So, it has been a while, and what better to write about than our recent spring break vacation to Washington D.C.? This was, by far, the best vacation we’ve ever taken. I strongly encourage everyone to make this trip during their lifetime. The great thing is, it is a relatively inexpensive trip. As you travel with me through this blog post, I will give you the breakdown of how to do D.C. on a budget.
Our trip began by driving to Hampton, VA, to visit Adam’s brother and his family. This was such a special visit. Both Banks and Weston adored getting to spend time with their cousins. When we left, Weston cried and said, “I never ever want to leave my cousins or their house.” I’m so thankful for the bonds of friendship that were made between these cousins.
We arrived at our hotel, The Courtyard by Marriott at Tyson’s Corner, on Sunday night. We are so blessed that Adam works for Marriott, and we are able to take advantage of the discounts provided by his company. We booked this hotel in December, based on a Marriott manager’s discount special, and we only paid $39/night and $10/day for parking. This hotel is approximately 20 miles from D.C., and if you know anything about the traffic there, you know it would take you at least an hour and a half to drive that distance everyday. Thankfully, there are Metro stations all around, and our hotel offered a shuttle that dropped us off each morning and picked us up each night at the Spring Hill Metro Station. So, we never even had to move our vehicle until we left to drive home on Thursday. The Metro is tons of fun, especially if you are a people watcher. We put $10/day on each of our Smartrip cards, and that took us everywhere we needed to go throughout D.C. and Virginia. Weston rode for free due to his age, and we had the Metro figured out by the end of day one.
We knew we had a lot to fit into three days. So, we woke up early, and in an effort to save money on our trip, I packed assorted cereals, plastic bowls, and plastic spoons, and a gallon of milk for us to eat breakfast in the room each morning. I also brought a loaf of bread, chips, ziplock bags, and a pan of brownies I had made before we left to pack a lunch each day. There are parks, benches, and picnic tables everywhere that allowed for a good lunch spot each day, and it also meant we would only be responsible for buying one meal each day.
We began day one with a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I think you could spend all three days in this one Museum and not see everything. Weston loved it! We tried to gear our morning visits more toward him in hopes that he would take a nap each afternoon. This Museum is the home to everything from ancient fossils to the Hope Diamond. Admission to this Museum is free, as are most of the museums in D.C., which helps make this trip so budget-friendly. It was amazing!
After a picnic in the National Mall, we thoroughly enjoyed The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This Museum is home to the Wright Flyer, Amelia Earhart’s plane, missiles, satellites, and WWII fighter planes. This was another of Weston’s favorites. *Sidenote: every museum has water fountains with a place to refill your water bottles, and with all the walking you do, I highly recommend taking refillable water bottles. That way you can refill them as needed. I just carried ours in my backpack everyday along with our lunch.*
Just a short walk up Capitol Hill from the Air and Space Museum, we ended our afternoon by meeting an intern from Representative Martha Roby’s office to receive our tickets to tour the The United States Capitol and sit in on a meeting of the House of Representatives. You will need to email your local State Representative to request these tickets as well as tickets to tour the White House. I recommend emailing your representative approximately 3 months prior to your trip. These slots fill up fast! Just as I had hoped, Weston fell asleep right before we sat in on the House of Representatives. The Capitol tour is fascinating! Every painting, statue, quote from our forefathers, and even the ceiling depict God as being the the foundation of our country. I was blown away at how these Representatives, Senators, and other Government personnel can cross these halls everyday and see proof of God’s hand in our country’s foundation, yet some of them argue and fight to lead us in the complete opposite direction. Mind-blowing, really!
Our tour began at 2p.m., and we didn’t walk out of the Capitol until after 5p.m. So, be prepared for this tour to occupy the majority of your day. Obviously, we were hungry after walking approximately 8 miles on our first day. So, we decided to eat supper at the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl. They have the biggest, most delicious chili dogs I’ve ever had! Their homemade milkshakes are thick and delicious as well. This is literally a hole-in-the-wall hot dog stand in a sketchy part of town, but it was delicious and totally worth all the hype! Be prepared to wait in line, and there’s very little seating here. So, if you’re traveling as a family, you probably won’t sit together to eat. Adam and Weston sat at a small table while Banks and I sat beside perfect strangers at the bar. After we all finished, it was close to 8p.m., and we knew we still had a thirty minute Metro ride back to our hotel in Virginia. So, that brought our day one to an end.
Up and ready for a great Day 2, we took the Metro into D.C. and immediately went to the Holocaust Museum to get our tickets. They give you a time to tour the museum. We got our tickets when they opened at 10a.m., and our tour time was 3p.m. So, don’t go to this Museum thinking you will be able to tour at that exact time. While we waited for 3p.m., we went to the White House for a few pictures and then over to Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum. This Museum is expensive and absolutely NOT worth the money you pay. This was probably our only regret of the trip. Don’t get me wrong, the sculptures are amazing, but it literally cost $80 for our family to go through, and it took us maybe 15 minutes to see and read everything. I do not recommend wasting your time and money here. After our disappointment, we knew we were only about 2 blocks from Ford’s Theatre. So, we walked and got tickets to tour the Ford’s Theatre Museum and the home across the street where President Lincoln died. This Museum is run by the National Park Service, and I must say, they do a phenomenal job! This Museum is free of charge. The historical information provided to you as well as the exact timeline of both President Lincoln and John Wilks Booth’s day was fascinating. We enjoyed our picnic lunch on the steps of Ford’s Theatre before heading back across town for our tour of the Holocaust Museum.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was at the top of our list of favorite attractions. It is such a moving and emotional experience. You begin by receiving an identification card of an actual victim of the Holocaust, and you pack into an elevator with tons of strangers. Everyone is reading their ID card, and as the elevator doors open, you hear the sound of Adolf Hitler’s voice. The fourth floor is where the tour begins, and it depicts the Nazi Assault and rise to power from 1933-1939. The atmosphere is completely silent other than the occasional sniffle or sob from those whose heart is aching at the amount of hate and innocent lives tortured and lost. As you descend to the third floor, a depiction of the separation ghettos and Jewish persecution, you are angry that letters to our President and other world leaders were sent before the war began begging for help by these Jewish people, yet they were completely ignored. We let them down. We failed God’s chosen people. It’s gut-wrenching, and by the end of the third floor, you’re completely sobbing as you see a pit of thousands and thousands of pairs of leather shoes recovered from a concentration camp. The second floor depicts the last chapter as tribute is paid to the many non-Jews that risked everything to help their brothers and sisters in need as well as the depiction of the Nazi’s last efforts to complete their plan by abandoning the concentration camps and conducting death marches until the Allied victory in 1945. On the first floor, you enter the Hall of Remembrance, where we said a prayer for Israel and its people as well as for our world. Admission to this Museum is free, but the experience was priceless!
After an emotional afternoon, we needed to chill and regroup. What better way to do that than by enjoying an incredible restaurant. Proper 21 was our best meal, by far. I do not recommend this restaurant if you are looking for a kid-friendly dining atmosphere. My children are well-behaved and enjoy all types of food, so I knew we would be fine. If you are a foodie, you will love this place. Their brilliant chef, Steve Forbes, has everything from Duck Confit to The World’s Greatest Sandwich on the menu. The crab dip appetizer was out of this world! Adam and I thoroughly enjoyed the World’s Greatest Sandwich, because when it’s on the menu, you have to try it! Banks ate every bite of his crab cake sandwich with fresh radicchio and their famous truffle fries, while Weston gobbled up their homemade mac and cheese and fresh fruit. The atmosphere was relaxed and young, the service was fantastic, and the food was phenomenal! I want to go back already!
We had been told how magical the memorials are at night. So, we ended day 2 with an uber ride to the WWII memorial, and from there, we walked to the Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and the reflecting pond. This is a must-see at night! The Vietnam Memorial was especially moving as it’s row after row after row of names and as you look at all these names, your reflection stares back at you on the stone, and you are aware of the sacrifices made for your individual freedoms as an American. Moving! After another 8-10 miles walked, we were ready for bed.
Day three began with a Metro ride to Arlington National Cemetery. This tied with the Holocaust Museum as our favorite attraction. I personally believe every American citizen and all those seeking American citizenship should visit Arlington. For miles and miles in every direction you look, all you see is headstones. They’re everywhere! We saw the Kennedy family’s graves, and then we had the privilege of experiencing the changing of the guard. This is incredibly humbling! Prepare for tears and sobbing again. After the changing of the guard, we enjoyed our picnic lunch on a park bench just outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The cemetery is huge. So, be prepared for a lot of walking at this attraction too.
Our Day 3 afternoon was spent at The National Archives Building. There was no photography allowed in this building, but you will never forget the pride you feel as an American as you behold the United States Consitution, The Declaration of Independence, as well as the Magna Carta. These documents are incredible! There are also hand-written letters by George Washington, John Jay, and many others. This building also hosts the best gift shop, in my opinion, for those that enjoy touristy treasures to remember your trip by.
Needless to say, we were exhausted after a three day total of approximately 23 miles of walking. So, we ate supper at the hotel and turned in early due to the 14 hour drive home that was looming over us. Thankfully, the boys slept the majority of the way home, and we coordinated our gas, food, and bathroom breaks on the way home. So, we made great time.
Here’s a breakdown of how we did D.C. on a budget. We spent $180 on gas, $160 total for our hotel (so thankful for Adam’s job), $90 on Metro fair, $40 on parking, $80 at the wax museum (the only attraction we had to pay to see), and approximately $285 on food. This brought our grand total for a six day vacation for a family of four to $835! We feel so thankful to be able to expose our children to such an awesome vacation. I highly recommend this trip to everyone. There is tons and tons of information on Pinterest to help you plan your trip as well as a lot of helpful information on the AAA website. We will never forget this incredible time we spent together as a family in our nation’s capital!