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Washington, D.C.

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!

familywhitehouseThey 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.

jeffersonmemorialstepsthomasjeffersonmasonjeffersonmemorialAfter the sun went down, we made our way to the Lincoln Memorial.

jeffersonmemorialAgain, 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.

washingtonmonumentnightThe last stop of the bus tour was the Iwo Jima Memorial which was so chill-inducing to see in person.

iwojimamemorialThe 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.

archivesYou 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.

washingtonmonumentBecause we loved seeing the Lincoln Memorial so much the night before, we wanted to see it again in daylight.

lincolnmemorialGoodness, 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.

ihaveadreamMy 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.

washingtonmonumentreflectingpoolThere are such beautiful, meaningful memorials to all of the wars. Very sobering.

koreanmemorialThe 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.

After a day full of walking and sight-seeing, we took a taxi over to Founding Farmers – a restaurant that came highly recommended from my ig friends.

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.

charadesI was amused by these old row houses that are built in to the Mexican Embassy. How crazy/cute are they?

littlehousesDinner 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.

smithsoniangrandpaaudreyNext we moved on to the National Air and Space Museum.

spiritofstlouisI’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 also hit the Museum of Natural History. My kids are big Night At The Museum fans, so this one was fun to see.

smithsonianelephantWe camped in Maryland at a big campground and took the Metro to and from. Lots of charades happened on that train, too.

onmetroOn July Fourth, we could think of no better place to celebrate America’s birthday than at George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.

mtvernonsoldiers mtvernonarborThe 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.

mtvernongardenpath mtvernongreenhouse mtvernoninsidegreenhouse

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.

newcitizensFollowing the ceremony, there were daytime fireworks on the lawn.

dayfireworksAnd then we ate cake.

eatcakeWe 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.

selfiefourthofjulyUgh. 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.

fireworks

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.

arlingtonstones tombofunknownThe 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.

kidslincolngettysburg

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.

gettysburg

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 …

26 thoughts on “Washington, D.C.”

  1. LOVE reading your posts! Thanks for documenting all of this for people such as myself, who dream of a US road trip! I wanted to ask, though, which campground did you stay in for DC and Philadephia?

  2. This post made me home sick! my home town! I’m sorry the fireworks were such a let down! They really are amazing. You have to sit by the reflecting pool, and its just so so moving. However when its over it takes the rest of the night to get out of there. But the fireworks make it worth it. At least it was worth it when I was a teenager!
    http://outlook-signin.org

  3. Hi Emily, my wife Kathy and I have enjoyed your journey with your family across the USA in the Airstream. It too is a dream of ours which we want to achieve some day. We had hoped to be on the road a little sooner after my 10/15 retirement but we got a little side tracked due to my twin sister’s double lung transplant in early June. We are caregivers now but still hope to realize our dream as well. That said if you decide to sell the Airstrem, we may be interested buyers. We love your style and blog, well done. All the best, Mike and Kathy

  4. Such a treat to see you and your family enjoying all the sites of our beautiful country, Emily! –and a great reminder for me that my husband and I need to get our boys to so many more places in D.C. We are so close, but often take it for granted. Thanks for sharing your fabulous photos, thoughts and experiences, and for reminding me that my family still has much to do and see here! Safe travels for the remainder of your journey!

  5. I can’t believe I have never been to Mount Vernon! I have to add that to my bucket list! My kids fell in love with history in elementary school. I feel like that has helped them understand how the world works now as older teens. Gettysburg is very close to my husband’s home and we’ve spent a lot of time there when we lived near to it! I loved all of your photos!

  6. We visited D.C., Arlington, and Gettysburg a few years ago with our girls. It is an experience we will never forget. When you go through Gettysburg, and hear the stories, it really helps make it all real and you understand so much more than just from a book. We absolutely loved Philadelphia! It was my favorite of all the places we visited. Your posts have brought back many good memories!

  7. Your trip brought back all the memories of beautiful DC. Lived there 40 years and then moved to the north west. Great to read how much other fellow Americans appreciate our country and the memorable people who served selfishly over the years. A great family adventure. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I live in the DC area and it still takes my breath away to fly in at night and see the memorials all lighted up. Like beacons of hope in the night. Just about all the Smithsonian museums are free. There’s some pricy ones like The Spy Museum and the Newseum that are worth the effort and catch a show at the Kennedy Center would also be a highlight. I love Mount Vernon and their gardens. Iit could take glorious months and months to visit all the houses of historical significance in the DC area – both revolutionary and civil war era. And you cannot beat the gardens in downtown.

    1. Met your sisters at Jen’s BD party. Everyone looking forward to seeing you in August. Have so enjoyed your stories and well done photography. We just bought a 5th wheel and a 3 month trip across America is on my to do list! Drive Safe.

  9. Love your DC stop! I am taking notes for my visit to our Nation’s capital. I echo Deborah sentiments in her comments, you and Ryan should be so very proud of the gift you are giving to your family!!

  10. This post made me home sick! my home town! I’m sorry the fireworks were such a let down! They really are amazing. You have to sit by the reflecting pool, and its just so so moving. However when its over it takes the rest of the night to get out of there. But the fireworks make it worth it. At least it was worth it when I was a teenager!

  11. DC was my favorite vacation as a kid. So much fun! The air and space museum was our favorite as well, along with the spy museum. Can’t wait til my son is old enough to take him! Gettysburg is within a few hours of where I live, so I’ve been there on many a school trip. It’s breathtaking and eerie all at the same time. So glad you’re enjoying all of our east coast spots!! Love reading about your adventures.

  12. This is so interesting to read. If I can’t tour the country, I can read and see pictures.
    How did your parents sleep in the trailer along with everyone else? I’m curious.

  13. Wonderful, as always. Just one tweak — the Korean War Veterans Memorial honors all who served in Korea (like my dad), not just those who died!

  14. Emily,

    I can’t even express how much I have enjoyed your road trip.

    When you first described what you were going to do all I could think of was the close quarters and how that much “together time” would pan out. But you and your family have warmed my heart and reaffirmed that the family nucleus is still alive and thriving.

    This is a trip your children will tell their children about! You and Ryan should be so proud of yourselves for taking the time, energy and initiative to plan such a life changing opportunity for your family.

    I eagerly wait the next instalment.

    1. Thank you so much, Deborah! It has been close quarters, but sometimes removing all the excess from our lives is the very best thing we can do to remember what really matters. xoxo.

  15. My mom’s side of the family lives in Arlington so I’ve spent a ton of time in and around DC! It’s such an amazing place and I’m already looking forward to taking our kids when they’re older. I’m glad y’all had such an amazing visit!

  16. Founding Fathers is our FAVORITE place to eat in DC! It was fun to read your blog, remembering our vacay there a couple of years ago! It is so awesome to read all the Bible verses etched in granite on so many of the memorials, how our country was founded on Biblical principals. We’ve strayed so far.

    1. wonderful to read this and see your great photos after watching legends and lies on fox. especially appreciate Charlenes comment. thank you. great for a couple taking staycas due to health issues. thank you and how kind of you to share this adventure.

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