Washington, DC is one of my favorite capitals of the world. I always think of DC with fond memories of living there as a single girl and having a blast in DC and its surrounding areas.
The DC area offers great activities for everyone and for every budget. Whether you are an adrenaline-junkie and love to go rafting and skiing, a culture snob who appreciates the arts, an activist who enjoys standing in front of government buildings and rallying or an adventurous foodie who loves anything edible, DC has something for you.
As I was planning my trip back to the US last October to give birth to Joshua, I asked the travel agent to book my flight through DC. I had big belly and a toddler in tow, but I was eager to relive all the fun times I had spent there. I knew Evan was old enough to enjoy the zoo and some of the museums and I was so grateful to have my dad meet us there for a 5-day trip.
DC hotels are not cheap. I took the risk and booked through Hotwire Hot Rates. You cannot know the name of the hotel you are staying in until after you book it. The only thing you get to pick is the approximate location, star rating and price you want to pay. We were very lucky and got to stay at the Hilton at the Alexandria Mark Center. It was very nice and they had a great shuttle to the Pentagon City Mall and the National Airport.
One of the things I enjoyed the most was being able to walk on the sidewalks. If you live in developing South East Asia you learn to appreciate wide, clean sidewalks. I was able to take Evan’s stroller up and down the street and ride the metro everywhere! Elevators and great ramps made riding the metro with a stroller easy and buses had built-in ramps to allow strollers to come up.
We were very jet-lagged so we took it very slowly and we didn’t have a fix schedule. We barely took a glimpse of all DC has to offer but we enjoyed every minute of our trip, even the hours spent taking long baths and watching American cartoons in the hotel room.
Here’s a list of our favorite places in DC.
1. The DC Metro. Yes, I just listed the Metro as an attraction. For a 20-month-old boy who loves anything related to transportation, the metro is one of the most fun things to see in DC. Even better, you can ride on it! Remember I live in the developing world and Evan had never seen anything like this before except for the Sky Train in Bangkok, which I’m sure he doesn’t remember.
2. Double Decker Tour Bus. Forty USD gets you a 48 hour ticket. Kids under 4 ride for free. Hopping on and off at the major museums and attractions was so convenient and Evan loved looking at the monuments and all the cars around us. He got specially excited when he saw birds nearby and kept pointing at all the airplanes and helicopters he saw while sitting on the top deck. Since we were staying in Alexandria the fact that the bus dropped us off at Pentagon City Mall was an added bonus.
3. Holocaust Museum. This is one of my favorite museums. I really like the architectural design and I love how the tour of the museum gets you involved in the dreadful events that happened during WWII. You might think this museum is not for kids, but they have a beautiful area called Daniel’s story. This exhibition is designed for kids to see what a Jewish child lived like during the 1940’s and how the Holocaust affected and changed his life. This time, Evan was just excited to see toy trains and to be able to touch everything in the museum but I look forward to taking him back and explaining to him the meaning behind it.
4. American History Museum. Also one of my favorite museums it highlights American innovation and culture. I specially enjoyed the Presidential and First Lady exhibitions and Evan loved looking at everything in the pop culture section. Of course he loved the trains, trams and trucks and he particularly appreciated being able to play around at the Hall of Invention.
5. National Zoo. This was a must see for us. Since I booked our ticket to DC I had been daydreaming about taking Evan to see what a real zoo looked like. Sure, Evan had seen and ridden elephants and watched men wrestle crocodiles, but he had never seen so many species of animals together in a nice and clean environment. He wasn’t very interested in the Panda nursery or the exhibits, but he loved looking at the Halloween decoration and got really excited every time he noticed a new animal.
6. Air and Space Museum. I am not a fan of this museum, but I have a little boy that’s obsessed with anything that flies. My dear cousins Alitza and Ceci joined us in our tour of the museum and Evan loved their company. We spent hours in the “How Things Fly” area as Evan had a blast playing and experimenting with every single thing he could get a hold of.
7. Natural History Museum. We visited this museum after the Air and Space Museum. I would not recommend doing the two on the same day. They are very big and have a lot to offer. We spent about 2 hours there and Evan was very impressed by all the animals. One of the coolest attractions about this museum is the hidden activities they have for kids. They have a lot of interactive play areas where kids can feel the texture of the animals’ skin, hide in burrows and compare their height to that of different animals.
8. The Mall. Not the shopping mall, but The Mall. Beautiful place to walk around and relax, or run around like crazy if you are a toddler. I wish I had taken a soccer ball with me. Evan was very impressed by all the soccer players and all the people jogging.
9. Chinatown. If you walk a little bit further from the Mall you get to Chinatown. Heaven for coffee addicts and foodies. It’s a great place to sight-see and shop and take a break from a long day of walking. Not far from there you will find the Spy Museum. I can’t wait until Evan is old enough to take him there!
Kid-Friendly Restaurants/Coffee Shops
If you want to enjoy delicious food and would rather spend your money shopping or going to the theater, you should check out the very famous happy hours all around DC. If you arrive around 5PM there shouldn’t be many people around and your toddlers will be sure to enjoy the little tapas-like finger-food and you can drink your diet coke (or wine) for a very affordable price. Check out http://www.dchappyhours.com/ for a listing of restaurants and menus offering happy hours.
Although there are many nice restaurants that are very kid-friendly I was craving the American fast food fare and these hit the spot.
1. Starbucks. Caffeine Fix, Check. Yummy Pastry, Check. Kid Snack Box, Check. Moms know Starbucks and Starbucks knows moms. They sell amazing little snack boxes that include apple slices, crackers, cheese sticks and baby carrots. They are perfect for the little ones and are packed very conveniently so if your kid doesn’t finish his snack you can just put the box in your diaper bag and take it out when the hunger monster attacks again.
2. Cosi. Delicious sandwiches and salads. Evan specially enjoyed the bread they serve with the salads. I was able to buy a sandwich and salad combo and he would eat all the lunch meat and bread with a side of baby carrots. Their oatmeal cookies are very good, too and I usually bought a couple to carry as a snack for me or Evan.
3. Chipotle. Grab a Burrito Bowl to share with your toddler and you are set! Evan loves eating beans, rice and steak and the burrito bowl was fresh and very convenient. Evan also devoured the chips and salsa (he’s my Mexican baby after all).
4. Dean and Deluca. The atmosphere s very relaxed and the food is fresh and delicious. You can eat anything from eggplant lasagna, to a potato salad and a warm sandwich or pizza. Their bakery and coffee shop are very good, too and with so much variety you will surely find something you like.
5. Georgetown Cupcake. I realize you can’t have a meal here, but you sure can eat a delicious cupcake! There’s a reason why they are so popular and the lines go around the corner. My favorite is the red velvet cupcake and Evan enjoyed the birthday cake cupcake the most.
Seeing DC through Evan’s eyes was so eye-opening and fulfilling! He noticed things I had never perceived before and he taught me how to appreciate the little things and details that make things unique.