One of my readers recently contacted me wanting some help planning a trip. She wanted to take her teenage son to Washington DC. Her family had gone when he was younger but they wanted to give him the chance to see the city while he was still interested in the history of it. The trip would be for 2 adults and 1 teenager. Her worry was that they could only take the trip during her husband’s summer shut down during the week of 4th of July. After doing some research, I’ve come up with an itinerary I think her family will enjoy.
Once again, I have to recommend the Americana Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. It’s conveniently located to the DC metro and it’s affordable for your family. I’ve been following them on their Facebook page and they’ve started showing off photos of their newly renovated hotel rooms.
Rooms come with a mini-fridge and there’s a continental breakfast from 6-10 AM. The hotel also offers shuttle service from Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA) if you choose to fly into that airport and it offers shuttle service to your nearest metro station: Crystal City Station. Room rates for a standard double would normally run you $105/nt but right now the Americana Hotel is offering a 20% discount if you stay 4 or more nights. That means you can stay for just $84/nt for a grand total of $555.66 from July 3-9.
Day One: July 4, 2011
Happy Independence Day! You’ll want to spend most of your day on the National Mall where all the fun will be happening. Keep in mind there will be increased security this day and you’ll need to enter the mall at one of the designated entrances. Roads will be closed all over DC so you’ll want to take the Blue Line Metro to the Federal Triangle Station because the Smithsonian Station will also be closed. Enter the mall at the checkpoint located at Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets.
- The National Independence Day Parade starts at 11:45 AM. It runs along Constitution Ave between 7th and 17th Streets. We suggest viewing the parade from in front of the National Archives Building.
- From 11 AM through 5:30 PM the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will be offered for free along the National Mall between 7th and 14th. You can take your time to explore this festival while you’re on the mall. You’ll also want to explore all of the key monuments in the area, including the new-to-you WWII Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. There will also be several concerts throughout the day on the lawn by the Washington Monument.
- Take a mid-day detour to Ford’s Theatre. Buy tickets in advance for a noon theatre walk-through and museum visit. The tour is free but you will pay a convenience fee for the purchase.
- Anytime after 3 PM, head over to the West Lawn of the US Capitol Building. From 8-9:30 PM you’ll see musical stars performing with the National Symphony as part of PBS’s A Capitol Fourth. The finale includes Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” with live canon fire and fireworks in the background starting at 9:10 PM. Take the Blue Line Federal Center SW station back to the Crystal City Station.
- Breakfast: Corner Bakery Cafe. This spot is conveniently located near your metro station and hotel and serves hot breakfast options. You’ll be doing a lot of walking so this is the day to eat a big breakfast.
- Lunch: Grab some concessions at the Folklife Festival. They’ll be offering BBQ Chicken, Fried Fish, Arroz con Pollo, Latin Beef Kabob, and Welsh food options.
- Dinner: Unless you happen to spot Pi on Wheels (a nod to your St. Louis hometown, check their location of the day on Twitter or Facebook), we suggest stopping in at Chop’t. It’s healthy sandwiches and salads made very creatively and beloved by Michelle Obama’s healthy kids platform. How DC is that?
Day Two: July 5, 2011
You’ll be exhausted from all your walking the day before so I’m only sending you to one location for your second day. I’ve decided to send you along to the Newseum. This is a 250,000 square foot museum that you really could spend all day at. From your hotel, take the yellow line to Archives/Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro Station. Head east on Pennsylvania Avenue towards the US Capitol until you see the Newseum.
The Newseum is open from 9-5 and most people recommend 6 or so hours inside. You’ll be surprised to find all the ways news is presented through this museum, whether it’s through print media or broadcasting. I’ve often heard NPR announcing from inside here. Before your trip, check out their top 10 exhibits including the Berlin Wall exhibit and Unabomber cabin. Don’t forget to head up to the 6th floor for an amazing view as well.
Tickets for adults 19-64 cost $21.95+tax and youth tickets for those 7-18 cost $12.95+tax but can be purchased in advance for a 10% savings.
Since you’ll have a lot of free time in the afternoon and evening, consider heading back to the National Mall while its less crowded or visit Georgetown in the evening. Use this time to explore something that might be of special interest to one of you or just rest your feet.
- Breakfast: Take advantage of your hotel continental breakfast or store some snacks in your room’s mini-fridge
- Lunch: Eat inside the Newseum. You can pick from your choice of dishes at the food court inside.
- Dinner: If you have a place in mind to try, this is the night. We’re leaving this one open for you to research and pick but I will say that if you do want to hop around then be ready to stop in at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a local favorite. They’re open till 2 AM so you have time to choose if this is the spot for you.
Day Three: July 6, 2011
I hope you’ve rested because I’m sending you back out into the wild.
- Take the Blue line from Crystal City Station to Arlington Cemetery Station.
- The Arlington National Cemetery opens at 8 AM. I know your family has been there before so you may be familiar with the procedures but to recap, there’s a visitor’s center where you can get a map of the place or buy tickets to the Tourmobile ($8.50 each, tours start at 8:30 AM) if you’d rather not walk the grounds on foot. During the summer months the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns happens on the half hour.
- Once you’ve explored the cemetery, head out and take the light walk to the Iwo Jima Memorial. It’s a small detour but a magnificent attraction.
- After you’ve taken the memorial in, head back to the Arlington Cemetery Station. Take the Blue line to Metro Center and transfer to the Red Line heading to Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Station
- Spend the afternoon at the National Zoo. It closes at 6 PM and we suggest staying till close to avoid DC crowds on the metro. To return to your hotel, take the Woodley Park metro back to Metro Center, transfer to the blue line and exit at Crystal City Station.
- If you want to have some fun at night, visit the nearby Pentagon Row. There’s shopping, dining, and its within walking distance of your hotel. Not up for walking? Try taking your hotel shuttle.
- Breakfast: Stick with the hotel again since you’ll be having an early start
- Lunch: Ray’s Hell Burgers is right near Arlington and Iwo Jima. It can be a bit of a walk so hop back to Arlington Cemetery Station and go one station down to Rosslyn station. The menu is obviously full of burgers and toppings range from American Cheese to roasted bone marrow. It’s not your usual burger stand but it is where President Obama took Russian President Dmitry Medvedev so you know you’ll be eating in style.
- Dinner: Grab some food over in Pentagon Row. My top suggestion is Lebanese Taverna. While the menu does include some of the more exotic Lebanese offerings, you’ll find safe options like rotisserie chicken for the less adventurous members of your party.
Day Four: July 7, 2011
I’m sending you indoors for a day full of museums on this Thursday. If you happen to have a rain day during your trip, be sure to swap things around so you’re in the Newseum or following this day’s schedule so you stay dry.
- Take the Crystal City Metro to the Smithsonian Station via the Blue Line. You’ll also take this route in reverse when heading back to the hotel.
- Museum #1: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This one was a hit during your last trip, is free, and has a great feature on the Space Race that will tie in nicely with the Berlin Wall exhibit you saw at the Newseum. This museum opens at 10 AM and is worth a few hours.
- Museum #2: National Museum of Natural History. While I loved this museum for the Hope Diamond and impressive gemstone display, everything inside will meet your son’s requirements of exploring history. There’s currently a sneak peak of an upcoming Ancient Egypt exhibit going on that I think will go over nicely with your group. This museum also opens at 10 AM and stays open through 7:30 PM. It would make a great afternoon stop.
- If you finish up early, there are plenty of other free museums to check out. Consider viewing one of the gardens as well if you are dealing with museum overload.
- Breakfast: Consider stopping in at the Corner Bakery again or stick to your hotel. It’s up to you!
- Lunch: Mitsitam Cafe is hidden away in a perfect detour spot. It’s tucked away inside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian which would be a great way to avoid the crowds and get a new perspective. The Cafe itself offers an amazing selection of dishes on its menu, offering food stations with native foods from the Northern Woodlands, South America, the Northwest Coast, Meso America and the Great Plains. All the reviewers seem to have endless praise for the fry bread so make sure some is on your platter.
- Dinner: Take a walk down to Good Stuff Eatery. The menu is full of burgers, fries (they come large so split an order), and the milkshakes are said to be one of a kind. The food here is all fresh and as local as possible.
Day Five: July 8, 2011
You’ve made it through the wildest and craziest part of your trip. I’ve planned a calmer day for this day with two tentative activities that you may want to shuffle around depending on your requirements and exhaustion levels.
- Take the same metro route as yesterday, Crystal City to Smithsonian both to and from your hotel
- You voiced an interest in a White House Tour.
- Tours run 7:30 AM through noon on this Friday. To get tickets, you’ll need to contact one of your members of Congress. I suggest contacting Claire McCaskill’s office via her website and filling out the form and security spreadsheet on there. You can also call her at 202-224-6154
- The tour requires no bags, cameras, or purses be brought inside the tour. You can either leave your bags with a member of your party while they wait (and swap places later) or leave bags back at your hotel for the day and just travel with the essential wallets, keys and phones.
- The tour is self-guided but there will be secret service agents placed in each room that can answer all your questions.
- Stop by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at 10 AM to pick up timed tickets unless you purchased one of the limited number of advance tickets online. The museum is open 10 AM through 6:30 PM during summer weekdays and you will need a timed pass to enter. Expect to spend around 2-3 hours inside the main exhibit. This is a somber exhibit so make your best judgment if this is right for your vacation.
- Breakfast: Another early morning so hit up your hotel’s breakfast
- Lunch: Depending on your ticket times for the day, lunch could be a tricky meal. There’s a cafe inside the Holocaust Museum or you can eat near the White House at Potbelly Sandwich Works. Even better: look around and find a place locals are pouring into.
- Dinner: Head down to Maine Avenue Fish Market at Maine and 12th. You’ll find fresh fish and seafood pouring in so stop in at one of the many stands and enjoy all the seafood you can eat. Captain White’s Seafood City is one of the top spots so we’ve put it on the map for you.
View 5 Days in DC in a larger map
- Check out our post on a DC trip for under $500 for helpful budgeting advice
- Consider renting a bike to see DC in a fun new way. Bike the Sites has several tour options.
- Have you thought about going to a Washington Nationals game? They’ll be playing the Cubs during your stay and you can always enjoy the Presidents Race in the 4th inning.
- If any of you feels the need to wear seersucker, Thursday is the day to do it
- Invest in comfortable walking shoes
- Enjoy free activities!
- Save by using your American Express Card.
- Use the Metro Trip Planner to estimate how much money you’ll need for fares or find the fare card right for you
- At the metro escalators, the unwritten rules say walk to the left, stand to the right. Remember people live and work here.
- Consider staying downtown to lessen your commute time. Check deal sites for comparable rates.
- Email the google map to your phone so you can follow it and use google’s walking directions to guide you if you get lost
- Check the links for the Independence Day events closer to the Fourth for more specific schedules. Most plan on putting out detailed lists in June
- Have fun and relax. A trip doesn’t have to be perfect for your family to enjoy it.