3 Days in Washington D.C.

There are SO many amazing things to experience in Washington D.C. that it would be impossible to do them all in 3 days. Luckily with a lot of planning (and a TON of walking), we were able to see most of the major sites during our trip in October. 


Day 1| Memorials, Monuments, and Museums

Our first day in D.C. was spent exploring the National Mall. We started our morning bright and early at the Washington Monument. The elevator was under construction while we were there, so we could only view the outside.



Tip: If traveling by public transit, the Smithsonian underground stop is the perfect place to start.

From there we walked to:
WWII Memorial


 

MLK Jr. Memorial


Korean War Veterans Memorial


Lincoln Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial 


All of the memorials were beautiful and so much more impressive in person. Pictures definitely don’t do them justice. The Lincoln Memorial was my favorite, but it was also the busiest and I was getting super annoyed at some people. Seriously, how many selfies do you need in front of Abe?!?



From there we hopped on the Circulator Bus (only $1 per trip) to the museums on the other side of the mall. For lunch we ate at the Mitsitam Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian. I had read that instead of crappy cafeteria food in the other museums, they have stations with authentic food from the various regions/cultures featured in the museum. We split a bowl of buffalo chili and a fry bread and both were very good.

We didn’t spend much time in the National Museum of the American Indian because we have a similar museum in Arizona that we’ve been to recently (the Heard Museum). Instead we went to the National Air and Space Museum. Oh, and I should mention that all of the Smithsonian museums are free to visit!

The Air and Space Museum is one of the most popular of the Smithsonian Museums, so be prepared for crowds. If you’re interested in aviation or anything related to space, this is the museum for you. 




Adam wanted to see the contemporary art at the Hirshhorn Museum, so that was our next stop. I really liked the Mark Bradford Pickett’s Charge exhibit, but some of the really abstract pieces I didn’t get the point. It’s just not my jam.



Our last museum of the day was the National Museum of American History. My favorite part of the museum was the First Ladies exhibit featuring gowns worn by the First Ladies throughout history. I loved seeing the different styles and designs – from a gown worn by Martha Washington to Michelle Obama’s inaugural ball gown. I also really liked being able to see how tall/short/small each of them were. I wish I would have taken pictures, but Grace Coolidge had the most fabulous flapper dress (you can see a picture here)!

You can also see an almost 200 year old, 30x34 foot American flag in the Star Spangled Banner exhibit, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, and a replica of Julia Child’s kitchen at the American History museum.

I wish we would have had the time/energy to see the Natural History Museum, but I was so over it by the time we finished at the American History Museum. So we decided to grab a beer and some food at Capitol City Brewing Company. We also split a slice of the chocolate malt cake at the nearby Milk Bar. Heavenly!



Day 2 | Capitol, Congress, and Supreme Court


Our second day in Washington D.C. was spent exploring all of the government buildings. But first, breakfast! I really wanted to try a homemade pop-tart from Ted’s Bulletin, so we stopped there for breakfast before our tour of the Capitol. The portions were huge and the pop-tart was the highlight (of course)! 




About six weeks before our trip we contacted our Representative and were able to book a staff led tour of the Capitol. I highly recommending visiting the Capitol that way if you are able to. There was only one other couple on our tour vs. the large tour when booked directed with the Capitol. Of course it all depends on the staff’s schedule, so booking could be hit or miss. Most likely your guide will be an intern or low-level staffer, so I imagine the quality of the staff led tours can vary greatly. Our guide was really nice and we really enjoyed our tour with him.



We met our staffer at our Representative’s office in the Longworth House Office Building, so we got to take the tunnel from the office building to the capitol. The tunnel walls feature artwork from artists in every state. 



The Capitol is such a gorgeous building and it’s filled with so much history. Of course the most impressive part is the dome. It reminded me of all of the beautiful painted domes I’ve seen around Europe. Although I think the Library of Congress' ceiling is prettier...


The House and the Senate were away on break while we were there, but our guide provided us passes to view both chambers and they were still worth seeing. There was a lady answering questions on the Senate side, so we sat for a bit to listen to the questions/answers. Our visit was right after the Kavanaugh confirmation, so there were a lot of questions about the protests and what happened to the protesters. 




After our tour of the Capitol we took the pedestrian underground tunnel to the Library of Congress. If you use the tunnel, you don’t have to pass through security again. The Library of Congress is free to visit and no tickets are required. The interior is gorgeous, so it's worth a visit just to see the inside and ceiling!



It’s mostly self-guided, but to view the Reading Room, you’ll have to wait in line and visit in timed groups. 



After touring the Library of Congress we stopped for lunch at We the Pizza and enjoyed a couple slices of pizza. From there we went to visit the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is also free and no tickets are required. You’ll enter from the doors on each side of the main steps…don’t try to go up the main steps. Court wasn’t in session while we were there, so it was pretty quiet and didn’t take long to explore the building. 



From there we took the bus to Georgetown. Unfortunately it was rainy, so we didn’t get to walk around enjoying the area like we planned. We ended up stopping at Laduree for macarons and walking along the river to The Watergate.



We picked up a cab from there and went to ChurchKey for a beer. For dinner we ate at PJ Clarke’s because it was near our hotel and we were exhausted. I had the lobster roll and it was pure bliss. Adam was seriously regretting his order after tasting my lobster roll. 


Day 3 | Mount Vernon, Old Town Alexandria, and Arlington


For our third and final day, we decided to get out of the city and explore a few of the surrounding historic sites. Our main stop of the day was Mount Vernon. We didn’t have a car, so we had to take the subway and a bus to get there. If you are taking public transit, take the Yellow Line to Huntington Station, exit to the lower level, and catch the Fairfax Connector Bus #101 to Mount Vernon. It’s about a 20 minute bus ride to the entrance gate. 



Tickets to tour the mansion are timed, but you can explore the rest of the property at your own pace. We started with a tour of the mansion and really enjoyed it. The tour itself was really interesting and it’s honestly kind of surreal to walk up the same staircase as George Washington.


 

After our tour of the mansion we checked out a few of the nearby outbuildings and walked to the Washington Tomb, the final resting place of George and Martha Washington. 

 

We also explored the Upper Garden and spent some time in the museum. They also have a really nice gift shop. I bought the prettiest Mount Vernon Christmas ornament for our tree.


From Mount Vernon we took a Lyft to Old Town Alexandria. We could have taken public transit back, but we were both hungry for lunch, so it was worth the extra money to get there faster. We had lunch at Virtue Feed & Grain (restaurant located in a 1800s feed house) and the food was delicious. 



From there we walked up King Street stopping in the cute shops along the way. If your feet are tired, there’s a free trolley that runs along King Street from the metro to the waterfront, stopping every two blocks. I kinda wish we would have taken it for part of the way. I’ve honestly never walked as much as we walked on this trip. 

As we explored King Street and all of the shops we took a little detour to see the Spite House. It’s the skinniest historic house in America at just seven feet wide. A private residence located at 523 Queen Street, John Hollensbury built it out of spite in 1830 to keep loiterers out of his adjacent alley. 


Once we made it back to the King Street metro stop, we hopped on and headed for Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery has its own exit, so it’s impossible to miss. It’s free to visit, but we ended up paying for the shuttle because I was exhausted from walking all day for three days and the cemetery is very hilly. It was worth every penny.


The shuttle stops at all of the major sites, but does take a while to circle around. We ended up getting off at the stop for the JFK gravesite and then walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the Changing of the Guard. Then we hopped back on the shuttle from there for the rest of the trip. The cemetery is such a beautiful, moving experience and the shuttle was a great way to see parts that I probably wouldn’t have had the energy to walk to. 



The Changing of the Guard ceremony runs every hour on the hour from October – March and every 30 minutes from April – September. If you go to the cemetery, it’s a must see.



Once we got back into the city we decided to visit the two memorials that we missed our first day. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial are on the opposite side of the Tidal Basin as the rest of the memorials, so it takes a little extra planning (or walking) to get over there. Both are worth seeing so I’m really happy that we made the effort to visit. 






For dinner we went to Jose Andres’ Oyamel Cocina Mexicano. It was definitely a splurge, but everything was delicious. Definitely order the camarones al mojo de ajo negro!

We had such an amazing time in Washington D.C. I would love to go back someday to visit the places we didn’t have enough time for on this trip. If you’re planning to visit, my #1 advice would be to wear comfortable shoes. I’ve honestly never walked so much in my life! Also, use the metro! It's a great way to get around while avoiding the traffic! 





Other Details:

We stayed at the Capital Hilton and the location was perfect. It was an easy walk to great restaurants and the White House, plus the McPherson Square metro station is REALLY close. It was worth the extra money for the convenience.

Because we stayed so close to the White House, we stopped by on our way to dinner on the night that we arrived. We saw the north side and all of the protesters during daylight hours and then circled the entire White House block at night on our way back from dinner.


I would have loved to tour the White House, but we planned our trip last minute, so there weren’t any tickets available during our stay. I also would have liked to see the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and National Archives, but we just didn’t have enough time. Next visit!



7 comments

  1. We loved DC! We were only there for two days, but I would have loved to tack on third. I am so jealous you got to do the staff led tour of the Capital. We didn't have enough notice to plan ahead; I ended up joining my husband at the end of a work trip that got planned last minute. We definitely want to go back though, so hopefully next time! Isn't the Library of Congress just the most beautiful spot?!

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    1. We planned a little last minute too, so we didn't get to tour the White House, but hopefully next time!

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  2. This is such a helpful guide. We are getting ready to travel back to DC this year. I can't wait. :)

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  3. Unfortunately, we have never taken a trip to Washington DC as a family. My family is a full of history buffs, so they will enjoy all the stops.

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  4. Washington, D.C. is such a beautiful place with lots of things to do for tourists of all ages. Even though we live an hour away from D.C., I still feel like we've yet to do some of the things you listed here.

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  5. Oh! I would love to see the First Ladies' gowns! How neat!

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  6. Wow! What a packed schedule. I love DC. We spent a week there several years ago and didn't see nearly all of this, lol. Looks like I need to go back again and take your guide with me :)

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