Washington DC Museums and Monuments – Beyond the Smithsonian

Genie Davis December 9, 2010 No Comments

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After you’ve perused all the wonderful exhibits and artifacts in the Smithsonian Museum’s vast collection and enjoyed the Smithsonian sponsored National Zoo, there are still many, many more exciting museums and other attractions to take the kids in the D.C. area. Just driving or walking past the White House or the U.S. Capitol is awe inspiring. 

We recommend stayting at the Hotel Palomar Washington DC, in the conveniently located Dupont Circle.  It’s in a great neighborhood where you’ll be sharing stroller space with local residents instead of solid tourist crowds. Near the hotel is the Phillips Collection, a moderate sized art museum that’s stroller friendly, featuring impressionists like Gaugin and Van Gogh in its permanent collection. It’s great for a short visit. Or take a browse through the large kids section at Kramer Books around the corner. Adjoining the store is the Afterwords Cafe, with a reasonably priced full menu including tasty salads and sandwiches. In summer months, the hotel’s out door pool is unique in such an urban location; no matter what the season we found the rooms spacious and the fun, hip colorful decor enjoyable. The kids also loved the free Wii games and lemonade in the lobby. 

One of the Washington area’s newest attractions is the only spy museum in the United States. The International Spy Museum houses over two hundred spy tricks and technologies from invisible ink to tiny cameras you can fit anywhere. There’s also historical presentations concerning how and why these various devices were developed and used from the eras of George Washington to the Cold War. Maybe best of all: the James Bond car. The museum shop has some fun, unique spy- worthy gifts, and for a food and foot-resting break, there are two restaurants, the Spy City Cafe and Zola. 

On the other end of the technology scale there are the natural wonders in the US Botanic Garden on Capitol Hill. The garden has an especially sweet spot for children: the children’s garden lets kids explore hands on gardening with watering cans and spades and plants to plant. If the weather allows, there are outdoor tables for picnicking near by. Whatever the weather, this indoor botanical wonderland has jungle plants and orchids, cactus gardens and seasonal floral displays. The meandering paths through the glass enclosed structure have the classic, relaxing feel of the Victorian era. We were all charmed by the beautiful, fragrant offerings. 

Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial is an impressive sight at the opposite end of the mall from the Capitol building.

Just behind the Botanic Garden is one of Washington’s main attractions, the US Capitol Building, and the meeting chambers for the Senate and the House of Representatives. An iconic structure, it anchors this end of the National Mall, a long expanse of grass, reflecting pools, and pathways that leads past the Smithsonian buildings and the National Gallery of Art up to the Washington Monument and beyond it to the Lincoln Memorial.

A family warning: just because you can see all of these amazing buildings, memorials, and monuments does not mean you should try to take them in all in one day. It’s a long walk for little feet between attractions, and even the stroller crowd needs a little down time. See it, drive past, stroll around it and experience the sites one or two at a time. And then take the time for a sweet treat: there are two nationally and deservedly famous cupcake purveyors in the D.C. area. One of our favorites is Georgetown Cupcake, with enormous, decorated treats. Another is Hello Cupcake in Dupont Circle. Both offer a place to sit down, relax,  and get a delicious sugar fix. 

If you’ve had a relaxing meander through the Botanical Garden, and the kids are up for it, do spend some time at the Capitol. This neo classic landmark is a huge structure, with over five hundred rooms on five levels. On the first floor there’s congressional offices, while the second floor houses the chambers of the House and Senate. Where you’ll want to focus with little ones is under the dome in the central rotunda, the circular area with a gallery of art work depicting American history and events. Older kids and adults will enjoy the weekday proceedings of Congress when in session from a viewing area on the third floor, but you’ll have to obtain passes at the visitor’s center to observe.

You can also take a tour of the Capitol building. These tours are free and offered first come, first serve from 8:45 to 3:30 pm daily except Sunday. 

US Capitol - Washington DC

The U.S. Capitol is an amazing site for the kids.

In 2008, the Capitol Visitor Center opened, and here in this state of the art facility, visitors can view collections from the Library of Congress and National Archives, and kids can touch a scale model of the Capitol Dome. Live video feeds of the action taking place in the House and Senate are exhibited, and there’s an interesting short film that explains the history of the building and offers political and historical insight into the workings of Congress. The center makes the Capitol building experience more hands on and accessible to visitors.

Adjoining the Capitol are Congressional Office buildings and the Library of Congress. With small children in tow, these historic buildings are best left for strolling past. Pleasurable strolling is extensive around the capitol; the grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who also laid out New York’s Central Park. Shaded paths and flower gardens abound, and on the West Land area of the Capitol grounds concerts are frequently held. During the holiday season, the Capitol Christmas tree is on display, and all summer long musical and theatrical events are held here.

On another day, you’ll want to explore the other end of the National Mall – the Washington Monument. Our kids learned about the construction of the monument and enjoyed the view from the top and the elevator ride to get there. Although the monument is the tallest structure in Washington, it’s just over five hundred and fifty five feet high. Inside this monument to our nation’s first president, the structure has 193 memorial stones on the east and west walls, donated from patriotic and civic groups world wide. 

Honoring another beloved United States President, further down the mall from the Monument is Lincoln Memorial. Fronted by an expansive reflecting pool and a great view of the Monument they’ve just seen, your kids will love scrambling up the steps to view the awesome, massive statue of Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Memorial is open after dark, and seeing this beautiful monument lit up and sparkling with light is a real treat, and very memorable for the whole family.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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