Washington DC Family Trip

Old Jul 21st, 2010, 08:18 AM
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Washington DC Family Trip

We (my husband, son [11], daughter [14] and I) are going to be in DC for 3 full days and two half days in a couple weeks and need help with an itinerary and restaurant recommendations. This is the kids' first taste of the East Coast as we live in Washington state, and I haven't been for 30 years. Have obtained tour tickets for the Capitol and visit to Congresswoman's office, didn't get the White House or Supreme Court (but we would like to see them anyway). I split the days loosely like this:

1. Zoo (for pandas), Holocaust museum (?), monuments/memorials
2. the Mall, Smithsonian museums
3. Capitol, White House from outside

This is a very vague plan, as you can see, and we are open to any suggestions. Are the monuments/memorials safe at night? Is it worth spending about half a day for outdoor pursuits, such as kayaking or biking around Rock Creek Park which is next to the hotel? We are staying at the Omni Shoreham. For restaurants, we love ethnic food and look for mostly family-friendly establishments, but don't need super "little-kid friendly" places, the kids are older and well behaved. We try to avoid white glove places and hip, night-clubby atmosphere. Thanks so much!
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 08:27 AM
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"Are the monuments/memorials safe at night?"

Yes they are safe and sound at night. Visiting them is safe also.

"it worth spending about half a day for outdoor pursuits, such as kayaking or biking around Rock Creek Park which is next to the hotel?"

Maybe renting bikes for an evening wouuld be okay, but it is VERY humid here and I would personally not do it.

"For restaurants, we love ethnic food and look for mostly family-friendly establishments"

Ethiopian food is big here. While I don't have any recommendations, you might want to look into that.
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 09:14 AM
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There is more than enough to do here in 3 full days and 2 half days without adding a bike ride around Rock Creek Park or kayaking. However, if you really want to do an activity like that, you could do the Bike and Boat Trip to Mt. Vernon, so that you incorporate some biking with sightseeing. This tour is offered through a company called "Bike and Roll". I personally have no knowledge of the tour other than it exists.
I would definitely plan to do the Zoo first thing in the morning. If you go to the zoo's website, you can see when the gates open and when the various animal houses open as well. Not only will it be more comfortable for you, weatherwise, to go early, but also the animals will be more active in the early morning hours.
I also would plan to do your visit to the monuments and memorials in the evening hours. There will be plenty of other visitors there and it is perfectly safe to tour the monuments at night.
In addition, I recommend that you get a map of the Mall and organize your days around a particular part of the Mall. For instance, on the day that you do your tour of the Capitol, plan to visit the Supreme Court, Library of Congress and the museums closest to that end of the Mall, the National Gallery of Art and the Museum of the American Indian. Don't plan to go to the Holocaust Museum that day since it is way on the other end of the Mall.
Finally, if you are around the Capitol at lunchtime, you might enjoy eating lunch at the Longworth Building cafeteria. We ate there a couple years ago on our "Vacation Day in D.C." (we're locals) and the food there was tasty and reasonably-priced. In fact, it got a grade of "A" just last week in the Washington Post's review of government cafeterias. The cafeteria is open to all and your tour guide can give you directions on how to get there.
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 09:35 AM
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Since you live in Washington state (where there is an abundance of "outdoors"), I would personally not spend my time in DC on "outdoor pursuits"; there's simply too much to see in the short time you have.

We had dinner last week at a restaurant you might like -- Zengo, in Chinatown, but definitely not Chinese (it seems like hardly anything is). It's called Asian-Mexican fusion. You can share everything, or order individually. Medium price. Very lively.


We also had lunch at the cafe of the Museum of the American Indian and it was excellent. I had a plate of mussels that were cooked right in front of me -- not typical cafeteria food at all.

If you're planning to look at the Capitol and the White House from the outside, you certainly don't need a whole day. They'll fit in with your other plans. Look at a map -the Lincoln Memorial is at one end of the mall, the Washington Monument is in the middle and the Capitol and Supreme Court and Library of Congress are at the other end. It's a long walk from one end to the other (2 or 3 miles). The White House is sort of in the middle, too (although not on the mall).
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 11:29 AM
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our family just spend 3 full days in DC - kids 8, 10 and 12 and had a fantastic time!! We also stayed at Omni Shoreham and was excellent choice with easy metro into the city. I'll try to provide a quick rundown of our itin tonight or tomorrow.. ..which was centered much around the extreme heat while we were there.. unable to do much walking at ALL!! (which we usually enjoy and would be great in DC along the mall..)When do you leave?
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 11:38 AM
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The Omni Shoreham is IN DC.
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 11:50 AM
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yes, i am clear it has a DC address and hopefully others understood what i meant.. should have said "used the metro to get to the mall, capital hill, etc.."
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 12:19 PM
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A few random thoughts--

keep low expectations for the zoo (especially if it's hot the pandas will likely be indoors/lethargic; if you do go you might want to go first thing in the morning, especially as it is walking distance from your hotel).

I agree the cafeteria at the American Indian Museum is probably the best food on the Mall. Also the Garden Cafe at the National Gallery of Art has a temporary menu of french food designed by the chef from Central, one of DC's better (or at least "hotter") restaurants.

Roughly near the mall/downtown, you can find places like Good Stuff Eatery (burgers and shakes), Teaism (Asian fusion), Tacqueria National and Oyamel (Mexican), Jaleo (spanish tapas), Matchbox and Ellas (pizza). There is a food court in the old post office building (11th and Penn.-- also has a good viewpoint if you skip the Wash. Monument; if you don't want to skip the Wash. Mon. I think you need to get timed tix online).

Your kids are probably the right age for the Spy Museum, but note that it's privately run and not cheap (tix available online if you want to schedule ahead of time and avoid lines).

we have a downtown(ish) baseball stadium now and usually you can walk up and get pretty cheap tickets.

have fun!
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 12:21 PM
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I live in that neighborhood and there are a lot of good restaurants nearby. In the Woodley Park hood, the best restaurant is Lebanese Taverna, hands down. the other ethnic restaurants in Woodley seem to cater folks at hotels or go one time, but the following are not as loyal. Afghan Grille does have repeat.

If you want better neighborhood restaurants, go up Connecticut ave to Woodley Park and there are 2 i would recommend. Indique is great and have a loyal following in this town. they also have an early dinner special from 5:30 to 7pm for 3 course $20. it is a can't miss.

the other kind of low-key Asian is Spices which is sushi, but has hot asian dishes, too. both are abuot 40 yards from the Cleveland Park metro stop.

as far as the zoo, don't make it a centerpiece of the day, you can go for a walk early in the morning through the zoo and it is very serene and you can see the panda. the same is true after 6:30. i go to zoo with my kids all the time, but dc has too much to offer to waste 1/2 day.

one final restaurant is 2 Amy's pizzeria. if you are driving it is very close. try to avoid Friday or Saturday nights as their can be a line, but it is amazing. just google it. it is neapolitan where you order your own pizza.
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 12:31 PM
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My first thought upon reading the original question is also to suggest the Spy Museum...we visited DC only once, probably 6 years ago so DD was 16 and DS was 12 and we all really enjoyed it...very interactive; we were surprised at how ubiquitous spies and spying are!
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 12:47 PM
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As noted, the zoo early in the morning is a good choice both for your hotel location and b/c you're more likely to see animal activity.

Ethiopian cuisine is great choice for "ethnic" in DC as there are so many good choices with some restaurants clustered in the Adams Morgan neighborhood (not far from your hotel) and also in the U Street/Shaw corridor. They are typically inexpensive to moderately priced.

I think washingtonpost.com and washintonian.com do a great job of restaurant reviews. Check them out.

Near the Chinatown/Gallery Place metro stop, the Spy Museum (not free) might be a draw for your kids in addition to the area having some interesting places to eat. The Smithsonian's Portrait Gallery and Museum of American Art are located there too.

Also as noted, the White House, w/o tickets, is mostly a walk by so you might want to add more for that day before or after your scheduled tour of the Capitol.

The monument tour at night is a good idea.

My only other comment is the Holocaust Museum is pretty busy in the summer as well as being a fairly intense excursion that most people take a little time to process after the fact.. Plan something easy for your next immediate outing.

If you're not used to it, don't underestimate the humidity and heat. It's been a brutal summer so far...hoping for a milder August which is typically not so mild!
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Old Jul 21st, 2010, 05:44 PM
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i posted earlier that our family (kids 12, 10, 8) just spent 4 nights/3 days at Omni.. here's a brief of what we did -- again the heat was BRUTAL when we were there.. did not really want to walk around at all!

Day 1 - Metro to Washington Monument (did not go in..due to wait), walked to White HOuse (could not get tour tickets), White House Visitor Center (very interesting), lunch at deli next to White HOuse, walked to Natural History Museum (great.. daughter and I loved the gemstone exhibit where the Hope Diamond is displayed.. and son loved the mammals and ocean exhibits).. metro home to Omni.. dinner in Adams Morgan - walked over - great Indian restaurant.

Day 2
Boys and Husband to Spy Museum (which the kids LOVED) and Daughter and I to Botanic Gardens.. ok ,, kind of stereotypical gender split.. but both were very happy with our choice.. Metro and Bus .. Met up at Capital Bldg .. for three scheduled tours on the hill.. first stopped at Congressman's office for Senate Chamber passes.to go along with our pre-arranged Capital Tour which was OK.. but going into Senate Chamber even more interesting.. THen over to Supreme Court for prearranged tour.. VERY interesting and cool.. then to Libarary of Congress for final prearranged visit.. also excellent. Home by Metro.. Dinnner at Japanese rest near Omni for great meal. Home for short rest and swim at Omni..then took car to Monuments about 8:30/9pm.. Spectacular at night and easy parking .. about 10-15 min drive. Parked and visited Lincoln Memorial, Korean Memorial and Vietnam Wall.. Home about 11pm or so.

Day 3 - Started at AMerican History Museum.. went on little overview tour with guide that's free.. good to get orientation for 1 hr. Then explored for another 1.5 hrs on own. OK..husband more into than I.. they have lots of very neat "stuff"/memorabilia.. like Lincoln's hat from the night he was shot, the inaugural ball gowns from 1st ladies, great war exhibits including a real vietnam helicopter.. Julia Child's kitchen.. pretty cool if you like cooking.. etc. Then the boys again went off to do their stuff -- Air and Space Museum and my daughter and i went to the National Gallery of Art.. which was fabulous. We were all interested in both museums.. but you really can't do it all..so have to pick and choose your interests.. Boys went to Ben's Chili Bowl by Metro for dinner and daughter and I had fantastic gelato and went by a local farmer's market in Chinatown for dinner..then all met at the hotel for swimming.. and i fell asleep at the pool!

Due the heat when we were there.. you really had to pace yourself and could only do so much. However, we all agreed it was one of the best vacations ever.. and loved all we did! Left the next morning for Gettysburg.. however, i'd have rather stayed another day in DC.. but husband is big civil war history buff..

let me know if you have questions on anything above and i'd be happy to provide any more commentary/ or opinions..have fun
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Old Jul 22nd, 2010, 05:44 AM
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More random thoughts:

I assume you won't have a car. I'd do one of the nighttime monuments tours, like Monuments by Moonlight from Old Town Trolley. It's a good use of your time, the air will be a little cooler, and the monuments look great at night. Plus visiting the monuments other than by bus (either at night or with the on-off busses in the daytime) requires a lot of walking.

You can buy tickets on-line in advance for Imax shows at the Natural History Museum or the Air and Space Museum, or for the planetarium show in Air and Space. In our summer weather this can be worthwhile just for the break of sitting in the A/C.

Kids are free at the Newseum through Labor Day:

You can book in advance on-line for Ford's Theater, National Archives, the Washington Monument (although that would not be high on my list), Holocaust Museum, and the Capitol tour (I know you have yours lined up).
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Old Jul 22nd, 2010, 06:16 AM
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The Iron Gate Inn restaurant has been around a long time-I had my first hummus there 30 years ago! Has indoor and outdoor seating. Trip Advisor has reviews/location.

Also, check the dc circulator online (http://www.dccirculator.com/)-it's a newish bus system you might find helpful. There is a hop on/off tourist bus that gets uneven reviews here because it can be crowded.

Hope you do a report!
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Old Jul 22nd, 2010, 08:19 AM
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Definitely see the White House visitors' center. I actually found it more interesting than the "tour" of the actual White House.....

When we were in DC in May, we had to get tickets to the Holocaust Museum. We arrived at 10 and ended up with a 1:30 admission time. Book online if possible per DancingBear's advice! It took about 3 hours for us to go through; some of the horrors are difficult to process. The exhibit about how the Nazis used Propaganda was fascinating.
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Old Jul 24th, 2010, 09:12 PM
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There is good Ethiopian food at Meskerem on 18th St, not too far from the Omni. (I used to make the walk with a 6 and a 4 year old, so it's totally doable for your family). Just walk down Calvert across the Duke Ellington Bridge. Calvert turns into 18th St once you cross Columbia St. This is the Adams Morgan neighborhood -- it's very lively! Meskerem will be on your right as you're walking down the 18th St hill.

Other good restaurants in that direction are (off the top of head -- writing from memory as I've been living overseas for the last 7 months): Mama Ayesha's (mediterranean), Tryst, The Diner, L'Enfant, Amsterdam Falafel (takeout only), Irene's Pupusas (also takeout only), the Grill from Impanema, and Pasta Mia.

Also, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons there's a little Latino food fair near the intersection of 18th and Columbia, featuring Mexican, El Salvadorian, and Peruvian home-cooked specialities. The ceviche is fantastic! Just look for the white stalls.
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Old Jul 25th, 2010, 05:31 AM
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We are thinking of spending 2 days (a Sat/Sun) in D/c in August. We will be picking up our 15 yr old son from a Camp in Sandy Springs MD, so we will be nearby.

I have been having second thoughts due to the heat. Glad to hear people have had a good time despite the heat.Have the waits for the museums been long? We are interested in the American History, Native American, Holocaust (will preorder) and possibly the White House visitor center and the spy museum.
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Old Jul 25th, 2010, 06:10 AM
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All of the Smithsonian museums are free and there is no "wait" per se - but they will be crowded. American History (home to Dorothy's ruby slippers, among other things), the Natural History museum (home to the Hope Diamond and various dinosaurs), and the National Gallery (home to the only Leonardo da Vinci in the States) are on one side of the mall, and Native American, Air & Space and the Smithsonian Castle are on the other. For all of these, no tickets are necessary or even available (except for the Imax movie theaters in Natural History and Air and Space). You can easily visit the museums on the mall on a hot day - just slipping from museum to museum to stay out of the heat. Other non-Smithsonian museums that kids usually like are the Spy Museum and the Newseum.

The Holocaust museum (not part of the Smithsonian) is farther away, and even though it is free they operate with timed admission tickets in the summer months, so preordering online is a good thing, but I would really think about how appropriate or enjoyable it is for an 11 year old and a 14 year old. I'm not saying don't do it, I'm just saying that there are a lot of kids not mature enough to handle it.

I would definitely recommend the monuments by night - it is a great way to see them (and the weather will be cooler!), and for some reason kids LOVE being able to climb the Lincoln Memorial at 11:30 pm. Kids also really love the Einstein monument (across the street from the Vietnam memorian) because they can climb all over Albert. My personal favorite is the FDR monument.

You will find a lot of great little restaurants walking distance from your hotel, so you should have a great time in the evenings. It is a beautiful area.

If you really want an outdoor fix, the zoo will probably be enough for you, but otherwise consider a trip down to Mount Vernon. Or if you want something completely different, spend some time in Old Town Alexandria or just tooling around Georgetown to get a feel for the little cobblestone streets, but you will probably find that August in DC is NO time to spend a lot of time outdoors.
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Old Jul 25th, 2010, 06:13 AM
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TuxedoKEY: The Holocaust Museum is indeed emotionally intense, and the museum website talks about the main "permanent collection" being intended for visitors under age 11. (I believe there are exhibits aimed at younger kids, but I don't know anything about them.) I know kids in their mid-teens who found the museum too disturbing. I think its appropriateness very much depends on your kids and your family, so just fyi.
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Old Jul 25th, 2010, 01:11 PM
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Sorry, nasty typo in my post: Holocaust Museum permanent collection intended for visitors OVER age 11.
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