One of the aspect of vacation planning for our family is hours I spent reading, researching and agonizing over our itinerary planning. Just because we have a list of things to do in the destination doesn’t mean we can just sit back and relax. It’s even more important to have a good planning for a trip to Washington DC with kids. So I realized that my time that I have spent on our itinerary planning can be given back to you, our readers. I hope it will help you in your own planning for your next family vacation to Washington DC.
DC Itinerary Planning: Five Days in DC with Kids
Children ages at the time of travel: 7 and 5 years old
Time visited: Spring 2009
- Day 1: Travel day and DC by Night at Tidal basin
- Day 2: Natural History museum, Old Post Office tower, and American History museum
- Day 3: The Capitol and DC by foot tour of memorial and monuments
- Day 4: National zoo
- Day 5: National Air and Space museum
Day 1: Travel day and DC by Night
To save on our trip to Washington DC with kids, we loaded up the car and head north on the 10 hours road trip from Georgia. We arrived in DC late afternoon and after we checked-in, grabbed our dinner, we didn’t waste anytime to explore Washington DC. A quick metro ride from our hotel in Chrystal City transported us to the Tidal Basin area just in time to enjoy the night time stroll during the Cherry Blossom festival week.
Day 2: Museums and Clock Tower
In the morning, we started out early and planned to spend the day in the National mall area. So the first stop was the Smithsonian Castle, where we had some to enjoy coffee, grab a map to plan out the rest of the day and shopped for our souvenir. Most museums open at 10 AM but make sure to check about the admission requirement especially if you plan to visit DC during the peak season like spring break or holidays. Many museums will require tickets. Those tickets will be free but you still need to reserve or wait in line to get your tickets.
The museums we planned for today was the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of American History with a lunch break in between. Since the Natural Museum of Natural History is right across the lawn from the Castle, we strolled across the Mall to the museum right when it opened.
Arriving early allowed us to enjoy the museum before it gets too crowd. We spent a good couple hours in there. The National Museum of Natural History is truly a great place for toddlers and young kids. With so many exhibits for them to touch and explore, we had to literally drag them out of the museum.
Our next stop was the Old Post Office building. Since we didn’t want to wait in line to go up the Washington Monument, we opted for the other best place to have the view of Washington DC. If I had the crystal ball to see into the future and knew that the Washington Monument will be closed due to earthquake damage, we might suck it up and wait for the chance to go up the Washington monument.
But that’s not to say that our experience at the Old Post Office tower is anything but awesome! We took the elevator up to the top of the tower and enjoyed amazing clear view on the bright blue sky day of Washington DC. It was also fun for kids to see the tower clock up close.
By then, it was lunch time and the Old Post Office food court at the ground floor was perfect place for us to enjoy lunch on a budget. The food was good and the people watching was fun.
With energy from lunch and ice cream, we trekked our way to the National Museum of American History. But by now, the kids had been up since 8 AM and been walking around since then. So we knew their limit were near. We checked with the visitor center desk for the family guide and how to maximize our time at this huge museum. The family guide to America on the Move is perfect for family with limited time. The guide provided fun and interactive ways for kids to both enjoy and appreciate the exhibit. It turned out Mr. Z chose National Museum of American History as one of his favorite during our family trip to DC. Go figure! Boy with wheels.
Then it was time to head back to the hotel. I had purchased restaurant.com certificate to Ted Montana Grill for this trip. A little bit of planning will help save on our vacation budget. We knew we will have to eat out so why not save on those dinner. Plus, we have always loved dining at Ted Montana Grill so it was a familiar dinner to end a full first day in DC with kids.
Day 3: The Capitol and DC by Foot Tour
After a quick break from the Capitol, we were back at it for a full day of fun. The day started early and we had high hope for a fun tour of the Capitol and DC by Foot tour of the memorial and monument later in the evening for our fourth day in DC.
But thing didn’t go according to plan and there was nothing we could do about it when we missed our Capitol tour by 5 minutes and after waiting in line to get the walk-in tickets, the fire alarm set off and everyone had to evacuate the building. So there it went out morning of Capitol tour ended up with evacuation. We just took the opportunity to check out the Union Station nearby and had lunch at the food court. There are several food courts within the downtown DC area that are perfect for family on a budget. These budget friendly food options in DC were not only great way to save on our vacation but also great for providing different options for picky eaters.
But the day was saved by the evening of fun and educational tour from DC by Foot a free, tip based walking tour in DC. The tour lasted about 2 hours and we started from the Washington monument all the way to the Lincoln Memorial.
It was a long day for us but the kids did extremely well. We walked back to the metro station and headed back to our hotel for a great night of sleep.
Day 4: The National Zoo
Another break from the National Mall and all the museums in DC but still part of the Smithsonian. The National Zoo is a great destination for family with kids of all ages. Who doesn’t love to see animal especially the Panda, the star attraction in the National Zoo. We originally planned for 2 stops today – the National Zoo and the National Air and Space Museum. However, after a longer than planned day at the Zoo, we pushed a visit to the National Air and Space museum to the next day.
It was a great decision to relax and take it easy the rest of the day after a fun filled at the National Zoo with kids.
Day 5: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and White House
On our last full day in Washington DC with kids, we saved the best for last. With young kids, the National Air and Space museum is a world of fascination for them. The museum is huge and can be crowd especially during the peak season. However, things were moving along and there were so many staffs on site to help answer any questions.
If you haven’t check out their website before heading there, you can still check the visitor information center to find out about family friendly guide to help navigate the Air and Space museum for kids. Read more on our day at National Air and Space museum with kids.
Then after we had enough of the air crafts, space objects and various science exhibit, our brain was so full that we needed a break. So we decided to walk to the White House visitor center. Even though we didn’t secure the passes from your congressmen or representative, a visit to the White House visitor center was still fun and worthwhile. Plus we couldn’t leave Washington DC without taking the obligatory picture in front of gate of the White House.
Bonus Day: Day Trip to Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore
We took a day trip out of DC to Baltimore for a fun day of Children’s museum at the Port Discovery Children’s museum. It might seem weird to decide to take a trip to Baltimore with kids when we still have so many things to do in DC with kids. First reason was we didn’t want the kids to get museum overloaded and wanted to break the trip to add a different flavor to the trip.
Secondly, we had an annual membership to our local children’s museum that had the reciprocal membership with the Port Discovery Children’s museum for free admission so there was no additional cost except the gas to go to Baltimore.
Lastly, Port Discovery Children’s Museum is considered one of the best children’s museum and is deserving so. Kids truly enjoyed every minute of our time in Baltimore.
Resources for family vacation planning to DC with kids
- 13 things to do with kids in Washington DC
- Fun things to do in DC with school-age kids
- Washington DC with kids on a budget
- Affordable family friendly food in Washington DC
- Three fun ways to tour DC with kids
- Family friendly activities during the Cherry Blossom festival
Have you been to DC with kids? Share with us your family itinerary or tips.