Last year I spent a completely jam-packed 3 days in Washington DC, but had to follow that up with another long weekend in Washington DC. My list of “things to do in Washington DC” contained about a month’s worth of sights and activities.
Not even Speedy Gonzalez himself could’ve checked them all off. Or the Tasmanian Devil. Not even the Road freaking Runner, for crying out loud. Damn, how much coffee do the Looney Tunes characters drink anyway? #signmeup
I squeezed in everything I possibly could into last year’s Thanksgiving weekend in DC. And this year, while trying to decide where we wanted to spend Thanksgiving weekend 2019, my husband suggested returning to Washington DC, solidifying my decision to marry him in the first place.
Another long weekend in Washington DC
So with that go-ahead, I planned out another totally jam-packed long weekend in Washington DC, filling up our time with things leftover on my list. There’s art and restaurants, history, museums, monuments, amazing views, cool tours, and the world’s best chili dog, since you asked.
Use this post if you have more than just 3 days in Washington DC, or use it in conjunction with the other to pick and choose the sights and activities that best suit you! There’s a little something for everyone here. Except the lazy. Ain’t nobody got time for sleep on vacation. You can’t spell travel without “rave” so let’s party!
Not so fun fact
After planning another long weekend in Washington DC—making dinner reservations, booking hotels and tours, planning out every detail—I realized (way too late) that I’d gotten the date for Thanksgiving completely wrong. One #facepalm to rule them all! Lesson learned: always double-check the important dates you’re scheduling your trips around.
Long weekend in Washington DC: Day 1
After waking up way before what I’ll go ahead and call the “ass-crack of dawn,” I packed a cooler of road snacks, loaded up the luggage, strapped my husband to the roof of my Jeep, and set off towards Washington DC. (Reminder: I live in Boston, just a 7-hour drive from Washington DC. Anything less than 10 hours and I’m driving.)
After arriving and checking in to our hotel, we quite literally tossed our belongings into our room and fled back out in the city. For we had a long list of things to see and do and not enough Looney Tunes coffee in the world.
1. Smithsonian National Museum of American History
It’s true, I did visit the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on my last visit to Washington DC. But before you go chasing me with a torch and calling me a fraud for promising to offer you more awesome things to do in Washington DC, know this: the Smithsonian National Museum of American History is eNoRmOuS! I’ve been twice in two years and still haven’t seen half of it.
On this visit, I went specifically to check out the 75th anniversary D-Day exhibit they currently have on display, and while there I spent time exploring the whole The Price of Freedom: Americans at War wing. This entire exhibition is dedicated to American-involved war efforts from the American Revolution (don’t miss George Washington’s military uniform!) to today–with a pretty extensive section on World War II.
Also check out
If, like me, you’re interested in checking out some of the MANY World War II sites in Washington, D.C., be sure to head over to my other blog and read my post: WWII Sites in Washington DC (+ Arlington, VA) You Shouldn’t Miss
2. National Gallery of Art
Next up, after a short jog down the street, was a visit to the National Gallery of Art. It’s true I’m a fan of fine art museums to begin with (y’all didn’t know I was so fancy, didya?), but the National Gallery of Art has something no other art museum in all of the Americas has: a Da Vinci.
It’s true–Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art boasts the only Leonardo da Vinci work this side of the Atlantic. (It also has Monet and Van Gogh and Picasso and Raphael and Vermeer and just about all other artists you can name.)
Da Vinci’s painting is currently (until January 12th, 2020) housed in a special exhibit honoring Verrocchio, Leo’s teacher. In this exhibit you can see many other works that da Vinci, quite literally, had a hand in. But also boobs. So many boobs.
3. Dinner at Founding Farmers
Alright, alright, I know I’m repeating things but listen, Founding Farmers is SO GOOD. And in my defense, last year I had Thanksgiving dinner at their sister restaurant: Farmers & Distillers. In your face, torch-bearer!
I was afraid Founding Farmers wouldn’t live up to the hype–my very own hype, that is. But it DID. This is one of the absolute best restaurants at which I’ve ever eaten in the U.S. and you definitely must check it out.
Everything is made fresh, in-house, from locally-sourced ingredients, and the service is always the best. I can’t recommend it enough. Tell them Ashley sent you! (It won’t get you anything but… I think it’s about time I acquired myself a Street Team, no?)
Long weekend in Washington DC: Day 2
Day One was pretty tame, 7 hours of driving aside, but we’re going to make up for that on Day Two, fear ye not. And we’re going to do something I almost never, ever do: play it by ear. *gasp!*
Wait in line for tickets to the Washington Monument
After grabbing a coffee and muffin for the walk to the National Mall, I procured my spot in line for tickets to go up inside the Washington Monument. Now I know what you’re thinking, “This chick waited in line for tickets to something? Is she ill?
Well, you’re absolutely right. It was crazy. But it was also not my fault.
The Washington Monument says you can pre-purchase timed tickets to go up into the monument. To which I say, “ALLEGEDLY!!!”
Their process for “reserving tickets” is so backwards and dysfunctional it’s simply laughable. If you can figure it out, for the love of God please let me know. (All the people in line around me on whom I eavesdropped couldn’t figure out the reservation process either so…) Nothing I did worked, no one I talked to on the phone had any more information to provide than my cat did, so I had to settle.
Need to know
To acquire Washington Monument tickets in person, you must wait in line at the Washington Monument Lodge, not at the monument itself. It’s the small white building just to the east of the monument. (It’s also on the map at the top of this post.)
Luckily, and pretty damn necessarily, they do set aside a batch of tickets they distribute on-site each day. They give out all their tickets for all tour times for the entire day when the ticket window opens at 8:30 AM. You go to the window, tell them what time you want to go up and how many tickets you need. Tickets absolutely sell out (they’re free though) and very quickly.
The ticket window opens at 8:30, I got in line shortly after 7:30 and the line was already long. By the park ranger’s guess, those who got in line closer to 8:00 probably weren’t able to get any tickets. Put that on your plate!
Wait in line for tickets at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
While I was in line for Washington Monument tickets, my husband was down the street waiting in line for tickets to tour the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. (Yeah, I married well.)
Like the Washington Monument, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing distributes the entire day’s worth of tickets when their ticket booth opens at 8:00 AM. However, this is only during the busy season of March through August aaaaaand as luck would have it, Thanksgiving weekend, when tours fill up and spots are limited.
During the fall/winter months of September through February, you can walk right up to the visitor entrance, into the building, and join the next available tour, no ticket required.
No, you can’t wait in line here, get your tickets, then go grab Washington Monument tickets. Sure the window opens 30 minutes later over there, but I saw many people try this and they failed miserably. If you can, split up your group or deploy all your brain cells in service of figuring out the Washington Monument ticketing system.
4. White House Visitor Center
Because we had time to kill until our Bureau of Engraving and Printing tour, we strolled over to the White House Visitor Center (stroll = book it) just on the other side of the National Mall, across the street from the White House.
Taking a tour of the White House is possible (which I’ll get to in a bit), but it takes a lot of planning. If you don’t feel like dealing with all that or can’t get a tour for whatever reason, popping into the White House Visitor Center is a great consolation.
Admission into the White House Visitor Center is totally free and you’re welcome to spend as much time as you like. Inside they have exhibits on the White House as a residence and the White House as an office. It’s full of historical artifacts from presidencies past, has a great gift shop, a welcome movie, clean restrooms, and it’s located inside the former and architecturally-beautiful patent office.
5. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
At our allotted ticket time, we headed back over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, through their airport-style security, through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, and waited for our tour.
So what is the Bureau of Engraving and Printing anyway? I’m glad you asked! The BEP is the place where our paper currency is made. And yes, you can take a tour, and for absolutely free. They’re all like, “keep your money folks, we’re drowning in it over here!”
So is this place a veritable Scrooge McDuck money pit, you’re wondering? And the answer to that is a resounding HELL YEAH! Only with neat stacks of paper money in place of what must be a real bitch to dive into headfirst–coins.
At the Money Factory, you can take a free, 40-minute guided tour of the production facility. You’ll walk on an elevated platform looking down into the factory. You’ll see the money being printed with special ink, you’ll see it being cut into bills, being separated, packed up, and even see a cool $6.4 million sitting abandoned on a pallet in the corner that no one will miss. I’m just saying.
The coolest tour ever
This is–hands down–the coolest, most interesting tour I’ve ever been on.
Almost all of the paper money in circulation right now was produced here at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and you can watch how it all happens, step-by-step. Plus, your guide will tell you all kinds of
nerdy interesting facts about your money that you never, ever knew. I took this tour twice in one week because it was that interesting. Will the court transcripts eventually read that I’d been seen “casing the joint”? Probably.
Snag the coolest souvenir possible at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing: a sheet of uncut bills. You can purchase full sheets of crisp cash, in all different sizes and different currencies. To purchase these, visit the desk on the right side of the lobby–not the regular gift shop desk on the left.
6. Food truck lunch on the National Mall
Washington DC has my absolute favorite food scene in the United States. Nowhere else have I been that I’ve been consistently and so tremendously impressed with the food offerings. And yes, that even rolls over into the food trucks.
Running through the National Mall just east of the Washington Monument is 14th street. And all along 14th street (I mean literally) is food truck after food truck after food truck. Mexican food, Asian food, Greek food, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, falafel, anything you could want in the middle of the day. Honestly, just close your eyes and pick one. The prices here are great and you can’t beat the convenience factor.
I had a gyro from the Munch Box and it was phenomenal. The best gyro I’ve had. There, I said it.
7. Washington Monument
Next up was our allotted time slot for our tour of the Washington Monument. They call it a “tour” but really it’s just a quick elevator up a long shaft into a small room with even smaller windows. I wouldn’t call it a “tour” but I would call it THE BEST VIEWS IN THE CITY.
The Washington Monument had previously been closed for renovation for three years and just reopened halfway into 2019. It has a fancy new elevator and a state-of-the-art security facility that’s also blast-proof which I feel is worth a mention.
At the top of the Washington Monument you can look out from observation windows on all four sides and see really, really far. There are illustrated maps so you can tell which landmarks you’re looking at as well as historical photos so you can compare the National Mall between then and now. Inside the elevator shaft you can see many historical plaques and even some historical “graffiti” left by some scoundrel visitors.
Ticket crisis aside, it’s definitely worth the trouble to go up to the top of the Washington Monument.
8. World War II Memorial
After exiting the Washington Monument, I walked back through the World War II Memorial on the way to my hotel. If you followed my first Washington DC itinerary then you’ve already been through here, but like most of the places you’ll visit in DC, you’ll need more than one visit to see it all.
This is my favorite of all the Washington DC memorials — so nice I visited twice.
9. Supreme Court
Next up was a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court–a landmark I was only semi-interested in at first, but one I left in total awe. To be honest, I visited the Supreme Court entirely because of Annalise Keating, but it was really so much more amazing that I’d anticipated.
Besides being the highest court in the United States (though, not true–there’s a basketball court upstairs), it’s also where so much of our nation’s history has taken place. So much of the way we live today is because of things that happened inside this building.
The Supreme Court is open to the public Mondays through Fridays and a visit is totally free–just walk on in. But make sure you *just walk on in* through one of the visitor entrances to the left and right of the giant staircase. Don’t attempt to walk up the staircase–apparently it’s a down staircase only.
Free courtroom lectures
You can self-tour the lower floors of the building, learning all about the Court’s history and about the Supreme Court justices, but I highly recommend catching one of the free courtroom lectures–not as horrible as the name implies.
The Supreme Court hosts these 30-minute “lectures” every hour on the half hour from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM. They’re lead by a trained docent and aim to acquaint you with all things Supreme Court. You’ll learn the history of the building and the architecture, what the Supreme Court actually is and does, key players, and there’s even a Q&A at the end.
The only way to get inside the Supreme Court courtroom is by joining one of the courtroom lectures. Otherwise, you can only look in through the doorway in between them.
10. Iwo Jima Statue
After taking a stroll around the U.S. Capitol to check out the Anne Frank tree (this is a cool thing–read about it my post on WWII sites in Washington DC), we hopped in the car. Over the river and through the woods, to the Iwo Jima statue we go!
Formally known as the Marine Corps War Memorial, this massive monument can be found in a lovely little park over in Arlington, Virginia. It’s modeled after the famous photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal of the flag raising on the island of Iwo Jima. I’ve seen the photo a thousand times, but nothing could have prepared me for this memorial–so huge, so literally breathtaking.
Walking around the memorial you can read all about the sculpture itself, the battle on Iwo Jima, World War II, the photographer and the sculptor, and the Marine Corps. Getting here is just a very short drive from downtown DC.
11. Dive bars + craft beer
While in Arlington, we headed a few blocks over to enjoy some craft beer and a huge plate of tater tots (I told you, fine cuisine around every corner!) at the Galaxy Hut. It’s dive-y, the beer selection is phenomenal, and they play classic movies, VHS-style. You can’t go wrong with Face Off on a Friday night. What would a long weekend in Washington D.C. be without Nicolas Cage anyway?
Long weekend in Washington DC: Day 3
Another tasty, action-packed day ahead of us!
12. Breakfast at Ted’s Bulletin
Another repeat–what can I say? I love Pop Tarts! Luckily, Ted’s Bulletin opens at 7:00 AM, early enough to enjoy a nice, sit-down breakfast before getting your history on.
13. Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Home
A short drive through some beautiful country will take you to Mount Vernon–George Washington’s former home and current resting place.
At Mount Vernon you can watch an introductory film, take a self-guided tour through the museum, take a guided tour of his mansion, then tour the rest of the property at your own pace. You can see the house, the stables, the gardens, his tomb, the many animals still kept on the property (even a camel during holiday season), his carriages, and even where they keep the animal poop for composting. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The guided tour is informative and well organized and you get to see the insides of many rooms in his house, all led by enthusiastic tour guides. The museum thoroughly details the life and work of our first president, and there’s even an entire gallery dedicated to… his dentures.
Unlike almost everywhere else you’ll visit in Washington DC, admission to Mount Vernon is unfortunately not free, but well worth the price for what you get to see and experience. I mean, hello? Old timey dentures! Plus, free parking.
You’re able to walk-up for tickets but reserving a timed ticket in advance is highly recommended, especially during high volume months. (During Thanksgiving weekend walking up was not an issue. Waking up? Yes. Walking up? No.)
What you can do at Mount Vernon
There’s an almost endless list of things to see and do here, but with our time constraint we:
- watched about 10 minutes of the introductory film (look, I live in Boston alright? I know all about the Revolution already.)
- took the guided mansion tour
- walked around a little bit of the property–saw the carriages, went out to the river, visited the tomb, walked through one of the gardens
- spent a lot of time watching the sheep, then the bulls, then the camel (name: Aladdin)
- breezed through the museum, stared at the dentures longer than I should have
- headed back towards our nation’s capital named after the man whose chamber pot I just saw
14. Ben’s Chili Bowl
Next up was lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl, the original location. Opened in the 1950s, Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a Washington DC landmark ever since. It has survived when almost nothing else around it has. And after lunch here, you’ll understand why. Expedia named it one of the “15 best places to experience American culture.”
My visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl absolutely warmed both my stomach and my heart. The people I talked with in here were some of the sweetest ever and the food was downright sinfully delicious. Good comfort food in a vintage environment is my bread and butter and this place made me even more homesick for Memphis, Tennessee.
I imagine everything at Ben’s is great but go for the Half Smoke, their signature dish.
15. Washington National Cathedral
From one place of worship to another, it was time to visit Washington National Cathedral.
Though not Catholic myself, I do enjoy visiting cathedrals when I travel. And the Washington National Cathedral is like none other I’ve seen.
The space window
I was most interested in seeing their “space window.” Besides its science-centric theme and departure from typical biblical depictions, this beautiful stained glass window features a moon rock brought back from the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, presented to the cathedral by Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins.
Darth Vader gargoyle
Additionally, the cathedral is a masterpiece of ironwork which you can find all around the building that you’re free to tour on your own. But one of the weirdest aspects of this church has to be Darth Vader gargoyle gracing the outside of the cathedral. I kid you not, this is a real thing.
Back in the 1980s when one of the church’s towers was under construction, the cathedral held a contest allowing children to submit designs for the cathedral’s gargoyles. Christopher Rader’s design of Darth Vader won and the cathedral followed through with their end of the deal. As a result of this contest, you’ll also find a raccoon (next to Darth Vader), a funny looking man with oversized teeth and an umbrella, and a girl with pigtails.
Your admission into the Washington National Cathedral includes access to the 7th floor observation area. Don’t miss this! The elevator is found in the “main lobby” that you enter just beyond the ticket counter, and on the right just past the main cathedral doors.
16. Bluejacket Brewery
After an attempt to visit the National Museum of the U.S. Navy and getting turned away because I am wildly unqualified, we went just down the street to the Bluejacket brewery.
Now, I’ll admit their beers weren’t my favorite. Actually, I didn’t really like any of the ones I tried. BUT the place itself is very cool and… look at these babies:
*cue angel choir* The food here is delicious. It’s a fun, lively atmosphere in a great part of town–totally worth a stop if you’re in the Navy Yard.
17. Big Bus Night Tour of DC
After one of the best pretzels ever, we made our way back into downtown to head to the meeting point for our nighttime tour of DC with Big Bus.
I’d really wanted to take one of these tours last year but just couldn’t fit it in. This year, I made sure to make time for it as it’s one of the most recommended Washington DC activities.
I LOVE these open-air bus tours–they’re the perfect way to see the sights. Plus the tour guides are so knowledgable and entertaining and you learn so many fun facts about the monuments and memorials. Big Bus offers a handful of hop-on/hop-off bus tours which would be great for any amount of sightseeing in Washington DC, but the Night Tour of Washington DC is such a unique and fun way to see the city.
18. Dinner at Bindaas
On the way back to the hotel after the bus tour, we stopped at Bindaas for dinner. Actually, this would be my first time [ever] eating Indian food. Can. You. Believe. This.
I found Bindaas simply by walking by (it’s across the street from Founding Farmers) and noticing how unbelievably delicious the entire block smelled. I was later told that Bindaas is a sister restaurant to Rasika, which apparently is an Obama favorite.
That night I ordered:
- Lamb Kathi Roll
- Kheema Pao
- Spinach-Paneer Naan
- Lamb Samosas
- and about three gallons of water.
The next morning I packed up the car again and headed back north on what should’ve been a 7-hour journey that actually took 13. (There was a massive snowstorm.) My Washington D.C. to-do list is getting shorter and shorter by the year! See you again in 2020… probably!
Bonus itinerary supplements!
There are two really incredible things I highly recommend doing in Washington DC… if you’ve got the time and desire to plan ahead: tours of the White House and Pentagon.
Both offer free tours to the public but you must apply for these and you must do so well ahead of time. On your application you’ll give a range of dates you’re available to take the tours. If approved (I have no idea what their criteria is), they will tell you the date and time you’re taking the tour and you can’t do anything but submit.
If you decide to take these tours and get approved, the rest of your Washington DC itinerary will revolve around these. Good luck!
Need to know
If you’re wondering where I fit these two tours in, that would be the week previous to Thanksgiving. The week I initially planned our Thanksgiving weekend trip.
Though I was able to move most of our plans to *actual* Thanksgiving weekend, I was unable to move the White House and Pentagon tours. Instead of forfeiting all my solid planning, I opted to drive to DC on back-to-back weekends because I’m an absolute nutcase.
Don’t be like me, always look up the dates you’re traveling.
19. Tour of the White House
Yes, you can take a tour of the White House! Just as a run-of-the-mill tourist. This, to me, is totally baffling, but I appreciate it nonetheless. While you don’t get to snoop around in the Oval Office or peruse the West Wing, you do get to tour some of the larger rooms, the dining room, a lot of fancy historical rooms, et al.
Plus, you get to say you’ve been inside the White House–the most-visited private residence in the country. (Graceland is the 2nd most visited!) One of the most protected buildings in America. On a SELF-GUIDED TOUR, totally unsupervised. It’s an incredible feeling, I assure you.
This page on White House Tours will steer you in the right direction, but if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments! Follow up your White House tour by watching The Butler to see many places you’ve now been!
20. Tour of the Pentagon
Even cooler than the White House tour was the Pentagon tour I took later that day. What actually might be the most protected building in America, the Pentagon is the headquarters of our military, the site of one of the 9/11 attacks, the largest office building in the entire world, and an incredible operation to witness with your undeserving eyes.
As with the White House, you don’t get to see that much, but you do get to walk a mile and a half through the Pentagon with a great guide. You get to see a handful of corridors, visit the interior courtyard and the interior 9/11 memorial, and simply watch the inner workings of the Pentagon as they happen. You DO NOT get to use the restroom. This is of utmost importance.
You can learn about Pentagon tours and apply for a Pentagon tour here. I highly enjoyed my tour of the Pentagon and rank it as one of my favorite tours in Washington DC.
If you do plan for a Pentagon tour, be sure to check out my post on How to Get to the Pentagon For Your Tour because it’s confusing as hell!
That’s all folks!
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