Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tween Travel to Washington, DC - Top Picks & 3 Perfect Days

Recently a colleague asked about our recommendations for how to best see DC with tweens. So we put some thought to it and created three perfect days in Washington, D.C.  Did we capture your favorite sites? What else would you recommend?

Washington is a great trip to make with kids. Here's a list of places your tweens will love along with where to eat (I don't know about you, but we try to avoid chains and like to have a sense for where the locals eat):

A Perfect Day With Tweens on Capitol Hill:
  • Start with breakfast at historic Eastern Market (Penn and 7th St, SE). If you go on a weekend, line up for the famous Market Lunch blueberry pancakes. If it's a weekday, our favorite spot for breakfast on the Hill is the tiny but delicious Le Bon Cafe. Truly French, their food is amazing without the steep price tag - try their pumpkin bread (you'll thank me later) and sip cafe au lait as they do in Paris from charming bowls. (Did you know?: DC was designed by a Frenchman - Pierre L'Enfant)
  • Tours of the Capitol begin at the Visitor Center. If you contact your Representative or Senator's office in advance (allow several weeks), they can arrange for you to get passes for the Floor to watch the action in person. The movie "Eagle Eye" took place on the Floor, so that may be fun to watch before you go so that your tweens can recognize where they're going. The Capitol Visitor Center itself is also quite cool to see.
  • At the base of the Capitol is the U.S. Botanic Garden - you can't miss the enormous glass structure. It's filled with beautiful plants from around the world and is a great oasis in the heart of the city.
  • After the Capitol tour and Botanic Garden, head to lunch at Top Chef's Spike Mendelsohn's burger joint for lunch: Good Stuff Eatery (4th St and Pennsylvania Ave, SE). The Toasted Marshmallow Shake is TDF. Or, if they prefer pizza, Spike's pizza and sub shop, We The Pizza is next door - definitely sample their homemade soda mixers.
  • Across the street is the Library of Congress where the second "National Treasure" movie was filmed. There are a ton of historic documents on view (including Presidential papers) and the architecture is stunning - there's a free historic walking tour offered daily. Tweens can flex their knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System and see how the LOC has gone digital.
  • A few steps beyond LOC is the Supreme Court, a must-go place for a budding activist or argumentative tween (another famous movie, "The Pelican Brief", has scenes set here).
  • If you tweens like Shakespeare or studied his works in school, you might want to check out the Folger Shakespeare Library. They have a vibrant theatre with shows from amazing traveling troupes throughout the year (we saw "Comedy of Errors" there last spring), a unique gallery of objects, and a little gift shop. No food on-site.
  • Union Station is a great area to end up at for dinner. Avoid the food court and instead opt for America, a restaurant on the main level. Or, circle back to Pennsylvania Ave SE to the other Spike Mendelsohn spot that you didn't try at lunch time.
  • Definitely end the day by driving around the Capitol and other monuments at night - they look amazing when lit. This way the tweens can see the Capitol which they just toured and get a preview of the Mall for your next day's journey.
A Perfect Day With Tweens on the National Mall:
  • Have breakfast at Paul, an organic bakery from France that opened its first U.S. outpost by the Archives. 'Not the place for a diet, so splurge on the pastries and coffee. Should you feel so inclined, this is also the best place to pick up sandwiches for a lunchtime picnic. The courtyard outside has a map in stone of the world with pretty fountains at the U.S. Navy Memorial. The Archives houses the Constitution and is a must-see (it was also in the first "National Treasure" movie).
  • Buy tickets online in advance for the chance to ride the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument. Plan the rest of your day around this time. Same day tickets to this are also available, but folks start queuing up at 7am (the window is at the back of the Visitor Center at the base of the Monument; this Visitor Center has the one of the best selections/gift shops on the Mall).
  • The Newseum is next door and one of the few museums in D.C. that isn't free. But through Labor Day, up to 10 kids are free with one paying adult. Kids can make their own news or sports broadcast, see Tim Russert's set (for the political tween), and see daily newspapers from around the world. Their top floor balcony has some of the best views of the DC. Before you leave, grab a cool drink from the basement cafeteria.
  • The question is not which Smithsonian to see, but what you have time for. Highlights include: the modern pieces and Calder sculptures in the National Gallery of Art East Wing, the underground walkway between the National Gallery East Wing and West Wing, the outdoor sculpture garden of the Hirshhorn, pretty much all of Air And Space (there's a McDonalds inside and the teens might want to sample astronaut ice cream there), Dorothy's Ruby Slippers at the American History Museum, the ginormous petrified squid and mastadon at Natural History (while there, the Butterfly Exhibit is worth the $2 admission price), and the beautiful Buddhist and Asian pieces in the Sackler and Freer Gallery. In the basement of the American History Museum are 3-D Ride Simulators where, for $7 each, tweens can go under the sea, into outer space, or on a racetrack - very high coolness factor and the best kept secret in town. If you didn't pack a lunch, have lunch in the street level cafe of the American History Museum - avoid the basement food court. Check out our tween's review of the American History Museum's American Girl Doll Addy exhibit. Oh - and the American Indian Museum has truly wonderful family programs. You canNOT go wrong - the Smithsonian has just amazing programs for families.
  • Walk along the Mall to take in the scene - you'll see government officials jogging during their lunch breaks, and scenes from the "Transformers 3" movie. Or take a pedi-cab ride to view the entire Mall (tip well on hot days!). You'll see a lot of hotdog vendors, but these are not as good as the NYC ones - but you'll definitely want to grab ice cream or popsicles from the ice cream trucks stationed around the Mall to cool off.
  • The Holocaust Museum is just off the Mall, and this is very worthwhile but intense - you have to know your kids.
  • You won't be able to do the entire Mall in one day, so I suggest doing the museums above (the eastern part of the Mall) on one day, and the outside monuments another day.
  • For dinner, there's pricey but elegant The Source by Wolfgang Puck next to the Newseum, or a ton of fun restaurants in the Penn Quarter/Gallery Place neighborhood. Our tweens like Ella's for pizza, Ping Pong for dim sum, Carmines for insane portions of Old-fashioned Italian, or Jaleo for tapas. You'll have a ton of choices here.
A Perfect Day With Tweens Outdoors In D.C.:
  • The entire White House staff seems to eat at Breadline on Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th - best bread in the city, Illy coffee, and great people watching, Washington-style. Everything is good here. Food options this end of the Mall are more limited, so we recommend buying sandwiches or salads from Breadline for lunch now.
  • Fuel up, because you and your teens will need energy for the walk down 17th, by the Old Executive Office Building, the White House (these tours are only available by booking in advance; if you go, try to schedule the Rose Garden or Edible Garden tour as well), the Daughters of the American Revolution Hall, and the Organization of American States, and through the Mall. Walk into the World War Two Memorial - it is beautiful and tells the story in a very compelling way. 
  • Continue to walk across the Mall to the Tidal Basin and rent a Paddle Boat. Paddle your way around and take in the Jefferson Memorial - it's the best way to see it. Pack sun block and water - it gets hotter on the water - see our review for more tips.
  • You can have lunch anywhere on the Mall, but if your legs can still stand it, walk over to Lincoln Memorial and have lunch on the steps. Views of the city are amazing, and it's a great spot to walk around and reflect. The Visitor Center between the Lincoln Memorial and Korean War Memorial is also pretty good and has drinks and frozen treats. If your teen collects patches or pins, each Visitor Center on the Mall offers patches and pins for the Monuments nearby.
  • After you rest and re-fuel, walk along the Potomac River and head to the Kennedy Center. It's a nice walk, and the Kennedy Center is a beautiful building. There are free shows at the Millennium Stage everyday (check their website for times and themes), a great bronze bust of JFK, and beautiful river views from the back terrace. Should you feel so inclined, the Cafe on the rooftop isn't too fancy and offers cafeteria-style tea, treats, and snacks - great views from there too - very civilized.
  • Continue to walk along the river and enter Thompson Boat House to cross over into Georgetown. You'll be on the Georgetown Waterfront which is a people-watching scene on the weekends and at night. On weekends, folks dock their boats and hold boat parties, and for land-lubbers, the restaurants along it grill and open their patios. Walk along the Waterfront Park all the way down to the end under the overpass to Jack's Boathouse - you can rent canoes or kayaks and take in the Potomac from an unparalleled vantage. Jack's is charming and helpful - a neighbor even had his wedding reception there.
  • After this day, you've earned your sugar, so walk up Wisconsin Ave to M Street. This is the heart of Georgetown's shops and dining. Serendipity (yes, the same one from NYC) is here on the corner, and their sundaes and frozen hot chocolate is amazing - check out our review.
  • Window shopping and people watching are part of the fun around here. Then walk west down M Street to Georgetown Cupcake at 33rd Street (be warned: there's usually a huge line; you can avoid it if you call-in your order in advance, but I think the minimum is one dozen - which you'll have no trouble eating, believe me).
  • Continue along M street until you see a building called "The Car Barn". Just past this are the steep steps from the movie "The Excorist" (personally, I'm not a fan, but every teen I know asks me about these steps). You can walk up these steps, and you'll end up just a few blocks from Georgetown University. A stroll around this picturesque campus is great to get them excited for college.
  • For dinner in Georgetown, our faves are Serendipity (usually fine to walk in on a weeknight or you can make reservations for seating before 530pm), Pizzeria Paradiso, J.Pauls, Paolos or  Martin's Tavern (see the booth where JFK proposed to Jackie there).
Other sites your tweens will love include the Gargoyle Tour (see website for days and times) at the National Cathedral, The Spy Museum (not free but worth it), Olde Towne Alexandria, the pandas and baby lions at the National Zoo, and, for true Transformer movie buffs, the Udvar-Hazy Air And Space Museum (you'll need to rent a car to get there though).

Enjoy your trip to our nation's capital, and post your tips here!

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Shawn Deny said...

Should you feel so inclined, this is also the best place to pick up sandwiches for a lunchtime picnic.
VIP tours

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