Trip Coach: January 6, 2009
Sean O'Neill, senior editor at BudgetTravel.com, answered your questions on Washington, D.C.
Sean O'Neill: Hello, chatters, and welcome to this week's Trip Coach session!
Today, I'm here to answer your questions about visiting our nation's capital.
I'm a writer who lived in D.C. for nearly a decade until I joined BudgetTravel.com a couple of years ago (where I assign and edit articles as well as oversee our blog This Just In).
I routinely visit D.C. to meet up with my friends who live there, and I've stayed up-to-date. I promise to point you to a variety of the city's options—not just my favorite parts!
Ready for takeoff? Let's go!
Bernardsville, N.J.: Hey, we are planning a trip to D.C. the last week of March-1st week of April. Three children: a dance loving, constantly texting 13 year old, a sports mad 8 year old and an amimal loving three year old. We enjoy good food and love art museums, and of course, we are on a budget. What do you think? Places to see, to stay, to eat? Thanks!;
Sean O'Neill: Hello Bernardsville, N.J.! So you're bringing the kids to D.C.? That's a terrific idea because most of the attractions are free—offering savings for your family of five. And the last week of March is typically the start of the prettiest time of year to visit this city. You're bound to have a great time in D.C.!
If your animal-loving 3-year old would like to see pandas, head to the National Zoo. In 2007, this free, Smithsonian-operated zoo debuted a new section that's gorgeous and is called Asia Trail, giving the pandas a misty, rocky-and-treed, Asian-inspired place to romp around in. The boy panda is full of energy, despite his name, Tai Shan (which means "peaceful mountain" in Chinese). Lots of other cute animals can be seen there, of course, such as tigers, monkeys, seals, giraffes, and elephants. I recommend going as early as you possibly can corral the kids. The animals are liveliest in the morning.
There's plenty of parking, and the Zoo offers specially designed strollers. If you take the subway system, called the Metro, I would recommend you NOT stop at the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan/National Zoo stop, even though it has National Zoo in its name. Go further along this Red Line train to the Cleveland Park stop because from this station you can walk *downhill* to the Zoo. If you're pushing a stroller, you'll prefer the downhill route! You'll walk through a cute neighborhood and over a pretty bridge at about the same distance as if you had taken the other subway stop. For bonus points in travel savvy, you can take the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan/National Zoo stop when you LEAVE the zoo, because, again, you'll be walking downhill. (Again, this is mainly relevant to you if you're pushing a stroller and dealing with a three-year old.)
Does your 8-year old like dinosaurs? If so, you may want to take them to the free Natural History Museum on the National Mall.
If your 8-year old prefers planes and spacecraft, head to the Air & Space Museum. Be sure to buy them some "astronauts ice cream"—which is freeze dried, and impresses most kids—at the gift shop.
The 13-year old might be the toughest to impress. Maybe you could split up, and one parent could take the 13-year old to the just-opened Newseum (a center dedicated to the media and understanding the Constitution's First Amendment right to a free press). It's located just off the National Mall, roughly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the National Gallery (a free museum that you, as an art lover, ought to see for yourself!) On the plus side, the Newseum has all of the cutting-edge technology for interactive exhibits that your constantly texting child might find engaging. For example, you can pretend to be a newsbroadcaster on a mock set with the latest equipment. On the down side, the place is pricey $20 for adults, $13 for kids.
Where to stay? Families may find good options across the Potomac River in Crystal City, Va. There are several hotels run by trusted national brands (Marriott, etc.) linked together via an *underground mall*. I recommend you get a hotel connected to his underground mall because it has lots of food courts and video game parlors to distract kids on rainy days. Plus, the hotels and the underground mall are linked by the subway system to downtown—you can travel to the National Mall, the park with most of the city's best free museums, within about 20 minutes.
Enjoy your trip!