Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia

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'I want my kids to see our country's history up close'

It seemed like a fairly easy trip to plan. Debbie Escobar, of Visalia, Calif., hoped to bring her sons Evan, 11, and Andrew, 10, to Washington, D.C., for sightseeing and history lessons. The boys--both involved in Scouting, with their father, Anthony, as troop leader--could see the Capitol Building and fulfill part of a merit badge in their quest to become Eagle Scouts. Any state capitol or federal building would have sufficed for the merit badge, but Debbie thought this was a great excuse to visit D.C.

"We've traveled a lot, but never to that part of the country," said Debbie. "We especially want our boys to see up close what they're studying in school." Since they'd already be on the East Coast learning about history, Debbie thought, why not check out Philadelphia too? (New York City and Boston seemed to warrant separate vacations.)

The problem was that after two years with the trip in the back of her mind, Debbie still hadn't nailed down the details. Figuring out when to go was a challenge in itself, what with busy work schedules for both parents, family engagements, school field trips, soccer tournaments, and Scouting. Debbie and the boys had a window of time in May. (Anthony was too busy, so it would just be Mom and the kids.) Evan and Andrew would miss school, but heck, they'd get a great education on the trip and they could catch up with their classes when they returned.

"We want to do this trip, but the time is quickly approaching and I'm not totally sure we can get it together," Debbie said. "I usually love planning trips, but this one has me stumped."

We were more than happy to help. They would be flying out of Fresno, and our first step was to price flights on Orbitz. (We also checked with Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, which aren't listed on Orbitz, but neither flies to Fresno or nearby.) For the dates the Escobars needed, America West Airlines had the best rates (800/235-9292, americawest.com/). Flying into D.C. and out of Philly made the most sense. It's a bit more expensive than a standard round trip in and out of the same city ($427 versus $411), but they'll save the time and money of retracing their steps. And we advised them to book directly through America West, rather than pay a $5-per-ticket surcharge to Orbitz.

How to travel from D.C. to Philly was an easy call. This is one of the few areas where it's affordable and convenient to use Amtrak: $90 total for the three of them on the two-hour ride (800/872-7245, amtrak.com/). The major sights in both cities are accessible by foot and public transportation, and they won't have to worry about parking and traffic.

Hotel location was important, especially with no car. "We'd like someplace safe and clean," said Debbie. "Budget is definitely a consideration." We directed them to the Hotel Harrington, which sits a few blocks from the White House and the Mall and charges $105 a night for rooms with two double beds. In Philadelphia, we suggested the Comfort Inn Downtown. Within a 10-minute walk of the city's most historic sights, it's a fine value at $89 a night.

We recommended that on the travel day from D.C., they should check out late from the Harrington and take an early-afternoon train--that way, they can check right into the Comfort Inn. (If they leave D.C. earlier, they might have to wait a while before check-in is allowed.)  

To cut down on any complaining, we suggested that the boys go to each city's visitor website (washington.org/ and gophila.com/) and pick out a few things to see and do. In D.C., they might want to check out artifacts from the Apollo expeditions to the moon at the National Air and Space Museum. Or Evan and Andrew may be drawn to the International Spy Museum, which has dozens of hidden cameras and sneaky weapons on display. There will still be plenty of time for the things everyone has to see, such as the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, and the Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln Memorials.

The Philadelphia site has a link to theconstitutional.com/, where the boys will want to download a free walking tour of what is probably the most historic square mile in the U.S. The sights include the National Constitution Center, where they can trace the history of the document from Revolutionary to present times in kid-friendly, multimedia exhibits; the Liberty Bell Center; and Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Franklin Institute Science Museum, near Logan Circle, is cool and educational, loaded with interactive exhibits that let kids earn their wings at pilot-training stations and test their balance on a surfboard simulator. Finally, the boys might want to swing by the Philadelphia Museum of Art--if not for the Manet exhibition (through May 31), then for the chance to run up the steps like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky.

Washington D.C. & Philadelphia

Lodging

  • Hotel Harrington 436 11th St. NW, D.C., 800/424-8532, hotelharrington.com
  • Comfort Inn  100 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd., Phila., 215/627-7900, comfortinn.com/
  • Attractions

  • National Air and Space Museum Independence Ave. at 4th St. SW, D.C., 202/357-2700, nasm.si.edu/, free
  • International Spy Museum 800 F St. NW, D.C., 866/779-6873, spymuseum.org, $10-$13
  • National Constitution Center 525 Arch St., Phila., 215/409-6600, constitutioncenter.org, $5-$6
  • Independence Hall and Liberty Bell Center 143 S. 3rd St., Phila., nps.gov/inde, 215/597-8974, free
  • Franklin Institute 222 N. 20th St., Phila., 215/448-1200, fi.edu, $10-$12.75
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art 26th St. and Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., 215/763-8100, philamuseum.org, free-$10
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