Washington, DC with Kids
I love Washington, DC. I am fortunate to live close enough to do it as a day trip (albeit a long day!) if I want to. But I prefer to stay overnight if we can. There is so much to do and see there. Now having taken my kids down there several times, I thought I would offer some tips if you are planning to go.
Travel Secret 1: Stay in a kid-friendly hotel close to attractions.
I have stayed in several hotels in Washington, DC. My #1 pick for families is the Holiday Inn-Capitol. It is close to everything. They have kid friendly menus in the restaurants. There are hotels (and I’ve stayed at some) that are more upscale than a Holiday Inn. But I found it to be clean, newly renovated and overall the best value. Keep in mind, I prefer to stay in the Capitol Hill or National Mall area. If necessary, we can go back to the room midday for a break. Or if we have a wardrobe malfunction.
You might be able to save a few bucks if you stay in other parts of the city or even Arlington, and then take the metro into town. I believe a day pass for the metro is $7-$10 per person, so a family of four would be around $30-$40. For me, I’d rather pay another $40 onto my room rate and not have to take the Metro. Like any other vacation destination, peak seasons cost much more. In the offseason expect to pay $225 and up per night, peak season will be $400 and up per night.
We brought our own breakfast (granola bars, yogurt) to eat in the hotel room. The Holiday Inn had a refrigerator. That same hotel also has some “kids eat free” offers when you buy adult entrees at their restaurants. The pub-type restaurant was more casual and less expensive. However, it was much noisier. They have room service and you could just get a pizza delivered to your room which was another way to save money. DC, to me anyway, is not a restaurant city or one where you go to experience a certain cuisine. Having breakfast and pizza in our room works out great for us because we cut costs and get some downtime and quiet time.
Travel Secret 2: Yeah, everything is free. But…
It is misleading. Most of the attractions that are owned/operated by the federal government and the Smithsonian are free. However, outside of that, DC is a very expensive city.
And many of the venues, while free, still require a reservation, especially during peak times.
But the good part is that you just need a good walking map, a little preparation online before you go, and go!
Travel Secret 3: Restaurants are expensive, but you can save.
Restaurants are very expensive, even for moderate, family restaurants. One time we ate at the restaurant in the Native American Museum and it was crazy expensive, like $50 for my kids and me, just for lunch. One hidden gem is the lunchroom at the top of the Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Nice setting and very affordable, but it has limited hours. Look it up online before you go.
There is also a cafe/restaurant inside of the Supreme Court Building which is more affordable. And, there’s another in the basement of the Capitol Building. Still, use tip 1 and find a hotel with a fridge so you can eat breakfast for cheap in your room.
Travel Secret 4: DC is very disability friendly.
In a word, yes! I have found it to be extremely accessible and friendly towards those with disabilities. I prefer to go in the off-season so that we are not dealing with crowds and noise and so far that plan has worked. If you go during the middle of the summer, it might be different. But the National Mall and all the monuments and memorials have benches and quiet places to escape to if you need to regroup. I found family restrooms in many different venues, check online before you go. Kevin has a lot of feeding issues and I’ve always been able to find him suitable things to eat, plus I bring things from home for breakfast in our hotel room.
As far as venues, with my son and his big honkin’ pushchair (it really is a beast of a thing) we have visited the following with no problems:
- White House south lawn
- Washington Monument
- outdoor memorials
- Air and Space Museum
- Native American Museum
- National Archives
- Capitol and House/Senate gallery
- Library of Congress
- Cannon House building and Russell Senate building
- American History Museum
- several area restaurants
Travel Secret 5: Prior Planning is Key!
Don’t forget to go online and grab the information and printables for the National Park Service Junior Ranger badge. Yes, much of what you want to see is considered a National Park, so they can earn a badge. The Capitol Police also give out sticker badges. Have your kids save up their allowance for spending, there are many gift shops with lots of cool things. Because so many of the parks are memorials, or the buildings have a museum-like feel to them, they are not particularly noisy. If you wish to see the things in Arlington and other parts of the city in addition to the Mall/Capitol area, you will have to arrange some type of transportation like a car or the Metro.
For some activities, such as visiting the White House or some things at the Capitol, you must contact your Congressman weeks or even months ahead of time. Back in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was President, we just woke up early and went and waited in line to get in the White House. Needless to say, times have changed and you must have prior tickets and they do background checks.
Sure, in the middle of February you can walk right up to the Washington Monument and get tickets to go in. That is not the case in the summer. If you want to visit the White House, you need to contact your Congressman’s office at least 8 weeks in advance and request tickets. If you want to actually use the Library of Congress and do some research, I believe they ask you to reserve two weeks in advance. Arlington National Cemetery has scheduled ceremonies, so if that is important to you, make sure you plan accordingly. If you wish to see the House or Senate in session, contact your House Rep or Senator for gallery passes ahead of time. I would ask several weeks in advance.
Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t also recommend that while you are in DC, you take a few moments from out of a day and visit your Legislators’ offices and tell them what is important to you as far as issues. If you don’t know where to start or are intimidated by that, no worries! We’ve got you covered with the self-study Anyone Can Advocate course. Read up ahead of time and you’ll be fine!