There is so much to do in DC that it everything can’t be squeezed into a three-day visit. I’ve chosen a variety of the top sights to see without exhausting everyone in the family. Make the most out of the trip by seeing a sampling of what DC has to offer.
Washington DC isn’t very big but getting around can take some time. We did a combination of driving, walking, taking cabs, and using a hop-on-hop-off bus. Walking is a great way to get around if you can handle 1-2 miles at a time. Driving isn’t too tricky but finding parking can be difficult. Depending on where you’re going, you might have to walk 4 or 5 blocks from your parking space to your destination, and it will cost you usually $10 and up. The metro is an affordable option to get to most of your main sights. Taking a cab is the fastest and most straightforward way to travel, in my opinion. They’re easy to hail, they take you right where you want to go and will cost $6-12.
Where To Stay
There are many options for hotels when staying in DC. One of my favorites is the Kimpton Palomar. Its location is excellent at just over a mile away from the monuments, but it’s tucked into the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Dupon Circle is a vibrant neighborhood full of trendy restaurants and shops. It’s a great place to walk, run or bike. This 4-star hotel will give you upscale, stylish amenities with a little more space than you’d get in similar hotels closer to the monuments. The pool is a bonus for the family to cool down and unwind after a day of sightseeing.
The first day in a new city is exciting. Even if you’re tired from traveling, you’ll get an energy boost from finally arriving in the place you’ve been dreaming about. Make the most out of this energy and fresh legs by seeing the top sights first. Seeing the most famous monuments first will get you and the family geeked for DC.
Start in the morning at the Lincoln Memorial. This is the most popular memorial in DC and you’ll have fresh legs to climb the 87 steps. When you get to the top, take a look at the back of Lincoln’s head. Many people swear there is another profile image in his hair. Some say it’s Robert E. Lee’s face looking over the Potomac but this has never been confirmed.
Look for the place on the steps where “I Have A Dream” is engraved and stand in the same place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his iconic speech.
From the Lincoln Memorial, veer left and follow the path to the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. There you’ll see the names of Americans lost in the war listed chronologically.
Head in the opposite direction, back toward the Lincoln Memorial and to the right, to see the Korean War Memorial.
Walk along the reflecting pool and away from the Lincoln Memorial to get to the World War II Memorial. The World War II Memorial is opposite the Lincoln Memorial.
Marvel fans will recognize the scene from Captain America Winter Soldier as Cap runs around the World War II Memorial.
After taking in these major monuments, you’ll probably be ready for some food and a break. At the World War II Memorial, you’ll be just steps from 14th Street where there are usually a variety of food trucks from lunch until dinner time. Choose one that looks great to you and find a shady spot on the mall to sit in the grass and enjoy a bite amongst the nations most iconic memorials and buildings. At this location, you’ll be able to gaze upon the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the Capitol Building and more.
After lunch, you can continue toward the Washington Monument. Jump in line to take an elevator to the top for spectacular views of the capitol.
Stop A: Lincoln Memorial
Stop B: Vietnam Veterans War Memorial
Stop C: Korean War Memorial
Stop D: National World War II Memorial
Lunch Break: Lunch from a food truck with a picnic around the reflecting pool
Stop E: Washington Monument
If you’re like we are, you can only do so much sightseeing at one time –especially as we travel with two young boys. But really, I can only do so much sightseeing at one time. The thing about traveling regularly is that you learn you don’t want to wear yourself or those around you out. That’s why we take a break in the afternoon before evening adventures.
Staying at the Kimpton Palomar means that you can refresh in your room then make your way downstairs for the complimentary wine hour they host each evening. It rounds out your afternoon rest with the first cocktail of the evening.
Dinner: Lebanese Taverna
From the hotel, grab a cab or walk to Lebanese Taverna for dinner. On our walk there, we actually saw the president’s motorcade which was a fun surprise for our DC visit.
The Lebanese Taverna has phenomenal Lebanese and Mediterranean food. The watermelon salad with feta cheese was one of my favorites while Damon loved the camel wings. The boys couldn’t get enough of the lamb kabobs and falafel.
After dinner, walk around the neighboorhood surrounding the Lebanese Taverna which is fun and vibrant and filled with shops.
Tour a Smithsonian
There are several Smithosian museums to choose from so pick the one that seems the most interesting to you. Give yourself time to explore the many exhibits without rushing. We chose the Air and Space Museum and the boys loved checking out the old airplanes and learning about space. Other Smithsonian Museums include the museums of Natural History, American History, American Indian, African American and more. With 19 museums, galleries, gardens and a zoo, there’s undoubtedly going to be something to peak your interest.
Lunch: USDA Cafeteria
An often overlooked choice for lunch is the USDA Cafeteria. This is a fun lunch spot because you actually get to enter one of the government buildings and taste what they specialize in. Plus there are nutritious options and its much more cost effective than eating in a museum cafeteria. The USDA South Cafe is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 am-3:30 pm. Click here to get the weekly menu.
Tour the White House or Capitol Building
Choose which you’d rather see, the White House or the Capitol Building. Tours of both are free but can take some extra planning. To tour the White House, you’ll need to set up a tour by contacting your US Congress Representative. This can take up to 3 months to get approval to go into the White House so start early!
Touring the Capitol Building can happen by just walking in but they recommend reservations. Its also best to go through your congressperson for this also because many have their staff give tours to constituents.
Both tours will usually take some waiting but are great activities for the family.
After going to a Smithsonian and touring the White House or Capitol Building, you’ll be ready to head back for some downtime at the hotel.
Dinner: Explore Dupont Circle
Go on foot and explore Dupont Circle. Get adventurous and try one of the great local restaurants.
Night Tour of the Monuments
Take a night tour of the monuments. The monuments are beautifully lit at night and its a sight you don’t want to miss. You can book a tour on a bus, dinner cruise or more.
Cruise to Mount Vernon
Two days of bebopping around DC and taking in as many sights as you can leave you ready for a slower pace. A relaxing cruise to Mount Vernon is the perfect activity for your third day in DC.
The Spirit of Mount Vernon cruises down the Potomac for an hour and a half making it’s way to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate. Once there, you can visit the farm animals, tour the mansion, explore shops, have lunch and more.
Lunch at Mount Vernon
For lunch at Mount Vernon, you can choose from the food court or restaurant. The food court has a wide variety of salads, sandwiches, burgers and more. The restaurant features upscale colonial fare with a wide range for different palates.
Last Minute Photo Ops
Did you get your photo at all of the main sights? The ones not included in this itinerary might consist of the White House, Capitol Building, Pentagon, or the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Use this evening to stop in to see anything you’d hate to miss on your trip to DC. If you’ve seen everything you wanted to, this would be a great time to do some shopping or relax before traveling home.
Full Disclosure: Some of the businesses mentioned in this post hosted me and my family. As always, my opinions are my own.