Washington, D.C. is one of the country’s must-see cities. There’s history to learn and sites to see, making it an ideal destination for families — grandparents, parents and kids! But planning a trip to Washington, D.C. includes a lot of walking, which can be exhausting for little ones and older folks. And in the summer months, the heat can make it difficult to last a whole day sightseeing.
I took a trip to the nation’s capital with my family - 10 of us, including my over-60 parents and 4 kids ages 4 to 8. It took some time to research things to do that would engage everyone, kid-friendly restaurants, and a hotel that would appeal to everyone based on amenities, location and price. In the end it was a memorable trip, minus a couple of meltdowns. Here are 7 tips to help you plan your family vacation to Washington, D.C.:
If you’re traveling to D.C. in the summer it’s essential to book a hotel with a pool. The Omni Shoreham Hotel in the Woodley Park neighborhood has been hosting bold-faced names since 1930. While the rooms are old-ish, they’re clean which is the most important detail. The main attraction is the resort-style pool which is larger than the pool at the Washington Hilton down the road, and the pool bar/restaurant has a decent menu with can’t-be-beat prices. The hotel is wheelchair friendly, and a quick walk to the Metro. Other hotels with pools to consider include The Kimpton Donovan Hotel, The Westin Georgetown, and The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, which has an indoor pool for usage year round.
Taxis are not difficult to come by, but have an Uber or Lyft app on just in case. The 21st-century taxi hailing services will come in handy when you find yourself off the beaten path, or need to fit more than four people in a cab. Some taxis use Arro, an app that lets you hail a cab and pay for rides.
Pick museums that will interest your kids. Some children will look in awe at the planes and rockets at the National Air and Space Museum, while others may prefer animal exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History. Movies can be a great source of inspiration for kids trying to decide which museum will interest them. National Treasure fans won’t want to miss the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives. The National Museum of American History is also fun with a number of artifacts they may already be aware of, such as the flag that inspired the national anthem.
For older travelers, they may enjoy seeing the kids’ faces light up as they explore the exhibits at the above museums, but if they want to take a break from kid-stuff the National Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the American Art Museum offer a wide range of art from classic to contemporary.
It’s important to note that the National Museum of African American History & Culture is one of the most popular museums in town, but tickets should be ordered months in advance.
Make sightseeing historic monuments and buildings fun for the kids! City Scratch-Off Map: Washington, D.C.: A Sightseeing Scavenger Hunt can help keep little minds interested by having them “scratch off” a monument to learn an important fact after they spot it. There are 30 in all and include most the ones on your must-see list: Washington Monument, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the U.S. Capitol. The Big Bus Tour is a hop-on hop-off tour that’ll take you around the city while explaining each historic site. Tickets start at $39pp.
Dine in family-friendly spots. It can be hard to find a restaurant that seats large parties at reasonable times, but here are a few family-friendly ones we found with delicious food, great service and enough options on the menu to satisfy everyone. Open City in Woodley Park has a delicious breakfast menu, but they don’t take reservations, so get there early on weekends. For lunch, the Smithsonian cafeterias have good reputations, especially the Sweet Home Cafe at the National Museum of African American History & Culture. You’ll also fine national chains all over the city from Shack Shacks to Le Pain Quotidien for something more affordable.
For dinner, Old Ebbitt Grill is a 161-year-old restaurant that serves everything from oysters and chilled lobster to steak and seafood, and the prices are beyond reasonable. The kid’s menu has the usual favorites — burgers, mac-n-cheese, chicken tenders, and comes with a drink and Haagen-Dazs ice cream! Other dinner spots to consider include Pinstripes Georgetown for the Italian-American menu, bowling and bocce ball and Bolt Burgers near the Convention Center for build-em-yourself burgers.
Swing by one of these sugar spots after taking in the sites on a hot summer’s day, or for an energy boost. Dolcezza Gelato has multiple locations around the city, and in Maryland and Virginia. Georgetown Cupcake has two locations on M Street and in Bethesda. If you find yourself on Massachusetts Avenue, perhaps after a visit to the U.S. Capitol or the U.S. Postal Service Museum, pop into Union Station and grab some macarons from Ladurée. They also have a location in Georgetown.
Shop for all types of souvenirs! If you’re looking to buy a souvenir there are plenty of DC-themed shops and kiosks around the National Mall selling everything from tee-shirts and hats to red, white and blue fidget spinners. For something less patriotic there are several areas you may want to visit. Shopping on M Street in Georgetown you’ll find a mix of national chains as well as independent boutiques. Connecticut Avenue North of Dupont Circle has a number of mom-and-pop shops and consignment stores mixed in with the restaurant and bar scene. And for indoor mall-style shopping you can cab it to Tyson’s Corner, two upscale malls in Northern Virginia, or head to the Tanger Outlets in Maryland for some amazing designer deals.