During the months we stayed in Northern Virginia, we visited the National Mall and Monuments at least a half dozen times. We learned what worked and what did not. When some friends visited, we planned a tour around the mall with the ages of our kids (and theirs, which match pretty close) and it turned out great. We thought we’d share, for the interest of anyone attempting the same thing.
When we visited: Fall 2013
Ages of Children: 8, 7, 6, 5, 3, 2, 2 months (combined kids of two families. NOT all ours!)
Time: 2.5 hours
Bikes: Three older kids on bikes, and 3 year old on a strider bike. Adults walked, which nicely matched speed of our littlest on the strider bike. Also bring a bike lock long enough to lock up all the bikes.
Strollers: The 5, 2, and 2 month old rode in 2 different strollers, which also contained stacks and water. If strollers are not needed, those items can be easily carried in a backpack.
Don’t forget to bring: water, snacks, bike lock, the National Mall smart phone app, and pens for your Junior Ranger booklets.
I can’t remember who it was that originally suggested we bring the kid’s bikes with us to the National Mall in Washington DC, but whoever it was, they are a genius. Having their bikes helped our kids last a lot longer, see more, and made the whole outing feel more adventurous. That said, you can still walk the route I propose, just know that if you have little kids you’ll probably need a stroller as the distance is quite far.
Where to park your car? I was so nervous for first trip into Washington DC. I had heard that everyone takes the metro, there’s no parking anywhere, and traffic is terrible. While that last statement is most definitely true, we parked in downtown DC dozens of times and I always seemed to manage to find a spot. To see the National Monuments, there are 2 different places I’d recommend to park. Both are free, 3 hour parking. The first is along Ohio Drive (see bottom of the map). This street runs parallel to the Potomac River and is pretty lengthy, offering many opportunities to park your vehicle. Choose a spot farther south near the FDR Memorial for easiest access to this route. The other option for parking is up behind the Lincoln Memorial on Rock Creek and Potomac Pkwy. If you are coming off the Memorial Bridge, take two quick left hand turns (there also might be a U-turn necessary in there somewhere). I believe there is generally parking on both sides of the street.
After you park, its time to go! Make sure you grab water and snacks and head across the street towards the FDR Memorial. They usually have rangers stationed outside, and you can ask for your Junior Ranger Booklet for the kids. From there you basically walk in a very large circle.
From the FDR Memorial, walk north to the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial, and then across the street to WWII. There are restrooms located near WWII Memorial that are clean, well-kept and close by. From there, cross the street and head east towards the Washington Monument. At the time of our visit, the WM was under construction (earthquake retro-fit) so we were not able to get tickets and go up to the top. Cut across to the north side of the monument, and then if you go just a little farther east you can get a glimpse of the White House.
Head down the north path back towards the WWII Memorial. Follow the signs for the Vietnam Memorial. The path will take you through the Constitution Gardens, and on the opposite side of the lake you can see the memorial dedicated to the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Walk your bikes through the Vietnam Memorial, and you’ll come out within sight of the Lincoln Memorial. Head over, lock up your bikes and climb to the top. Spend some time checking out the Reflecting Pool, and then when you are ready grab your bikes and head over to the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Once you are finished there, you just need to head back! We stopped by the FDR Memorial one last time to turn in our Junior Ranger Booklets and pick up our badges. The kids were also not quite ready to go, so we walked the length of the Memorial (when we started we just saw a small piece and decided we wanted to see the WHOLE thing – totally worth the time) and came out the other side pretty close to our car.
Don’t be afraid to bring your kids to enjoy the National Mall and create some great memories. Our kids loved it, and yours will too!