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Accessible Washington, D.C.

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The cherry blossom trees in Washington D.C.

With Kids!

First of all: DO IT!  D.C. is an excellent city for all people. Period.  The memorials, gardens, museums, and even the zoo, are free!  Granted, parking, food and hotels are a little more on the pricey end – but there are ways around all of that.  The city is clean, it’s historic and modern simultaneously… or in different parts, and there is always plenty to do.  So, now that I’ve convinced you to go, here are some tips to help you make the best of your trip!

Hit some memorials

You will love them, you will learn things, and even really young kids are impressed by the grandeur of something so different than the norm. The memorials are all free (with the exception of going to the top of the Washington Memorial). The memorials are also all handicap accessible. Even the Washington Memorial elevator is scheduled to be up and running this spring (2019)!  Don’t try to see them all in one day.  It’s too much.  I recommend you make a prioritized list and double check it on a map.  There are a lot of things that you can catch in passing while walking along the perimeter of the mall, including a castle, gardens, sculptures, galleries, and the carousel. 

Pick one museum per day

We’ve done more than one in a day, but one museum has plenty to keep you occupied for a full day, and saves you on rushing around trying to cram everything in. If you only have a short visit, it may just be best to prioritize what you want to see. The natural history Museum is amazing for kids. They have an aquarium with a coral reef, a butterfly room, live bug exhibits, dinosaur bones, a giant whale hanging from the ceiling, and lots of other fun things that kids love.

Second on our list, would be the air and space Museum. In addition to all the planes, rockets, space shuttles, etc., they have a large exhibit with hands-on learning activities for kids. They also have space ice cream, so that’s always a win. The Holocaust Museum has been on my list for a long time, but it’s just too heavy for kids. That’s more of a grown-up activity, unless your kids are older. If you’re looking for something that is an emotionally moving memorial of those who have served, you can hit the Vietnam war memorial with your kids. They just think it’s a shiny wall on your walking path, but it is so moving to see all the names of those who gave their lives.

Add an extra day, or at least a half, to go to the zoo! 

They have giant pandas and elephants, along with all the typical zoo animals. WARNING: The parking is expensive. It’s $25 to use any of the official zoo lots. There is some street parking on Connecticut Ave.  It’s limited to three hours.  It’s also a bit of a walk, but you’ll be doing lots of walking, anyway.

Pack a ton of snacks

There are not a lot of food options around the mall and monuments, and the stands/trucks you pass tend to be pricey.  We snacked all morning and waited for a late lunch at the wharf.  Then we got each of the kids a $4 hot dog and supplemented with food we’d brought.  The wharf is an additional mile past the monuments, but during the cherry blossom festival it’s the place to be for kids!  We hit the Petal Palooza for free games, facepainting, and activities for the kids.

Bring wheels

Unless your kids are older, they’re going to get tired. Even my eight-year-old niece ended up riding in the wagon at some point. In her defense, we walked about 10 miles by the end of the day. Everyone was tired. Kids who are usually fairly mobile, won’t be by the end of the day.  The museums do have wheelchairs to loan, but it’s on a first come, first serve basis.  Plus, the main reason you’ll want wheels is for the spaces in between.

Picnic at the tidal basin 

This is the Cherry Blossom Festival specific tip, but all of the flowers are around the title basin. This is hands-down the most scenic spot in the city during this time. My six-year-old at the end of our trip, said he felt like it was more of a memorial day than a cherry blossom festival day because he spent more time looking at memorials than at the flowers. We both wished that we had spent more time just basking in the beauty. It’s worth the hype… and the crowds.

Pick a parking lot

Even if it’s just a back up, for worst case scenario, it’s wise to research parking lots in advance. In the past, we’ve typically driven around until we find street parking, since that’s the cheapest. Street parking is limited to three hours in-town. You can get free street parking, if you’re willing to walk a little ways. Sometimes, however, there’s no parking available. After driving for 20 minutes, you’re going to want a back up place to park, without having to find a garage that has space and is reasonably priced. We parked at 500 C St SW for $18 for the full day on a weekend. It was in the area we wanted and it was one of the cheaper lots.

Stay in town

We didn’t do this, but we should have. It would have been nice to be able to go back for naps or to walk back to the room without navigating rush hour traffic. 

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