Ever had that moment when you realize summer’s almost here and you don’t have a big budget, I mean, "plan"for an amazing vacay? Not to worry, I’ve got you covered! Believe it or not, one of the cheapest family vacation spots is Washington, DC.
Every activity in this post is absolutely free!
I know what you’re thinking: How could visiting the capitol of the United States of America be inexpensive? Trust me, you’ll come out way cheaper than Disney and your kids will be brighter to boot!
First things first – roller coasters and cotton candy-type of trip this is not. Picture a family vacation that you’ll enjoy as much as the kiddos.
Next, prepare to have an amazing time!
Day 1: Smithsonian National Zoo
Rise and shine, Buttercup! Plan to arrive at least half an hour before opening. You’ll get an insider’s view of the animals parading around their enclosures before loud crowds and heat send them indoors or under shade trees. Check the National Zoo website the night before to make a list of must-see demonstrations and animal feedings led by zoo keepers.
Feel free to bring food and drinks into the park but remember to patronize the souvenir shop or give a donation to support the Smithsonian National Zoo’s conservation efforts and mission to educate people from around the world about animals and the importance of respectfully sharing the planet with them.
Don’t make further plans unless your that family from “The Incredibles” (hey, when is that sequel coming out anyway)? I digress. Seriously, let’s not kid ourselves -- a hot day at the zoo is only fun if you can relax at the hotel afterward. So take time to let your hair down (or out if you’re rocking an afro like me) and chill with a glass of mommy juice poolside.
Day 2: Renwick Gallery – White House Tour – Eisenhower Executive Office – Lafayette Square
Fear not, this is not too many agenda items for one day! In fact, each attraction is within steps of the other. The only hassle here is getting tickets to the White House, which is no small feat nowadays. Simply write/call your congressional representative to make it happen, and do so far in advance to get your preferred date and time. If that isn’t possible because you’re a very busy -- aka a poor planner like most of us -- simply take pics in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and lie to your friends about that time you met the Obama’s on a White House Tour. Or Trump or Hillary or well, there’s no telling.
Renwick is one of my favorite art galleries in DC because it’s off the beaten path and the exhibits are always unusual and amazing.
The rich and ornate exterior is juxtaposed by modern and contemporary art within. If by chance you arrive before July 10, 2016 be sure to check out “Wonder.” Watch this video to learn more about the exhibition.
It’s an otherworldly multi-dimensional art experience. Also check out the Chihuly glass sculpture chandelier.
Lafayette Park is within President’s Park on the north side of the White House. It’s a popular protest site with several unusual historic statues to discuss with your children. Eisenhower Executive Office Building is nearby; visitors are not allowed inside but the architecture is nothing short of awe-inspiring and makes for an extraordinary backdrop for your family photo.
Day 3: Smithsonian Air and Space Museum – Sculpture Garden – Corcoran Art Gallery (tweens and up) or Self-Guided National Mall Walking Tour (younger kiddos)
Just when the kids’ interest in historic sites begins to fade, take them into orbit at the Air and Space Museum! There is so much to see and do, you may end up spending the entire day.
Or tour the massive National Mall and fly a kite on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
Day 4: Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center
Yep, you read correctly, the world renowned Kennedy Center offers free shows throughout the tourist season! Jazz bands to dance troupes, when 6:00 pm rolls around this is the place to be.
Wondering why I’ve only got one destination? It’s simple: By Day 4 it’s time for a little R&R, so sleep in that morning and take in a great novel poolside. This is the perfect day for kids to write about their experiences in vacation journals. Smaller children can draw pictures about the journey to make a book. (Ask the front desk for computer paper and a stapler; they’ll be more than happy to oblige parents who keep their children engaged as opposed to running around the hotel).
Day 5: Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian – US Capitol Tour – National Botanic Garden
What a difference a few hundred years makes! This day is an opportunity to discuss the good, the bad and everything in between that defines US History and the incredible and unique American way of life.
The National Botanic Garden is a quick jaunt from the Capitol. Pictures of the beautiful flowers and plants will look stunning in your vacation photo album you’re bound to make after such an amazing vacay.