Monday, July 9, 2018

Visiting and Touring Washington, D.C. with kids

After having spent 22 years in Washington, D.C. we get asked often to help people plan a trip to D.C. ... and I love doing it!  Of course, so much depends on each person's interests, ages and number of kids, and budget, but here's my generic "how to plan a trip to D.C." for an average family.

Of course there are 1 million hotels in DC, and so much of it depends on your budget and how much you're willing to put up with traveling on the metro or in cabs. So I'm gonna give you my ideal situation for tourists and then you can go from there. 

Use the address of 1400 Constitution Ave. as your central orientation point. It's pretty much in the middle of all of the museums and monuments. 

Lodging
When we travel as a family, I actually like to stay in downtown business areas, because there's often a lot of fast food and deli type places and it becomes easier to eat less expensively.   My kids like fast food, so when I am looking at hotels, I also look to make sure that there's a McDonald's and Starbucks close to the hotel where we are staying. Even if we don't go there, it just makes it easier to have that option.

So that being said, one of my favorite hotels when we visit  is a Marriott Courtyard at 900 F St.   My other favorite hotel, a little further away, is a Hampton Inn which is close to the White House at 1729 H St.

 But honestly, as long as you stay within a couple miles of 1400 Constitution Ave. NW., you're going to be well-suited.  Normally I would also recommend that you only stay in hotels that are north of Independence Avenue. But several areas have been re-developed that are south of there (like near the baseball stadium) and so they're probably very safe now, I'm just not as familiar with those areas.    But so long as it's a namebrand hotel, you probably can't go wrong. 

You can get cheaper hotels the further out you go from downtown, but then your daily costs will increase because you'll either take the Metro ($5 pp) or park and have to feed the meter every couple hours or take a taxi.  

You may also want to consider renting an apartment through vrbo.com or airbnb.  You are EASILY safe with an apartment on Capitol Hill that is: north of E Street, SW; west of 13th Street, and south of E Street, NW. There are LOTS of other safe areas of course, but they are further removed from downtown which is going to just cost you money and time. 

Activities
Check out either the fodors or the frommers website - one of them has a section on a 3 day or 5 day itinerary that you may find helpful.

All the Smithsonian museums are free (and there are a bunch of them) - their website has a nice overview and several of them are located near each other on the Mall so you can hit one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Most museums close at 5pm.    There's also another branch of the Smithsonian air and space Museum it's located about 35 minutes outside of DC near Dulles Airport called the Udvar Hazy Center.   It's worth the trip if your kids are really airflight crazy,  or if you're flying into or out of Dulles.   But if neither of those situations applied, then they'll be happy with the air and space Museum downtown. 

Monuments - too many to list, I like going to the monuments in the late afternoon or after dinner if possible since the museums close at 5pm anyway.

I could see this as being a nice itinerary for an average family who has a few days and wants to make the most of their time. You can also look at the websites for each and find out when their presentations/special activities are. This list is arranged by location so you don't waste time trying to get back and forth across town.

Day 1
Capitol Hill
Capitol Visitors Center
Botanic Gardens
Lunch at a hot dog stand
Museum of the American Indian
Air & Space

Day 2
National Gallery of Art
National Archives
Lunch in the Penn Quarter neighborhood
Natural History Museum (a kid fave)
Smithsonian Castle 

Day 3 
American History Museum (a kid fave)
Lunch in the food court of the Ronald Reagan Building
White House
Washington Monument


Day 4
take an XL Uber or Lyft all the way down to the FDR Memorial
walk or Uber/Lyft to the Lincoln Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Wall
Reflecting Pool
Constitution Gardens
Uber/Lyft home
there aren't a lot of good places to eat on this day - definitely bring snacks and or be prepared to eat hot dogs

I use yelp to find cheap and good places to eat when we travel.  After I map out a rough itinerary for the day, I use an address of where I think we'll be around 1pm (after the worst of the lunch rush) and then we eat there.

Happy family friendly travels!

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