Teenagers. They’re dirty, moody, starving creatures that arise to see the light of day sometime after noon only to slink back into their cave after raiding the village for food. Fortunately for us, our teen monster is very interested in history. So, when we proposed a trip to Washington, D.C.; he was all for it.
When we started planning this trip, we planned it with Jayden in mind. He doesn’t travel like we do. We go, go, go all day. He doesn’t. So, to ensure that he didn’t lose interest in what we were doing right away we made sure to plan time each day for him to do whatever he wanted. Whatever that might be. Taking a nap. Watching youtube, what have you. Washington, D.C. has so much to see, that there’s no way you could get to everything in a week. So we allowed Jayden to make a list of things he absolutely had to see and another list of places we would see if we had time.
We booked our trip the week following Jaydens last day of school, which brought us to D.C. on Memorial Day. The city was buzzing. Streets were closed, parades were marching by and food trucks lined the national mall.
Where We Went and What We Learned:
The White House: The White House has been the residence of every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800. The building was burned down by the British during the War of 1812. It takes 570 gallons of white paint to paint the entire exterior of the building. Tours of the White House need to be requested through your member of congress.
Vietnam War Memorial: The main part of the memorial, the wall, was completed in 1982. It was fully funded by private donations. Celebrities such as Bob Hope helped with the fund raising. A 21 year old Yale University student won the memorial design contest. The wall was the subject of much criticism and so two statues were added as part of the memorial: the three servicemen and the Vietnam Nurses statue. Tributes and memorials are left at the wall daily. These items are collected and taken to a storage facility in Maryland. They are used in traveling exhibits.
We had the honor of finding the name of a serviceman that had served with my Uncle. This memorial is both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. No one really speaks when they stand in front of it. There’s a lot of pain and feeling of betrayal here. Admission: Free
Lincoln Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1922 after having taken more than 50 years to get it built. The design is based on the Parthenon of Greece. Bacon, the memorial architect was quoted as saying “a memorial to the man who defended democracy should be modeled after a structure from the birthplace of democracy.” Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived to see the dedication of the memorial. He was 78 years old at the time. The steps of the Lincoln Memorial is the site of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. There is a plaque indicating where he stood. Admission: Free
Washington Monument: The Washington Monument stands 555′ tall and was built to commemorate the first President of the United States. The trowel used to lay the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was the same trowel used by President Washington to lay the cornerstone of the Capitol building in 1793.
Korean War Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1995 by President Bill Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam. The memorial is made up of 4 parts: the statues, the mural wall, the pool of reflection and the united nations wall. The mural wall depicts images from photographs taken during the war. Jayden’s great-grandfather served during the Korean War. Admission: Free
World War II Memorial: This memorial didn’t exist when I visited D.C. back in high school, although its plans were in the works. President Clinton signed a public law in 1993 authorizing the establishment of a WWII memorial. Construction didn’t start until 2001 and it finally opened in 2004. The memorial is dedicated to all those who served and all those who supported the war effort at home. Admission: Free
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial: The FDR Memorial is probably my favorite. The red granite that makes up the walls of this memorial were brought in from my home state of South Dakota. The memorial is divided into rooms, each representing a different part of his presidency. FDR’s words engraved throughout the walls ring just as true today as they did then. Admission: Free
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: The Martin Luther King Memorial is not too far from FDR. It is a 30 foot high relief of MLK made of white granite. From the memorial, you can look out over the tidal basin and see the Jefferson Memorial. The memorials address is 1964 Independence Avenue referencing the 1964 Civil Rights Act. More than 900 applicants from 52 countries entered the design contest for the memorial. Admission: Free
Jefferson Memorial: The memorial was dedicated in 1943 by FDR. Originally, it was supposed to be a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. The start of construction inspired ‘The Cherry Tree Rebellion’ in which 50 women marched on the White House to protest the removal of cherry trees. Some women even chained themselves to trees at the construction site. Admission: Free
US Marine Corps War Memorial: aka the Iwo Jima Memorial was dedicated in 1954 by president Dwight D Eisenhower. The sculpture is based off the 1945 Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal. The faces on the sculpture are the actual faces of the men in the photograph. Admission: Free
Arlington National Cemetery: The cemetery was established in 1864 and hosts more than 400,000 graves. In 1868, May 30th was proclaimed to be Decoration Day for the sole purpose of decorating the graves of fellow soldiers. The day was later renamed Memorial Day. Arlington is the only National Cemetery to hold service members from every war in US history. There may no longer be any additions to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier due to DNA testing. Admission: Free
Museums We Visited and What We Saw:
Holocaust Museum: It’s difficult to find the right words to describe the contents of this museum or the way it makes you feel. It’s something you need to experience in person. You need to read the words for yourself. See the images. Experience the smells. Any description I provide would do it an injustice. You just need to go. Admission: Free, but will need a timed ticket from March-August.
Ford’s Theater: The theater houses a small museum in the downstairs of the theater showcasing articles of clothing, John Wilkes Booth’s torn boot and the flag torn by his spur as he made his escape. After viewing the museum, you’re able to head into the theater where you can see the balcony where Lincoln was shot. Ford’s Theater also includes the house across the street where Lincoln took his last breath. The house was under renovation while we were there, so we could only view it from the street. Admission: $3.00 pp.
International Spy Museum: The Spy Museum is not part of the National Mall, so it does cost money to get into, but believe me it is worth it! Upon arrival you’re taken downstairs into a small room with columns filled with different aliases. You’re allowed to pick whichever one you want. After making your choice, you commit all the information to memory. After all, a good spy should never be caught with info on his person! All throughout the museum they have kiosks where you can answer questions about your mission. If you answer them correctly, you keep your spy status. However, if you do not, your cover will be blown. The museum showcases spy equipment used during WWII and the Cold War. It even discusses the use of spies as far back as Queen Elizabeth I. Admission: $21.95 pp.
National Museum of American History: Here we saw the first Da Vinci Robotic arm that’s used in our operating rooms today. There’s a fragment of Plymouth Rock and examples of the government issued clothing options for women during WWII. We saw many examples of popular culture artifacts including the first computer and the same Little People farmhouse that I played with as a child (kind of makes me feel old). Admission: Free
National Museum of Natural History: The Hope Diamond is a big attraction here. Get here early to avoid the crowd. You’ll also find fragments of an asteroid that landed in Arizona and if you happen to be standing at one of the balconies you’ll see the lobby where one of the Night at the Museum movies was filmed. The museum was in the process of completing a large dinosaur exhibit while we were there. It looks like it’s going to be amazing. Admission: Free
National Air and Space Museum: I’m a big Apollo 13 fan, so I was pretty excited to see Gene Kranz’s Apollo 13 vest that his wife had made for him. Also because we’re huge nerds, we were excited to read about the USS Enterprise. No not the ship made to boldly go where no one has gone before. It was actually the most decorated aircraft carrier in WWII, earning 20 battle stars. Admission: Free
National Archives: The National Archives was founded in 1934 by FDR. It is home to The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights and The Constitution. In order to maintain the preservation of the documents, the room is kept fairly dark and cool. The documents are pretty faded and hard to read, and it’s a very busy place so you’ll want to get there as early as possible. Amazing to be so close to these documents. It’s well worth a visit. Admission: Free
Mount Vernon: Mount Vernon is the home and final resting place for George and Martha Washington. The estate was nearly in ruins before the Mount Vernon Ladies Association was founded and raised $200,000 to purchase the home and 200 acres and start renovations. The exterior of the home looks like it’s made of stone, but Washington actually made a faux finish by putting sand in the paint to give the appearance of stone. The property hosts a stable, distillery and a gristmill and you can place your hands on trees that were planted by George Washington in 1785. If you’re a fan of the National Treasure movies, you already know that a scene in the second movie was filmed at Mount Vernon. They even offer a National Treasure tour where they take you to see the filming locations and talk about that secret passageway! Mount Vernon is privately run and does not receive government funding so there is a fee to get in. Admission: $20 pp, 11 and under $12 pp, National Treasure Tour $10 pp
Where We Ate!
Food Trucks: There were plenty of food trucks along the national mall. We found some Andalusia Style tacos to try.
Founding Farmers: Amazing farm to table cuisine. A favorite, I’ve read, of Michelle Obama’s. The restaurant is owned by more than 47,000 family farms. We had handmade butternut squash mascarpone ravioli, shrimp and grits with andouille, and skillet cornbread with honey.
Shake Shack: Our son isn’t an adventurous eater. So anytime we can get a burger, fries and a shake that doesn’t taste like fast food debauchery we’re all for it. We were pleasantly surprised with Shake Shack and there is one right next door to the International Spy Museum, so right after our tour we stopped by for a quick lunch.
Good Stuff Eatery: Another great spot for a really good burger, fries and a shake. We found this one in Georgetown, which we came to love!
Luke’s Lobster: All I have to say is BEST lobster roll ever! Plus their location in Georgetown is really cozy and cute!
Pi Pizzeria: A convenient location close to the White House. Perfect for hungry teens!
Wicked Waffle: As the name implies, all their menu items have a waffle component. Everything we had was delicious and the perfect meal after a morning of walking to all the monuments.
Georgetown: Georgetown was a short 10 minute walk from our hotel. We loved the area immediately. The area is filled with little shops, pubs and restaurants. A few of our favorite places include: Georgetown Cupcake, Olivia Macaron, Dean & Deluca, Luke’s Lobster and Good Stuff Eatery. There’s a small park at the end of the main area that contains a memorial for Francis Scott Key. And if you take the path by the river, you’ll walk by the Watergate Hotel, where we all know that Forest Gump got President Nixon in trouble! 😉
Where We Stayed: The River Inn on 25th street is located on a quiet street in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Georgetown, which we loved! Also it’s close to the metro. We opted to walk as much as we could while in D.C. The National Mall was only about a 25 minute walk from the hotel.
Our room was very cozy and had a small kitchen where we could cook our own meals if we wanted. The hotel gave you the option of having them stock the fridge for you. We used it mainly to store leftovers from wherever we had eaten or whatever treats we had found in Dean & Deluca! The hotel had a few tables and chairs outside for its guests to sit and relax. We made good use of them. At the end of a long day, it was the perfect spot to wind down.
Since all the monuments and most of the museums are free, our biggest expenses came from our flight, hotel and food. We used Uber a couple of times, but mostly we walked everywhere we needed to go. It is a very affordable family vacation. I’ll share our itinerary for D.C. in my next post.