Touring Washington, D.C. by Day and Night with the Family

Genie Davis September 22, 2011 No Comments

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This is primer on how to take little kids, adults, big kids, and even a touring musician on a sightseeing spree in the Nation’s Capitol without utter exhaustion and crankiness. My daughter was spending two evenings of her massive east coast music tour in this city, and the rest of the family was coping well with late night dinners and fitting the sightseeing in around the times of her performances. While in several cities she retreated to our hotel for the night to practice or just relax, in Washington DC she opted to stay with the rest of the family and see the sights, many of which she had not observed for a number of years.

View of Washington Monument from Lincoln Memorial

Sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just before a twilight thunderstorm.

We stayed at Logan Circle at the Kimpton Helix, and our first stop on a Sunday morning was to grab some healthy breakfast fare from the Whole Foods a few blocks away. Always a good stop for a muffin, scone, fresh juice or fruit item, while Whole Foods can be expensive for a grocery store, it’s a great bargain compared to restaurants, and it’s fast and relatively healthy. Sated, our first stop was a childhood haunt of mine, the gorgeous St. Matthew’s Cathedral, just down the street from our hotel, and where my parents wed. Not a major tourist attraction, but noted in a variety of guidebooks, the amazing mosaics and small, chapels within this massive, beautiful church make this a lovely stop. From there it was a short stroll to the Farragut north subway stop, which we took to Capitol Hill, for a low key stroll through another family favorite, the United States Botanical Garden. The Capitol building itself was closed on this steamy summer morning, but we were able to walk around the grounds, snap some photos, and then walk over to the National Gallery of Art.

The peaceful fountains inside the rotunda of the main building are a great introduction to well laid out galleries that branch off from there. There is enough variety – sculpture, 14th century art, impressionist work – to keep all family members happy and the stroller set visually occupied. Best of all, when it’s time for lunch, there’s the cafeteria in the modern wing. This is a surprisingly pleasant and un-institutional space, with a tiered fountain and lots of light. There’s a gelato bar and coffee bar, and best of all the food is actually good quality, if on the pricey side. We were able to get a full range of food to satisfy everyone, and again, quickly – salads, pizza, pasta, and fish dishes all on the menu.

Back on the Mall with the Capitol behind us and the Monument ahead, we stopped for a great, kid friendly stroll in the Sculpture Garden adjoining the National Gallery. From silver branch trees to a small house that looks three dimensional at certain angles, kids of all ages have a lot to enjoy visually.

Next stop: the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History - the enormous taxidermied elephant in the foyer is always fun, but one of our favorites was the exhibit that compared us to our simian ancestors; a short film was fascinating and a good place for a breather before exploring the glittering gems and minerals upstairs. Best of all: life size brass apes for us human apes to sit next to and laugh at the family resemblance.

American History Museum 1812 Restored Flag

The new exhibit featuring the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key was itself inspiring.

Moving on down the mall, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History has a new, don’t-miss exhibit: the restored flag from the battle of 1812 that inspired Frances Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. Multi-media displays lead into a darkened room with the flag reverently displayed,  something that hushed everyone in our group.

We took another quick food break: ice cream sandwiches and popsicles from a street vendor, before walking to the Washington Monument. We opted against taking the elevator to the top, instead spent some relaxing moments sitting on the smooth marble benches surrounding the monument, and enjoying the shifting perspective: up close you can’t see that triangular point, it looks like a very tall white chimney. The kids were fascinated by this view, and everyone enjoyed a chance to both rest and stretch our legs without walking too far.

Lincoln Memorial Washington DC

Always stirring to see the Lincoln Memorial - day, night, or twilight.

And that was a good thing, because now it was onward to the Lincoln Memorial, with stops at the haunting Vietnam War Memorial and the World War Memorials, divided, on either side of the mall, between the Pacific and the European theater battles. At twilight, these memorials honoring those who fought in America’s wars were especially moving. Our kids reverently read the names of the fallen on the Vietnam Memorial wall before moving on toward Abraham Lincoln’s watchful gaze.

We made it to the top, enjoyed our look at Lincoln, and stayed to watch the sunset from the steps of the memorial. We were rewarded not only by the setting sun’s bright orange descent, but by an exciting evening thunderstorm that sent us scurrying for cover beneath the memorial but passed quickly, cooling the steamy evening.

One last stop: the White House. Lit up, windows glowing, we wondered what the President was having for dinner. We were hungry ourselves. Fortunately we were able to snack on some very tasty hummus and taboule, courtesy of our neighborhood Whole Foods again – back at the hotel before my daughter’s gig at the Black Fox Lounge in Dupont Circle  (you can hear some of the songs she played at www.nicolelexidavis.com); the little ones napped, and were rested and ready for a late dinner after the show.  Did my feet hurt? Yes. Was my inner tourist fulfilled? Times ten. Did the heat or long day take its toll – no, and I credit these three important family travel tips regardless of your circumstances: first, don’t wait until you’re starving to eat, and choose healthy but quick – you can find these options rather than fast food, if you plan ahead just a bit. Second, pace yourself. Build in rest breaks right at the sights you want to see – a film in a museum, a bench by a monument – these served us well. And third, give in to the luxury of getting off your feet when you must – at the end of the day after the subway and the long walks, we took a cab back to the hotel, and it was worth every penny.

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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

Tags: Tips and Hints, Travel Excursions

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