Washington D.C. Family Vacation

We planned a 3 1/2 day family trip to Washington D.C. to introduce our kids to the nation’s history and federal government.

Wide view of trees lining the reflecting pool in Washington D.C. with the Washington Monument reflecting in the water at the end.

A Family Trip to D.C. With Kids

My husband and I have been to the District of Columbia known as Washington D.C. multiple times. We see and learn new things with each visit, so we wanted to begin empowering our kids to learn more about how the country started and how decisions are made.

Our goal was to have a quick, efficient Washington D.C. Family Vacation. We flew into Regan National Airport (on Southwest airlines), stayed in a Holiday Inn near Capitol Hill and walked and used the metro to get around.

Sun rising over the rotunda of the US Capitol building with clouds in the background and a tree in the foreground.

The capitol of the United States of America is it’s own independent district and is not in a state. There’s so much to see and do in this city. It is hard to take it all in during one trip. The more often you go the more you will pick up each time.

Train on tracks in the American History Smithsonian on the mall in Washington D.C.

Planning Our Trip To D.C.

To help make the most of this trip we had to do some planning ahead. We visited in mid August when Congress is in recess and several schools had begun, so crowds were smaller.

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About a month ahead of time we booked a free tour of the United States Capitol, made restaurant reservations and should have made reservations to the Air and Space Smithsonian. We were able to secure a free reservation the day before our visit once we learned of the necessity to make online reservations.

A total lit up Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial with lights reflecting in the tidal basin in Washington D.C. at dusk.

Even with the lower crowds we were not able to get inside and ride the elevator to the top of the Washington monument.

Our Family Trip Itinerary

We flew in Tuesday August 15th and landed at 3:15 p.m. at Reagan Airport. We walked across the airport and took the subway or Metro to our hotel – the Holiday Inn, Capitol Hill. The hotel is less than a 5 minute walk from the Metro station.

We got dinner at the 21st Amendment Bar & Grill in the hotel which has good food like Garlic Parmesan Fries and , but slow service. We were anxious to start a walking tour of the area.

Korean War memorial on the mall in Washington D.C. with chained off area around soldiers in the grass and trees.
  • 3:15 p. – Landed at Regan National Airport.
  • 6:30 p. – 6:45 p. – Ubered to Lincoln Memorial to begin looking at major monuments in the area.
  • 7:15 p. – 8:15 p. – Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial and World War II Memorial.
  • 8:30 – 9:15 p. – Walked to Martin Luther King Memorial, FDR Memorial, and took a longer walk to the Jefferson Memorial across the tidal basin. Took an Uber back to the hotel.
Father and daughter at World War II memorial thinking of their grandpa who served in the war and survived.

This was an enjoyable walk to soak in great views and admire so many stately buildings, monuments and important places. The exercise after a day of travel is also great.

Day 2 – Wednesday August 16th

  • 8 a. – Left hotel and walked to Grant Memorial near the Capitol.
  • 8:30 a. – Walked up Capitol Hill to the visitors center on the back side of the Capitol.
  • 9 a. – 10 a. – Moved our reserved tickets up to get on the 9 a.m. tour which was very enjoyable.
  • 10 a. – 11:30a. – Walked to neighboring senate building to get gallery passes and returned to the Capitol to see the Senate and House of Representatives galleries.
  • 11:30 – 12 p. Lunch in the Capital cafeteria has an extensive and excellent selection.
  • 12 p. – Returned to hotel, grabbed bags, drinks and used the Metro to get to Arlington.
  • 1:30 p. – 3:30 p. – Riding tour of Arlington Cemetery
  • 3:30 p. – Uber to Marine Core Memorial aka Iwo Jima Memorial then Uber to Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, VA.
  • 5:30 p. – 6:45 p. Gadsby’s Tavern opened and we had early reservations
  • 6:45 p. – 7:15 p. – Walked through shopping district to the metro, although a free trolley was available
  • 8 p. – Arrived back at hotel to relax.
Family behind the United States Capitol Building in Washington DC.

Day 3 – Thursday August 17th

  • 8:20 a. – Left hotel to walk to Washington Monument and try to get walk-up tickets.
  • 9 a. – Walked to White House and the visitors center.
  • 10 a. – 12:30 p. – Explored the American History Smithsonian, then took a pool break at the hotel.
  • 3 p. – 5 p. – Explored Air and Space Smithsonian
  • 5:30 p. – Hung out at the roof top pool and ordered pizza from the hotel bar.
  • 8 p. – Got the kids settled with grandma and the adults enjoyed an evening at the hotel bar.
View of Arlington Cemetary up on the hill by the house with the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and US Capitol in the distant background of hundreds of white grave stones.

By the time we arrived at the Washington Monument there was a huge line for walk-up tickets and the park ranger suggested that it was highly unlikely that most of us would get tickets. So we walked to the White House

Day 4 – Friday August 18th

  • 8:45 a. – Walked to Old Post Office in the Waldorf Astoria. Took elevators to the top of the clock tower.
  • 9:50 a. – Walked to National Archives to view the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and more.
  • 10:45 a. – 1:30 p. – Explored and ate lunch at the Natural History Smithsonian.
  • 2 p. – Gathered bags from hotel and began journey to Regan airport via the Metro.
  • 4:35 p. – Flight departed for home
Sign reading United States Botanic Garden surrounded by lush plants outside the capitol.

Places To Eat

  • We ate lunch each day in the Capitol or Smithsonian that we were visiting.
  • My husband planned a special meal with reservations at Gadsby’s Restaurant 30 minutes from the Capitol in Virginia.
  • The remainder of our meals were from the hotel bar and casual restaurant as most eateries (outside of food trucks) are only open during normal business hours (M-F from 9-5).

Gadsby’s Tavern and Restaurant

Gadsby’s Restaurant in the shopping district of Alexandria, Virginia that’s been around in one form or another since the days of our founding fathers.

George Washington was a regular including holding his birthday party there at least once. The ambience is very much from that time period with waiters dressed up in period clothes.

Colonial times styled restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia called Gadsby's Tavern where George Washington used to eat.

The food is excellent with a combination of modern dishes and colonial tavern staples. Be sure to have reservations even in slower times as this place is popular with locals.

Be sure to check the hours and make reservations ahead of time. The policy and when the schedule opens is on the Gadsby’s Tavern and Restaurant website.

Sign on Gadsby's Tavern Restaurant showing hours on the outside brick wall.

What Reservations Are Needed Ahead Of Time?

  • Tickets to top of the Washington Monument
  • U.S. Capitol Tours
  • National Air and Space Smithsonian admittance time ticket
  • Gadsby’s Restaurant
Historic air planes hanging from the ceiling in the Air and Space Smithsonian.

Where to Stay with Kids in D.C.

We choose the Holiday Inn Capitol Hill because it is close to the mall and metro, which would help decrease transportation costs and time spent traveling. There are 2 queen beds in a good chunk of the hotel at one of the best rates.

Another perk is the roof top pool with the view of the U.S. Capitol in the background.

Roof top pool with lounge chairs and the US Capitol in the background at the Capitol Hill Holiday Inn.

Spending a bit more on the room to save on transportation and parking worked best for our family.

Several other choices have king beds only, were in a higher luxury category and the older hotels had two doubles.

Lobby of Holiday In Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. which is a good family hotel for a quick trip.

Know Before You Go

  • Dress for our family was tourist casual, many may prefer to dress up a bit for Arlington.
  • Make sure the wheels work well on your luggage as you pull through the airport, metro, roads, etc.
  • Bring a little cash for tips.
  • Prepare for a lot of serious, quiet, respectful time.
  • There’s lots of free stuff, but there are a lot of opportunities to maximize your time by spending some money on a tour.
  • We wanted a fast paced trip so we flew in, stayed in the middle of the action and had busy days while there. We could have saved money by driving, staying further out, but parking is expensive and a hassle. So we focused on getting as much done as possible in a limited amount of time.
  • The old post office is a great opportunity to take in views of the city up in the clock tower (12 stories in the air) if you do not get the Washington Monument tickets.
  • If you want to visit the House and Senate Galleries contact your Congressman or Senator ahead of time to avoid taking extra time to obtain them on your trip.
  • The Smithsonians are open 10a – 5:30p.
U.S. Marine Corp memorial of Iwo Jima with the soldiers raising the flag with white clouds in a blue sky behind the monument.

Using The Metro

The Metro was very convenient and laid out very well to save money and time over catching Ubers or Lyfts.

Metro map for Washington D.C.

Using the Metro was probably the most memorable part of the trip for our kids.

More Family Vacation Ideas

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