A Little Time and a Keyboard: 24 Hours in Washington DC {for Families}

24 Hours in Washington DC {for Families}

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Last week, we tagged along with my husband to Washington, D.C. during the ADA Convention. My daughter and I were able to skip the convention {sorry, hubby} and spend an entire day exploring Washington, D.C. With some planning, we found out that we were able to cover plenty of ground in 24 hours. Of course, there is a ton more to see. But, I feel like we had a very well-rounded visit and learned quite a bit while having plenty of giggles and bonding moments along the way!

Planning ahead

Before our trip, we planned out our wishlist allowing us to prioritize, determine musts and identify places we would like to see but could eliminate if need be. We planned with consideration of the location of attractions as well. Many of the monuments in DC look magical at night so we also booked an evening tour.

We stayed in the city for two nights and I do recommend arriving the night before your adventure in DC so that you are able to wake up refreshed and ready to maximize the day. We settled into our hotel early enough in the evening to take a brief walk to the Mall and determine our path the next day. Our hotel was not far from the White House, making tackling the Mall the next day pretty easy.

Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Lee and Grant's chairs
Grant and Lee's chairs from Appomattox .

We began our morning at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History which opens at 10AM. If you are an early riser you can check out some of the monuments beforehand. We arrived right at 10AM which may have been a bit of a mistake as there was a large line for security. I think if we would have arrived a little later, the line would have been shorter. The National Museum of American History is large, so depending on your length of time there you may also want to make a museum "must" list. Our highlights:
  • Seeing the First Ladies' dresses and china patterns. Several First Ladies are profiled more heavily and we enjoyed learning more about each and seeing additional artifacts.
  • The sections on the American Revolution and Civil War were very in depth. We enjoyed these but felt the other wars could be a little more fleshed out.
George Washington's uniform
George Washington's uniform.
  • Seeing the Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired our national anthem.
  • The stunning number of artifacts from not only iconic moments of American history but also from pop culture.
Ruby slippers
Dorothy's ruby slippers!
  • Finding MANY made in the U.S.A. souvenir items at the gift shops including chocolate made based on an 1800's recipe--yum!
The National Mall

After, we wandered the mall and visited memorials. We headed directly over to the Washington Monument which was absolutely glorious during the sunny day. From there, we headed to the WWII Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial and WWI Memorial. Highlights:
  • Spending some time sitting by the Constitution Gardens Pond and the Reflecting Pool. 
  • Walking along the Vietnam War Memorial always impresses upon us the sacrifices that has been made. To this day, so many are still visiting, rubbing names and leaving mementos to the fallen. My father served two tours in Vietnam so this really touches me.
Vietnam War Memorial
Vietnam War Memorial
  • Taking the hike up to the Lincoln Memorial. Somehow bounding up the marble stairs to see Mr. Lincoln feels entirely monumental. The statue is immensely impressive and the view from the memorial is captivating. There also is a museum at the base of the Lincoln Memorial to peruse.
Lincoln Memorial
  • The Korean War Memorial was another of our favorites. Soldiers symbolically walk through the rice paddies of Korea bringing the specter of war alive. 
Korean War Memorial
Korean War Memorial

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

As you can imagine, we needed a bit to eat after exploring for several hours. We decided to finish our day at the National Air and Space Museum, so we started heading in that direction. There are food trucks throughout the area if you would like to have a quick bite. There also are a number of quick snack pavilions in the Mall. We opted to eat in the Smithsonian Castle where we found a quick service with plenty of fresh food items such as sandwiches, salads, cheese plates and more.

The Dauntless
The Dauntless.
Viewing the National Air and Space Museum through its windows on the Mall is awe-inspiring! Planes, satellites, lunar craft, hot air balloons and more can be viewed. Of course, a step inside is a must!
  • This is a museum of aviation, so be prepared to look up to see some craft in 'action!'
  • There are many hands-on experiences in the museum as well as opportunities to check out cockpits and more.
  • We really enjoyed the Golden Age of Flight exhibit where we learned about the age of air racing and acrobatics back in the '20's and '30's.
  • My daughter's favorite exhibition was on exploring the planets that had a model relating the sizes of each planet.
  • WWII fighter planes, Apollo 11 and The Spirit of St. Louis were also highlights!
Apollo 11
Apollo 11
A respite before an evening tour

We were pretty wiped after this part of our adventure, so we headed back to the hotel for a little rest before our night tour. On the way, we walked through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden which was a pretty calm space off of the nosier area of the Mall. Our evening tour of DC was one of our favorite tours ever! Be on the lookout for a future post specifically on this tour!

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
A walk through the Sculpture Garden.
Things to know
  • As a parent, I am always looking for restrooms. We, of course, took advantage of them in the museums. There are several throughout the Mall as well and some at the base of the Lincoln Memorial. They do close late in the evening just in case you are out admiring the lights.
  • If you would like to climb the Washington Monument reserve your tickets in advance to assure a time. There is a fee.
  • Bring some snacks and water bottles with you. That way, you can stop for a more formal snack or meal at your leisure and maximize time just being in DC!
  • The Smithsonian Museums are free and absolutely amazing adventures for families!
  • There is SO MUCH to see and enjoy in DC that each visit, even for a day here and there can be unique!
  • There is always a possibility of a demonstration, so keep your eyes out. There was one during our visit with photos that we did not want our child to see. Fortunately, we saw it quick enough to avoid it.

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