Washington DC Travel Guide With Kids

Last week, we took our annual spring break trip down to Washington DC and I have to say, this may have been my favorite experience there to date!  It could be due to the fact that as our kids are getting older, it’s becoming easier and more enjoyable to explore the city.  But, I also think it had to do with my attained knowledge of where to stay, what to do, how to get around and what to look for when dining out with kids.  Before I break it down by categories, I’d like to note that I think the best time of year to visit Washington DC is the spring.  Everything is beginning to bloom and the weather is mild (trust me, I’ve been there in August and it is hot) which is ideal for all the walking that is required.  This brings me to my other point…wear comfortable clothes!  I packed layers consisting of tees, jeans, these girlfriend chinos, light jackets (my faves are this and this) and my go-to slip on sneakers.  I also brought one bag, this reversible tote, which was the perfect size for all my essentials plus my camera.

Where to Stay: 

My favorite neighborhood to stay in is actually right outside DC in Arlington, VA.  It’s right across the Potomac River so getting into the city is super easy whether you decide to take the Metro or just drive in (just be sure not to drive into DC during rush hour which is pretty brutal).  Last year, we stayed at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel which was beautiful (I especially loved the pool and the lobby area).  This year, I got a better deal at the Key Bridge Marriott so we opted to stay there instead.  We were upgraded to a room with a city view which the kids loved, especially at night when DC is lit up.  We had a clear view of the Washington monument and Georgetown which is directly across the river.  This hotel has two restaurants, an indoor and outdoor pool, mini refrigerators in the rooms, and a Starbucks in the lobby.  I found this part of Arlington more lively as well. There were restaurants within walking distance both in Arlington and across the Key Bridge in Georgetown.  The Metro was also two blocks from the hotel which was very convenient.  Arlington has a plethora of hotels and restaurants and I shouldn’t forget to mention the main reason we stay here: it’s much more affordable.  Downtown DC hotel rates are extremely pricey.

Where to Explore: 

There is so much to see and do in DC that it can be a bit overwhelming.  The other aspect to note is that the blocks in the city are long and wide so you will do a ton of walking.  Last year, I discovered this double-decker bus tour which I find to be the best way to see all the sights particularly with kids.  There are 20 stops and it’s a hop on and off tour so you can stop where you want and another bus will come along in about 20 minutes.  Of course, the kids love sitting up top but if the weather is chilly or too hot, you can sit downstairs in the heat or a/c.  This past time, the day we took the tour, it was considerably cool so after freezing up top for a majority of the tour, we finally ventured downstairs only to find the a/c was on…brrrr!  We got off at the Lincoln Memorial (thank you Katie for the bathroom tip…there are restrooms there which were a welcome sight).  After warming up with coffee and eating our PB&J sandwiches (definitely pack a lunch because the museum cafeterias are a rip off), we hopped back on a heated bus which felt so good!  Some stops to consider for kids:

  • the National Archives where they house the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  We skipped the area downstairs and headed right up to the rotunda where these documents are enclosed in glass.  It can get a bit crowded but the line is orderly and it’s definitely worth it.
  • the American History Museum which is known for its’ collection of the the first ladies’ inaugural gowns.  Although my boys aren’t exactly enamored with this part of the museum, there are a plethora of kid friendly exhibits and hands on activities.
  • the Air and Space Museum which is chock full of exhibits and collections that will keep your little ones interested.  It’s a really big museum and it gets very crowded so be warned and plan accordingly.
  • the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial for beautiful views of the city plus all those steps will tire your kiddos out (which means a good night’s rest).  You can also capture great photos from both spots.
  • Arlington National Cemetery is a must when visiting DC.  We didn’t visit this time but we did last spring and it was so worth it.  Try to time your visit with a changing of the guard which is incredibly impressive and inspiring.  My boys were mesmerized and the whole experience left them speechless which is a rare occurrence!  I think it’s important for my children to see how many brave men and women sacrificed their lives for our freedom.  A visit there will certainly leave an impact on you.

Our second day in DC, we visited the Archives in the morning and then we took a tour of the Capitol that afternoon.  This was by far the highlight of our trip.  We ended up on the last tour of the day and between our charming tour guide and the beauty of this landmark, I am now convinced I need to book another tour through our local Congressman before our next visit.  The rotunda is majestic and huge!  And the idea that this is where laws are made makes walking those halls very exciting!

It was hot on our second day in DC so after our tour, we grabbed some ice creams from a street vendor and sat under a tree across from the Supreme Court which is directly across from the Capitol.  That leads me to a tourist tip: carry cash because there are street vendors everywhere and you don’t want to be searching for an ATM when you’re craving an ice cream, a hot dog or a cold bottled water.

The other thing to note: the first day, we took the Metro into the city which I found a bit confusing.  This New Yorker isn’t used to paying different fees depending on the destination.  In NYC, one subway card at one fee will take you all over the city.  Also, you first have to buy the card for $2.00, then put cash on it.  I was befuddled by this.  Long story short…it ended up costing less money to park the car in a garage in the city than taking the metro with four kids.  So, the second day, we did just that.  I found a garage in the Market Square area which was perfect because there’s a ton of restaurants right there and it’s very walkable to many of the sights.

Image via 

Where to Eat: 

Usually when we travel, we stay in a VRBO rental with a full kitchen or a Residence Inn so we don’t eat out with four kids that much.  But, this time, we stayed in a traditional hotel and while we picked up some breakfast and lunch items for the in room refrigerator, we went out for dinner each night in addition to lunch in DC on our last day.  The main thing I look for when dining out with kids is a children’s menu which is key in terms of portions and price.  I always offer my kids a sampling from my plate to introduce different kinds of foods but I don’t like to waste food and money on adult dishes for them.  Here is where we ate:

  • Tulepo Honey:  I didn’t realize this is a chain which I would normally not be into.  However, the food is soooo good and fresh!  I also loved the rustic decor and the option to eat indoors or outside.  I had the black bean burger which was delish!  The waiter was so attentive to our boys…he tried to put on the Yankees game for them but after a long time trying, the boys settled on a different game and were quite content facing the tv with their ginger ales and the warm biscuits they served before dinner.
  • Vantage Point Rooftop Restaurant:  This restaurant was conveniently located right across the street from our hotel.  It’s on the top floor of the Holiday Inn Hotel.  While the food wasn’t anything to write home about, the views of DC and Georgetown are pretty impressive and there’s a very reasonable kids’ menu.  I stuck to a burger and fries and it was perfectly fine and the kids loved that their dinner included ice cream sandwiches afterwards.  The steady stream of planes flying into Reagan National airport kept my boys occupied while they waited for dinner.  We figured out that one flies in every minute and a half fyi.
  • Oyamel:  This was my favorite restaurant.  Our second day in DC, it was warm and sunny so we ate outside and it was the ideal spot to enjoy the beautiful weather and people watch.  We ordered a bunch of tacos which were so fresh, unique and delicious!  I would especially recommend the Taco de hongos con crema  which consists of sautéed wild mushrooms with shallots and Mexican cream, topped with salsa serrano and pickled red onions….yum!  My son Patrick loved these!  This restaurant is located in the heart of the city in Market Square so it’s a great spot to fuel up in between visiting all the sights.

The last night, we were super tired so after the kids swam in the pool, we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant. I really wanted to try out Orange Anchor per Katie’s recommendation but the kids were wiped.  I will say, however, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my salad with was made up of baby kale, fried goat cheese (OMG…so good), quinoa and dried cherries.  I need to recreate this salad at home asap.  The combination of all these ingredients worked really well.  Oh, and the vodka soda with a splash of pineapple juice helped too!

So, that’s my Washington DC travel guide with kids!  My biggest piece of advice is to plan your days out well in advance.  DC is spread out and there is so much to see and do so mapping out your days in detail will assure a more enjoyable experience.  Feel free to email me with any questions or any further recommendations on things to see and places to stay.  Have a great weekend!