D.C. with a crowd of kids: Parking the van and walking away
by JESSE NEVE
When I first started planning our trip to Washington, D.C., I was overwhelmed. We only had a couple days, and the quantity of things to see is so vast. How would our crowd of four kids (age 6 to 12) get around from place to place? Which things would keep their interest? I didn’t want them to be bored during our live history lesson … er, I mean vacation.
My goal was to find a hotel that was within walking distance of sites and the Metro. We decided to stay at Hotel Harrington, which is in a fantastic old brick building built in 1914, between the Capitol and the White House. It was a perfect home base for our adventures.
All parking in the area is in paid ramps and lots. The hotel gave a discount on a specific garage, but our (regular-sized) van was too tall for the garage, so we found an open air lot a few blocks away. We arrived in D.C. early in the day, and the hotel allowed us to leave our bags in their locked storage room so we could begin touring the city before our room was ready. We parked the van in the lot, and left it there for the next two days while we hiked and metro-ed around the city.
We succeeded in keeping the kids’ interest and attention, while also teaching them things.
The best thing we did to prepare was to check non-fiction kids’ books out from the library in the weeks before our trip. We had “Vacation Reading Time” every day, where we would go through the books and learn about the places we planned to go and things we would see. That way, when we arrived at places, they were already familiar with the back-stories. They knew about the Declaration of Independence and the Vietnam War. Ten-year-old Jonathan was excited to see the “external flame” at JFK’s grave. (“Mom, it’s OUTSIDE—it should be called ‘external!’”) This simple preparation really enhanced their understanding and appreciation of the things we saw along the way.
I was a little concerned about bringing the kids to the Ford’s Theater. It’s a very somber place, with a horrible historical story. But, they were prepared, and they knew about the “bad guy” who killed Lincoln. They were severely on Lincoln’s “side” and angry about the whole situation, coming up with ways history could have been different. We had purchased our timed-entry tickets online ahead of time, and the museum did an excellent job of walking us through the time period leading up to Lincoln’s death. It was remarkable to be in the theater where it all happened.
“Next stop, the Gary of Rights!” proclaimed Jonathan as we started our hike toward the National Archives.
“The ‘Gary’ of Rights, Jon?” I asked with a questioning look.
“Sure. EVERYone goes to see the Bill of Rights. I’M going to see the Gary of Rights.” So, off we trekked.
The National Archives holds the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, collectively known as the Charters of Freedom. Admission to the museum is free, but for a small fee, timed-entry tickets can be purchased online, which allow you to avoid the line, and enter through a separate entrance. Being in the presence of these historical documents is unbelievable.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
We took the Metro (nicknamed “the Nitro” by the kids) to Arlington Cemetery. The Metro is very user-friendly and with just a little research online before our trip, we knew exactly which routes to take. Tickets can be purchased right at the station. Six-year-old Ben had the greatest time telling people we “rode on the subway—but not the kind you eat!”
We booked a tour of the cemetery with Arlington National Cemetery Tours. The ride was in an open-air bus and our expert tour guide informed us of the many famous sites including John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and the Robert E. Lee Memorial. We watched the majestic changing of the guard ceremony, and the kids were exceptionally interested in the rifles with bayonets the soldiers carried. They were also greatly intrigued by the eternal flame.
The White House is the official residence of the President of the United States. Tours of the White House must be requested through one’s Member of Congress. These requests can be submitted 21 days to three months before the scheduled arrival. The tours are free of charge and self-guided. There are a lot of security measures to be followed, and very little “baggage” is allowed in, so it takes some serious planning ahead, since there are no storage facilities on site. We opted, instead, for the “walk-by” tour.
There are so many things to see on the National Mall, and every site is within walking distance of the next. We knew we wouldn’t be able to take in EVERY monument and memorial on the Mall, so we mapped out our walking route beforehand. National Mall highlights include
• Lincoln Memorial: This famous site features a larger than life marble statue of Abraham Lincoln. The words above Lincoln proclaim, “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
• World War II Memorial
• Thomas Jefferson Memorial
• Vietnam Veterans Memorial: The names of the more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives in the controversial Vietnam War are inscribed on a reflective wall, so one can see him or herself at the same time as seeing those who gave their lives.
• Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
• Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
• World War I Memorial
• Korean War Memorial
• Washington Monument: The famous obelisk landmark commemorating our first president is currently closed until 2018 for elevator renovation.
UNITED STATES CAPITOL
The Capitol is a beautiful monument as well as a working office building. A tour of the Capitol can be booked through one’s Representative, Senator or self-reserved online. Guided tours include the Crypt, the Rotunda and National Statuary Hall. There are also limited same-day tour passes available. See the visitor center to learn about which areas are available.
There are over a dozen separate buildings in Washington, D.C. that collectively comprise the Smithsonian. It is officially the world’s largest museum with over 154 million artifacts. Since a person could spend weeks viewing it all, it is wise to do some research online beforehand and narrow your interest to specific buildings, floors and exhibits.
As we ended our visit, and headed out of the Smithsonian in search of some mid-afternoon ice cream before our next adventure, Jonathan proclaimed, “Next up: Something less old!” I’m not sure we succeeded in finding THAT in Washington, D.C., but we did succeed in keeping the kids, interest and attention, while secretly teaching them things (which is my ultimate goal on vacation).
JESSE NEVE is a freelance writer from Minnesota and regular writer of this feature for Valley Living.
Washington, D.C. attractions
· Ford’s Theater: 511 10th St NW. 202-347-4833. www.fords.org.
· National Archives: 700 Pennsylvania Ave NW. www.archives.gov/museum/visit.
· Arlington National Cemetery: Arlington, Virginia. 877-907-8585. www.arlingtoncemetery.mil.
· White House: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW. www.whitehouse.gov/participate/tours-and-events.
· National Mall: www.nps.gov/nama.
· United States Capitol: East Capitol St NE & First St SE. www.visitthecapitol.gov.
· Smithsonian Museums: Multiple locations, most right on the National Mall, or within a few blocks. www.si.edu/museums.
· The Metro: www.wmata.com/rider-guide/new-riders/index.cfm.
Family-friendly places to stay in Washington, D.C.
· Hotel Harrington: 436 11th St NW. 202-628-8140. www.hotel-harrington.com. 242 guest rooms. Free Wi-Fi, 2 on-site restaurants, easy walk to all the sights and museums.
· Residence Inn Washington, D.C./Capitol: 333 E St SW. 202-484-8280. www.marriott.com. Free hot breakfast, pool, suite-style rooms, 10 minute walk to National Mall.
· JW Marriott Hotel: 1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW. 202-393-2000. www.marriott.com. Pool and fitness center. Steps from the White House.
· Courtyard Washington Embassy Row: 1600 Rhode Island Ave NW. 202-293-8000. www.courtyardembassyrow.com. Indoor pool and fitness center, 3 blocks from the White House, large rooms, family packages.