10 yr old, 16 yr old - Washington D.C. trip ideas

We are taking a short trip to D.C. this spring to check out colleges for our 16 year old, but also want to do some fun stuff for our 10 year old. Not including days for travelling, we have only four days. I know that there are a multitude of museums and of course the monuments to see. Does anyone recommend certain museums or monuments or other things to see? My older one also wants to see about meeting Barbara Lee - if anyone has experience meeting with Representatives also. Thanks!

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The last time we took a family trip to DC, we took one of those bus tours where you can hop on and off. It was great because we could spend more time at sights we were into and less (or no) time at those we were not. It was also a nice overview and gave us a good idea of where we wanted to return on our own for even more in-depth exploration. I'm not usually one for touristy things like that, but in DC with SO much to see and do, it worked out really well.

We took our 13 year old to Washington a few years ago and had a blast.  Our #1 favorite was the White House tour. It is a hassle to reserve and you have to request a specific date months in advance, but well worth it. Go on Barbara Lee's website and you'll find the forms to fill out for that and other sites.  All are free. You'll be picking up the tickets in Lee's office. She may or may not be there but the interns are very friendly. We got to peek into Lee's office with its massive doll collection on one wall. Afterward one of the interns walked us through underground halls to get to the Congress building, pointing out Paul Ryan when he happened to walk past! The Congress building is a must-see but be prepared for huge crowds and long lines for one of the free tours (fascinating). If Congress is in session you can reserved tickets for that too, but when we went, there was a 45-minute wait in line even with tickets so we skipped it. 

Supreme Court - we didn't reserve for an actual session but you can still walk up the steps and through the building for free, no reservation. It's a nice respite from the crazy tourist throngs in the Congress building.

Library of Congress - we really liked this and wished we'd had longer. It's a beautiful interior - check out the murals - nice gift shop, old US maps, famous documents, worth a visit.

Big Bus (www.bigbustours.com) reserve ahead
Totally lame and totally worth it.  Big red double decker buses, climb on, climb off. Recorded tour message with patriotic music and a ton of sunburned tourists.  The buses hit all the major sites - Lincoln Memorial (don't miss!), Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery (see from the bus), Washington Monument (reserve way way ahead to go up - we didn't), WW2 memorial (wow!), Vietnam Memorial, etc. etc. The National Mall is very beautiful and nice to walk, but it's 2 miles long, so Big Bus is your friend.  

The Air & Space Museum and the American History Museum are mobbed with tourists, so you'll be moving along in a sea of people. They are still worth it, but if you hate crowds, skip. The African American hadn't opened yet when we were there, but it might be very crowded too. There are lots of less crowded museums. We enjoyed the American Indian museum - an interesting building with native crops planted around, and the cafeteria is great! North and South American cuisine, both familiar and unfamiliar. Have a beer with your taco! 

If you are museum fans, you could spend all day in the National Gallery and still want to go back the next day.  It is large enough that you can find yourself alone in a gallery. Its Sculpture Garden is well worth a visit: big round fountain with tourists and locals sitting around it. Grab a glass of wine at the snack bar and walk through the park looking at sculpture, some famous.  Every Friday "Jazz in the Garden" here - free concert, BBQ for sale, well attended and very fun! 

Final tip: People dress up in DC.  All non-tourist women we saw wore dresses or skirts and men wore dress pants and dress shirts, usually with tie. No sandals or sensible walking shoes anywhere in sight except on us tourists. At a couple of nice restaurants I felt terribly underdressed in my California Casual attire, so if you care about such things, bring a dress! The food is really good in DC. Treat yourself to a nice meal - we loved Saturday brunch at the Tabard Inn in Dupont Circle (reserve on OpenTable.)

The spring is the best and worst time to go to DC! You have beautiful weather and cherry blossoms, but also the greatest number of tourists and the Capitol is swamped with fly-in lobbying visits because it's appropriations season. Just make sure to budget a little extra time to get around with the crowds and you'll have an amazing visit!

Despite the crowds, I think the Capitol is a must see - not only are the buildings in the complex beautiful, but it's a way to see democracy up close and in action! Call up Barbara Lee's DC office so they can set you up on a tour. They can also set you up with other tours and will be able to tell you which tours/museums have been popular with constituents. You can combine that with a visit to the Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and the Botanial Gardens, which are all very close by. The Members are quite busy when they are in town and between votes and last minute schedule changes, getting a meeting might be difficult! Anyone can stop in and visit her office and chat with her staff, regardless.

There's something for everyone in the Smithsonian museums, they are all excellent, and you could spend hours in any one of them. Let your and your children's interests guide you, and research which special exhibits will be on display when you go. The Lincoln Memorial is a must-see, because it's so iconic and it has fantastic views across the mall. The African American Museum is a special experience. And seeing the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin is magical, if totally maddening because of the crowds.

Have an amazing trip!

We have family in DC and travel there frequently so have done the sites in pieces over the years with our kids.  I definitely recommend the African American History Museum as a must-see; it is a gorgeous museum, with fascinating exhibits, and the whole experience is incredibly moving. We also really like the zoo!