Washington, DC is a great place to visit.
Here are my tips, and a page full of links to more information.
My Top 10 List of things to see Smithsonian Air & Space Museum I think its best to focus on the mall museums during the day. They are open 9:30-4:30. The evening is a great time to tour the monuments and see the city at night. This is more than you can do in a day but I think you could do it in 2 days. I recommend parking in the garage on 7'th street. Its right off Constitution 1 block from the Air and Space. From here you can (with a little walking) do most of the mall. You can always try your luck at parking right on the mall (Madison, or Jefferson), or off of Independence or Constitution -- but its almost impossible during the week. Make sure to read the meters and signs really well - DC Parking Cops pass out $100 tickets by the handful. Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Must See) National Portrait Gallery The sculpture garden is next on the tour. Exit the National Gallery and go one block toward the Washington Monument. There are several amusing pieces, and a beautiful fountain. Its a nice break, has a really nice cafe that's not terribly busy. Natural Science Museum (Must See) American History Museum (Must See) The time to do the other monuments is at Night. Parking is easier, temperature is better, and I think they look beautiful. I have always felt safe at the monuments at night, they are well lit, and there are ranges are duty 24x7. Touring the Memorials The FDR, Lincoln, Vietnam, and Korean Memorials (Must See)
Smithsonian Natural History Museum
National Gallery of Art & Gallery of Modern Art
Top of the Washington Monument
American History Museum
Steps of the Lincoln Memorial
Korean, Vietnam, and WWII Memorials
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Touring The Mall
Start at the Air and Space. The following are my favorite exhibits but they are all really good: How Things Fly, Deck of the WWII Aircraft Carrier, and the Apollo Exhibit. The food court is big and fast if you like McDonald's or Pizza.
National Museum of the American Indian
Its the big sand stone building next door to the Air and Space Museum. It just opened in 2004. The grounds are very impressive - it has a water fall and water feature that runs almost the entire length of the building. Its arranged topically vs. by region or culture I liked the My Universes exhibition the best. You won't see a lot of tepees or war bonnets, and to get much out of it you'll have to be ready to spend some time reading the exhibits. If you on a tight schedule I'd save this one for the next visit, but if you have a couple of hours its well worth the visit. Check the schedule, they seem to have a lot of interesting events on the grounds. The entrance is on the capitol side, and has a great view of the capitol.
Now, time to get some culture at the National Gallery its right across the mall from the Air and Space. The rotunda is spectacular, the Impressionist and Dutch painters are wonderful. The lower level has a more upscale cafe, and connects to the Modern Art Gallery. The massive Caulder mobile in the main atrium of the Modern Art Gallery is impressive, and the mobile room is really interesting as is the abstract expressionists area.
Next stop is the Natural (Science) History Museum another block down the mall. My favorite exhibits are: Mammals, Dinosaurs, Gems & minerals, Mars, and the Bugs. The mammals exhibit is excellent.
Next stop is the American History Museum. The flag in the atrium is the one that hung on the Pentagon after the 911 attack. My favorite exhibits are: Star-Spangled Banner restoration, America on the Move (Must see), Engines of Change, The Price of Freedom (Must See), Field to Factory, Maritime Exhibit, The Presidency, and the Stradivarious instrument exhibit. This is a great museum for kids of all ages - Its got steam locomotives, cars, Chicago "L" car, a Huey, Jeep, and even Julia Child's kitchen.
Going up to the top of the Washington Monument (when/if its open) is really cool - but you have to get tickets the day before. You pick them up early in the morning in front of the monument. They are free, but you have to have them. When your on the elevator going up, ask the ranger if they are doing walk down tours - sometimes volunteers do them. Its 500 vertical feet down stairs that wrap around the interior of the monument - all kind of interesting stones are placed in the wall of the monument - its a very easy walk. Lately its been closed due to construction so check out on the National Parks Web site to find out.
First, take time to cruise up the mall, turn on to Jefferson heading to the capitol from 14'th street, go toward the Capitol, then cross the mall, and drive back down Madison back to 14'th street.
I recommend heading toward the Potomac river and parking along the Potomac river on Ohio Drive as close as you can get to W. Basin Drive. Sometimes you can get a spot half way between the FDR and the Lincoln on Ohio and walk to both. Take your camera. When standing at the Lincoln, to the right and left facing the capitol are the Vietnam and Korean - make sure to see both. Next, Backtrack to the FDR - its really a great monument kids generally like it the best. Its very impressive at night. Make sure to look across the tidal basin to the Jefferson. Since 9/11 parking at the Jefferson is blocked off - otherwise you can usually just pull up right in front of it.
The Jefferson and WWII Memorial (Must See)
If you have a good parking spot on Ohio and don't mind walking, stay there BUT look out it is a very long walk from the FDR to the Jefferson. I recommend moving your car. At night, try parking at Haines Point (right on the tidal basin), you'll still walk 1/2 mile or so but it maybe the closest - or take a taxi. If you can park at Hains Point, your about a long block away from the WWII Memorial. It is excellent - it is located on the mall east of the Washington Monument at the west end of the reflecting pool. Its where 17'th street crosses the mall. It it great right at night fall. There is so much to see its nice to have some day light, but its beautifully lit at night.
My Top 10 List of things to see
Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
I think its best to focus on the mall museums during the day. They are open 9:30-4:30. The evening is a great time to tour the monuments and see the city at night. This is more than you can do in a day but I think you could do it in 2 days.
I recommend parking in the garage on 7'th street. Its right off Constitution 1 block from the Air and Space. From here you can (with a little walking) do most of the mall. You can always try your luck at parking right on the mall (Madison, or Jefferson), or off of Independence or Constitution -- but its almost impossible during the week. Make sure to read the meters and signs really well - DC Parking Cops pass out $100 tickets by the handful.
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Must See)
National Portrait Gallery
The sculpture garden is next on the tour. Exit the National Gallery and go one block toward the Washington Monument. There are several amusing pieces, and a beautiful fountain. Its a nice break, has a really nice cafe that's not terribly busy.
Natural Science Museum (Must See)
American History Museum (Must See)
The time to do the other monuments is at Night. Parking is easier, temperature is better, and I think they look beautiful. I have always felt safe at the monuments at night, they are well lit, and there are ranges are duty 24x7.
Touring the Memorials
The FDR, Lincoln, Vietnam, and Korean Memorials (Must See)
Ice Skating in the Sculpture Garden
In the winter the Fountain in the Sculpture garden is open for ice skating. Its a beautiful place to skate, all lighted, right in front of the National Archives. They rent skates.
Things you should know
- If it says national - its usually free - all mall museums and monuments.
- Parking is a pain and its usually not free- except along the mall on weekends. (Consider taking the metro - its clean, fast, and easier than parking) Bikes are another good way to get around the district.
- It gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter - dress accordingly.
Great Photo SpotsThe Whitehouse - right across the Ellipse can't go wrong from there. If its during Christmas you get the added bonus of the pageant of Peace and the National Christmas tree.
The Capitol - from the North East corner of the Mall. Sit the kids on the stone entry way, and snap a few great pictures.
The US Supreme Court - behind the capitol on the North Side. If your lucky there will be some protesters.
The Library of Congress - behind the Capitol on the South side.
The Jefferson - Down at the tidal basin on the south side with the Washington Monument in the background.
The Lincoln - Straight down the mall toward the capitol
The Garden of the Smithsonian Castle is really nice in the spring when all the flowers are in bloom.
Hirshhorn Sunken Sculpture Garden in front of the Hirshhorn - very pleasant walk through.
Sculpture Garden between National Gallery and National Science Museum
FDR - Standing in the bread line (Every one does it)
Other Great Places to Visit
National Botanical Gardens - Its just been re-built from the ground up. Its the metal and glass structure between the Native American museum and the Capitol. The main atrium is tropical, with many other climates in adjoining rooms. Make sure to check out the upper level.
National Building Museum - 401 F street NW. Huge space, many exhibits + a beautiful atrium. Originally it was the Civil War Pension Bureau, and is one of the largest ballroom spaces in DC - site of inaugural balls etc.
Smithsonian Arts and Industries Museum - on the mall, east side of the Castle. 3 revolving exhibitions, usually fairly interactive and good for kids. -- Right now its being renovated.
National Zoo - Its a great zoo, wear your walking shoes its got some hills. Its located in North West DC - you can drive or take the metro to the Red Line to the Cleveland top. Woodly park stop will work also - but its uphill.
National Arboretum - 3501 New York Avenue, NE - about 2 miles east of the Capitol - its in a not so good part of town - so get out your map and lock the doors. Its worth it -- 400 acres of beautiful landscaping, formal gardens, large bonzi section, and really nice lily pond with lots of fish.
The Pentagon - they may have tours - call ahead - you can drive right through the parking lot (its a metro station). Its a huge building and something to see. The West side is where the plane impacted on 9/11 there is a marker. You'll be amazed how close you can get and how huge it is.
Arlington National cemetery - just north of the pentagon, you can park, see the tomb of the unknown soldier, museum, and the grounds. Its a nice drive across the Memorial Bridge (straight shot from the Lincoln) across the Potomac.
National Archives - newly renovated, see the constitution, Magna Carta, and other historical documents. Just across the street from the Sculpture garden.
Navy Memorial - just behind the National Archives nice open space with a store next to it.
Old Town Alexandria - Just south of the Pentagon, King street and the surrounding area is about 300 years old. Brick and Cobble stone streets, Bars, and restaurants. (Try Las Tapas $$, or Union Street Pub $) The torpedo factory water front is a good pace to visit in the evening. It has a nice view of the Capitol from across the Potomac. On the other end of King street is the George Washington Masonic Memorial. Each level has different Masonic significance.
Mount Vernon - 12 miles south on the GW Parkway. Washington's Home / Farm - nice drive, interesting tours of the home and farm. Its kind of pricey to get in.
Georgetown - University, Bars and Shops - parking is a disaster and prices are high.
National cathedral - corner of Wisconsin and Massachusetts, open to the public daily with tours.
Still More Places (of interest to some)
Spy Museum - Supposed to be good but hey its a private museum and they charge admission so I won't go.
Postal Museum - Kids seem to like it, just don't go Postal.
Slacker and Freer Galleries - Asian art, and some revolving exhibits. Part of it is underground its worth touring. Located on the mall west of the Castle.
Hirshhorn Museum - On the mall (bee hive looking building) between Air and Space and Castle. Lot of modern stuff - not my thing.
National Aquarium in DC - small, old aquarium. They charge a small admission fee. Its ok. If you have time go to National Aquarium in Baltimore but expect to pay high entrance fees.
Wolf Trap - Trap National Park for the Performing Arts offers a wealth of natural and cultural resources to the community and to the nation. Its located just outside the betway on rt. 66 - many great concerts and programs.
Talking streets - cell phone tour
Cherry Blossom Festival