Planning a Weekend Family Getaway to Washington, D.C.: Where to Stay, What to Do

Thursday, January 4, 2024
Planning a family getaway to Washington D.C. is easier than you think! We booked a fun two night trip and I can't wait to tell you all about the places to stay and the fun things to do in our nation's capital! Washington D.C. is GREAT for families. Read on to learn why.

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Getting to Washington D.C. from New Jersey

I am a huge advocate for planning ahead. I know there are spontaneous people who just want to up and go without a second thought (Mr. Jersey Momma is one of them), but I am the gal who likes to plan ahead. And honestly, timing is everything when driving to Washington D.C. from New Jersey. I have heard horror stories about the dreaded I-95, but we left on a Tuesday morning in June on I-95 and made it to D.C. in four hours with no problems. There was some minor construction on one of the bridges but that was about it. We left D.C. on a Thursday afternoon around 2:00pm and made it home to New Jersey in about four hours again (traveling I-95), with the majority of our traffic being Rt. 287 rush hour (around 5:00pm). We used our phones for traffic advice (you can also use the Waze app) and it helped redirect us around any traffic issues.

You can also take the train from New Jersey to D.C. but I don't know much about this. I have heard mixed reviews. If you've taken the train as a family, please feel free to share your advice/experience in the comments below!

Where to Stay

I admit I am a bit of a hotel snob and I like to stay in quality hotels and resorts on vacation. In my opinion, you get what you pay for. Meaning, if you choose to cut corners and stay in a cheap motel, that's the experience you're going to get- cheap. Maybe your room will be dirty or you'll find bed bugs. Maybe the food will be terrible or the customer service horrendous. I just feel like I would rather spend a little more money for a better experience, thereby making our trip even that much more comfortable. When we visited Washington D.C., we stayed at the beautiful Fairmont Washington D.C Georgetown (which you can read about here). I can't say enough good things about it!

Where to Eat

Where you eat in Washington, D.C. might depend on where you stay. If you don't decide to stay at The Fairmont D.C. Georgetown, I still highly suggest you drop by their restaurant, Juniper (which has undergone remodeling since our visit). But keep in mind that Juniper is currently only open for breakfast, lunch and brunch, but they do offer a kids menu. 

When we visited Fairmont DC was offering a bee cocktail using their own rooftop honey

The food at Juniper was outstanding. Crab cakes, anyone?

We also enjoyed a family-friendly burger joint called Z-Burger which offered a cool variety of milkshakes (including "adult" versions with added alcohol!). 

These restaurants were close to where we stayed, but you can check out a plethora of restaurants on the official Washington D.C. tourism site. There are tons of family friendly restaurants and quick service places like Shake Shack and Krispy Kreme.

What to Visit

We had two full days to explore Washington, D.C., and we did most of it on foot. The location of our hotel allowed us to walk to the White House, and from there we walked to the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, The WWII Memorial,  and the Vietnam Wall (yes, a LOT of walking, so wear good shoes!). Bike rental was also super-popular in this area, if that's something you wanted to try as a family. 

For destinations further from our hotel, we opted for the Big Bus Tour. Relatively inexpensive and an easy walk to the bus stop from our hotel, it allowed us to see parts of D.C. from a cool double-decker bus. You can check out their loop routes online. The buses stop and drop you off at various points throughout the city. 

The White House

The White House has double barriers (maybe more) set up in front of it, so you can no longer take a picture right against its fence. But there were still plenty of photo op moments. Tours are still scheduled but you must do so in advance of your trip. So if this is something you'd like to do, be sure to check out the White House info online to see when and how to plan your tour.

The Washington Monument

The Washington Monument is a site to see, but no one has been allowed inside of it for years! So your photos will have to be done from the outside.

There were a few ice cream vendors in this area while we were here, but no substantial places to eat, so plan accordingly around your meals! 

WWII Memorial and Vietnam Wall

There is supposed to be a reflecting pool in the middle of the WWII Memorial but it had been drained for cleaning while we were there.

We were still able to see the beautiful reflecting pool on the way to the Lincoln Memorial, though, which always makes me think of Forrest Gump.

The Vietnam Wall was beautiful and sad, and also featured a larger than life statue of soldiers overlooking it. 

The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial was wonderfully impressive, but very crowded! And many of the people visiting liked to sit on the stairs, making it very difficult to get up and down them, since they're all blocking the way. But oh well, we press on.

The Capitol Building

Since our hotel was in the Georgetown area, it would have been a pretty far walk to get to the Capitol Building. We took the Big Bus Tour instead, which we enjoyed. We were able to drive past some sites that we didn't plan on visiting, too, like the Watergate Hotel, the JFK Amphitheater, the place where Lincoln died, and even Georgetown Cupcakes (hey, it's the little things, you know?). And even though we took a bus to the Capitol, there was still a fair amount of walking because there are so many paths leading up to the building itself.

The Capitol Building was so beautiful, and and you can actually visit the inside as well as plan a tour. BUT, if this is something you'd like to do, please plan in advance. We had to go through a security check, and I was dismayed to find that you could not bring any water bottles or drinks inside (which would account for the water bottles that were lying all over the place around the Capitol. Since we visited, they now allow you to bring an empty bottle inside to fill there). It was about 90 degrees the day we visited, but I agreed to trash the bottles, so we threw them out and tried to head back inside. This time we were stopped and told we could not bring our can of sunscreen with us (that happened to be in my bag). I had two in there, and they were about 9 bucks apiece! I had to draw the line somewhere, so I told Mr. Jersey Momma to go in with The Boy, but no man gets left behind in this family, so we all agreed to skip going inside. But I was bummed. I am usually a big planner, but we just kind of winged this one, so I missed all of these important rules about visiting. You can read the list of prohibited items as well as plan your tour on the Capitol's website

We did see people taking segway tours here, too, which could be fun if you have the time! On a side note, if you're wandering the grounds of The Capitol Building, see if you can find Summer House. It's a cute little building with a fountain and built in stone seats. It was a nice break from the summer heat for us.

Smithsonian Museums

There are so many museums to choose from in and around Washington, D.C. We opted for two since we only had two days. Our first stop was the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. These museums are free, but you should reserve a free timed entry pass online.

We saw dinosaurs, rocks and minerals, artifacts and so much more. It's PERFECT for kids since there is a little something for each age group here. There was also a live insect display when we visited, complete with a butterfly walkthrough.

Our next stop was the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The wait wasn't too long to get in and there was a lot for us to see inside (but not so much that we couldn't fit it all in). If you want to visit, you need to reserve a free timed entry pass online. There is also an IMAX and a planetarium here, but they require a paid ticket in advance so be sure to check out the schedule online before visiting.

Other Monuments and and Memorials and Things to Do

There are SO many places to visit in D.C. If you're only visiting for a weekend like we were, you have to be selective. But you can also see the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Korean War Memorial or the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial (and so many more). You'll even come across statues and photo ops if you're exploring on foot (like below, when we found the Einstein Memorial statue outside of the National Academy of Sciences building). See a full suggested list of things to do and see here.

Helpful Washington D.C. Links

Our trip was pretty quick, which was what we had planned from the beginning. We live in New Jersey so we just wanted to do a weekend getaway. If you want to visit longer or have more time to explore, here are some helpful links that you can use for planning.

Smithsonian Institution Home Page (connects to all Smithsonians in DC)

Visit The Capitol (official site)

Visiting the National Mall and D.C. Historic Parks (official site, includes Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and more)

Fairmont Washington D.C. Georgetown (there are plenty of hotels to choose from in D.C. but this was where we stayed. Please do your own research to choose what's best for your family!)

Remember, our trip was a quick weekend getaway so this is was our experience with a short trip. If you have restaurant suggestions or other suggestions for a longer trip, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

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