Surprises in Washington D.C. for families

The White House tour. The changing of the guard. The Smithsonian. The Constitution. They are definitely Washington, D.C.’s A-list attractions-the must-sees you read about in just about every guidebook.

But do you know what made our trip to D.C. fantastic? It was the unexpected moments that ignite your kids’ senses and create lifelong memories.

The moment they, well, get it.

Considering a trip to Washington, D.C.? I say go ahead and guidebook plan it, but keep those peeps peeled for the surprising lessons you’ll discover along your way.

Here’s what we discovered.

Crisscross around town

Staying right in Washington can be super cool. We’ve stayed just steps from the White House. But, on our last trip we stayed in Alexandria, Va., 20 minutes outside of D.C. Of course, I was crazy-worried we’d be too far from the action, worried the long commute would cramp our schedules. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The D.C. Metro system rocks. And it didn’t take me long to learn if you want to really see D.C., you’ve got to get around D.C. My girls mapped out our day each morning at the hotel. They knew where to catch the Metro, where to get off, and how to order our travels so they made commuting sense. It really put them in the driver’s seat.

We the people

They are the first words of the Constitution. The ones we learn in school, the one you can see under glass at the National Archives Building. But while we were killing time before our Capitol tour, we slipped inside the ornate Library of Congress to sneak a peek at the drafts of the Constitution.

What a treat to read. The girls were able to see all the changes and crossed out words, all the effort that went into finding the exact wording we all know today. It was neat to discover that even our founding fathers didn’t get it right on the button-or come up with a document everyone agreed with-the first time around.

Catch a lightning storm

OK, this sounds like a disaster, doesn’t it? Little ones on bikes at night when a lightning storm hits. But it literally was the highlight of our trip. With legs too little to walk the monuments, we rolled through Washington on a Bike and Roll tour with a Washington guide. We were just approaching the Lincoln Memorial when the sky opened up. We spent the rest of that first evening on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial under cover watching beautiful Washington lit by bursts of lightning. An amazing first night view of the city we’ll never forget.

Worn. Scuffed. Priceless. Shoes.

The Holocaust Museum was on my oldest daughter’s list. There were films, and set-ups and pictures, but the one thing we will never forget were the shoes. The museum houses the actual shoes Holocaust victims wore. There is a pile of hundreds of shoes. It gives you pause to see it. They are working people shoes. They are scuffed and dirty and they smell like feet. Seeing the shoes, you are stopped in your tracks and quickly reminded millions weren’t killed in the Holocaust, millions of people were killed.

Bump into your congressman

We called our local congressman’s office and booked a tour of the Capitol months in advance. But we didn’t plan on bumping into Robert Dold during our tour. He graciously took a few minutes out of his day-magical minutes for us-to walk us through the speaker’s office and out onto his private balcony where the president speaks. Fantastic moment and photo opp.

The long walk

The walk from the train to Arlington Cemetery to watch the changing of the guards was long. My girls complained the entire time. But then, during the ceremony they were all eyes-completely amazed someone could stand so still for so long.

It was memorable, but the most amazing part of our day was the walk back to the train. When we walked back-the road just as long and hot-no one said a single word about the heat or the walk. I believe my girls really grasped the concept of serving your country that day. They learned sometimes you stand-or walk-out of duty with no complaints.

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