Frugal Family Guide to Washington D.C.

We just took a weekend trip to DC and I have to say that if you are looking for an econonical and educational trip with your kiddos you can’t beat our nation’s capital!  I had some difficulty with finding information about traveling with young kids to DC so I thought I’d blog about it and maybe in the future someone out in bloggy land will find it useful! 

We decided to drive up Friday morning.  Our goal was to leave at 6:30 a.m. but that turned into 7:30 a.m. mostly because I was up late the night before packing and then I was too excited to sleep!  I always get that way the night before a big trip!  So we left at 7:30 and decided to avoid the interstate at all costs.  It took us exactly 3 hours to get there by going the “back way” up and over the mountain.  We decided NOT to drive into the city.  I highly highly highly recommend that you don’t attempt to drive into DC.  It is very difficult to find a parking place and if you do find one, you may end up like this poor soul:

What you can’t see in this photo is that there is also a car in front of the red car that is also touching his bumper!  I felt so sorry for this person.  Who in their right mind would park right on someone’s bumper like that?  (This was taken in front of the white house!)

There are several metro stops along the suburbs of DC in Virginia and Maryland and you need to park there and take the metro in.  We found a really nice hotel right beside the Dunn-Loring metro stop.  It is the second metro stop when you are coming into DC from Virginia off of Interstate 66.  We got to the metro parking lot at 10:30 and at first I didn’t think we’d find anywhere to park.  There were very few spaces left!  You do not have to get a ticket or anything when you drive in but you are required to buy a SmartTip card before leaving and that is how you pay for your parking.  It’s $4.50 a day.  So park there and head into the metro station.

Once you get into the metro station you will see kiosks on the left where you need to purchase your tickets.  You can buy an all day pass (we didn’t the first day because we only got on once and off once!) for $7.80 or you can purchase only what you need.  The machines are very easy to use.  Buy your ticket, head downstairs to the train level and sit and wait for  your train.  It’s easy peasy.  It was not crowded going in at all.  Coming back was another story.  That was stressful for me because you need to move quickly getting on and off and we had the jogging stroller for Madalyn.  Not so easy when it’s crowded but we managed. 

So we took the metro in to the Smithsonian stop.  Got out and off the elevators and walked past the USDA to the National Mall.  The USDA has a farmer’s market every Friday from 10am-2pm.  Lots of good stuff to be found there.  We bought some homemade pumpkin bread and it was delicious!

We decided to pack a picnic lunch and we found a nice spot under a tree right there on the mall and ate.  It saved us a lot of time and money.  I froze juice boxes and bottles of water so that we would have enough for the whole day and brought my insulated picnic basket (found on clearance at CVS for $9.99!).  We didn’t have to stop and buy snacks or drinks and that was really nice!

We went first to the Natural History Museum.  Madalyn loved the dinosaurs.  There was so much to see and we knew the girls wouldn’t last too long and would get bored quickly so we hit up the most interesting areas–the dinosaurs, the mammals and the Hope Diamond!  Annagrace loved seeing all the gems and jewels!  One downside about the museum is that the restrooms are few and far between and are difficult to get to.  Some are upstairs, some are downstairs and none of them are conveniently located!  The other downside to this museum is the crap that they try to feed our children about evolution, the age of the earth, etc.  It was a good chance for us to talk to Annagrace about creation though.  I asked her if she thought that earth came from a big explosion and she said, “No.  Jesus made it”! 

We decided to get all the long walking out of the way the first day.  We made our way to the Washington Monument, the White House, and the Lincoln Memorial (stopping at a street vendor for ice cream along the way!  That was $6 well spent!).  I made a wrong turn walking back and we went WAY out of the way and walked by the Tidal Basin and could see the Jefferson Memorial across the river.  It was pretty but we were so tired when we finally got back to the metro station!

 

So after all that walking we were all ready to head back to the hotel.  The metro was crowded and we were glad to get off, get back in our car and head across the street to the hotel!  (Oh yeah–to get out of the parking lot you have to purchase a SmartTip card.  It is reloadable but the card itself costs $5.  So you need to purchase a $10 card and you’ll have 50 cents left on it after you leave the parking lot.  There is a seperate kiosk and they all take debit and credit cards!). 

We stayed at the Courtyard Marriot and it was a very pleasant experience.  Like I said, it’s right across the street from the metro.  So you could technically park there and just walk to the metro if you wanted to and if parking was available.  They have an indoor pool and hot tub (the girls loved that!), a really nice room and staff and free parking in the garage underneath the hotel.  (We lucked out and got a spot out front so I can’t vouch for the parking garage!).  We ordered Domino’s and had it delivered.  The hotel staff has a list of local restaurants including pizza places that deliver.  The only drawback is they do not have free breakfast.  They have an overpriced buffett and I’d recommend either bringing your own food or making a quick trip down the street to McDonald’s.  I would definitely stay here again.  It was not crowded, the staff was nice.  It was quiet and the pillows were awesome! 

So the next day we metroed back into DC.  The metro parking is FREE on the weekends.  We got to the lot around 8:45 and it was almost empty.  They were doing work on the track and that made for longer waits on Saturday but we still never waited over 15 minutes.  We headed to the Pentagon first.  I wanted to see the Memorial that just opened last week and it was well worth the trip there.  A note of caution–photographs are not allowed on the side of the Pentagon where you exit the Metro.  You can take photos at the Memorial but otherwise put your camera away!  (They security guard yelled out to us not to take photos after he apparently saw Annagrace snap one of something across the street!).  I’m not sure what type of military secrets they think that we can give away with a photo of the sign that says “The Pentagon” but oh well, it’s the rules! 

The Memorial was amazing.  It is a series of benches, each one bearing the name of a victim in the 9/11 attack.  If the person died on the plane, then the bench faces towards the Pentagon.  If they died in the Pentagon, then the bench faces away from it.  There is a little pool of water under each bench.  The benches are arranged according to the age of the victim from the youngest–three years old–to the oldest–71 years old.  If they passed away with a family member, then the family members names are also engraved on the bench.  The saddest part was the family that was preparing to move to Australia.  Mom, Dad and both their daughters passed away (Dana Falkenberg being the youngest victim and her sister Zoe being the second youngest at nine years old) .  It was very quiet at the memorial.  People were very respectful.  It was hard to walk through and read the names of so many fellow Americans that lost their lives that day.  People with a story–with a history–with family and friends left behind.   

Ann C. Judge

If you visit Washington, make a special trip to visit this memorial.  The metro takes you right to the Pentagon and it’s a short walk to the memorial and it is worth it to honor these lives that were lost.

The rest of our Saturday was spent at the Old Post Office Pavilion for lunch.  They have every ethnicity of food you can think of there (I recommend the puri and naan at Indian Delight).  Then it was on to the Air and Space Museum, a quick stop for a drink and some more ice cream for the girls and then a hop back onto the metro for the ride back to our car.  The Air and Space Museum was cool but was crowded and was just too much for two tired little (and one adult!) girls.  Annagrace loved seeing and touching the moon rock (although I think she was little disappointed because she thought it would be bigger and she’d be able to hold it!) and going inside a space shuttle!  Again, didn’t really care for the huge mural depicting the big bang but again it was another chance for us to teach our children about God creating the world. 

So there ya have it!  I have to say it was a very frugal choice for a weekend getaway.  We spent a little over $230–that included gas, food, parking, metro riding, AND the hotel!!!  The only way we could have cut costs more would have been to pack more of our own food for supper and lunch the next day.  But I think we made out pretty good.  The best thing about DC is that everything is free!  All the museums, galleries, etc are free to everyone!

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3 Responses to “Frugal Family Guide to Washington D.C.”


  1. 1 Melissa September 23, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Sounds like you guys had a blast and didn’t have to spend too much money to have a fun time 🙂 I am hoping to get Jason up to DC one of these days so he can check out all the cool historical stuff 🙂

  2. 2 Heather September 23, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Definitely agree about the metro but those smartcards were freakin’ confusing at first. You must be smarter than me : ) But yeah, the metro otherwise rocks. And the Zoo is free too!


  1. 1 Our Trip to D.C. « Trackback on September 29, 2008 at 5:19 am

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