Now that the Federal Government has finally reopened the National Parks and Monuments, you may be thinking about visiting Washington D.C. with kids.  Even the White House tours have resumed, with the Obamas surprising visitors this week. When we visited the Capitol last year we were not as lucky, but we did squeeze in a great number of sights in just a short time. Of course, one of the great things about a family trip to D.C. is that so many of these attractions are free.

We were in town for just one day and night so we hit the highlights: the major monuments, The White House, Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum. Our sightseeing started out earlier than planned, but it was one of those times when a deviation from the plan ended up being better than we could have anticipated.  After a marathon 11 hour drive from Rhode Island, we arrived in DC so late that the thought of getting a good night’s sleep and an early start was out the window.  But instead of lamenting, we decided to make the best of it and wake our little car napper for a late night stroll around the monuments.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument in the Reflecting Pool

I can’t recommend strongly enough what a moving experience it is to encounter these magnificent monuments at night.  The crowds are gone and the lighting showcases the monuments in their glory.  When we were there, we were lucky enough to see the moon rise over the Washington Monument and the orange glow of Jupiter present in the night sky.

Washington Monument and Jupiter

Washington Monument and Jupiter

Our first stop was the Lincoln Memorial.  Of all the times I’ve seen the memorial on TV and movies, I never fully grasped the size.  I guess I also never thought about what was behind Lincoln.  We spent time gazing up at the likeness of one of our greatest presidents, studying the Gettysburg Address that was inscribed on one of the walls, and chilling on the steps enjoying the view of the Washington Monument in the reflecting pool.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial at Night

We then took a drive over to the Jefferson Memorial and again we were treated to magnificent views and the freedom to absorb the memorial without fighting the throngs.  I guess the night didn’t scare everyone away though because we did have to avoid a rat scurrying around some garbage left on the memorial steps.

Jefferson Memorial at night

Jefferson Memorial in the Moonlight

We finally stumbled into our hotel room at the St. Regis around midnight, hyped up on excitement and adrenaline.  The St. Regis is a luxury hotel that I’m sure has played host to more than a few dignitaries and diplomats.  We were lucky enough to stay there with a friends and family discount from a family member that works for the Starwood Group. In addition to its elegance, it is conveniently located just a couple of minutes away from the White House.

St. Regis Hotel in Washington DC

St. Regis Hotel

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast at the Corner Bakery Cafe, which was much cheaper than breakfast at the St. Regis, we headed over to the White House for our scheduled tour.  There are a few things to keep in mind when participating in a White House tour:

  • You need to request a tour well in advance of your trip with your Senator or Representative’s office
  • There is an extensive security screening so arrive early with your tickets and photo ID with your name exactly matching the name on your ticket
  • You will not be allowed to bring in any cameras, purses, bags, food or beverages, strollers and more.  Be sure to check the list of prohibited items.
  • This requires some advance planning of what to leave at the hotel and may require a trip back to the hotel to pick up your stuff after the tour.  For this reason, I recommend a hotel in walking distance to the White House.
  • You may get lucky enough to see a member of the President’s family (a few people we know met Bo, the Obama’s dog), but it isn’t guaranteed and is actually unlikely.  I’ve heard from a friend whose son is an explosives expert at the White House that the Obama administration has actually closed off more of the White House than previous administrations and that they rarely appear for tours.
  • Make sure your kids know that they aren’t going to see the Oval Office or residence. My daughter was disappointed that she didn’t get to see more.
  • There will be protestors of various persuasions in front of the White House so you may not want to spend too much time there if you are worried about sensitive ears.

Since we wanted to pack a lot into the day, after the tour we had a quick lunch (homemade egg rolls) at a food truck on the National Mall and headed over to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. We easily could have spent the whole day here learning about dinosaurs, evolution, and taking in the extraordinary displays of wildlife. And the best part of all — the Smithsonians are completely free!

Smithsonian Museum

American Museum of Natural History

From there we headed across the Mall, taking in the Capitol Building down at one end and the Washington Monument at the other, to the infamous National Air and Space Museum.

Here we were able to indulge the space nerd(s) in our family and examine the space capsule, rockets, and footage from various launches.  We then saw the itty, bitty Spirit of St. Louis (hard to believe Lindbergh flew this overseas!) and the Wright Brother’s plane.  Seeing the progression of flight and space travel over the years was truly fascinating.

Spirit of St. Louis

Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis

Regrettably, that was all we were able to squeeze into our short time in Washington DC before we had to continue on to visit family in Northern Virginia.  We can’t wait to go back and spend more time exploring the monuments, visiting other Smithsonian museums, touring the National Archives, exploring the Capitol building and hopefully seeing the panda at the National Zoo.

If you are planning a trip to Washington DC with kids, there are a couple of mobile apps I would recommend: DC with Kids from Family iTrips, Smithsonian Mobile, and NPS National Mall by the National Park Service. I also find the History Here app always useful when visiting historical sites and answering those “what is that?” questions.


Visiting Washington DC with kids -- tips for visiting the White House and other DC attractions with your family.

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