I don’t like to brag but… I’m pretty unique. 💁🏼 I just so happen to be one of the few brought up in the American school system that didn’t visit Washington DC on a school-sponsored field trip. I went to public school after all—we barely had classrooms. Or teachers. We did have a pretty epic food fight in the cafeteria once though.
While nearly everyone I’ve ever asked has been to Washington DC at some point in their lives, I still had no idea what was going on in that town. (Does anyone though? Really?) I mean, I’ve always been a fan of TV shows set in Washington DC—Scandal, Bones, Designated Survivor, for instance—so I have been at least passively interested in finding out if DC is just full of sexy power walkers and clandestine meetings on park benches. (The verdict is still out.)
It wasn’t until I read Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol that I actually began to consider visiting. Mr. Brown, you mean to tell me that Washington DC is secretly awesome? All this cool history hidden behind a façade of wrinkly, suit-clad politicians? Who knew! After The Lost Symbol came National Treasure. Then National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Then me frantically Googling whether or not there was a National Treasure 3 in the works. We could call it National Treasure: Do You Even Know How Awesome DC Is? The world needs more American history through the eyes of Nicolas Cage, I tell ya!
3 DAYS IN WASHINGTON DC
When I decided 2018 would be the year I finally visited, I started casually putting together a Washington DC itinerary. That’s when I realized THERE’S SO MUCH TO DO IN WASHINGTON DC. My main goal was just to steal the Declaration of Independence (obvs) but there was actually so. much. more. Washington DC is full of all the nerdy things! Museums and historical sites and important buildings and like a thousand more museums. It’s like the mother ship was calling me home. Basically, I was about to put the Smith in Smithsonian.
I knew early on that I was going to need at least a week to see and do all I had on my Washington DC itinerary, but, only having three full days to dedicate over Thanksgiving, I was just going to have to pack in as much as possible for this first visit. I will be returning for a second in the near future. After all, those pantsuits aren’t going to power walk themselves. Here’s what I got up to during my first ever 3 days in Washington DC.
WASHINGTON DC ITINERARY // DAY ONE
For Day One of my Washington DC itinerary, I chose to focus on stuff that was outside the city center. I had just driven seven hours from Boston to DC and wanted the first day to be the easiest of the three. Also, I just couldn’t wait to get my ass to the Udvar-Hazy center. #nerdalert
It was also Thanksgiving day and these just so happened to be the only two things on my Washington DC itinerary that were actually open. Don’t worry, I gave thanks for that.
FIRST STOP: TED’S BULLETIN
I’m an avid traveler and, as a matter of fact, I do have a favorite destination: America in the 1950s and ‘60s. Time traveling is my favorite so I was really excited to find Ted’s Bulletin—a great restaurant to grab breakfast, right in the heart of the 20th century …and Washington DC. I arrived at 7:03 am–right after it opened–like the good little time-budget traveler that I am.
I fell instantly in love with its art deco atmosphere and retro details: the rabbit-eared televisions showing I Love Lucy, the day’s newspaper folded up at each counter seat, the dapper-dressed staff. The whole place just warmed my soul, and then muh belly.
The food, service, atmosphere, everything at Ted’s Bulletin was fantastic and I whole-heartedly recommend starting your day there. However, what got me there in the first place was the recommendation of an Instagram follower who told me about their homemade Pop Tarts. Being the perpetual 12-year-old and lover of Pop Tarts that I am, I couldn’t pass this up.
PRO TIP: Get yourself some Ted’s Tarts! They come in many flavors and feature a rotating selection as well. (Get the strawberry – they’re swell!)
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Next up was a visit to Arlington National Cemetery—technically located in Arlington, Virginia, but it’s really just a 5-minute drive beyond the National Mall. And maybe you’re not a weirdo who likes to visit cemeteries on vacation, but apparently I am.
Arlington National Cemetery is a military cemetery operated by the United States Army and is one of the most… exclusive? Is that the right word?… of all U.S. national cemeteries.
Buried here are those who served in the U.S. military, dating back as far as the Civil War, along with numerous astronauts, explorers, prominent medical and science figures, presidents, etc. Besides graves, there are a number of important monuments and memorials, ceremonies, and a welcome center that’s also part museum.
Come for the famous names; stay for the peacefulness, the awesome learning opportunities, and the chance to honor those who sacrificed their lives so that we may eat homemade Pop Tarts and complain about the traffic in Delaware.
- President John F. Kennedy / Jackie Kennedy Onassis / Robert Kennedy
- President William Howard Taft
- Robert Todd Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln’s son)
- Matthew Henson & Robert Peary (discoverers of the North Pole)
- The remains of the seven astronauts killed in the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger
- Astronaut John Glenn – the first American to orbit the Earth
- Abner Doubleday – supposed inventor of baseball, but also an officer in the U.S. Army and 2-star Union general in the Civil War
- Joe Louis – heavyweight boxing champion, but also a sergeant in the U.S. Army during WWII
- Civil rights leader Medgar Evers
- And over 399,982 more, and counting
Whatever you do, don’t miss the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This was *the* most fascinating thing I saw during my entire 3 days in Washington DC.
The Changing of the Guard takes place every hour, on the hour, from October 1st to March 31st, and every half hour from April 1st to September 30th. The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in all weather, no matter what.
To serve as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is said to be one of the highest of all military honors. The application and training process are stringent, and the Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Identification Badge is the second-least awarded badge in the U.S. Military. If you thought getting together all your girlfriends who have kids for a night out was difficult, wait until you see how ON POINT this ritual is. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.
EVEN PRO-ER TIP: Make sure you go inside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for a roomful of information and historical military artifacts.
SMITHSONIAN AIR & SPACE MUSEUM: UDVAR-HAZY CENTER
After Arlington we headed even farther outside the city center to the second branch of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, the Udvar-Hazy Center, just outside the Dulles airport.
The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum is split into two parts: the Udvar-Hazy Center geared towards people who actually give all the craps about aviation and space exploration, and the main one over on the National Mall for people who just want an admission-free place to let their germy children loose.
I’ve always been somewhat of an #avgeek so when I learned this place existed, I wanted to visit more than I wanted find the world’s treasures hidden beneath a church in downtown Manhattan. So, A LOT.
The Udvar-Hazy Center is ground zero for anyone interested in airplanes, space travel, history, and seeing how far your voice can travel in an airplane hangar. (Spoiler alert: wicked far)
Besides just being, quite literally, the mother ship for aviation and space nerds, the Udvar-Hazy center has a long list of notable airplanes, miscellaneous vessels, and other artifacts on display. Among them:
➤ The Enola Gay – the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan to end World War II. As a WWII enthusiast, I was in complete awe. Speechless. Well, speechless in the metaphorical sense—if you know me, you know I couldn’t shut up about it.
➤ The Concorde – the one-time airliner that could fly passengers across the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound. It could make the flight from Paris to New York in less than 3.5 hours.
➤ The Space Shuttle Discovery – flew 39 Earth-orbiting missions and traveled almost 150 millions miles. It’s. So. Freaking. Massive.
➤ The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird – the fastest jet ever in the history of the world. Flown by the U.S. Air Force, it set a record after flying from Los Angeles to Washington DC in just 1 hour and 4 minutes. It averaged a speed of 2,124 MF-ing MPH. And that was after 24 years of service. The fastest thing I could do at 24 was tell you from what other show that actor was on that one time.
➤ The first ever FedEx plane – Okay, maybe this is only awesome to people from Memphis, Tennessee (like myself), but Federal Express literally invented the concept of overnight delivery, something each and every one of us uses all the damn time. And this plane carried its first packages. IT’S REVOLUTIONARY, OKAY.
Additionally, the museum features other aircrafts from WWII (even German ones), the Vietnam and Korean Wars, commercial aviation, historical aviation, space travel, hot air ballooning, and the list is endless. I’ve already written more about airplanes than the average person can stomach. I probably lost you at “avgeek”.
The Udvar-Hazy Center’s location outside the Dulles airport makes it the perfect location for, yes, avgeeks. After leaving the parking lot, you’ll drive down a long, empty road in between what looks like nothing but open fields before reaching the highway. Once on this road, pull over and park beside the road and WAIT FOR IT.
This is from the parking lot ⇣⇣⇣
HAPPY HOUR AT OLD EBBITT GRILL
After a nap at the hotel, we sexy power walked to Old Ebbitt Grill for happy hour on the recommendation of my friend Julianne and her booze blog It’s Five O’Clock Here. Old Ebbitt Grill was founded in 1856 and is Washington DC’s oldest saloon—that’s old timey prospector-speak for bar. Being that it’s right next to the White House, I was obviously gonna see a man about a horse on the sidewalk betwixt the light of two street lamps on the way.
Because it’s the oldest of something. If you know me as a traveler at all, you know I’m all about those superlatives. The city’s oldest this, the world’s tallest that, the country’s most famous whatever. Why eat at some random restaurant when you can dine at a landmark?
Given its location, the bar at Old Ebbitt Grill is said to have been frequented by the likes of Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt. Its roots date back to before Abraham Lincoln lived just across the street. AND I ATE THERE! Ashley Smith—the girl who will never, ever be president.
Seven days a week, from 3-6 pm and 11 pm – close is oyster happy hour (half off all oysters)—another Ashley Smith favorite. (The website says “not available on holidays” but… we were there on Thanksgiving… and still got half off so…)
DINNER AT FARMERS & DISTILLERS
After our surprise holiday happy hour, we headed back towards our hotel for Thanksgiving dinner at Farmers & Distillers—another restaurant recommended to me by a DC regular. Farmers & Distillers (along with their sister restaurants Founding Farmers and Farmers Fishers Bakers) is part of a restaurant group completely owned by farmers—over 47,000 of them. So many overalls.
All of Farmers & Distillers’ ingredients are sustainably grown, farm fresh, and are sourced from small family farms—not corporate ones. The food is made fresh, in-house, and from scratch and the result is some of the best food you’ll ever be served in the United States. My husband and I visited for Thanksgiving dinner so we were limited to a fixed price menu but WHOA that food was good. Like, so good we couldn’t believe how good it was. That night, I had the best pecan pie I’ve ever had in my life. And I’m a Southerner.
The service was phenomenal and we were even visited by the manager who brought us a couple of gift cards as a thank you for spending our holiday with them. Which we used on Day Three of this Washington DC itinerary. Twice in three days, it was that good.
PRO TIP: Get the crab & artichoke dip. I swear it’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
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WASHINGTON DC ITINERARY // DAY TWO
Day Two of my Washington DC itinerary was jam-packed. A little bit of everything—museums, historical sites, political stuff, memorials, and having to literally be dragged out of my hotel room to get to dinner because my leg muscles no longer functioned. ‘Twas a good day!
FIRST STOP: U.S. CAPITOL TOUR
First stop on our Day Two agenda was a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building. Now, I know roughly as much about American politics as you do about what I had for breakfast today. However, I do know an important piece of architecture when I see one from twelve miles away.
The United States Capitol (with an ‘o’) is located in the United States’ capital (with an ‘a’)—just wanted to get that out of the way. It’s the home of the U.S. Congress, where the Senate and the House of Representatives do their thang. Construction on this building began in 1793 and G-Wash himself laid the first cornerstone. (His celeb nickname leaves a lot to be desired, huh?)
You can visit the U.S. Capitol but only on a guided tour—you can’t just go in and hang out all willy-nilly. This is the U.S. House of Representatives, not the International House of Pancakes—though the high concentration of grumpy ol’ senior citizens could confuse anyone. Unfortunately, the bills you’ll find here don’t support kids eating for free and the term ‘impeachment’ has nothing to do with Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity® short stacks.
The guided tours of the U.S. Capitol are about 45-minutes long and include visits to:
- The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center and an introductory film
- The Capitol rotunda / the dome
- The crypt
- The National Statuary Hall
- And all the connecting corridors
Reserving your guided tour in advance is recommended, but not mandatory. They do have same-day passes available but obviously those are limited and you may be required to wait a while to get in (and unlimited coffee refills aren’t part of the deal).
Reserving your guided tour in advance guarantees you a dedicated entrance time on whichever date you choose—the obvious choice for those of us trying to jam eight days worth of activities into three. To book your U.S. Capitol tour:
- Go to: visitthecapitol.gov
- Click the link next to “Individuals, families and small groups”
- You’ll need to create an account
- Choose a date and time from the table
- Choose how many passes you need
- Hit “Reserve Now”
- Top it off with a hefty serving of maple syrup
You can make U.S. Capitol tour reservations up to 90 days in advance and all tours are FREE!
Because this is where the United States comes from. What happens inside this building affects every single one of us (us being all humans who inhabit Earth). It’s probably the most important building in our entire country. Plus, Dan Brown makes it sounds REALLY AWESOME.
The art and architecture here are stunning, you’ll get to see the geographic center of Washington DC (in the above picture behind the ropes), and learn so many amazing historical tidbits. They also have a gift shop with prints of the Declaration of Independence that you should definitely not steal.
Pro Tip #2: When you’re in the National Statuary Hall and your tour guide starts talking about the “whispering room” make sure you’re as close to the marker for John Quincy Adams’ desk as possible. The effect is UNREAL.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Admittedly, the Library of congress wasn’t on my original Washington DC itinerary—I was saving it for my second visit, but, lo and behold! There it was right next door to the U.S. Capitol. They’ve borrowed a cup of sugar from each other a time or two, no doubt.
The Library of Congress is the official research library of the U.S. Congress but also the LARGEST LIBRARY IN THE WORLD. In other words, stacks on stacks on stacks. And you already know how I feel about things that end in ‘-est’! It’s also one of the most beautiful and fascinating buildings I’ve seen in this country. Those tiles! Those columns! Those statues! Those floors! You’re making the Sistine Chapel feel pretty bad about itself—I hope you’re happy.
Access to the Library of Congress is free and open to the public. You can stop in on your own or join one of their many tours. Given my time restraints and the fact that the LoC was a beautiful last-minute addition, I opted out of the tour and wandered around got horribly lost on my own.
WHY INCLUDE THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS IN YOUR WASHINGTON DC ITINERARY?
Besides just being your regular, ho hum library with more than 168 million items, the Library of Congress also houses many historical artifacts and showcases special exhibits—the one I saw (still on view) was called Baseball Americana. It’s like they saw me coming a mile away. Among its redonkulous rare book collection is:
- The largest collection of rare books in North America (700,000+)
- The largest collection of 15th-century books in the Western Hemisphere
- The first book printed in North America
- One of the smallest books – which is about the size of this period. (y tho?)
- One of the largest books – a 5’ x 7’ picture book of Bhutan
- The LoC’s oldest written material – a cuneiform tablet dating back to 2040 BC
- And the Gutenberg Bible, which I got to see.
The reason I ended up in the Library of Congress in the first place is also my pro tip to you. From the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center you can take an underground passageway to the Library of Congress. This was especially appealing since it was below freezing outside – but it’s a great shortcut regardless.
Since you’ve already gone through security to get into the Capitol, you won’t have to wait in line and do it again as you would if you entered from the outside. You can keep your coats and bags checked in the Capitol and pop on over to the LoC and back. The passageway is marked and it’s up near the coat check.
SMITHSONIAN AIR & SPACE MUSEUM
Next up was a walk down the National Mall to another Smithsonian, the main branch of the Air & Space Museum. While the Udvar-Hazy Center is definitely where you should spend your time if you’re a fellow avgeek, this one had a couple of things (literally two) that I wanted to lay my eyes on.
This one, you’ll find, is immensely different from the Udvar-Hazy Center. It’s much smaller and more compact and simply bursting at the seams with caffeinated / crying / wet / seemingly parent-less children. Going here to see and learn about a couple of historical aircrafts is like going to Chuck E. Cheese’s to get a slice of pizza. I was not among my people.
However, admission to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum is FREE and I got to see what I came for so, ‘twas a success.
Most of what I wanted to see was at the Udvar-Hazy Center but here you can see:
- The 1903 Wright Flyer – the world’s first airplane, built by the Wright Brothers and flown at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17th, 1903. It’s THE FIRST AIRPLANE, Y’ALL.
- The Spirit of St. Louis – the plane flown by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 from New York to Paris — the first solo, nonstop, trans-Atlantic flight.
- Friendship 7 – the capsule flown by John Glenn when he became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.
- Oh and Sputnik was there – the first satellite
Check out the map of the museum in advance and figure out where you want to go ahead of time. Here are some tips: The Wright Brothers plane is in section 209, the Spirit of St. Louis and Sputnik are hanging from the ceiling in the main lobby just past the entrance on the right-hand side, Friendship 7 is also in the main lobby, on the right-hand side with all the other unrecognizable (unless you’re my friend Valerie) space stuff.
Photos: 1903 Wright Brothers plane | museum lobby | Sputnik satellite | the Spirit of St. Louis
SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY
A little walk farther down the National Mall and we’re at my next stop, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Like the Udvar-Hazy, this is another you could spend an entire day in. This museum houses more than 1.8 million objects. According to their website, that’s “more than three shelf-miles of archival collections,” and I’m totes going to start categorizing things by shelf-miles. “My closet contains just 0.02 shelf-miles of clothing.”
The artifacts here make up everything we know American life to be. It’s got everything you grew up with (Mr. Rogers’ sweaters!) and the stuff behind so many things we have today. It’s got original this, and first that. This museum boasts “the greatest single collection of American history in the world.” *wipes away tear*
To see some of the most important artifacts in American history / pop culture with your very own eyes. Of the more than 1.8 million things here, I had a small list of things I HAD to see. Such as:
- The Star Spangled Banner – THE very flag that inspired our National Anthem
- George Washington’s uniform
- Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz – only my favorite movie ever growing up (but also Glinda’s wand and the Scarecrow’s hat)
- The top hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing on the night of his assassination (I kid you not)
- The Greensboro lunch counter (Growing up in Memphis, TN and frequenting the National Civil Rights Museum where there is a replica of this, I’m very familiar with the Greensboro lunch counter so I was excited to see the real thing.)
They also have Lewis and Clark’s compass, Thomas Edison’s Light Bulb, the Batmobile, Superman’s uniform, and Julia Child’s freaking kitchen.
Make a list of the things you want to see and stick to it. It’s so easy to get lost, distracted, and/or pulled into a sing-along here but you’re on a mission! And you’ve got a lot more on your Washington DC itinerary. Here’s a PDF map of the museum.
Photos: Museum entrance | George Washington’s uniform | Abraham Lincoln’s top hat | the Batmobile | the Greensboro lunch counter | Dorothy’s ruby slippers
OLD POST OFFICE TOWER
After lunch and a beer to rest our weary feet (I was wearing snow boots this whole trip), we made our way over to the Old Post Office, currently the home of the Trump International Hotel. However, the Old Post Office’s clock tower is instead operated by the National Park Service.
The Old Post Office served as Washington DC’s main post office until 1914, with the clock tower dating back to 1899. It was nearly torn down on a number of occasions but was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, then redeveloped and opened as a fancy-schmancy hotel in 2016.
Today, it’s where you go to get the best sky-high views of Washington DC. (The Washington Monument was closed for renovations for two years but just reopened in the fall of 2019–so at the time, this was the only place for sky-high views of DC.)
To access the tower, don’t enter the hotel through its main entrance (though the place is gorgeous and the staff is incredibly friendly)—instead, enter the hotel through the door next to the Starbucks on the National Mall side.
I’m a big proponent of finding the best aerial views in every city I visit—so obviously I sought out the same in DC. And the Old Post Office Tower did not disappoint! The views here are incredible. You can see the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Pentagon, the White House, and all the jogging FBI agents in between. Visiting the Old Post Office Tower is FREE and you’re welcome to spend as much time as you like.
The clock tower at the Old Post Office is operated by the National Park Service, so that means there’s a National Park ranger up there at all times. These people are a wealth of information so feel free to unleash all the questions you have about the tower, what you’re looking at, and just how the heck Kerry Washington walks like that.
You already know what the White House is so I’m going to skip over a formal introduction the same way you would if Lady Gaga was up next at karaoke.
Is it possible to go inside and take a tour of the White House? Actually, yes! Which is totally shocking to me. However, getting the chance to go inside is not a simple nor a quick process. I mean, do you know any Congressmen? (An activity earmarked for my next Washington DC itinerary)
Regardless, you are still able to walk around the big white house that’s just right there in the center of the city, sitting all cozy in between other important-looking buildings. You’re allowed to walk around the entire perimeter of the White House—maintaining a safe, monitor-able distance of course.
Because this is where your leader lives and works. Despite your opinions of our current president, the White House is still where all of our presidents (with the exception of George Washington who oversaw the construction but never lived there) have lived. It’s the single-most important house in our entire country. It’s also the #1 most visited private residence in the United States (#2 is Elvis Presley’s Graceland).
As intimidating as they may look, the armed guards outside the White House gates are actually super friendly, knowledgeable, and open to answering your questions. This shocked no one more than myself—the girl who typically avoids asking tourist questions to people with automatic weapons.
NATIONAL MALL MONUMENTS & MEMORIALS
The National Mall stretches 1.9 miles from the U.S. Capitol all the way to the Lincoln Memorial—easily walked in long-heeled red-bottoms, apparently. In between there are 12 Smithsonian museums, 7 memorials, and one really tall monument named after one of the city’s most famous residents—Kerry Washington.
Since we’ve already had our fill of Smithsonians for the day, it’s time to concentrate on the memorials. Here on and around the National Mall you’ll find:
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- and the Lincoln Memorial
Each monument and memorial offers different reasons to visit. Some of those are for the views (eventually, from the Washington Monument), for the learning opportunities, for paying your respects, for standing in some of the most important spots in American history (i.e. the very spot from where MLK delivered his “I have a dream” speech), but, mostly, to reenact your favorite scenes from Forrest Gump. And that’s all I have to say about that.
PRO TIP:A Pro Tip that was recommended to me by many, that I can now personally agree with–take a nighttime bus tour of the monuments and memorials.
Personally, I wanted the chance to get up close, personal, and *ahem* inside the monuments and memorials, but so many people recommend the nighttime bus tour that I just had to see what it was all about. The monuments and memorials are lit up at night and the whole scene is beautiful. Plus, the guided commentary is awesome–you learn so many interesting facts (and not just about the memorials and monuments)–and the bus driver parks you in great spots so you can get perfect nighttime photos.
If you’re interested in this, check out the BigBus Night Tour here– it’s a 2-hour, guided night tour of all the major DC landmarks. And here’s another PRO TIP: grab a spot on the open upper deck for the most amazing views. Even if it’s cold, it’s still totally worth it!
After alllll of this (yes, that was all completed on Day Two), we headed back to the hotel where–would you believe this–the Wizard of Oz was on TV. I passed out when they met up with the Tin Man, and woke up when the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow were attempting to storm the witch’s castle. This was when the aforementioned dragging-out-of-the-hotel-room occurred. We tossed aside all the plans we had for that night (for which walking and standing upright were mandatory) and had dinner nearby at City Tap — a chain, I know, but one of my favorites here in Boston.
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WASHINGTON DC ITINERARY // DAY THREE
Day Three of my Washington DC itinerary was another jam-packed day, but with plenty of booze throw into the middle to ease the pain of another 25,000+ steps. We hit up one of the most significant spots in the city and in American history, saw some of the most important pieces of paper in the history of the world, turned the tables and got really sad for a bit, and then ate some of the best food of my life. ‘Twas a good day!
FIRST STOP: FORD’S THEATER
Before even coming up with a Washington DC itinerary, I read KillingLincoln by Bill O’Reilly (and you should too). (I’m a big fan of the Killing series, and this one was just next up on my list.) This book details all the events leading up to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the assassination itself, and the shitshow that ensued. Before reading this, I knew very little about his assassination—littlest of all was that he was actually assassinated in Washington DC and that it happened at a place you can still visit today.
Better yet, Ford’s Theater is a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service. A visit the Ford’s Theater Historic Site includes access to:
- The museum that covers topics of the Civil War, Lincoln’s presidency, and his assassination
- The actual theater where you can see the location of Lincoln’s assassination
- A National Park ranger-led talk detailing the events of the assassination
- The Petersen House (more on that below)
- And more exhibits on the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination (i.e. the shitshow)
All of this is FREE but you do need to reserve a ticket in advance as this is a popular site and waiting in line is for chumps and third-graders at water fountains. To reserve your ticket(s):
- Head to fords.org
- Choose a date on the calendar
- Choose a time you want to visit
- Take note that certain parts of the visit (listed above) aren’t available during all the tour times
- Obviously I’m going to recommend choosing a time that includes them ALL
- Choose how many people will be visiting
- Check yo self out
Visiting Ford’s Theater gives you the chance to be in the same room as one of the most significant events in American (and world) history. You get to see explore the theater on your own and up close, and in the museum you get to see all the insane artifacts like the gun used in the assassination and, for the really twisted out there, the bullet they pulled out of his head. This makes me cringe a little bit.
Reading books and watching movies on the topics are great, but seeing these places with your own eyes and actually being there is a mind-blowing experience.
Included in your *free* admission ticket to the Ford’s Theater Historical Site is the Petersen House, across the street (that I think many people skipped). After Lincoln was shot, he was taken across the street to the home of William Petersen to die a more respectful death than that of one in the hallway of a theater. Here at the Petersen House you can visit the room where Lincoln died and some of the other rooms in the house. There are also additional museum exhibits in here too.
PRO TIP #2:
To the left of the Petersen House is the [Ford’s Theater] gift shop. In here you’ll find a three-story tower of books representing the more than 15,000 books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln. The tower was built to symbolize that “the last word about this great man will never be written.”
BRUNCH AT 801
After a couple of hours at Ford’s Theater, we hopped an Uber to 801 Restaurant and Bar for brunch with some friends. Because after hearing the details of a brutal murder for the past couple of hours you’re going to need those bottomless mimosas.
On Saturdays and Sunday 801 does an amazing brunch with $15 bottomless mimosas and a never-ending selection of various juices. A little liquid courage before I head over to the National Archives, Nic Cage-style, power drill in hand.
The food at 801 was ah-mazing and I would recommend this place for brunch, no question. You’re going to need a reservation (and hopefully an Uber driver who doesn’t fill you with his political ramblings during the 10-minute ride).
Head up the stairs… keep going… a little more… until you reach the roof deck. I imagine during other times of the year this place is awesome. It was late November and pouring down rain on my visit but I’m sure that’s where you really wanna be.
I have almost zero photos from my time at 801 (I try not to mix intoxicants and Instagram) but, if I remember correctly, my brunch probably looked something like this ⇣⇣⇣
Two hours and another Uber ride later and my husband and I were at the National Archives for our 1:30 entrance time. During peak season (i.e. not when I was there), advance reservations for entrance into the National Archives are recommended and admission is always FREE.
I made advance reservations (naturally) but since we were two of only a few people there that day, we were let right in without having to show our paperwork. And after being checked for weapons, power drills, and other things you would need to jack the Declaration of Independence.
The National Archives is the agency in charge of preserving historical records and the most important government documents in existence. The National Archives Museum is open to the public, always free, and open every day of the year.
The National Archives is one of the COOLEST places I’ve ever been. In here, you can view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The original documents + your very peepers. It’s unreal. It’s a museum dedicated to paper, but it’s UNBELIEVABLE.
Besides those three documents, at the National Archives you can also see:
- The Articles of Confederation (wow)
- The Louisiana Purchase (what!)
- The Emancipation Proclamation (holy cow!)
- The patent for Thomas Edison’s light bulb (watt!)
- FDR’s “Day of Infamy” speech (whoa)
- The letter Elvis Presley wrote President Nixon asking for a DEA police badge (lolz)
- And whatever else is currently on display out of their, literally, 10 billion (with a ‘B’) pages of records.
Basically, every corner we turned we were blown away by what we were seeing.
Talk to the National Archives employees guarding the Founding Documents in the rotunda—they can point out all the typos. [insert evil laugh here]
UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM
Though our next stop was just an easy walk across the National Mall, it was still pouring out so we grabbed another Uber and headed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
This museum is our country’s official memorial to the Holocaust and the website for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the world’s leading online authority on the Holocaust. It has permanent exhibitions on the rise of the Nazi party (just how the hell that happened), the “Final Solution” – aka – how the Nazis evolved from persecution of the Jews to full-on genocide, and all the way to the liberation of the Nazi camps.
There are also a number of traveling, temporary exhibits and a beautiful memorial room. The website also has a page (here) on where you should concentrate your time based on how long you have for your visit. We had just under two hours for our visit before the museum closed and one of the volunteers helped us know where we should be in the museum at what times.
The Holocaust Museum is not one of the Smithsonian’s, but admission is still FREE. Advance tickets are not required, but between March 1st and August 31st they could be handy as crowds are bigger then. In late November, just a couple of hours before closing, we walked right in with no issue. Except wet everything.
Obviously visiting such somber sites on a trip is not really fun, but I do feel its necessary. (My article on visiting D-Day sites in Normandy talks more about this.) Besides the learning experiences, you get to see historical artifacts in person and up close. In the case of the Holocaust Museum, you get to walk on the very cobblestones that once paved the streets of the Warsaw ghetto. You get to look inside one of the train cars that shuttled Jews to concentration camps. And the list goes on.
Visiting sites like this helps to open your mind and put you in your place. It’s a way to learn about humility, respect, appreciation, gratitude, and what fear really is. It’s an emotional roller coaster but definitely one more people should ride.
Before you get on the elevators to go into the guts of the museum, on your left with be a stand full of small paper booklets. Choose one. These booklets mimic an identification card and they contain the pictures, names, and real stories of real people who lived through the Holocaust. Sometimes they have a happy ending (relatively-speaking), most of the time I assume they do not.
WHERE TO STAY IN WASHINGTON DC
During my three days in Washington DC, my husband and I stayed at the Renaissance Washington DC and it was perfect. The location was great and we walked almost everywhere (Look, it was super cold alright? Like, taxi cold.). It was surrounded by great food options even my tired-ass legs could walk to.
The room and bathroom were huge and really nice. It had all the things you’d want in a hotel room that you never find in Europe: a mini-fridge, coffee maker and supplies, a giant TV you can watch the Wizard of Oz on, and all kinds of tech.
I would definitely stay here again in a heartbeat.
OPTIONAL WASHINGTON DC TOURS
If you’re the kind of traveler who likes to take tours (as so many of you are), I’ve found a few you might like. I already mentioned the BigBus Night Tour, but you’ve also got:
BigBus Washington DC Sightseeing Tour | This is your standard double-decker sightseeing tour bus, day or night, hop on/hop off. Look, as “touristy” as these things seem, I will straight-up back these up. From the top of an open-air double decker bus is the BEST way to see these sites! I recommend these bus tours in any city.
Washington DC Guided Night Tour | Maybe it’s cold and an open-air bus doesn’t sound all that appealing? This tour uses a 30-seat luxury coach and lasts three hours. It includes a guided tour of Washington DC’s top monuments and sites and has nothing but 5-star reviews!
Day Trip to Mount Vernon from Washington DC | A day trip I fully intend on taking on my next visit to DC is to Mount Vernon–the former home and current burial place of George Washington. This is a 4.5-hour guided tour that has great reviews and a reasonable price.
Arlington National Cemetery Guided Walking Tour| If you’re really into what’s going on at Arlington National Cemetery and have a little more time to dedicate, this tour will take you to some of the most important graves sites and memorials, take you to the Changing of the Guard, and teach you some of the cemetery’s history.
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