Our Spring Break jaunt this year was to the nation’s capitol. I hadn’t toured there since I was around 10, so it was high time I went back, this time with my own kiddos. I’m not going to give a full travelogue here (that tome will go out to family), but here are some thoughts.

Point #1: Bring a bike. DC is rather bike-friendly, and the National Mall is a longer walk than it looks. There is a place right downtown to rent some, but bring what you can. You can cover a lot of ground that way.

The first thing we did was a bike tour (free, as are many things in DC) run by the National Parks Service. It hit many spots in DC but I had no idea how much into DC we’d be. I have pictures of us biking down the middle of Pennsylvania Ave. with the Rangers leading the way. Not down the sidewalk; down the center lane. That by itself was cool (though I kept a good eye on the kiddos with me). There were enough stops along the way to rest my 40-something legs, so it wasn’t a killer. They like to theme the tour with a “This Week in History” feel, and the week we went was the week World War 1 started, so at each stop there were talks about how this monument or that feature related back to the war, the run-up to it, the culture of the time and/or how events of the period affected the DC landscape. It went from the Jefferson Memorial, down and back up that peninsula, to the Capitol, to the Pershing Memorial (directly related to WW1 of course) and over to the White House, where we broke away from it to rejoin those of the family doing their own thing on foot. (With 6 in the family, you can only carry so many bikes.) A good learning experience and a good workout.

We hit all the usual spots during the week; the monuments along the Mall, the Smithsonian museums, Ford’s Theater, the National Archives, Arlington National Cemetery. The Cherry Blossom Festival had just started, and the trees bloomed on cue. Unfortunately, this brings crowds, and while the National Parks Service has a nice Tourmobile bus service for a reasonable price, our use of it was marred by long lines and slow traffic. Again, bikes are your friend.

Point #2: Staying in a hotel close to DC can be worth the money. I was looking at some hotel web sites for places under $100, but everything was way outside the beltway. The Metro Rail is nice, but we’d have had to drive to the farthest out station first, taking lots of time out of our day. Hotwire.com saved the day, and I’ve become a big fan. For the same price as the Super 8, we stayed near the Reagan National Airport for a couple of days, and then splurged to stay downtown for a couple more. (Nice to just walk 4 block to the Mall.) Now, I said it can be worth the money because there are some things you’d probably get at the Super 8 for free that you either can’t get or cost extra at the nicer hotels. Like Internet access ($10 per day), free simple breakfast, microwave ($25), fridge ($25), coffee maker in the room (1 of our hotels didn’t have that) and even park (around $25 per day). Now, this may not been news to those who’ve stayed at these spots before, but this was my first real experience with it, so it was news to me. Fortunately, we brought a cooler with lots of food, and Pizza Hut delivers to the lobby. (Where else in DC can you feed 6 for $20?) A pool the size of my office cubicle was OK…once enough people left to allow us to go in. I understand that we’re probably not the target market, but they could do just a bit more to fill those empty rooms and do just a little more to make it family friendly. So yes, it can be worth the money for the location, if you understand the amenity situation.

Point #3: Spend the time. There were a number of things we’d hoped to do but just didn’t have time to do after doing the things we did do. DC is big in the two senses that there’s so much to do, and that everything is so…big. The monuments are, of course, generally done on a grand scale, but when you go to the Smithsonian museums, there’s so much in there. We spend Sunday afternoon through Wednesday, and really just hit the highlights. Maybe this point is better expressed “Spend the time well”. Don’t try to do a little bit of everything; do some things well and leave the rest for perhaps another visit.

We had a great time. Learned some history, some science, and got to see those things you see only on TV or the back of your money. I highly recommend a visit there some day if you’ve never gone.

Doug Payton blogs at Considerettes.

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