Plan It: Four Days With the Kids in Washington, DC
Visiting DC with kids can be a cinch. With tons of museums, outdoor activities, and great kid-friendly restaurants, there’s something to suit almost every taste—from children to adults and everything in between. By sara levine, Emily Leaman
Comments () | Published April 28, 2008
View Larger MapDAY ONE: TOURING WITH KIDS
Spend the day toting the tots to some of DC’s most popular sites and attractions, then it’s off to Bethesda, Maryland, for a night of food and fun.
9 AM: Breakfast at Pete’s
Start your day with a hearty breakfast at Pete’s (212 Second St., SE; 202-544-7335), a busy diner on Capitol Hill that’s a favorite with locals. Pete’s serves breakfast basics—omelets, pancakes, and French toast—at wallet-friendly prices. It’s across the street from the Library of Congress and just a block from the Capitol, so it’s a great place for watching iPhone-laden Hill staffers shuffle off to work. In warm weather, try to snag a seat outside for the best people watching.
9:45 AM: Mini Walking Tour
En route to your next stop, the National Postal Museum, enjoy a quick walking tour of some of DC’s don’t-miss sights. You’ll see the Library of Congress, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the House and Senate office buildings. Here’s the route to take: Walk west on Independence Avenue for one block and turn right at First Street, Southeast. Follow First Street for about 4½ blocks; the road dead ends at Columbus Circle in front of Union Station. The National Postal Museum is the building to the left of Union Station between First Street, Northeast, and North Capitol Street.
10 AM: National Postal Museum
The first stop is the National Postal Museum (2 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202-633-8181), which, believe it or not, is a great place for kids. It traces the history of mail in the United States from Colonial times to the present. The place is loaded with interactive exhibits—there’s even a spot to make postcards and have them addressed, stamped, and mailed for free. Documenting how mail used to be carried across the country, the museum is home two airplanes that hang from the ceiling, two stagecoaches (including one you can sit in), plus a big rig and an old train car, both of which you can sit in. Who knew mail could be so much fun?
11:45 AM: Tour and Lunch at Union Station
Head next door to Union Station (50 Massachusetts Ave., NE), one of the city’s most popular destinations. This Beaux Arts-style train station is a bustling transportation hub, with the Red Line Metro, Amtrak, and Virginia and Maryland commuter trains making stops daily. It features three concourses: The top two house more than 100 shops and eateries, and the lower one features a food court and movie theater. In the marble foyer at the front of the station—a cavernous space with 96-foot vaulted ceilings—art and science exhibits and other public events take place throughout the year. Pick up a brochure at the visitors’ desk and take some time to explore the building. Then, head downstairs to the food court and grab lunch. With more than 30 vendors, there’s bound to be something for every taste.
1 PM: US Botanic Garden
Just a short walk from Union Station is the US Botanic Garden (245 First St., SW), one of the Smithsonian’s treasures. It’s a year-round greenhouse and conservatory that can make the darkest day of winter feel like a trip to Fiji. Inside, you’ll see 26,000 plants organized in collections throughout ten climate-controlled rooms. In the center is the largest room, which houses the jungle. It includes a second-story catwalk for viewing the canopy from above.
If the weather’s nice, meander through the two outside gardens: Bartholdi Park (just south of the conservatory, across Independence Avenue), which is anchored by a large fountain, and the National Garden (just west of the conservatory), which includes rose and butterfly gardens, the First Ladies’ Water Garden, and an outdoor amphitheater.
2:30 PM: Tour the Capitol
You’re just steps from the US Capitol, so it’s time for a tour! You’ll walk through the Hall of Columns, the rotunda, and the old Supreme Court chambers, then head upstairs to where the real action is: the House and Senate chambers. From the visitors’ gallery, you can watch history as it happens—see bills being debated, votes being counted, and speeches being given. But a word to the wise: Congress is on recess for the month of August, so if watching a bill become a law is important to you, don’t plan a visit that month.
Tickets are free but available only on a first-come, first-served basis at the Capitol Guide Service kiosk on the sidewalk on the Capitol’s southwest side (near the intersection of First Street and Independence Avenue, Southwest). Ticket distribution starts at 9 AM.
• Insider tip: Lines for the ticket kiosk can be long, especially in summer. If you’re a US citizen, you might try to arrange a tour with someone from your Congress member’s or senators’ office. It’s recommended that you call in advance of your trip to secure a tour time, but even if you don’t, it’s a worth a try just popping in and seeing if they’ll give you a tour on the spot. Often, they’re more than willing to accommodate—you might be a voter, after all.
4 PM: City Views at the Old Post Office Pavilion and Clock Tower
Skip the lines at the Washington Monument and take in a view of the city from downtown DC’s second-highest point: the clock tower at the Old Post Office Pavilion (1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-289-4224). This free tour is one of DC’s best-kept secrets. The observation deck provides 360-degree views of the city. The tower is home to the Congressional Bells, a gift from Britain for our country’s 200th birthday; they ring on Thursday evenings and special occasions.