The U.S. Capital
Pack your bags, DC is calling.
A couple of months ago, I received an email saying that you could get really cheap tickets to Washington D.C. (like $50 cheap). On a whim, we decided to go check it out. Flights and AirBNB booked, we were ready to take on our nation's capital.
For a place like DC, a little planning is both insanely helpful and necessary (or so the control freak in me likes to say). There's a LOT to absorb there, so a bit of structure is helpful when you have limited time. Below are some suggestions of what to do, how to do it, and encouragement to go check out this historic, important city.
AIRBNB (The Bretler House)
- The AirBNB scene in D.C. is great...a lot of historic row houses which I love. We found a place called the Bretler House on Florida Avenue in the Capital Hill area. It used to be a grocery store and we fell in love with the history and charm of it. The location was perfect: within walking distance of restaurants and stores but just outside of busyness of downtown.
- Our hosts were lovely and so accommodating. The house itself was the perfect haven to come home to after a long day of sightseeing. If you ever make your way to this area, look up this property! PS-It has a loft with a mini-theater which was ideal for movie nights.
- TIP: Confirm your check-in and check-out times to ensure they coordinate with your flights. You don't want to be stuck lugging around your suitcase for the day. Our hosts were very helpful in this regard but not all AirBNB hosts are created equal.
- There are several companies that offer bus tours of the area. Yes, grab your camera and embrace the tourist life. We walked/drove past most of the monuments during the day, but received the suggestion to visit them at night. SOLID CHOICE.
- The company we chose was City Sights DC. You started the tour at Union Station (gorgeous and a destination in its own right). In the late Fall and Winter they cut the tour time so you aren't out in the cold as long. In Spring/Summer they do a 3 hour tour (sing, a three hour tour).
- We were able to see the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Marine Corps [Iwo Jima] Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, FDR Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial. They also swung us past Arlington National Cemetery, U.S. Capitol, and the White House. It was an efficient and interesting way to see important landmarks. Bonus=our tour guide and bus driver were BFFs, hilarious, and one was named Wells (a-mazing name).
- TIP: Check Groupon. We found our tickets there and they were a bit discounted. Also, if you go in November-March, still sit in the open-air part of the bus just bundle up. It was chilly, but to be taking in DC that way while it was all lit up was well worth it.
- I don't think I realized the sheer size of the Smithsonian as a whole. It's actually 19 seperate museums and a zoo. We went to the Natural History and American History museum.
- All of the museums are free but during weighted tourist times some of them require you to reserve a time slot for entrance. If one of them is on your must see list, make sure to plan ahead. For example, I wanted to go the African American History and Culture museum but they were booked out for quite some time.
- Highlights: George Washington's uniform, First Lady exhibit which included their inaugural gowns, the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner (I totally cried), the Greensboro lunch counter, Julia Child's kitchen, and the Hope Diamond.
- TIP: Don't try to conquer all museums in one trip. Your brain, feet, and interest will burn out. You wouldn't want to rush through just to get to the next one either. Establish the ones that you want to see and stick to your plan. Save the others for another trip.
- It was quite an experience to tour the theatre where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.
- You walk through a small museum on Lincoln's presidency and the events that lead up to his assassination. There are some artifacts I wasn't expecting including his suit from that evening, the door to his box, and the gun used by John Wilkes Booth. You are also able to go through the Petersen House across the street as well, which is where Lincoln actually passed away.
- TIP: Like the Smithsonian, tickets are free. However you can reserve tickets online for $3 to guarantee entrance at a specific time. Not all tours include going through the actual theatre (to accommodate current productions) so we did this to make sure we could see his box.
UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM
- It's a solemn place and deeply humbling to say the least. The content is heavy but critical as it acknowledges this horrific period in human history.
- You're able to stand in a train car that was used to transport people to the actual camps. It was palpable, compelling. I envisioned men, women, children jammed into these cars just for being who they were or for what they believed. I stood there and said a prayer asking God how we reconcile things like this...how we find the resolve to ensure it never happens again.
- At the end, there is a beautiful memorial where you're able to light a candle in honor of the lost. There is an eternal flame that marks a tomb that contains earth from the camps, ghettos, and sites of mass execution.
- TIP: It might sound strange but do this as your last stop for the day. It's heartbreakingly honest and left me both somber and wanting time to reflect. If we would have had to move to the next activity on the schedule that might have been tough.
- Washington's Mount Vernon is so peaceful. You are able to tour his home and explore the grounds. I kept imagining him wandering the same hills and land along the water.
- While there, we happened on of the most patriotic, moving ceremonies I have ever seen. At his tomb, men from three branches of our military were being honored. After singing the National Anthem and saying the Pledge of Allegiance, a gifted tour guide/flutist played Taps while they laid a wreath on Washington's tomb. At the end, he played the Marine's Hymn, Air Force Song, and Anchors Aweigh. Throughout, I thought about Washington: his fierce leadership during the fight for independence and development of our country...the caliber of his character to step away from power to preserve the heart of our republic. I thought about the men who sacrifice much to actively defend that same freedom. It was overwhelming to stand at the Father of our Nation's grave with men who fight to protect his visionary ideals. "O say does that star spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
- TIP: Mount Vernon is located about 30 minutes outside of downtown DC. We enjoyed being able to regulate our own timetable and do some exploring along the way. The drive itself is beautiful; the route takes you along the Potomac surrounded by winding wooded trails. If you prefer not to do this, there is a shuttle bus service that does a daily trip to Mount Vernon and other popular sites south of DC.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
- As you walk along the streets of the cemetery, you pass by what seems to be endless gravestones. You feel pretty small as you read the names of people who gave their lives for this country.
- Make sure to see the eternal flame at the grave of John F. Kennedy, Tomb of the Unknown Solider, and Changing of the Guard (happens on the hour throughout the day).
- We happened upon a squad that was preparing to fire off some cannons. We asked if they do this for all funerals and they said it wouldn't be possible: there are anywhere from 20-40 funerals there each day. Humbling.
- TIP: Keep an eye out while you are there; not only is the view amazing, we saw Marine One flying overhead as well.
Here are a few of the local favorites that were suggested to us by some DC natives...
- H Street-An up and coming area that has been developing over the last few years. Great variety in terms of type of food and setting. We brunched at a place called Po Boy Jim's-hearty food+bottomless mimosas on Saturday/Sunday.
- Uber-DC has a great public transit system but if you have a larger group, Uber is the way to go. Many people shared that Uber has become the central mode of transportation in this area. With so many drivers and high cab fares, this is the way to go if your destination isn't within walking distance. We loved chatting with our drivers about their spin on local hot spots.
- Board Room DC-Great bar with a relaxed vibe and large selection of board games. We enjoyed circling up around some cards, watching some football, and enjoying the selection of over 21 draft lines (including some local brews).
- Ben's Chili Bowl-This was a common suggestion when asked for 'the' local place to eat. It's a landmark spot visited by politicians, celebrities, and tourists.
- Alexandria-Located a bit south of DC, this quaint town has history written all over it. We stopped here on the way back from Mount Vernon.
We had a great trip. If you are heading there soon and need a suggestion let me know. I would love to go back someday so let me know what else is a 'must-see'!