For months we were keeping a secret from the kids …
My parents were flying in to Washington, D.C. to surprise the kids and spend a few days with us!
They met us at our campground and when we pulled up, the kids literally sprinted from the moving car to hug their grandparents. I cried. My mom cried. It was SO wonderful!
After lots of hugs and a few hours of catching up, off we went to the city.
Our first activity for the night was an evening monument tour on a big tour bus. Our driver narrated our way around town pointing out important buildings, streets, monuments as the sun went down and the lights came on. We were in D.C. to celebrate the Fourth of July and apparently everyone else was as well. It was packed! And many sites were blocked off in preparation for the big show on the Mall for the fourth.
Even still, Washington, D.C. did not disappoint. After having learned so much of our country’s early history, it was so special and meaningful to all of us.
The evening tour took us to the Jefferson Monument which was so much bigger and impressive than I expected.
After the sun went down, we made our way to the Lincoln Memorial.
Again, it is so big and gave me chills seeing Lincoln up on his chair. We read his Gettysburg address that is carved up on the wall and answered hard questions the kids had about slavery. It brought tears and a gratitude for their innocence.
We also saw the Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials on the tour and spied the Washington Monument standing tall and proud across the water.
The last stop of the bus tour was the Iwo Jima Memorial which was so chill-inducing to see in person.
The tour was a great way to get a quick overview of some of the most popular sites around the city.
The next day we ventured out on our own, stopping first at the National Archives to view the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.
You can not take photos inside, but I wish we could. It was awesome to see the most important documents to our country in person! Did you know: the Declaration of Independence was written on animal skin?! I had no idea.
Washington is a walkable city and so we moved on to the Washington Monument across the Mall.
Because we loved seeing the Lincoln Memorial so much the night before, we wanted to see it again in daylight.
Goodness, I loved being there.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. There is a engraved stone in the place where he delivered the speech and of course we had to take a photo of us there.
My youngest son studied MLK, Jr. in 2nd grade this past year and so this was really special to him. He looked out from that spot and we all just imagined what this scene must have looked like in 1963.
There are such beautiful, meaningful memorials to all of the wars. Very sobering.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is so powerful. What a gorgeous art installation and special tribute to all of the Americans who served so bravely for our country.
Getting into any popular restaurant is hard on a busy weekend in July, but parties of 8? Not the easiest. We had to wait for about an hour and a half and kept ourselves busy with a riveting game of charades. It was Audrey’s first time and she was the cutest.
I was amused by these old row houses that are built in to the Mexican Embassy. How crazy/cute are they?
Dinner was fantastic, by the way. Totally worth the long wait.
The next day was a big museum day. There are 13 Smithsonians around the area – each one absolutely worth visiting, but of course we had to choose just a few. The admission is free (!) which is so great for big families.
We began at the National Museum of American History. Loved it.
Next we moved on to the National Air and Space Museum.
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t super excited to see the Air and Space museum. We did the Houston Space center and have a great Museum of Flight in Seattle we’ve been to a few times so I felt like it was all going to be redundant.
I was so wrong.
The Air and Space museum was so impressive. We saw the original Wright Flyer from the first flights in 1903 (super cool for the kids as we had just visited the Wright Brothers Museum). The Spirit of St. Louis was the plane Charles Lindberg flew on the first solo trans-atlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927. It did not have a front windshield! It is said he turned the plane so he could look out the side windows to see where he was going. So crazy.
We camped in Maryland at a big campground and took the Metro to and from. Lots of charades happened on that train, too.
On July Fourth, we could think of no better place to celebrate America’s birthday than at George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.
The lovely historic home is set on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River.
George Washington was quite interested in gardening and had the most impressive grounds and greenhouse.
P.S. It looks like the grounds were empty. Don’t be fooled. I just worked my magic to avoid getting people in the photos :)
There was a whole program for the day. The most special was the swearing in of 100 new US citizens. What an honor to witness and celebrate.
Following the ceremony, there were daytime fireworks on the lawn.
And then we ate cake.
We left Mount Vernon just as the rain really started coming down. Later that night, we staked out a spot on the grounds near the Iwo Jima Memorial. We had heard that the fireworks display in Washington, D.C. was like no other. As cool as it would be to sit down at the Capitol to watch the whole show, we were not super excited about the crowds and standing out in the rain all day to save a spot. So the next best option was across the way up on the hill that overlooks the city.
Ugh. The fireworks display was such a disappointment. I mean, I’m sure the fireworks would have been amazing, but the clouds rolled in heavy and low and blocked them all. It was so anti-climactic and a little bit of a bummer.
We stayed in a hotel in the city so we could avoid public transportation and later that night Ryan and I turned on the tv and fireworks displays from across the country were showing on every channel. Oh, the irony.
Of course, the next morning was bright and sunny and beautiful. We took advantage of the weather and visited Arlington National Cemetery.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier changing of the guard was such a beautiful, honorable ceremony.
My parents were supposed to leave that night, but we convinced them to stick with us a little longer. Yep, that’s right. We all decided EIGHT people in a trailer was a good idea for a few nights on our way up to New York City. More about how that went down later …
We left Washington, D.C. and drove about an hour to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to walk around the Civil War battlefield.
I mentioned before that Ryan and I listened to this amazing book that centered on the battle of Gettysburg and it was mind-blowing to walk on those same lands. The well-done Visitors Center hosts a museum with films to watch, tours to take and battlefield relics on display. We so wished we had planned more time. We could have spent the whole day, but only had a few hours.
We did listen in on a ranger talk and walked out on the battlefield. There are 1,320 monuments, 410 cannons, 148 historic buildings and 41 miles of roads to visit. It is a huge part of American history and a turning point in the Civil War.
The Ranger told us that the battlefield looks nearly identical as it did in 1863. We were there on July 6th – just three days after the third and final day of battle and it was hot and so humid. I can only imagine what those weary wool-wearing soldiers went through on those terrible, bloody days.
Our tour of our nation’s capitol was everything we hoped for. Mason, our 8 year old, said over and over that it was his favorite stop and as a parent, it was so wonderful to watch our son soak it all in. And to have my parents with us was extra special, too.
Next up, Philadelphia. Stay tuned …