Day 2: Monuments, Museums, and a Show at the Hamilton
Breakfast: Cafe du Parc
Try breakfast at one of Washington’s top 100 restaurants in the historic Willard InterContinental hotel. Buffet and à-la-carte selections are available daily upstairs, or you can pick up a house-made pastry and a cup of Illy coffee to go on the first floor.
AM: Monuments Tour
A half-mile stroll down 15th Street from the Willard will bring you to the Washington Monument. From there, you can walk around the Tidal Basin (about two miles total) or stay on the Mall, depending on how far you’d like to walk and what you’re looking to see. This area includes:
Tip: Though the monuments look close together on a map, the walk can turn from enjoyable to exhausting in a hurry. Consider checking out some of them by night (FDR and Lincoln are particularly pretty in the evening) to avoid the long walk and Washington’s punishing summer heat. Or if you’re a runner, a morning jog around the Tidal Basin can be a great way to see Jefferson, FDR, and MLK.
Lunch: Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian
We know, a museum cafeteria isn’t what you had in mind, but the stations here serve up dishes inspired by the ingredients and cooking of five Native American groups. Think bison strip loin or mole-braised chicken prepared with herbs from the museums garden, or grab some chicken tenders for the kids if you must. The full menu (including beer and wine) is available until 3 PM.
PM: The National Air and Space Museum
Air and Space, the most popular museum in the country, holds the world’s largest collection of air and spacecraft along with interactive flight simulators, a planetarium, and an Imax theater, to name a few highlights.
Just beyond the Mall entrance is the Milestones of Flight entry hall, which runs through the history of aviation with Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1 in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and the North American X-15—the first aircraft to break Mach 4, 5, and 6—as well as the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia.
Don’t miss the Golden Age of Flight gallery, which includes Howard Hughes’s H-1 racer, or the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight wing on the second floor, which celebrates people who achieved significant “firsts” in flight.
Nearly as popular as the Air and Space Museum, Natural History sits on the Mall and houses more than 126 million items. Highlights include a 13-foot Fénykövi elephant from Angola that sits under the central dome of the rotunda, the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond in the Gems and Minerals gallery, and a Imax theater that shows nature movies on a six-story-high screen. Admission, as with all Smithsonian museums, is free; for $6, you can also visit the Butterfly Pavilion to view hundreds of live butterflies and moths.
For everything from Dorothy Gale’s ruby slippers to the original Star-Spangled Banner and Thomas Edison’s 1879 lightbulb, stop by the National Museum of American History. The first floor focuses on transportation, technology, and innovation, and includes the first car ever driven across the country. On the second floor, don’t miss the original Greensboro lunch country from the 1960 sit-ins, and on the third floor, make sure to stop by the “American Stories” gallery.
Walk Past: The White House
Tours of the White House are hard to come by and must be planned well in advance, but anyone can walk by, marvel, and snap a photo in front of the famous home without prior arrangements. And across Pennsylvania from the northwest corner of the President’s lot, you’ll find the Blair House, which plays host to visiting dignitaries. Check for a foreign flag hanging by the door to figure out who might be staying inside, and maybe even catch a glimpse of his/her motorcade.
The W Hotel’s rooftop bar, P.O.V., has panoramic views of DC and beyond (and is open year-round, unlike many other local rooftops). At $15 apiece, cocktails aren’t cheap, but you can sip slowly while lounging on a velvet banquette.
The Willard has a claim on history as few other local establishments do: It’s literally where lobbying started during the Grant administration—and more recently where Jon Stewart’s team stayed during the comic’s rally on the Mall. So it’s little surprise that Round Robin, just off the lobby, is a classic too, offering the area’s best mint julep.
Dinner: Old Ebbitt Grill
This Washington institution provides a bit of history along with excellent oysters and a solid cocktail list. In business for 156 years, Old Ebbitt is famous in equal parts for having the best Bloody Mary in Washington and for hosting presidents Grant, Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Post-Dinner: Take in a show at the Hamilton
This 15,000-square-foot music venue offers table service (the kitchen is open till late) and attracts a solid lineup of local performers and the occasional big name. Ticket prices vary; information is available through the Hamilton’s website.