With Memorial Day upon us, we thought it would be fitting to highlight the one city in America known for its memorials, large and small, that commemorate some of our country’s most significant people and historical events. Of course, we’re talking about Washington, D.C.
However, sometimes you just can’t spend as long at a destination as you would like. Unfortunately, we had one day to cram as much as we could into our trip to Washington, D.C. It was a hectic day, but we really felt as though we visited most of the major sites. Here is a great resource to help you plan your visit: www.nps.gov/nama/index.htm
First off, let’s talk parking. Like any big city, parking can be a pain in the rear, especially when you drive a big dually truck. We knew there was no way we would find parking near National Mall, so we opted to park in the parking garage at Fashion Center Mall (clearance 6 feet, 6 inches) and hop on the Metro train at the Pentagon City Mall stop. www.simon.com/mall/fashion-centre-at-pentagon-city/stores
We wound up paying $16 for 10 hours in the parking garage — a real bargain compared to downtown parking. The Metro stop is nearest the Nordstrom side of the mall, and you can buy fare cards right on the train platform. If you plan on taking more than one back and forth trip, it is more cost effective to buy the Smart card. The Blue Line route will take you right from the Pentagon City Mall stop to the Smithsonian stop, which puts you in the heart of the National Mall.
The ride costs $2.75 each way, including a $1 charge for using the paper fare card. Children 4 and under ride free. There are all sorts of discounts (disabled, senior, etc..), so check the website to see if any apply to you. www.wmata.com
Once you exit the Metro, you have arrived at the heart of Washington, D.C. Let the exploring begin!
If you head east, you will find the U.S. Capital building about a mile down the road. Since our day was limited, we skipped this and headed west right away. This route allowed us to see the most monuments with the least amount of steps. Let me be honest though, we walked about 10 miles during our visit. If this is a problem for you, I highly recommend taking a bus tour of the city.
The first major monument you will come to is the towering Washington Monument, which many consider to be the “center” of the National Mall. Unless you reserve tickets online or luck out and get a free, timed first come, first served ticket to go up in the monument, this is something you will just view from the outside. Tickets sell out very early each day. From the base of the Washington Monument, you can get a 360-degree feel for the National Mall and the route you’ll take to visit the other sites. www.nps.gov/wamo/index.htm
Head west to the beautiful World War II Memorial. We happened to be there on the day of the commemorative flyover and we had the chance to see 52 aircraft that were used during the war. The monument features a display of 4,048 gold stars depicting more than 400,000 people killed in the war. Pillars representing every state and territory surround a solemn reflecting pool. www.nps.gov/wwii/index.htm
From this point, head north on 17th Avenue toward the White House. If you plan ahead, your state’s senators can schedule a tour of the White House. But, for people like us who planned a last minute trip, you have to settle for an outdoor view of this icon. Look to see if you can spot security forces on top of the White House. www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events
The White House Visitor Center is a spot you don’t want to miss. There is a large free museum that showcases the interior of the White House both past and present. For the kids, there is a separate Presidential Park Junior Ranger program here. There is also a very nice gift shop selling everything from the annual presidential Christmas ornament to books, postcards and Jelly Bellys. NOTE: You do have to go through a metal detector to enter, and no weapons, food or drink are allowed. However, the guards did allow us to keep our packed lunch and snacks in the stroller.
When you are done here, just head south on 17th Ave. back to the National Mall. You’ll want to continue west through the Constitution Gardens, which is a shaded beautiful walk along the north side of the reflecting pool. A display on the island jutting out from the pond commemorate each of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. There are shaded grassy spots and a few benches all along this area if you want to take a break or enjoy your picnic lunch. You will see a few food carts in this area to grab a snack or drink.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is also on the north side and is a really special place. You’ll see the famous wall bearing the names of every person killed in that conflict by the year in which the person died. The smooth black granite wall is eerie in some regards because you can see the silhouette of your reflection among the names as you walk quietly aside and pay your respects to all who lost their lives. There are multiple albums in the area where you can look up a specific name and find its location on the wall. This is a very moving experience. http://www.nps.gov/vive/index.htm
Just west of the Vietnam Memorial is the Lincoln Memorial, which is a very busy and popular area. There are 87 steps from the reflecting pool to the statute of Abraham Lincoln. However, if you enter from a small museum on the lower level, you will find an elevator to the actual memorial. If you are able bodied, take the stairs and pause a moment to reflect on the impact Lincoln had on our country’s history. The text of his Gettysburg address is inscribed on a wall next to the statue — powerful words as true today as they were back then. http://www.nps.gov/linc/index.htm
If you walk along the south side of the reflecting pool, this will allow you access to the Korean War Memorial, which depicts a platoon of soldiers marching through a field. The DC War Memorial is near the entrance to the Martin Luther King Memorial, which pays tribute to the civil rights leader with a giant, full-length statute of carved out of stone surrounded by plaques bearing some of his most famous words. www.nps.gov/kowa/ www.nps.gov/mlkm
If you continue to the south, you’ll come upon the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial which has a stunning waterfall and statues depicting images from the Great Depression along with a larger-than-life statue of FDR and his beloved dog, Fala. A quarter mile past that, you’ll find the iconic rotunda of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It is a bit off the beaten path, but if you have time I would recommend a walk over there. We had to skip this one with our little ones and their “we’ve had enough” legs.
Arlington National Cemetery is the last stop I would recommend, if your day allows it and you have enough energy. There are public transportation options (bus and metro) to get to the cemetery, or take a one-mile hike from the Lincoln Memorial. Arlington’s Metro stop is also on the same Blue Line that takes you back to the Pentagon City Mall. At Arlington, take a moment to pay your respects to the brave soldiers and other important people who are buried there, like the Challenger shuttle astronauts and President John F. Kennedy.
Make sure to see the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which happens every hour on the hour, and every half hour during the summer season. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil
The Junior Ranger program at National Mall is a bit different that traditional programs, but is organized well. Find a ranger at any of the major stops to pick up a one-page sheet for that monument. Junior Rangers must collect and complete worksheets from four of the memorials/monuments to earn a badge. Each page gives a great overview of that monument and will only take about 15 minutes to complete. http://www.nps.gov/nama/learn/kidsyouth/beajuniorranger.htm
If you are truly adventurous, consider viewing the original Declaration of Independence at the National Archives between the Washington Monument and Capital Hill. The Capital Visitor’s Center also offers a wealth of information about that iconic building as well. There are also many free Smithsonian museums in the area, and even a U.S. Mint. So, if you are looking for a break from the weather, these are great options to spend some time indoors. The Air and Space Museum and Natural History Museum are both exceptionally good choices. http://www.si.edu/museums
During the majority of the year, the museums and indoor memorials are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are extended hours during the summer season and park rangers are available until 11:30 p.m. at most of the outdoor monuments, which are open 24 hours a day.
Visiting Washington, D.C., is quite a moving experience as you walk around the various memorials and monuments scattered between some of the most important buildings in the nation, many of which are seen every day in news reports.