DC Travel-What to do if You Have 2 days
My husband recently surprised me with a chance to fulfill my DC travel dreams. We spent two wonderful days in DC. I hope to go back again some day because there are so many amazing things that we couldn't fit in this time. Whether you have only a few days to visit our Nation's Capitol or longer, read on to find some useful tips and my list of the places you should put at the top of your list to see!
DC travel is a bit unique because there is A LOT of stuff to see in a very condensed amount of space. There are also a lot of great places to travel in the surround area. For this post, I am sticking with everything that is found directly in DC.
When you consider DC travel- no matter how long you are visiting, this is an absolute must see! There are a few terms to describe the area in the downtown area and it's nice to know what they each mean. I only had a vague notion of what was part of "The National Mall" and it would have been helpful to have more information before I went. This area includes the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and Washington Monument as well as all the green space between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.
It measures about 2 miles long from one end to the other. Another unique experience with DC travel is the tree lined walkways, green grass, water features and park benches all along the way. It's really a beautiful space with a lot of places that you can stop to look at things and to take a break from all the walking.
"The Mall" is a term that refers to only the green space between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. If you were to look at a map of this part, it runs east to west and it's about 1.5 miles long. It is really a surprising delight to have such a big area of green space right in the center of the city.
"Reserve" is used to describe all National Mall and includes the White House and the Capitol Building. The White House is directly north of the Washington Monument (which is fairly central to the whole area) and the Jefferson Memorial is directly south of the Washington Monument. So, looking at the whole area from above, you can see that it forms a rough t shape with with a total of 2 miles from east to west and about 1.5 miles from The White House to Jefferson's Memorial from north to south.
All in all if you were to walk around the entire space it is roughly 4 miles of walking (not including the time you walk around each of the sights). The first day that we were there I clocked in just over 30, 000 steps. I was a bit surprised that my DC travel adventures allowed me to clock in as many steps as my friend who did a walking tour of Europe.
Transportation for DC Travel
One of my favorite parts about DC travel is the accessibility for walkers. We walked everywhere and even though it rained a lot the first day we had jackets and an umbrella that helped us to stay (mostly) dry. I highly recommend wearing layers and bringing a backpack with snacks, water bottles, and maybe an umbrella since the weather there can be unpredictable. Up until the day before we left it was supposed to be sunny and in the 70's.
There are a lot of nice tree lined walkways and park benches to stop at along the way. Walking is very doable if you are used to walking a lot. They have lots of street signs on the corners that show which directions the monuments/memorials are. We never used a map and we were able to get around quite easily with all the signs and maps that were spread around throughout the area.
There are a number of companies that rent bicycles and some even offer a guided tour. We saw quite a few people biking around the area. It's a fast way to get around to all of the sights and you still get to enjoy the outdoors while making better time traveling from place to place.
I didn't notice a lot of places to park the bicycles if you are planning to get out and explore the memorials and monuments. Also, there isn't really a designated bike lane around the entire perimeter of The National Mall.
If walking and biking don't sounds like good options for you, then the Circulator bus system is the perfect alternative for a stress free experience with DC travel. You can go to their website here to find out all the details. They have a bus system that makes 15 stops throughout the National Mall area. Buses come every 10 minutes so there is never a long wait. The buses run all the working day with varying schedules from summer to winter as well as from weekdays to weekends. It costs $1 to ride the bus and if you use a smart card they allow you to reenter the bus if you come back within 2 hours of when you got off.
We had a rental car so we had to find parking in Downtown D.C. There are lots of metered parking places with parking for 2 hours or less, but we thought it would be difficult to have to keep going back and forth to the car to check it all the time. The first day we found a parking garage that was very near the Smithsonian Museums. There you could pay $11 for one hour of parking or $27 to park for the whole day.
The second day we got a little bit smarter and found a parking lot south of the Jefferson Memorial. There were three parking lots near each other and you could pay for parking by the hour with a maximum of 3 hours. Since we were only staying for the morning that worked perfectly for our schedule. I would suggest doing some research on parking options if you plan to have a car. I don't have personal experience with the public transportation, but it seems very accessible.
For more specific information about parking when you plan your DC travel, visit this government website.
Another great thing about DC travel is that there are so many free museums and galleries to visit. You will want to plan ahead when visiting them because most of them are only open between 10-5:30. We only had time to visit two of the Smithsonian museums. Because we didn't realize they closed early, we only spent about 3 hours between the two museums. If I ever go back, I will definitely plan to spend at least half of a day in one museum. They are so big and have so many different exhibits that vary from interactive to just walking around and viewing. It's really quite mind blowing to see how much information is there before you.
Before I went on our trip I was under the impression that "The Smithsonian" was one giant museum. In actuality, there are a series of museums that are part of the Smithsonian Institute, which includes a group of researchers and museums that are dedicated to increasing knowledge and sharing it. The entire group is run by the government. Now that I have experienced Dc travel for myself, I feel awed and humbled to live in a country where I have so much knowledge at my finger tips. Sometimes, I really take it for granted. After visiting a few of our national museums, I feel more aware of the privileges I have.
National Air & Space
The first word that popped into my mind when I walked in was, "wow". There are life size planes hanging from the ceiling. From there you can go around and explore a variety of things that range from the types of clothes that have been worn by pilots and stewardesses to the actual food that was taken up on the first trip to the moon.
There are exhibits where you can walk through part of an airplane or look at the massive engines that are three times taller than a person. Any direction that you take, you will find awe inspiring exhibits. Really, it feels as if there is something for everyone. There are multiple levels at the museum and they have stairs and escalators alongside each other. We moved quickly though the museum because we were anxious to see the other museum before it closed.
If you are ever in the need to instill curiosity into someone, the National Air & Space Museum is a great place to start. There is so much information and so much eye candy that it is really hard to take it all in at once. If we had planned better, we could have spent more time at the museums. Live and learn I guess.
National Museum of American History
This museum attempts to document all of our history from the founding of our nation to the present. I am sure they are constantly adding new exhibits to try and stay up to date. We only had the opportunity to see one section and one level of that section before it closed. I really wished we could have stayed longer and the next time I go back, this museum will be one of my first stops.
Some of the exhibits that stood out the most to me were the transportation through time, the history of food (I am a bit overzealous about food), and an old fire engine that had to be pulled by hand. Again, there was so much to look at and so many things to see. The exhibits are all done differently and have a different feel to them. Some are interactive, some are larger than life, and all of them have that ring of authenticity that is really quite overwhelming (in a good way).
Visiting both of the museums was such a wonderful experience and I find it very difficult to put into words my thoughts and feelings as I was walking around and trying to take it all in. I want to note that the lighting was very dim in both museums. I believe they do that to help preserve the artifacts by less exposure to the light. The dimmed lights definitely help to create an almost reverent and respectful feeling throughout the museums.
We started our journey at the museums mostly because they were close by and it was raining a little. I am so glad that we started with them because otherwise we probably would't have had the opportunity to see both of those museums. For more detailed information about all the things that you can see, the hours of operation, and tips for traveling to all the places that are part of the Smithsonian Institute, click here.
Unfortunately for me, we didn't have the chance to eat in Downtown D.C. like I had envisioned. There was so much we wanted to see and do that we ended up spending the majority of our time looking at all the sights and walking from place to place. My DC travel log would not be complete if I didn't get to try at least something that is well known and highly praised in DC.
Baked & Wired
Fortunately, on our second day we were able to stop at Baked and Wired to try some of their cupcakes. I had heard so many good things about them and I really wanted to see if they lived up to all of the hype. The bakery is located on an obscure street that is in a different part of the city.
I used my trusty GPS to find the bakery. My husband waited in the car while I walked up the street to buy our cupcakes. The storefront is very unassuming. I guessed it was the bakery because it was painted white when all the surrounding buildings were red brick. Just a bit further up the road were some residential houses.
I walked in and was immediately greeted with an entire counter of just about every kind of cupcake you can imagine. They had a few pastries, cookies, and bars scattered around on display, but that day my eyes were laser focused on the cupcakes. I got a lemon blueberry cupcake, as recommended by an employee, and a carrot cake (my personal favorite) cupcake to share with my hubby.
We tried the lemon blueberry cupcake first. It was a yellow cake base with fresh blueberries inside the cupcake. The frosting was a refreshing, lemon buttercream. The cake was moist and the blueberries were soft and flavorful. The zesty frosting was a perfect accompaniment to the cupcake. It was the special flavor of the month, so it's not always available. I felt pretty lucky that I timed that right.
We saved the carrot cake to share while we waited for our flight at the airport. I LOVE carrot cake and have tasted a lot of amazing carrot cake in my day. I was really excited to try it. Truthfully, I was slightly underwhelmed. It was a decent flavor, but the cake was a little dry and I felt like the cream cheese frosting didn't balance well with the flavors in the cake. Don't get me wrong, it was still good, but I have tasted a lot better.
They serve up traditional Southern fare. Let me just say that as I write about their food, my mouth is watering in anticipation.
My husband and I decided to try a few things and to share them. For an appetizer we chose the smoked chicken wings. They were a perfect balance of flavors and I really liked that they used celery in the sauce rather than having slices of celery on the side. I was able to enjoy that bit of celery flavor without worrying that it would get stuck in my teeth! The chicken on its own was delicious, but the sauce really put it over the top.
Our main dish was the fried chicken and waffle with bourbon maple syrup. I'm pretty sure I heard a heavenly choir singing as I took a bite of our delicious entree. My husband has never liked fried chicken (which in Utah means KFC). After eating that chicken he kept saying how good it tasted and that he wanted more! It was a major breakthrough moment in his culinary experiences.
I think I could wax on and on about how delicious the syrup was. I'm pretty sure I ate more than my fair share of that (oops). The chicken was spicy with a hint of sweet. The waffle was crispy and light. The syrup was to die for. Together they created a perfectly orchestrated dish that truly contented my palate. There was really nothing that I would have changed.
We also had a side of grits. It is the first time I have every had authentic grits. They were a nice accompaniment to the chicken and waffle dish. They were seasoned enough not to be plain, but not so over the top that they stole the show.
Dessert rounded out our meal with the hummingbird cake. As I mentioned before, I love carrot cake and really any spice based cake. The hummingbird cake did not disappoint. The frosting had a hint of something citrusy (orange?) that balanced well with the sweet cake. I wanted to devour the whole cake in one sitting, but we opted to save some of it since we both felt more than full.
It was the perfect first experience with real, Southern cooking. The experience really blew me away. I highly recommend going there if you are looking for some delicious comfort foods that really speak to the heart and tantalize the taste buds.
It was a fun trip and I highly recommend that you consider making DC travel part of your bucket list if it isn't already. Even though it was a short trip, I feel like we were able to do a lot because it is all centrally located. If you had two days in D.C. what would you do? If you have been there before, what was your favorite thing to do? If you have any questions or comments about DC travel, please share them below. I'd also love to see pictures of you in DC on Instagram #peachtreedr
Now that I can check DC travel off my bucket list, I can't wait to plan another new adventure to a place I've never been before. Do you like to read all about an area before you visit? I know I do. Happy traveling friends.