Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Travel Bleg: In and Around DC

We're doing some planning for the great Darwin clan expedition to the DC area in late March, and since I have never been to the Capitol before (and MrsDarwin has not been there in many years) we're thinking this is our chance to get some Visiting Of Sites Of Interest in.

We will probably be devoting 1-2 days to seeing things around DC itself (Lincoln memorial, Washington monument, Capitol building, etc.) Any advice on what is worth seeing and reasonable to see with four children ranging from 1.5 to 7 and a wife who is increasingly pregnant would be much appreciated.

We're also thinking of things that might be worth making one-day-trips to. Right now, the primary candidates are Gettysburg and Colonial Williamsburg, which to our Texas eyes look quite close. Anyone with experience taking a pack of small children to these places? Any advice on other places that might be worth considering within 2-3 hours drive of the DC area?


BettyDuffy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I'd check out the Air and Space Museum. Haven't been to the Spy Museum yet, but I've heard good things about it as well.

Emily J. said...

I'm envious! Love, love, love DC - and Williamsburg and Gettysburg and that whole area! Except the traffic, of course. In 1 day, you could walk the mall -- a LONG walk, and peek in and out of the Smithsonian museums and peek at the monuments (or do a drive by), but not invest a lot of time in them. Our favorites: The National Gallery of Art (a can't miss, to me. Don't have to see it all. Meanwhile everyone loves the Air and Space, but I eventually glaze over there), the Archives, and the Museum of American history, which are all relatively close to each other, near the Capitol end and convenient to Metro stops. If you have 2 or 3 days, check out Ford's theater, which is off the Mall, as is the Spy Museum, which we were told is for older kids, so we haven't been there. Arlington Cemetary is also kind of interesting. Once we saw Clinton there. Your kids would probably enjoy the national zoo, which is not close to the museums, but has the pandas. My great sorrow is never having gone into the Library of Congress because we always run out of time.

Colonial Williamsburg is at least 2 hours from DC - and worth a visit, but you could get a similar experience by spending a day at Mount Vernon, which usually has all kinds of activities going on, and it is so pretty and peaceful - a respite from DC's traffic. Williamsburg requires not only more driving but more legwork than Mt. Vernon, but both would keep the interest of your kids.

Gettysburg is also about 2 hours the other direction. Takes a whole day to visit if you do the tour. Probably wouldn't make a big impression on your kids, based on their ages, unless they are already Civil War fans. There is a great toy store there, though.

christopher said...

I had the privilege of growing up there. How spoiled I was without even knowing it! When I used to skip days in high school, I didn't go drinking but would take off to some historical sight, usually Mount Vernon. I probably have been there 200 times.

If your time is limited, you're toting the kids, and Mrs Darwin is "increasingly pregnant", my advice is this:

Air and Space museum and Natural History Museum in one day. A trip to Mount Vernon, which now had interactive exhibits that were'nt there when I was little. You can take a trip on one of the boats located at the bottom of Duke Street in Alexandria, VA. I worked on those boats for years and they have even more now. One of them makes a trip to Mount Vernon and gives you a guided history tour on the way. If you let me know, I still have some friends who are captains and first mates on some of them.

And for a day trip out of town, Gettysburg might end up being a bit much for Mrs and the kids, although that is also one of my favorites. Personally, I think Harper's Ferry, WV is a great trip.

Feel free to email me if you like, I'm intimately familiar with EVERYTHING of historical note up there.

Anonymous said...

I don't know which part of the area you're staying in, but you absolutely MUST take into account the traffic. I live in the Chicago area, and traffic is bad, and in the DC area it's really bad, too. Take into account very seriously which direction you will be going on which roads at which times and how that jives with traffic directions and times. It can make a trip completely not worth it if there's no way to avoid things.

I agree about the Natural History and Air and Space. There is a new A&S out near Dulles, and it's nice, but not really good for little kids, because it's pretty much lots and lots of air/spacecraft in a very nice big building, but my then -3 year old who loved vehicles and space stuff got bored just looking at stuff he couldn't get near or get on. So don't be fooled!

And not to be disagreeable, but I've never been overly impressed with the national zoo. It's a fine enough zoo, but also frequently very busy, and except for the pandas (which truly do not move, I swear), has little else to offer above other decent zoos.

I'm not sure if you mean you've never been to DC before, but if not, you've got to go see the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It's beautiful, so many amazing chapels, a beautiful crypt, just amazing.

I also agree about Mount Vernon. Very nice, very close, and if you're staying in the Northern VA side, pretty easy to get to.

Have a wonderful trip!


Annabelle said...

We just went to DC last summer with 3 kids (4,7,13)and spent 3 days in the town itself. There is no way we could do justice to the many sights so this was my strategy. Day 1: 10am appt at our senator's office for a personal tour of the Capitol with his interns(ended up being a great idea because you avoid the massive crowds at the new Visitor's Center and get in and out fast). Walk to the Mall and go to a few of your favorite museums. Day 2: Park at Arlington and catch the tour bus that you can get on and off all day at the big monuments. Day 3: All day at the Mall museums. We fit in a tour of the Printing and Engraving on this day after securing tix at 11am for 6:00pm tour.

I tried hard to keep to things that would interest the kids and not be things (like zoo) that we can see similar things near home. Therefore, no tour of Arlington (just a peek through the gates), no long lines (Capitol Visitor's Center and Nat'l Archives). My senator could get no tix (as they advertise they can) but volunteered the tour out of their office. I spoke with a man whose Rep got them tix for a White House tour. The tour buses to the monuments although pricey was totally worth it because you can cover all of the biggies.

My kids liked Air and Space, American History, Natural History and tolerated an hour at the Nat'l Gallery of Art (they have a sheet at the info booth of the biggies to hit in 1 hour!). We did other day trips to Fort McHenry, downtown Baltimore, and the nearest Atlantic beach in Delaware (another kid favorite). We took the Metro into downtown 2 days and drove to Arlington the 3rd. We went mid June and the crowds were not too bad at the places we chose.

Hope it helps! Have a great trip!!

SteveM said...

Like others said, Air & Space and Natural History for the kids.

There is also a "little" National Aquarium" in the Commerce Dept Bldg on 14th Street that's 2 hours of fun and convenient. The "Big" National Aquarium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor is fabulous.

If you have a car, you can take the kids to Gravely Point Park by National Airport to watch the planes land. Really fun for them because they come in REALLY close to the ground. You could kite fly there too.

Finally Locally for the kiddies, the National Zoo.

For adults, the Cherry Blossoms may be in bloom around the Tidal Basin. And there are Cherry Blossom events. Check the web for details.

You'd probably have to drag the kids around Williamsburg and Gettysburg. Not a lot to interest them. But adults would like the history.

Have fun.

Cryptic Star said...

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is gorgeous - I believe it's the largest Catholic church in the US! I went for the Solemnity of Mary this year for the first time.

The Newseum is supposed to be incredibly cool, and I've heard great things about it. Likewise, the Spy Museum is a lot of fun, although I think there's an entry fee attached to that. The National Zoo is always worth a look - the baby panda is now gone, but the zoo just had one or two snow leopards born that may be available to see when you get there.

The Cherry Blossoms will be gorgeous by the time you get there. Someone suggested getting to the park by the National Airport - I highly recommend it, and you could Metro there if you don't mind a little walking.

I've lived in both Yorktown and Northern VA for several years, and made the trip from Williamsburg to DC multiple times. Williamsburg is about a 2-2.5 hour trip from DC, and won't be so bad on the weekends right now, since it isn't beach season yet. The main interstate to get down there (I-95, coming out of DC) is finicky and can occasionally back up for no real apparent reason. But once you get about a half hour out of DC towards Richmond, it's smooth sailing.

Like SteveM said, Williamsburg doesn't have much for children. They may start doing reenactments soon again (I don't know when those run), and that might be fun. You could always check and see what's going on at the College of William & Mary that day (literally right in the heart of historic Williamsburg) - they may have some event that kids could enjoy too.

If you don't mind driving a little further, Yorktown is about 30 minutes past Williamsburg, and it has the Waterman's Museum, which is pretty neat. They schedule "Family Days" sometimes, so you can see what's going on there. Also, that's situated right on the York River, and if it's warm enough, it's a great place to wade. The entire area is a beach front that doesn't get many visitors with Virginia Beach being close by, so it's great for families.

Enjoy it! I love Virginia.

mandamum said...

Absolutely go see the Shrine! And its bookstore in the basement. Also, there is something in the way of a museum or something in the Dominican House of Studies across the street from CUA, I think... might check on what's on display there. And I think Raymond Arroyo broadcasts from there for the World Over Live?

Another beach you can visit is the MD/VA island of Assateague (as in Misty of Chincoteague) which has lots of wildlife including wild ponies). 3hr drive from DC.

If you go up to Gettysburg, stop by Emmitsburg to stretch legs and visit St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's place. She built the first Lourdes-style Grotto in the US, on the side of a hill there. And if you drive further past Gettysburg, you could visit Hershey PA, and go see how chocolate is made :) complete with mechanical tour-ride.

If you want to go up the Washington Monument, you can get tickets online (for a fee) instead of waiting in line at the crack of dawn that day (to get them free).

Realize that if you take Metro and walk, and you go from the Capitol/Smithsonian end of the Mall down to the Lincoln end, you will not have any good Metro stops nearby when you get foot-weary at the end of the day. Sigh.

We went to the place they print money (bills) and the kids really thought that was neat (though smelly). My 7yo, 5 at the time, still remembers it very clearly. Stop by early to get the free tickets, though.

If your trip coincides with either the Cherry Blossom Festival or the Kite Festival, the Mall area will be crazy busy, so plan accordingly. I hear the kites are lovely, but that the Mall gets a little claustrophobia-causing with all the people on it.

Washington's plantation is a pretty short drive out from Alexandria, and has lots of neat gardens and buildings, and an enjoyable visitor's center. And if you happen to go through Alexandria, stop by the Daughters of St. Paul bookstore :) and say hi to the sisters!

We loved the Air & Space "Udvar Hazi" out by Dulles when we lived in the area--it costs $12 for parking, and is mostly lots of planes and such parked around (including a shuttle that didn't go into space but was used to test instruments) but my small ones (girls) loved to see them all, and then go up in the tower and look out in all directions). The last time we went, we couldn't walk the main floor because they were filming "Night at the Mus II". :(

Cabin John Park in MD (Bethesda?) has a really nice shaded (important for summer, not so much now) playground and a little ride-on train that could be a nice break for a picnic lunch or just a kid-run if you're up that way. I don't know if the train runs in the spring...

There is a book caled, "Washington DC with Children" that might be overkill for a short trip, but I found it useful. Might check if your library has it.

Have fun!

Pro Ecclesia said...

If the weather is nice, then definitely go to Mount Vernon. LOTS for the kids to see and do (although in March there might not be as much going on outside - farming activities, plantation outbuildings such as a blacksmith shop, etc. - as there is in the summer months). There's a very nice website (including a monthly calendar of events) here:

Mount Vernon is our family's favorite activity when we're in the vicinity of D.C.

Also, I agree with the suggestions above re: the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian.

Pro Ecclesia said...

Oh, and Colonial Williamsburg is a family favorite, as well. Definitely more kid-friendly than Gettysburg.

Foxfier said...

I spent a full day at the natural history museum, and could have spent two more with ease. Bring cameras, and I seem to remember lots of places for parents to set while the kids check out, say, the wall of bugs or look at thousands of sparkly mineral samples.

My husband is from that area, suggests the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, and he suggests avoiding the Washington Memorial for strategic reasons.

It might be worth it to look into a bus tour.

Elizabeth M said...

We've done many "stop-by" visits to DC with our kids on the way to and from family visits.
The beauty of the Smithsonian museums (especially with kids) is that since they are free, you don't feel committed to "do" a whole museum. Plus many are set up with plenty of kid-friendly exhibits to catch their eye or let them touch something. But once you let go of the idea of "seeing" the museum as an adult, it's fun to let the kids lead you. You'll spend more time in some areas than others, but it's easy to move on. It's also easy to walk back out to the Mall for some running around time then hit another museum.
For our kids, Air & Space, Natural History, and American History are the top hits. There really is enough to hit something for everyone.
I'd suggest the Lincoln and WWII memorials to visit.
I definitely agree with a stop at the Basilica. We stop most times through, sometimes even making Mass. But even if you don't, all of the shrines are beautiful. The bookstore and gift shop are not to be missed!
But I haven't seen another gem mentioned -- the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. It's not too far from the Basilica and has parking. They have artifacts from the Holy Land, actual replicas of Holy Land sites, stories of the Franciscan stewardship of the Holy Land, and beautiful gardens to walk around. It doesn't need a long stop, but we're so glad we went. It's just an unexpected find.
I have to agree with the poster about keeping traffic in mind around DC. Having family in Virginia, I can tell you that we have SAT many times below DC in stopped traffic. So avoid anything close to rush hour on many routes so you can avoid spending too much of your trip in traffic, rather than having fun!

David L Alexander said...

Well, for one thing, you're gonna call me the minute you hit town, dammit, and I'm gonna show you kids around. The Smithonian on the Mall, and the National Zoo uptown. You can never go wrong with kids at either one.

Send me an e-mail. I'll send you my number, eh?

Pro Ecclesia said...

We'll be heading to Virginia toward the end of Holy Week. But I don't suppose y'all will still be around by then?