I am in the midst of planning a family trip to Europe in May (EEEK!), and let me just say that as stressful as it is, I have serious wanderlust right now. I’ve been thinking about some of my favourite family vacations so far, and since I cannot concentrate on anything else, I’ve decided to share some of them.
Washington, D.C. may seem like a really random place for a bunch of Canadians to visit unless you consider that a) my sister and I are American, and b) we are huge fans of museums. And Washington, D.C. is basically one ginormous museum.
Right off the bat, the first thing I loved about Washington, D.C. was how clean and beautiful it was. There are lots of well kept historic buildings and there are even a few plaques throughout where you can learn about important events in history. The metro system is very easy to use, well if you’re 3 and you’re travelling with a bunch of dumb ol’ adults that is. Seriously, my son loved looking at the maps and figuring out what routes we should take. It was extremely cost effective and easy so if you happen to drive to D.C., just leave your car at the hotel.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, and while not right downtown, it was a short walk to the metro station and it is beautiful. Every US president of the 20th century after Franklin D Roosevelt in 1933 has had their inauguration ball held at this hotel. Talk about history! The decor is elegant and old fashioned. And most importantly, the pool is like a resort and warm.
Where we ate
Usually we are on the go eaters, but we were travelling with my mom and her boyfriend and man, do they know how to travel. Right across from our hotel was a restaurant called Open City where we got an awesome breakfast one morning. The biggest stand out I think for all of us was Capitol City Brewing Company. We had done a huge day of walking in sweltering August heat, and were just coming up from the White House when we came across this place. Like absolute jerks, we walked in at 6pm as a table of 9. Having worked in restaurants, my sister and I were ready to head to the McDonald’s down the street. But they found us a table! I should mention that the place was packed. The service was fantastic, the food was amazing, the beer was delicious, and if you’re not a fan of beer get the watermelon margarita. Seriously, do it.
Where we went
Everywhere! The majority of our time was spent exploring the area around the National Mall. We would take the metro into the downtown area and walk from museum to museum. Seeing the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives is definitely a must do, just seeing such an important old document is breathtaking. Remind yourself that it was handwritten, and you’ll be as certain as I am that every gentleman in the 18th century was some kind of artist. Seeing the White House (even though you can’t get very close any more), Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial (which was one of my son’s favourites) just have to be done. And I don’t mean that in an “everyone does it” sort of way, I mean that in a way that they are totally worth the time to go admire them even though your legs will be aching from all of the walking. Yes, you can do bus rides but I highly recommend the walk. We did it with a 3 year old sans stroller, however I refuse to travel with a stroller like the psychopath that I am.
My son’s favourite things were on our second day there. We woke up early and walked past the National Academy of Science where we met up with one of his heroes, Albert Einstein. Yes, we planned for him to wear his Periodic Table shirt on that specific day. He was pretty upset that he couldn’t wear it the previous day because generally if it’s clean, he’s wearing it. But I reminded him that he needed to show it to Albert and he agreed.
The floor of the memorial is covered with studs that represent different constellations and astronomical objects. We wasted a good fifteen minutes enjoying the shade and comparing the studs to the star map.
We had a feeling that The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum was going to be a huge deal for Kaleb, and boy were we right. Even if you’re not scientifically inclined and don’t harbour a deep love for air travel, it’s difficult not to appreciate this museum. As soon as you enter there are huge space crafts and satellites hovering over your head, and the exhibits are engaging and many of them interactive. One of the first things Kaleb did was purchase an astronaut costume with the money he had saved. This was huge and surprising to me because this kid has been to Disney World and refused my every offer to buy him a costume. He hurriedly put it on over his clothes while in line for an IMAX show narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson about dark matter that he selected (and out of the 9 of us I think only he and my mom’s boyfriend understood any of it!) and to this day wears it almost daily.
How Things Fly is an amazing hands on exhibit for kids which I highly recommend, but be prepared, it is packed. Despite the low crowd levels in the rest of the museum, it was loud and chaotic in the children’s area. Kaleb was still only 3 when we visited and had a difficult time warming up to places if they were too loud then, but we did a quick circle, went elsewhere, and then made our way back. This is always my go to when he gets too overwhelmed. I take him out, let him prepare himself mentally, and then when we go back he’s much better prepared! He loved seeing how much he would weigh on different planets and the moon, and even waited in a short line multiple times to pretend to drive their Cesna model.
The great thing about the museums in Washington, D.C. is that they were all free. It makes it an astounding place to go if you’re on a budget because while there are certainly plenty of things to spend money on, you can do it much more frugally than a lot of other cities. It also means that you can pop in and out of the museums for specific exhibits and not feel too badly if you don’t spend a whole lot of time seeing everything.
The National Museum of Natural History is another kid friendly museum. However I have to admit that because Kaleb isn’t into animals too much, it wasn’t our top. Their dinosaur exhibit is smaller, which was disappointing to Kaleb as he is used to the Royal Ontario Museum which has a pretty large exhibit. However it was really neat to watch the palaeontologists working at the back. There is also a butterfly exhibit which does cost and many seem to enjoy, but seeing as we have the Butterfly Conservatory at home it didn’t make much sense for us. We did however get to hold a caterpillar! And by we, I mean my husband held it while I made supportive “aww a caterpillar!” sounds while trying not to cry. My son’s favourite part of this museum was the geology gift shop where they had Theodore Gray everything. My favourite was seeing the Hope Diamond.
The National Museum of American History is a really fun one for the whole family. A weird mix of history and nostalgia, you can see Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers here and my mom, sister and I quite enjoyed The First Ladies exhibit. Be warned, there are a number of math and science objects like telescopes and other tools and if you have a kid like Kaleb you’re bound to get some sidelong glances by old men that actually know what your kid is talking about and wondering why you’re flat out giving them the wrong answers. Yes, sir, I am that dumb.
The only thing that I didn’t do with Kaleb that the rest of the family did was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. My family said it was absolutely amazing and that while it was child friendly, seeing that Kaleb is extremely empathetic and was going through a phase where he was obsessed and terrified of death, it was a good thing we stayed back. It was a hard choice, but for us at that time I think the right one. I would definitely peg it as a must see however, and if Kaleb was a little older I think it would almost be a requirement to go. To give you an idea of the emotional ride it takes you on, you’re given a passport of someone who died in a concentration camp so that you can connect on a personal level.
Visiting Washington, D.C. was an absolute blast and a learning opportunity of a lifetime. If you go in the summertime, beware, it get’s hot! Drink lots and don’t be afraid to jump into the nearest museum to enjoy their air conditioning. You never know what you might discover inside!