New York, Los Angeles, Orlando – these are cities most Aussie families embrace wholeheartedly when they travel to the USA. Washington DC should be on that list.
Elliott Ferguson is the President and CEO of Destination DC. He’s lived in Washington for 17 years in the Capitol Hill district. He knows this city inside out and says it’s one of the best cities for families in the USA. Australia – you have been missing out.
DC is a world-class destination filled incredible museums and historic monuments and memorials. But more than that – it also caters to families with free educational activities, great hotels and delicious food.
It also has good coffee.
“I enjoy the coffee from Dolcezza,” Elliott says.
“They have a stand inside Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and one at the new Wharf development along the Southwest Waterfront.”
Elliot recommends Australians head to Bluestone Lane cafes.
Bluestone Lanes was started by Australian banker Nick Stone. The cafe chain grew out of frustration – one that most Australians know when travelling. Stone was working in New York and couldn’t find a decent cup of joe. So he started his own cafe. It was an instant success. Blue Stone coffee recently raised $US19.5 million in funding from billionaire Stephen Ross to continue to put decent coffee all over the USA. If you spot one, you should go inside.
“In Washington, there’s one in the city and at least one more making its way to the Capitol Riverfront neighbourhood,” Elliott says.
Australians coming to Washington DC will fly into either Washinton Dulles on an international flight or Reagan Washington National on a domestic flight.
From Dulles, Elliott says the easiest way into town is to use a ride-sharing app such as Uber or to grab a cab.
“If you’re flying into Reagan Washington National on a domestic flight, I suggest taking the metro, DC’s public transportation system is cost-effective and easy to use, taking you directly from the airport to the city,” Elliott says.
The easiest way to get around town is to use the DC Metrorail system, which is stroller-friendly. You can also take the Metrobus, which has hundreds of routes through the city. DC’s official bike-share service has bikes for rent throughout the city. Some ride-share services have a car-seat option – with a $10 surcharge.
Washington DC is full of family-friendly hotels.
“Several hotels located near the Smithsonian National Zoo offer a ‘Panda Package’ which includes complimentary amenities and zoo-themed gear,” Elliott says.
The Darcy hotel in Washington offers bikes, scooters and strollers from the Darcy Gear shop for guests. Elliott says the hotel has six Darcy Daypack themes for kids to choose from including “The Darcy Detective” and “Hip Historian.”
The Four Seasons in Washington DC offers child-sized bathrobes and kids toiletries among other complimentary amenities including cribs, high chairs and playpens.
“Every child receives a welcome treat with a personalised themed amenity upon check-in,” Elliott says.
When in Washington DC you need to see the White House. The closest you can get is to stand at the fence out the front. Public tours are currently unavailable to foreigners. But it’s still fun to see the big white building. You can get a glimpse of what it would be like inside by touring the White House Visitor’s Centre on Pennsylvania Avenue. Inside you will find 100 historical artefacts from the White House collection.
Most of the big monuments are centred around the National Mall. The Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building should all be on your list. As should the Martin Luther King Memorial.
Families who love history should check out The FDR Memorial.
“This is one of my favourite memorials,” Elliott says. “It takes visitors through Roosevelt’s influence on American history so it’s like walking through a history book.”
Visit as many of DC’s 17 Smithsonian museums as you have time for because they all have FREE admission.
Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz recently returned to the National Museum of American History as part of the Ray Dolby Gateway to Culture exhibition.
The Smithsonian National Zoo (free admission) has animals from 300 different species with a huge focus on conservation. About 25 per cent are endangered.
If you are lucky enough to visit during cherry blossom season (typically the end of March through early April), a visit to the Tidal Basin is a must. The Japanese cherry trees were a gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo City to the city of Washington, D.C. Every spring these trees burst into colour offering a spectacular view. The blooms only last a few days.
Elliott’s favourite museum for families is the International Spy Museum.
“The museum will relocate to L’Enfant Plaza next spring and will double in size to include RFID (radio frequency identification) technology and interactive stations enabling visitors to take on spy personas and test their mettle and skills.”
When it comes to food, Elliot says families need to try the half-smoke at Ben’s Chilli Bowl.
“Recently celebrating its 60th Anniversary, Ben’s Chili Bowl is a DC institution and serves up the half beef, half pork sausage popular among locals and tourists alike,” Elliott says.
Several museum cafes along the National Mall have a decent menu.
The Kogod Courtyard Cafe in the National Portrait Gallery offers a Mediterranean-inspired lunch or coffee and cake in an expansive open space for the little ones to explore.
The Mitsitam Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian features cuisine from different regions of the Americas and Sweet Home Café house in the National Museum of African American History and Culture serves diverse African-American regional fare.
“Founding Farmers is a family favourite,” Elliott says. “The Foggy Bottom restaurant serves up a seasonal menu sourced from family farms in the region.”
If your kids are sport mad – you will love Washington DC.
“DC is one of those rare cities with pro sports team from every major American sport as well as top-level college programs,” Elliott says.
DC’s pro hockey team, the Washington Capitals, recently won the 2018 Stanley Cup. They play from October-April. The pro basketball team Washington Wizards play at Capital One Arena. Pro soccer team DC United now plays at the new Audi Field in Capitol Riverfront while the Washington Mystics of the WNBA play at the new Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southwest Washington starting next May. DC’s pro-American football team, the Washington Redskins, play in nearby Maryland’s FedExField with preseason games starting in August.
Is it time to put DC on your list? Check out our Flight sale wrap to see if you can score a cheap flight.
Travel allows you to get outside your bubble. It makes you realise there are other ways to do things, and that’s OK. Plus, I am a huge fan of skiing and for the best powder – you need to head overseas.