It’s been a couple of months since I’ve returned from our fantastic Washington, D.C. trip. I have been meaning to finish my blog posts, and I owe a dear friend some of this information in writing! I wanted to share with everyone our Monumental Day where we visited some of the most important D.C. sites in the most efficient manner.
I used to live in Washington, D.C., so I had been to the older monuments, but since 2000, many monuments have been added. Here is the list of monuments/memorials that we wanted to see:
- World War II
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Air Force
- Pentagon 9/11
- Iwo Jima
- Arlington National Cemetery
Just so you know, we did not see all of those sites in one day…but we saw a lot. Our secret is that we hired a private guide to explain the sites and drive us between sites. We went with Private DC Tours. Check out their reviews on TripAdvisor! They had excellent ratings and seemed to be a good value for what we wanted. Our tour guide drove us to a site, explained what to see (including fun things, stories, hot tips) and then dropped us off. He then proceeded to park nearby and wait for a text from us for pick up. So we got cool information, but we still had the freedom to manage the visit the way we wanted.
Why pay the money? Temperature, temperament and time. I knew that we were visiting during December and there was a good chance that the weather would be wet and/or cold. That day it was wet. I knew that if my kids were miserable, we wouldn’t see very much. Also, our trip to D.C. was less than a week. So, if I intended to see most of the monuments on my list, plus everything else, I had to find a way to reduce the amount of time it took to travel between monuments. In addition, I knew that my kids would be more likely to listen to the guide’s cool stories than my blabber reading from an app or website (the guide had a video and told funny anecdotes…so I was right).
My advice when visiting monuments is take them in groupings: 1) Lincoln, Vietnam and Korea with the reflecting pool; 2) World War II and Washington (Washington just from a distance…you can’t go inside); 3) Jefferson; 4) FDR, MLK and a Tidal Basin walk; 5) Air Force and Pentagon 9/11 (have to drive between them); and 6) Arlington Cemetery. Iwo Jima is tricky and we never made it there (this trip), but it best fits as a drive-by on the way to Arlington Cemetery.
Our top monument/memorial priority before arriving was to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. My husband is former military, so the cemetery visit was of huge importance to him. We organized our day around ensuring that we arrived in time for a guard changing. In the winter, it is every hour and in the summer is it every half hour. Check out the website to be sure you know the schedule and can plan for it. I also wanted to see Lincoln or Jefferson at night (both are beautiful), so I was happy we made that happen as well.
Even when we plan perfectly, we have to stay flexible. For our tour day, we overslept a bit, so we started 20 minutes late and decided to just go directly to World War II with the intention of seeing Lincoln, Vietnam and Korea later (see below). We then proceeded in the numerical order above and saw almost everything. I liked that we took the time to look at things that interested us. We looked for “Kilroy was here” at WWII. We shopped in the store in the Jefferson Memorial because we felt like it. We took selfies with MLK because his statue was so impressive (and I photographed every quote). We especially spent A LOT of time at the FDR Memorial. Why? It was incredibly interesting, and at the time, the quotes and the stories relayed (it is more like an exhibit than a memorial with a lot to digest) were really relevant to the post 2016 election conversation. We forced our girls to look at and read everything. It was my favorite, hands down. We also took our time to walk the Tidal Basin and take photos…it’s most stunning in the springtime, but we still found it beautiful in December.
Because of our time allocation choices, we sadly skipped the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial and headed straight to the Air Force Memorial on the Virginia side of the river. This spot gives you a beautiful view of the city. Of course, we took more pictures. Are you seeing a pattern here? Our guide then dropped us at Pentagon City Mall and we ate at the food court (because at this point it was 2pm). After lunch we hopped on the Blue Line Metro and went one stop to Arlington National Cemetery and made it in time for the 4pm changing of the guard. It is a long walk up the hill, so give yourself 15-20 minutes after entering the grounds to get to the tomb. There are also trams, but we wanted to enjoy the scenery.
Another highlight of our day was our decision to walk back over Arlington Bridge from the cemetery toward the Lincoln memorial. We wanted to see the memorial at night and the weather had mellowed quite a bit. The colors in the sky at sunset (it was about 5pm or so) along with the water and the lit monuments was worth every step on my aching feet. There were tons of people at Lincoln by the time we arrived…the view is beautiful and you can go inside the monument at night and still enjoy it fully. We ended up not making it to the Vietnam and Korean memorials that evening because we didn’t think we would see much of them at night since they are not enclosed. Also, we were a bit jet-lagged and ready to relax!
Lessons learned? Four hours on the tour go by fast. Also, it’s important to know your own family and what you will enjoy. We like to go at our own pace. We spent extra time at the Tidal Basin taking photos because it was fun! And, on vacation, it’s important to have fun. If every visit is serious, focused and rushed, it will stop being enjoyable for my tween and teen very fast. If we had booked a 6 hour tour, started at 9am (because 8am is too early) and packed our own lunch, we could have seen more during the day (and still had him drop us directly at Arlington Cemetery). However, we decided, long ago, that it is better to enjoy the traveling process than to accomplish everything. That’s us…there are always things we don’t see on a trip and we are ok with it. That is why we prioritize! As long as we get to the “must sees,” then everything else is bonus. Considering how much we experienced in D.C. in just one day, I would say we had a lot of bonus!