I’ve been watching the latest season of House of Cards (just finished, actually… oh.my.g) and actually a bit of this 2016 presidential election. So it was a perfect time to go to Washington! (TBH, just needed a mini-vacation, and DC is a good weekend getaway from NYC.) I’ve always been intrigued about government, politics, and general US history and thankfully my travel partner (aka the bf) is a history teacher and used to work in politics… so it was definitely an interesting and educational trip.
I didn’t do as much planning as I normally would’ve. I just knew we were going to hang out around the White House / National Mall area, since we were only going to be there for a short weekend (literally Saturday and a bit of Sunday). It worked out perfectly, as it left a bit of spontaneity and a more relaxed atmosphere. There were certain things I did need to prepare in advance, as tickets/reservations were or were likely needed, such as requesting White House Tour and U.S. Capitol Tour tickets, but if you don’t care too much about those attractions (full list here), you’ll still have a great time as there are many DC attractions not requiring tickets or advanced planning.
When you’re booking accommodations for a short trip, stay downtown or near the National Mall. I was really hesitant to follow this advice in the beginning, as the hotel or Air B&B prices were higher than what I was comfortable paying, but after having stayed a block away from the White House, it was totally worth every penny for the amazing location to be able to walk everywhere (granted, I did score a decent deal on Hotwire; more on this later). If you’re staying for more than a few days, then it might make more sense to stay out of downtown and commute in. But you do not want to deal with parking, traffic, etc. if you’re just there for a short time. Suck it up, pay, and enjoy… you’re on vacation, after all. DC is also beautiful and on nice days, you’ll want to walk everywhere. And because you’ll walk everywhere, bring comfortable shoes.
Here’s a short list of what I did:
Day 0 – Friday
- Parked car at nearby garage ($40 for whole weekend through SpotHero app)
- Checked into the W Washington DC hotel
Day 1 – Saturday
- Breakfast at Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
- White House Tour (*Tickets Required*)
- US Capitol Tour (*Tickets Recommended*)
- Library of Congress
- Walking along the National Mall
- Dinner at &pizza (we didn’t have time to eat lunch)
- National Portrait Gallery
- Washington Monument
Day 2 – Sunday
- Breakfast at Founding Farmers
- Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
- Lincoln Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- DC War Memorial
- Tidal Basin
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
- Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- National Museum of American History
- National Air and Space Museum
- Check out of W Hotel and drove towards home
- Stopped in Baltimore to eat crabs at L.P. Steamers
I normally would get excited about food more than the tourist attractions (#chubbychen), but for D.C. (even though they had good food), I couldn’t find or people couldn’t tell me spots or specific foods that I must go to/eat because I couldn’t get it in New York. Although I did get some recommendations for Ted’s Bulletin, Rose’s Luxury, and Ben’s Chili Bowl, the consensus advice I found was just to yelp around my current location. Ted’s Bulletin, Rose’s Luxury, and Ben’s Chili Bowl were not walkable from where we stayed so we didn’t venture there.. and it didn’t seem like it was something we “missed out on”. Fret not, if you still want a list of ‘good eats’ that I compiled in advance but did not go to, I’ll list a few down below.
Getting There (NYC -> DC)
I did a cost analysis for 2 adults traveling (NERD!) on commuting to DC with a car vs train, and a car was definitely cheaper even with gas, tolls, and parking. Regional train tickets round trip (RT) per person was about $250. Round trip, gas was $46 + ~$85 tolls (waiting for EZ pass bill) + $40 weekend parking… so per person ~$85.50, so significantly less.
The only thing I wish we didn’t do, was leave on a Friday during afternoon rush hour (we left around 4:30PM after ending work). I thought going into Manhattan traffic wasn’t going to be too bad, as afternoon rush hour traffic is usually leaving Manhattan, but I think because we left on the Friday before NYC public school’s spring/passover break, many people were trying to leave the city, which led us to take about 1.5 hours getting out of New York City, into New Jersey. Never again. Never again. A 4-hour trip (without traffic) took us about 6.5 hours with stops. Sitting in Manhattan traffic is usually when I hate NYC.
W Washington D.C. Hotel – $145.53/night (incl. tax + fees) through Hotwire Hot Rate Deals
515 15th Street NW, F St.,Washington, DC, 20004
The location of this hotel is really its big seller. It’s right across from the Treasury building and 2 blocks from the White House. Small rooms, but I was only there to sleep, so that didn’t bother me. Had no issues with cleanliness or hotel staff, like some reviews claim. Part of Starwood brand, the W is known to have a very hip, modern, trendy, club-like atmosphere. There’s also a roof top bar with an amazing view of the city. With that said, it’s a great place to stay for young singles, young couples, or young very close friends. By close, I mean you should be pretty comfortable with each other’s bodily functions, as in some rooms, like the one I was in, there is a sliding door that doesn’t fully close to the bathroom, and a frosted glass that separates the shower and the bed area. I read some reviews that said they didn’t have this, but other reviews talked about very awkward situations.
The cheapest room, the Wonderful room (sleeps 2 in a Queen bed), is normally 16,000 SPG points a night or $247 (not including tax) when I was looking for specific dates, which I felt was not worth it – points or the money. I seriously considered staying in Arlington and commuting in, but after a successful shot at Hotwire to score a cheaper rate, I ended up staying downtown. My rate was per night, $115 + $30.53 tax/fees = $145.53/night for a 4-star hotel in the White House area.
Before I booked the Hotwire Hot Rate deal (the one where they don’t tell you which hotel it is, until after you book), I did some research/investigating to ensure I got a decent hotel. I read from frequent Hotwire users that I should at least go with a 4-star hotel with at least an 80% recommendation so I wouldn’t get screwed over with a crappy hotel, as Hotwire ratings are skewed a bit. I tried using websites like Better Bidding as part of my research, but it wasn’t a big help as my features list didn’t match the W’s listed. Here were my “clues” before booking (4-star, White House area, 1 room, 2 adults):
- Boutique hotel
- Smoke-free rooms
- Fitness center
- Business center
- Internet access
- 4 out of 5 Tripadvisor rating, with 1501-2000 reviews
The Tripadvisor rating/# of reviews was a huge help in me guessing correctly with the W. Also, what pushed me from 85% to 99% was that on the app, it shows user reviews and one of the reviews talked about the privacy of the bathrooms, which I knew was a common complaint in Tripadvisor reviews. I didn’t have any issues checking in (under a Hotwire reservation). The only thing I was sad about was that I didn’t get any SPG Platinum member privileges as I booked with a third party, instead of them. Oh well, beats paying like $200 more just to get those 500 check in gift points or a possible free upgrade.
The W’s overnight parking is $55/day. EFF THAT. On our way to DC, we downloaded an app called SpotHero, put in our check in/out times, and found a nearby garage (~ 7 min walk) for $20/day. So $40 for the entire weekend with in and out privileges. We just left the car there the entire weekend. This app also works for NYC (and I think other big cities too). Very easy and fast process; will definitely use again.
Things To Do
As the White House tour tickets were the hardest to get and it’s at whatever time they give you, we really had to plan things around the White House tour. More on how to get tickets below.
In such a short trip, my general attack plan was just to to hit all the memorials, Washington Monument, White House, several Smithsonian musesums, the US Capitol, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court. It’s A LOT of walking (great exercise in nice scenery) but next time, I would plan to bring a bike. My iPhone tracked that I walked about 20 miles in those two days.
Our White House tour was at 12:00PM (recommended arrival at 15 minutes before), so we had limited time in the morning to do activities, so we chose going to a museum. There are so many great Smithsonian museums to go to in so little time so definitely take a look at what museums and where they are located ahead of time to make sure you hit the ones you really wanted to.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560 | 10AM – 5:30PM daily
I kind of went to this one by accident. I wanted to go to the American History museum, as NYC had a natural history museum already, but I misread and went to this one instead. Pleasantly surprised, though, as it was pretty interesting! My favorite was seeing the T Rex and the heads of different human species.
White House Tour (*tickets required*)
How to Get Tickets
Free White House tours are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. These self-guided tours are available from 7:30AM to 11:30AM Tuesday through Thursday and 7:30AM to 1:30PM Fridays and Saturdays, and must be requested 6 months to 1 month in advance of the date. Soooo yeah, if you want to see the White House, you’ll need to plan it around the date that they confirm a few weeks before. Full details can be found at https://www.whitehouse.gov/participate/tours-and-events, but essentially you need to request tickets through your member of congress. Find out who your member of congress is at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and reach out to them by visiting their office, calling their office, or email. My congresswoman even had a request form on her website. I emailed her over the weekend and at Monday 9AM, I already received a reply from one of her staff assistants. I just had to fill out a security form which is sent to the Secret Service (assuming they background check you) and list out several dates I would want to visit. The more dates you request, the higher chance of a tour you’ll get, but you won’t find out if you were approved or denied a tour until 2-3 weeks before an approved date or 2-3 weeks before the last date requested if none of them are approved. I requested dates on January 19 for multiple Saturdays on and after April 23, and was confirmed a tour on April 6 (a little over 2 weeks before). I didn’t request specific times with the dates, but I’m assuming it would be okay to request times, of course given that it’ll decrease your chances.
The Tour Itself
The most important things to note on the ticket confirmation:
- Print out the ticket
- Bring government issued photo IDs that matches the name(s) you submitted
- Prohibited items (review this list!) include bags of any kind (handbags, purses, book bags, and backpacks)
- Arrive 15 minutes before Tour time to go through security
- Go to the restrooms before you get on line.. there are no restrooms beyond the first ticket check in
Because my hotel was so close to the White House, I was able to drop off my bags and use the restrooms in the hotel room. I read on other blogs that people checked in their bags in the Smithsonian museums before heading over to the White House. We arrived at 11:40AM, waited on a long line on Hamilton Place. I’m pretty sure they were running behind, as when we got there, some 11:30 tour people were still waiting in line. They started letting in 12:00 tour people a little after 12, and I’m not sure if it normally takes 15 minutes to get through this process, but it took us 55 minutes to get through all the security, putting our 2:30PM Capitol Tour reservation at jeopardy (we made it on time). We had to go through 5 security check points before stepping foot into the White House. Most security screening in my life, rightfully so. The first check point is checking ticket confirmation, second and third check point are ID checks, fourth check point is canine scent detection, and fifth is metal detectors. The self-guided tour they say is typically 45 minutes long, but you’ll only get to see a handful of rooms. It took us probably 20 minutes to complete. While a pretty unique experience, it wasn’t anything “WOW”.. maybe because I didn’t ask questions about the rooms to the Secret Service like others spent time doing. I did learn that the White House has its own flower shop and all the flower arrangements in the White House are real and fresh.
U.S. Capitol Tour (*tickets recommended*)
First St NE, Washington, DC 20515 | 8:30AM – 4:30PM Mon – Sat
Guided tours are at every 10 minute increments; first tour is 8:40AM and last tour is 3:30PM.
You can easily book free tickets for the U.S. Capitol Tour through their online reservation system https://tours.visitthecapitol.gov. You can also request them through your member of congress and senator(s). Full details at https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/plan-visit/book-tour-capitol. There were a lot of availability for times/dates in you book a few weeks in advance. So once I found out my White House date/time, I booked it right after. It’s about a 1.5 mile walk from the White House to the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center (40 minute walking); due to running behind schedule, we took an Uber X ($5) that got us there in less than 10 minutes. Definitely take the distance into consideration before booking your Capitol tour time. You can also show up for same day tickets, but these are limited so reservations are definitely recommended.
On the tickets, they tell you to arrive at least 30-45 minutes early. Expecting to go through a mad line for security, like I did at the White House, there was actually no line at all, and we got into the Visitor Center within a few minutes. So we had a little time to kill, and went to the museum on the ground floor. This was all very interesting to see the history and change of Congress. The tour was even better, as our tour guide – Ms. Wardwick – was hilarious (and of course, very informative). You’ll sit through a 13 minute video about Congress and the US Capitol (actually very interesting and well put together) and then take about a 30 minute tour of several US Capitol rooms. You get a radio and headset so you’re able to hear your tour guide. I actually really enjoyed this tour, more than the White House, probably because it was a guided tour.
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540 | 8:30AM – 5:00PM Mon – Sat
You can walk through a tunnel linking the US Capitol building and the Library of Congress, just follow the signs. What I thought was most interesting (and we really went there to see) is the first the first known book printed in North America, “The Bay Psalm Book”, and the main reading room (there is a viewpoint from above).
Walking along the National Mall
By the time we finished the Library of Congress, it was almost 4:30PM and we realized we skipped lunch. I picked &pizza which was about a 2 mile walk (40 min) from the Library since it was such a beautiful day, we weren’t surprisingly starving yet, and we missed walking along the Mall since we Ubered it over before. Although they were doing some major construction along the Mall, it still is a nice walk and you can see many tourists/locals just chilling or playing in the grass.
National Portrait Gallery
8th St NW & F St NW, Washington, DC 20001 | 11:30AM – 7:00PM daily
Being a House of Cards fan, I originally only wanted to come here to see the President Francis Underwood oil painting by Jonathan Yeo. But since we were there, we explored other parts of the gallery as well. My favorite exhibition ended up being America’s Presidents.
2 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20024 | Open 24/7, but rangers are on duty 9:30AM – 10:00PM daily
We didn’t take the tour up to the top, but you can do so (free if same-day, small fee if advanced reservations at https://www.nps.gov/wamo/planyourvisit/index.htm). Fun fact that I learned from eavesdropping on a tour group – the 50 American flags surrounding the Washington Monument was intended/considered to be the states’ individual flags instead, but there were constant arguments on which state’s flag gets to be closer to the White House. You can also see the reflecting pool and some of the memorials in the distance. Another beautiful area to chill in and relax.
There are many monuments and memorials spread throughout DC. It’s hard hitting all of them at once, but luckily there are a cluster of them all walking distance from each other around the Reflecting Pool/Tidal Basin. I thought all the memorials I visited were cool to see; my favorite being the FDR one. Yes, it’s a long walk, but again, so scenic!
After breakfast, we walked to the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. We missed the WWII Memorial at the top of the pool. We continued down to the end where the Lincoln Memorial was. There are a lot of steps, but it wasn’t too bad of a climb. Once you’re done taking pics, facing the Washington Monument, make a right and continue following signs for the Korean War Veterans Memorial. You’ll also hit the DC War Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial before the Tidal Basin. If you’re lucky to be visiting while the cherry blossoms have bloomed, you’re gonna have some amazing pics. Even without the bloom, you’ll still get some great pictures here. I saw several students taking their graduation pictures and people taking engagement photos around different memorials. Follow the perimeter of the Tidal Basin and you’ll find signs to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (4 different sections of monuments for 4 terms) and right next door is his wife’s, Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial. Continuing down the path, you’ll find the George Mason Memorial, which I didn’t go to, and then the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, where I saw a cute little wedding go on on the side of the memorial (is that allowed?!).
We continued down the path, and exited near the paddle boats dock near the intersection of Maine Ave SW and Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW. Near there, you could also go check out the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (M-F only and you’ll need tickets), and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I didn’t go to either due to time, but I hear they’re pretty cool to check out.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
14th St and Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001 | 10:00AM – 5:30PM daily
If you love America, this place is for you. JK, but it was very interesting to learn (or re-learn) about the things that I forgot about, that was taught in grade school about American History. Or high school U.S. History. Or that college class I took on American government. There are a decent amount of exhibits to check out, even with America’s fairly brief history compared to the other big guys. I thought the Star-Splangled Banner exhibit was pretty cool, seeing the OG flag and the First Ladies fashion.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560 | 10:00AM – 5:30PM daily
This one was my BF’s pick. As I already went to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in NYC and had thoroughly enjoyed that (plus the Enterprise space shuttle), I found this mildly interesting. Maybe because the Discovery Space Shuttle, which I was excited to see, isn’t actually located in the same place (it’s in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA). Wah. Anyway, still a cool place to check out if you’ve never been inside an air and space museum. It was cool being able to walk through a backup Orbital Lab of the Skylab Space Station, the first American space station.
As we didn’t want to get back too late, we left DC around 2:30PM.
What To Eat
We didn’t have too many meals in DC, as we skipped lunch for both days.
Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken (Yelp: 3.5 stars)
Two locations, but closest one to us was: 1308 G St NW, Washington, DC 20004
Breakfast, lunch, or dessert | 7:30AM – 5:30PM Mon – Fri, 9:00AM – 3:00PM Sat – Sun
If you know me well, I know you’re thinking: Eileen.. the Yelp Queen, how can you go to a 3.5?! Well, there are many restaurants I think are 4+ stars but are not rated as highly as my personal opinion on Yelp. Take my go-to Pho place “Pho Bang” in Flushing, is 3.5. I saw Astro pop up on several “Best eats in DC” lists, so I knew it was worth a shot. Plus, unique spins on a classic dish? I’m up for it. Between the two of us, we split 3 different donuts. I chose the Maple Bacon, Creme Brulee, and PB&J, after my due diligence reading Yelp reviews… and my tastebuds. I love those three flavors. My favorite was the Maple Bacon. The Creme Brulee and PB&J were decent and tasted as the name intends, but it wasn’t as flavorful as the maple bacon.
&pizza (Yelp: 4.5 stars)
Many locations around DC but closest one to us was: 1005 E St NW, Washington, DC 20004
Lunch or Dinner | 11:00AM – 11:00PM Mon – Thurs & Sun, 11:00AM – 12:00AM Fri – Sat
This is the “subway” or “chipotle” of pizza where a first-timer can be overwhelmed at choosing a dough base, sauce/spread, and toppings (cheese, veggies, proteins, other finishers). Luckily, there are also already decided-for-you signature pizzas. Being exhausted after a long day, creativity was limited so we went for the signature pizzas: the Farmer’s Daughter (if you like spicy) and The OG. Came out to $10 each. Normally, I think two people who weren’t very hungry could finish one pizza, but since we haven’t really eaten since donuts at 9AM (and split a small wrap quickly bought at CVS before the Capitol tour), we were able to finish the entire individual pizza. It’s not the best pizza I’ve ever eaten (c’mon i’m from new york), but the ingredients were super fresh and you can tell it was a quality pizza. Well done, &pizza, well done. Also, the staff is really nice.
Founding Farmers (Yelp: 4 stars)
1924 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20006
Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch, Dinner | Check the website as they have different times on different days
This was another one of those restaurants that popped up consistently on “best DC eats” lists. I heard of long waits here, but thankfully they have reservations available through OpenTable. A few days before heading to DC, I checked Saturday and Sunday’s availability, and only found 9:00AM Sunday to be doable. Arriving at 8:55AM, there is already a line. It seems like if you show up when it opens, you may be able to get a table without a reservation.
The food is sold on being “farm to table”, and it tastes like it. We both had the Chicken & Waffles ($12 – breakfast), which came with eggs and white gravy. The chicken’s seasoning is very flavorful although I wish the skin was crispier. The waffle batter was very light, compared to the waffles I’m used to at other restaurants, which was a nice change. I didn’t care too much for the white gravy.. the syrup on the table was a much better match for me. The eggs, are eggs. Fresh eggs. It was very filling! Thank god my BF talked me out of ordering the Uncle Buck’s Beignets as I heard that was a great menu item. Service is friendly. Overall, great place for a meal. Would love to come back and explore other menu options (hello red velvet pancakes!!)
L.P. Steamers (Yelp: 4 stars)
1100 E Fort Ave, Baltimore, MD 21230
Lunch, Dinner | 11:30 AM – 9:30 PM Mon – Fri, 11:30 AM – 10:00PM Sat – Sun
Since Maryland was known for blue crabs, I thought it was be a good idea to stop in Baltimore for some dinner, on our way back to NYC. This place was found through Yelp. We got an order of Old Bay fries (too much!), one crabcake, and a dozen medium crabs.
My family and I used to go to Obrycki’s Restaurant & Bar for crabs when we visited Baltimore, but that has since closed unfortunately. I tried this L.P. Steamers place and it just wasn’t the same. Crabs seemed fine but the spice was a little off. The crabcake and old bay fries were good, but I think if I was in the area again, I would venture to find a new crab place.
Food places for next time…
Here’s the list of places I found through some research/friend recommendations. I can’t vouch for how good they will be, but if you visit any of them, let me know how it is!
Meals (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
- Rose’s Luxury (American, 717 8th St SE, Capitol Hill)
- Old Ebbitt Grill (American, 675 15th St NW, Washington)
- Central Michel Richard (American, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington)
- Ted’s Bulletin (Breakfast & Brunch, 505 8th St SE, Capitol Hill)
- Good Stuff Eatery (Burgers, 3291 M St NW, Georgetown)
- Bub and Pop’s (Sandwiches, 1815 M St NW, Dupont Circle)
- Estadio (Spanish, 1520 14th St NW, Logan Circle)
- Wicked Waffle (1712 I St NW, Washington)
- Buredo (like a sushi chipotle, Multiple Locations)
- Baked & Wired (Bakeries, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St NW, Georgetown)
- Captain Cookie and the Milkman (Desserts, Multiple Locations)
- Dangerously Delicious Pies (Desserts, 675 I St NW, Chinatown)
Wow, this is a long post, but I hope it provided you some insight/help if you choose to visit DC! I think DC is filled with history and its own charm, and I’ll definitely be back. It’s one of the most scenic cities I have been to, if not the most. That’s where my tax dollars are going! As always, feel free to ask any questions. Bon voyage!