When school let out for summer, we took Luke on his first trip to Washington, D.C. We thought a rising fifth grader would have lots of interest in the famous monuments and a few museums, but might not be ready to tackle everything, so we scheduled our inaugural family visit for just three and a half days. After walking 20,000 steps daily, we filled our hearts and minds with all things America. Here are our 10-year-old’s Top 10 stops.
- Much to the parents’ chagrin, Luke’s favorite part of our D.C. trip was not a part of history, or even Americana for that matter. He discovered the Lime share scooter program and became obsessed! Admittedly, they are pretty cool. Download the Lime app to find electric scooters dropped all over town. Scan the app and for $1 you can start zipping across the city. It saved our tired feet, the faster pace and cool breeze was welcome and it was a fun challenge to find a nearby scooter—like a national treasure hunt!
2. The Spy Museum is not free, but it’s worth every penny. Book your tickets online early and plan to spend 2-3 hours in this interactive and fascinating exploration of international espionage, intelligence and mystery.
3. Udvar-Hazy Center (National Air and Space Complex) – We wondered if it would be worth the drive to Dulles Airport to see more than what’s on display on the Mall. Absolutely! Housed in two enormous hangars, the acreage allows for thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde and the Space Shuttle Discovery. We spent several hours there and were so glad we made the drive. If you are flying in or out of Dulles on your trip, build in a half day to visit while you are nearby.
4. Our family loves a good free walking tour, and we were excited to join Free Tours by Foot after enjoying their itineraries in London. The two-hour National Mall tour was captivating and educational as we learned about the history and meaning behind monuments—some we may have otherwise overlooked—like the beautiful but haunting Korean War Veterans Memorial.
5. Great food all over town – We never had a bad meal, thanks to friends’ recommendations and Eater DC. For history and nostalgia (and no wait to eat at the bar!), lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill near the White House. Make a reservation so you don’t miss the chicken and waffles or high-quality burgers at Founding Farmers. And, stroll the beautifully preserved, historic neighborhood of Shaw on your way to modern, rustic Italian at All Purpose.6. Ford’s Theatre – I actually have childhood memories of witnessing the very spot where President Lincoln was shot. So I was excited when Luke expressed interest in visiting Ford’s Theatre after reading Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. Be sure to grab an audio guide with your small entrance fee to fully appreciate the extensive museum before entering the theatre. It superbly paints the story of Lincoln’s presidency, the Civil War and his tragic death.
7. Of all the Smithsonian museums, The National Air and Space was the most captivating to our son. And, while the museum on the Mall warranted a three-hour visit (including two IMAX movies and an audio guide), the better Air and Space experience was at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
8. This was actually my inclusion. While the boys watched IMAX movies at the National Air and Space Museum, I walked across the lawn to enjoy the gorgeous Impressionist wing at the National Gallery of Art. Quiet, peaceful and cool…a mama’s dream. Don’t forget to grab your free audio guide at the entrance to learn as you wander (can you tell we love a good audio guide?!).
9. On the advice of a travel blogger, we watched National Treasure, a 90’s Nicolas Cage movie, before visiting the National Archives. It successfully lured Luke into the dark rotunda and we gazed in awe at the original, historic documents. The Public Vaults were equally entertaining with childhood photos of the presidents, Thomas Edison’s light bulb patent and audio recordings from the Oval Office. *Tip: Reserve your time online before you go and avoid standing for hours with hundreds of middle school tour groups!
10. America on the Move exhibit at the National Museum of American History – Our vehicle-loving son enjoyed this history of transportation, although I thought it was a bit outdated compared to other more interactive exhibits we visited. You can easily entertain boys and girls in this museum, though, and some of my personal favorites are the First Ladies, Star Spangled Banner and FOOD: Transforming the American Table exhibits.
We’ve already built our list for the next trip to D.C. We didn’t have time to tour the FBI Building, visit Arlington National Cemetery or see Mount Vernon. There’s always a reason to return to our nation’s capital. What are your favorite D.C. spots?