Tuesday, June 30, 2015

DC with Toddlers

There are so many reasons we needed to make a stop in DC as part of our "farewell tour."  My sister lives there and we have not been to see her since she moved there. I used to live there in my pre-married days and it holds so many memories including my engagement.

I know this city so well having worked there for several years and many summers before that. As I always say though planning a trip with the kids is totally different and it always leaves me feeling like I don't know the city at all.

Traveling as light as possible is always important so I ditched the car seats for this trip entirely. Its the first time the kids have flown without them, but it lightened the load. Instead of car seats we used the CARES harness, which to my knowledge is the only FAA approved harness. It was easy to install, kept my wiggly 3 year old safe and in his seat, and the flight crew seemed familiar enough with it I got no questions or weird looks. The only awkward part is you do have to ask the person behind you to put down their tray table to instal and uninstall. Once installed it does not interfere with their use of the tray table at all.

Not having a car seat also meant we had to stick with public transportation. I actually love using the public transportation and it ranked pretty high on the list of things my three year old loved to do.

My sister met us at the airport and helped us shlep our stuff to Old Town Alexandria. We were booked to stay at the Morrison House, a Kimpton property, where my mom's meetings were taking place. We arrived and found that the rooms would not accommodate our party of 4. Kimpton was quick to resolve the problem, transferring us to a spacious room at the Hotel Monaco just down the street.

The room wasn't ready yet so we left our bags with the bellman and headed to the Armory Tot Lot playground, a small playground just a block off the main drag. It had a few shady benches to hang out on and both kids got some of their energy out.

We also rode the King Street Trolley (Free) up King Street. You can easily walk up King street faster then this trolley goes, but it is something fun to do with the kiddos and it has air conditioning. It runs from the waterfront (just outside the old torpedo factory to the King Street Metro station and back.) Everyone has to get out at the end of the line and transfer trolleys so its not practical to ride it up and back.

We met up with some family for an early dinner at Red Rocks Pizza.  I was glad we had a reservation as the place is small and crowded. The pizza was great and they have a large selection of beer, wine and drinks as well. They had coloring and high chairs for the kiddos as well, which is also a plus.

Sunday morning we headed to the National Zoo. I always forget how big the National Zoo is. It was hot so many of the animals were either not out or laying completely still. We made it through about 2/3 of the zoo before the kids got hot and hungry. I had packed snacks, but the food options inside the zoo are not great. We ended up grabbing Chiptole with a friend near the Woodly Park Metro station.

We hopped back on the Metro, deciding it was much to hot to continue our exploration of the zoo, and headed instead to the National Building Museum. (As part of the Blue Star Museums summer program, it is free for up to 6 people for active duty military.) If you have kids you will need to get times tickets for their children's play area when you get your tickets. These tickets are free as part of your admission, but you most have them in order to enter the exhibit.

There are two kids areas in the museum. One is pictured to the right and has large blue foam that you can build with. The one year old and the three year old loved this room and were entertained enough that part of our group was able to sneak away and check out some actual exhibits on architecture.

The timed tickets are for a separate area that has every type of building toy you can imagine in addition to construction dress up and a construction house. They limit the number of kids inside (with the timed tickets) so it was a great experience even for our littlest one.

Wouldn't you know that all my three year old wanted to do for dinner was go back to my sister's place and get someone to deliver food! He thought it was the craziest thing ever to have food delivered to your house. We did that and let hims watch a Jake and the Neverland Pirates on her Netflix and he was in heaven. (Seriously, its one of the things he tells people about this trip. Ha!)

We hit a little playground leaving my sister's on the way back to the train. These litter neighborhood playground are everywhere so it was easy to burn off a little steam before our Metro ride home.

Monday the kids slept in a bit so we missed rush hour on the train (good) but got stuck on a train just a few stops into our trip (bad). We rolled with the punches and got off at the Arlington Cemetery stop. We made a quick visit into the visitors center, got our National Passport Cancelation and walked a short loop through the cemetery.

Its a quick walk over the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the monuments. I knew there was no way the kids would stand for seeing them all so we tried to hit a few that made sense and that they would remember.

Lincoln. Its hard to get the stroller up the steps, there is an elevator but its better left to those that need it,  so I went up with the kids and my sister stayed at the bottom to enjoy the view. H kept calling it "big Abe" and asking if this was his "log cabin."

Korean War Memorial next. I thought it would be a bit easier to understand then the Vietnam Memorial. H had lots of questions about the radios the statues have. Honestly, I'll take any engagement or hit of interest to count it as a win.

We walked down the mall next to the reflecting pool to the World War II Memorial, which is one of my very favorites. We found all the states members of our family were born in on the columns and enjoyed the view back down the mall to "Big Abe."

We crossed the street and continued to the base of the Washington Monument. (If you want to go up to the top, your going to need to be in line when the visitors center opens. Most days they are "sold out" (tickets are free) by 8:30am. You can also make arrangements with your congressional office for tickets.)

We did pop into the visitors center because it houses a whole host of National Passport Cancelations. All of the monuments can be found here. In fact when you google where to find the cancelations it will tell you the "survey lodge" on the mall, which is the, currently closed, ranger station. We were able to find all those stamps here.

We headed up Constitution Ave to the front of the White House. At this point my kids were ready for lunch so asking them to take a picture was pure torture. My three year old also insisted on shouting "BARAK OBAMA" over and over at the top of his lungs. It was awesome. haha.

Luckily we had plans to meet a friend at the Potbelly's across the street. So we quickly got lunch, and a vanilla milkshake, into the kiddos.

At this point we did something weird and took Pennsylvania Ave through FoggyBottom to Georgetown. Once on M street we cut over to walk on the canal path for a bit and then to the waterfront and docs where we got on a Potomac Riverboat Company sightseeing tour back to Old Town Alexandria.  (In the summer Thursday - Sunday they run the tours from the mall, but earlier in the week you have to catch them up in Georgetown.)

The boat was just the rest we needed. The kids were calm and there is lots of narration to keep adults happy. They also sell some limited concessions on the boat. I had never really been out on the Potomac so it was a good way to see the city from a different perspective.

We got off in Old Town and switched boats to a ferry that heads over to National Harbor. (Secretly, this leg was motivated by my desire to get the kids into Maryland and a new state for both of them.) The boat goes under the now renovated Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which was a huge hit with the 3 year old.

National Harbor is a bit touristy.  The large TV screen was showing the World Cup and there was a line of chairs to sit in. We walked around a little bit checking out all the offerings. The Capitol Wheel sits at the end of its own pier, we did not check it out because the 3 year old was "not interested", and who wants to fight that battle.  The carousel and attached playground ($3 for military for unlimited rides) was a huge hit. Some articles still mention the Children's Museum but it has since left National Harbor.

Right on the water front is a small sandy area for kids to play in that also features "The Awakening," a statue featuring a giant emerging from the earth. This statue used to be in a DC National park but has been relocated here - you can read more about that here. The kids loved climbing on the giant foot emerging from the sand.

There are a plethora of restaurants here. We chose the Crab Cake Cafe and were happy with our choice given that it was quick and yummy. The kids however, were quickly losing patience so we hopped a water taxi back to Old Town and walked the few block from the waterfront back to our hotel.

Tuesday was the last day in our whirl wind trip and I decided just to meet my sister in the city. We hit the train in the middle of rush hour but since we got on in Virginia and got off in the middle of the city the stroller was easy to mange on the train. We never had to get on or off while the train was crowded.

We met a friend for breakfast tacos at District Taco near Metro Center. The tacos were delicious! My friend was on her way to brief at the White House and this was her power breakfast of choice, plus some snuggles with my kiddos.

We hit a Starbucks before walking the few blocks to the National Mall and setting the kids free to run around a but. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History opens at 10 and we were meeting friends at the back entrance where the stroller ramp is, so we killed the extra time by running around on the wide open grass.

At ten we were in line to get into the museum with our friends and headed right up to the third floor to get timed tickets to go into the butterfly house. They were already at 11am tickets when we got there. We spent the hour touring around the second floor of the museum, which features some of their less popular stuff. The truncated dinosaur exhibit is also here while they renovate the larger exhibit. There is plenty to see here and lots of room for the kids to be on their own feet checking things out. They were ready to see the live butterflies at 11am. Our friend's little girl almost left with one hiding in her pigtail!

After the butterflies we walked our friends to the sculpture gardens, giving my kids a quick peek, and then hopped on the Metro at the Archives station and scooted over to the Pentagon for lunch. We met a friend (I used to work there) and had lunch in one of there not -so-spectacular but still really cool cafeterias and gave H a quick walking tour. You need an escort to come into the Pentagon but they do offer guided tours.

It was an easy ride back to the airport, where my mom met us with our bags and we said our goodbyes to my sister before flying home. It was such a quick trip! There is just too much fun stuff to do(and so many friends we didn't get a chance to see) in this city, so I know we will be back.

There are some great blogs about having kids in DC and what to do with them. Here are a few that I found particular useful for planing this trip. Alternatively, you can just type in "DC with Kids" in Pinterest and get more suggestions, probably including this one, then you would ever need.

DC Tots. This is a great blog, but no longer updated, that lists all the playgrounds and activities in the city. It is worth checking out but double check all the details, as some things have changed.

Kid Friendly DC. This is a great page to check out current events and get ideas for itineraries. Like most blogs by locals, they don't always hit the "tourist spots" but I think a trip needs a sprinkle of local fun mixed into the touristy craziness.

DC Thrifty Mom. Another great list of local things to do around the city.

Happy Traveling!


  1. Looks like you had a wonderful trip! Thanks for sharing and mentioning http://www.dcthriftymom.com/ too.

  2. Your post is very interesting and informative not only for travelers to Washigton . Thank you for sharing your experience!

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