We needed a good, multi-generational family trip this December, one that would satisfy grandparents who want to hang out with their grandkids, parents who like to see interesting sites and eat good food, and a location that was easily accessible from the East and West coasts. As a rule, we also like to travel in the off-season, and Washington DC in December is definitely not the height of tourist season.
For our group of six, we rented an apartment on the Southwest side of the Mall, close to the Waterfront. The apartment was great for our family, with three bedrooms, a nice living room and functional kitchen. Plus, the owner really likes have guests, so there were all sorts of nice touches including Christmas decorations and a well-stocked pantry.
Highlights of our trip include:
Food – lunch at National Museum of the American Indian Mitsitam Cafe; Pain Quotidien for Belgian pastries and hot chocolate; Oyamel Cucina Mexicana; Tackle Box; Rasika especially Palak Chaat, Tandoori Salmon, Chicken Makhani and Paneer Chili Garlic. They also had an outstanding dessert menu. Pre-theater specials were a deal!
Tour of the Capitol Building, along with visits to the House and Senate Chambers. Book the Capitol tour ahead, through your congress person.
Spy Museum where the entire family participated in Operation Spy. Honestly though, while the kids really liked the operation, the adults would have preferred to stay in the museum longer. So many interesting artifacts!
National Portrait Gallery – I loved the presidential portraits, the Big Guy and I spent time in the contemporary art gallery enjoying neon and video pieces, and the Little Girl and her grandparents were down in the Education Center re-creating interesting pieces of art. There is also a nice outdoor area with a water installation which is a nice place to relax.
Evening walk to the Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, and Washington Monument. The Washington Monument is still closed from the earthquake, but lit up at night, it is a beautiful site. The Mall is also undergoing a good bit of construction, so we did not have the experience of looking down the Mall from one place to another and enjoying the tranquility of the water. The kids had a great time collecting stamps for the National Park Passports, the Visitor’s Center at the Lincoln Memorial has about 9 stamps for local sites.
Eastern Market for breakfast and dinner shopping – we did this without kids and grandparents and had a nice walk through this open, European-style market. We also agreed that the Capitol Hill area would be a nice place to stay next time.
Ice Skating in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – great!!
Air and Space Museum on New Year’s Eve was the best! Almost no crowds and they stayed open until 7:30pm. We learned how to make paper airplanes, saw a show at the Planetarium, watched a 3D movie of the Hubble in the IMAX theater, and the kids went on a simulator ride. Yes, the museum is free, but all these items cost extra. If your party is good sized, it makes sense to buy a Smithsonian Membership.
National Museum of Natural History for dinosaurs and the Hope diamond; and the National Museum of American History for Julia Child’s kitchen and First Ladies exhibit of gowns and china patterns.
Washington National Cathedral – we (without kids and grandparents) walked up from Dupont Circle on a gorgeous, and crisp, winter day. Beautiful cathedral with a tower which provides nice views of the city.
White House Visitor’s Center – we enjoyed the visitor’s center more than the White House tour, which IMHO, was a lot of fuss for just a little visit. Get there early, no handbags, no cameras, go through three security lines, walk through 6 rooms in the East Wing, out 15 minutes later. The kids hardly had time to finish their Jr Ranger books! The Visitor’s Center was more relaxed and had an interesting video that gave way more details. But hey, at least we can say we have been to the White House! The White House tour was also booked through our congress person’s office.
Old Post Office Tower – great, free, wonderful views of the city. Another Jr Ranger badge completed.
National Archives – before our trip, we watched the Nicholas Cage movie, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, so we were all interested in seeing the Archives. This was probably the place we experienced the most benefit from traveling off-season, as there were absolutely no lines. We were able to walk right up and view the Declaration, Constitution and Magna Carta. There was also an interesting exhibit on how our government influences food, and the main archives exhibit was very detailed and well done.
Our trip ended with a visit to Arlington Cemetery (administered by the Army) and Arlington House (administered by the National Park Service). We witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown, saw the JFK memorial, and spent time learning about Arlington House.