|The Waterfalls: National Museum of the American Indian|
In college, I used to aspire to be a travel writer for Let’s Go: A Student Travel Guide.
Dreams of trekking around the globe in fascinating cities, eating cultural foods, seeing spectacular sites, and finding plenty of unusual gems off-the-beaten path. That dream dried up when the I came to the sobering conclusion that it wouldn’t pay the bills and would keep me away from close friends and family for long periods of time.
Consequently, I still have a passion for traveling to fascinating places with my family and truly enjoy mapping out a solid plan to see the highlights and build up excitement along the way.
I had the privilege to journey through Washington, D.C., on a 48-hour adventure with my 5-year old recently as part of a dad-blogger weekend. There were 10 other active dads from around the country that were just as eager to embark on this #HGIDCadventure with their children as well. In an amazing city where there were so many different options to go exploring, I wish I had more time to hang out with such a great group of guys!
|#HGIDCAdventure Dad Team: (from left) Troy Pattee, Lance Somerfeld, Gabe Miller,
Chris Routly, Whit Honea, Fred Goodall, Jason Avant, Clay Nichols, Jeff Bogle
Armed with our Frommer’s Washington D.C Guide, suggestions via social media crowd-sourcing, and our city map, we were ready for our ultimate adventure.
|Dad Bonding: Amtrak Acela Express Train|
What’s more exciting for your children as you gear up for a big trip? The destination or the mode of transportation?
We struck a balance between the two via the Amtrak Acela Express high speed rail. This was my 5-year-old’s first experience on the Acela, and the two of us were giddy with excitement as we boarded the train.
We found comfortable window seats with a table so we could spread out and enjoy playing cards, Connect Four, drawing activities, and watching a DVD. Watching the scenery and other trains whizzing by is all part of the experience,too. Playing with the automatic sliding doors that separate each passenger car and enjoying our lunch in the dining car for a change of venue made for an easy, tantrum-free ride.
Before we arrived in Washington D.C., my son and I discussed some of the activities that we could do together. His feedback was valuable in crafting our plans for the weekend. Therefore, we present to you some of my parenting successes, failures, and missteps for navigating Washington D.C. with a toddler/pre-schooler:
|National Air & Space Museum|
Visit several popular museums and sights
Visiting the National Air & Space Museum was top priority. As soon as we dropped our bags off at the hotel, we hit the pavement and visited this museum first.
With the world’s largest collection of aircrafts and spacecrafts, many of which dangle from the ceiling, it’s not surprising that this is the second most visited museum in the world behind the Louvre in Paris. We spent the majority of our time in the hands-on “How Things Fly” exhibition room and thoroughly enjoyed “Air Racers,” one of the numerous and thrilling IMAX Films. Success!
We enjoyed walking around “The Mall” – the majestic, open-area national park lined with the Smithsonian museums on the sides and the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument serving as it’s bookends. Quick fact: all of the Smithsonian museums have free admission!
|Outside the Capitol Building with the Routly Duo|
A highlight for us was visiting the grounds of the Capitol Building with its symmetrical stairs, awe-inspiring domed top, and reflecting pools.
I thought it might be fun to race my son up the stairs, but as we approached the building, we quickly realized the stairs are closed to pedestrians for security reasons. Sadly, my son couldn’t run up the stairs like Rocky Balboa.
Oh, and you’re not allowed to stand on those amazing glass skylights near the reflecting pools either, even though there are no clearly marked signs (shhhh … we might have gotten yelled at by the security guard). Parent fail!
|Opening gate of the National Zoo|
Our family loves animals and frequently visit zoos in our travels toother cities. The Smithsonian National Zoo was another priority on our agenda and should be on yours as well.
We decided to take the Metro subway to the zoo which is a fairly simple excursion from the city center. This was also an opportunity for us to compare the experience of the DC Metro to one of our favorite modes of transportation, the New York City subway – we found that the architecture of the DC subway system is far superior than ours.
The most famous exhibit at the National Zoo are the pandas (the only other zoo in the country with pandas is in San Diego). Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to the advice of a local friend when I crowd-sourced for information, and was truly disappointed to find the Panda Bear Exhibit was temporarily CLOSED. One of the Panda’s is expecting a baby. Parent misstep!
We also visited the International Spy Museum. Displaying a variety of espionage artifacts, gadgetry, and paraphernalia, this museum was eye-candy for me. I love the mystery of the intelligence industry and worship everything surrounding James Bond.
The content of the museum was right in my wheelhouse, but not the best fit for my 5-year old so I wasn’t able to spend quality time observing each exhibit. My son was most interested in the 30-second cartoon appearing during an old propaganda video. But hey, when traveling, parents need to squeeze in things that cater to their personal interests as well.
|Imitating the architecture: National Museum of the American Indian|
Don’t underestimate the National Museum of the American Indian
Visiting the National Museum of the American Indian for lunch came highly recommended from our friends.
Consequently, with all of the wonderful options for food in D.C and the fact that several other museums piqued my interest more than this one – Natural History, American History, and Postal Museum – we were teetering about NOT visiting. That would have been a costly error.
From the cascading waterfalls on the exterior to the massive funicular atrium on the interior, the architecture is something to marvel at. The museum’s excellent restaurant, Mitsitam Cafe, deserves to be on every families list as a foodie destination. Delicious and creative food choices coupled with an incredible view of the waterfalls, it’s no wonder why it’s a top rated restaurant by Zagat.
The Imaginations Exhibit on the third floor was a hit with my son, too basket weaving, building an igloo, playing inside a gigantic teepee, and participating in storytime made for a wonderful cultural experience. The waterfalls outside of the building were so mesmerizing that we decided to rest our legs and enjoy the moment. One regret during this trip was not taking more time to reflect and soak it all in. Success!
|Our PediCab adventure on the National Mall|
Rent a bike or take a pedicab
Generally, when visiting a new city like Chicago, Denver, or Phoenix, we rent a bicycle with a child seat or trailer in the back that enables us to really traverse the landscape and see many of the sites, even those off the beaten path.
It was our intention to rent a bicycle to offer us an active way to observe Washington D.C., especially since the city is so bike friendly. Instead, we opted for an entertaining pedicab ride.
Prices are negotiable and we decided to hire a pedicab on the cheap for a unique experience and to rest our legs after hours of touring. Cruising along the Mall and enjoying the beautiful sites was another highlight of our trip. Success!
|DC Duck Tour with our “Quackers”|
|DC Duck Tour: Little guy driving our boat|
DC Duck Tour is a Must!
The challenge with the DC Duck Tour is that it’s so popular, it often sells out weeks in advance.
Fortunately, they add extra tours each day, but tickets for those added tours can only be purchased in-person at the tour in Union Station train depot.
On our final morning, we hauled over to Union Station and scored tickets for the DC Duck Tour. We had about an hour to kill near the station and my son was already showing signs of exhaustion. He was whining and acting out which got me frustrated, and resulted in an embarrassing tantrum in Union Station. Fail!
Following the meltdown, we hopped aboard a unique, open-air canopied WW II army vehicle that seats about 30 passengers. The surprising thrill of this 90-minute tour happens midway through when the amphibious bus drives down a ramp into the Potomac River. The vehicle doubles as a boat, too.
My son was shocked! It was exhilarating! The driver even let all of the children aboard have a moment at the wheel playing “captain.” We “quacked” our way back to Union Station. Huge success!
|#HGIDCAdventure: Leaving our hotel to explore the city|
|Breakfast of Champions!|
|Little guy mapping out our day with the hotel ambassador|
Stay in a hotel located close to the action and the sites
With a small child, travel is so much easier when you’re located in the heart of the action. Fortunately, there are numerous lodging choices in in all price-ranges in downtown Washington D.C.
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, Washington, D.C. Downtown. Two blocks from the White House and less than a mile from the National Mall, this hotel was right in the sweetspot of the city.
We fueled up in the morning at their made-to-order breakfast bar, decompressed before dinner with a dip at the indoor pool, and crashed hard for the night in their comfortable room accommodations. The hotel even had a simple and engaging “I Spy at HGI” scavenger hunt for the little ones with an “awesome” (quoting my son) commemorative gold coin upon completion.
Overall, the staff was extremely polite, proactive, and helpful even though my 5-year-old was often running rampant in the lobby. We’ll definitely be back!
Stay tuned for our next city adventure when our family jaunts over to Boston next month!
A few additional photos:
* Disclosure Note: This is a sponsored post where NYC Dads Group received free transportation, lodging, and meals provided by Hilton Garden Inn. The opinions expressed in this post are our own and have not been influenced by our sponsor. We limit our sponsorships/advertising to relevant partners that offer products and services we believe in and use ourselves.