that have been recommended I can only add a few things that my family of 2 boys and one girl enjoyed. They loved The DC Ducks tours. https://www.dcducks.com/ We laughed and heard more fun facts on this tour…ie. Why do the guard statues have shields at top the train station? Of course the boys were over-the-moon when the boat/truck went into the Potomac River.
    Go in the train station and see the beautiful architecture of the ceiling. It is breath taking.
    At the Arlington National Cemetery, we watched the Changing of the Guards at the tomb of The Unknown Soldier. Very educational and again something my guys really enjoyed and talked about for months. The view of the city from the cemetery is remarkable. There is a map that shows how the city was developed. They also wanted to see a few of the presidential graves.
    The Old Post Office Tower had the best view of Pennsylvania Avenue but I heard that Trump bought it and converted it into a hotel.
    Going to see the monuments at night is also very special.
    Contacting your Senator is a must because, if available, the aides that will give you private tours of the underground train system and make tour of the capitol so personal.
    Enjoy!

  44. Hi Amanda! I’m Meghan, a fellow native Georgian as well and have lived in Washington, D.C. for six years.
    For Capitol tours, be sure to contact Senator Perdue or Isackson’s office. Staff give much better tours than the Capitols Visitor Center public tours. They can also connect you with a White House tour, which I’d schedule ASAP!
    For food, a few of my favorite places are Ted’s Bulletin (homemade pop tarts and boozy milkshakes!), Cava Mezze (Mediterranean small plates), Good Stuff Eatery (best burgers, fries and shakes I’ve ever had, also owned by Top Chef Spike Mendelsohn). For a nice meal, I highly recommend Filomena in Georgetown (best Italian I’ve ever had). They also have little ladies handmaking pasta in the window. It is more of a date-nighty place.
    I think the monuments are better at night, especially the Korean War and WWII memorials. If you’re renting a car, you can park pretty close and walk to those, Lincoln, and Vietnam. Definitely check out Arlington Cemetery and Iwo Jima (USMC memorial). It’s larger than life! Arlington has trolleys that make several stops throughout the cemetery.
    I’d also take a tour of the Pentagon. You can schedule a free tour through their website. They do background checks, so that takes a few weeks to complete.
    For the boys, I’d recommend a DC Ducks tour. They are so much fun, and adults will enjoy too!
    Finally, unless you really want the novelty of taking Metro, I’d Uber everywhere (if you’re not renting a car). By the time you buy metro passes for everyone, it is usually more expensive to metro over Uber.
    I work on Capitol Hill and would love to meet you in person when you’re up this way. I just adore your Disney-focused blogs! We go to WDW several times a year. :)

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