Day 1: The Mall and the White House
Breakfast: Le Bon Café
Grab a seat at one of the outdoor tables at this small Capitol Hill cafe for a plate of French toast, a waffle, or a made-to-order egg sandwich; or pick up a croissant or bagel to enjoy on your walk to a day full of sights.
Touring the Capitol takes a little planning. Tour slots are free and can be booked online as late as the day before; a small number of same-day tickets are available at the information desks on Emancipation Hill.
The basic tour includes a short history lesson and an introduction to the building. The House and Senate galleries are also open to visitors, but you’ll need to arrange separate passes ahead of time through your senator or representative. The Visitor Center is also open 8:30 to 4:30 Monday through Saturday, and you can stop in to the exhibit hall, the cafeteria, and the gift shops any time.
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. Sample bison strip loin or mole-braised chicken prepared with herbs from the museum’s garden, or grab some chicken tenders for the kids. The full menu (including beer and wine) is available until 3 PM.
PM: The National Air and Space Museum
The most popular museum in the country, Air and Space holds the world’s largest collection of air and spacecraft along with interactive flight simulators, a planetarium, and an Imax theater. 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.
If You Have Time: Ride the Smithsonian’s Carousel on the Mall
This oldest carousel in DC sits in front of the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall, and is open 10 AM to 5:30 PM daily. Rides on this beauty are a fun way to give your legs a rest.
Before Dinner: 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.
Dinner: Old Ebbitt Grill
This Washington institution provides a bit of history along with excellent oysters,
a solid cocktail list, and a $7 kids’ menu. 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.