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A trip to our nation’s capital is one you’ll never forget. It’s a must-visit destination, even if only for a few days. Just weeks ago I took another trip to the city, this time with my husband. Today I’m sharing our itinerary, one that was carefully thought out for pleasing both a first-timer like my husband, and someone who has visited many times (me). I’ll be sharing things to do in Washington, D.C., places to eat, and where to stay, along with a few tips along the way for navigating this historic town.
Weekend in Washington DC
So, you are planning a trip to the DMV? No, I’m not talking about the Department of Motor Vehicles, but a popular nickname for the area of District / Maryland / Virginia – aka Washington DC. As someone who has visited many times and has even been invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave for the White House Spring Garden Tour, I know a thing or two about the city.
It’s a town you could easily spend a week in. Truth be told, I could spend a week just touring all the Smithsonian museums. But alas, sometimes Friday evening to Sunday morning is all you have, and there is much to do. Follow along.
Where to Eat
For our weekend trip, I wanted a combination of convenient foods during our sightseeing hours and restaurants with history and charm. Here you will find both.
Dinner at Martin’s Tavern – Friday night you’ll head into Georgetown, a short ride from Downtown Washington DC. It’s here where you’ll dine in a small tavern (and I do mean small), that has such history you’ll be in awe. For generations, Martin’s Tavern has served every president from Harry Truman all the way to George W. Bush, all before they were Presidents. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.
John F. Kennedy lived two blocks away and not only wrote his inaugural speech in one booth, but actually proposed to Jackie in another. I had the chance to sit in the LBJ Booth, where President Johnson, then a Texas Senator, would discuss business.
While it’s not somewhere I would take kids (it is a small, loud, tavern after all), call ahead to make reservations and be sure to request one of the Presidents’ favorite tables.
TIP: Order the Slow Roasted Prime Rib as it was incredible (limited availability Thursday – Sunday). For dessert, check out the Bread Pudding with a bourbon caramel sauce. It won’t disappoint.
Address: 1264 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007
Breakfast at Corner Bakery – Your sightseeing will begin at your leisure on Saturday morning, so I recommend a quick and easy breakfast. Right across the street from the hotel I’ll recommend is Corner Bakery. Grab a hot coffee and warm meal in this quiet cafe located in the National Press Building.
Lunch at the Food Trucks – Saturday is all about the sights. Your itinerary will have you near the Washington Monument for a late lunch and you will love that there is a whole line of food trucks in this area. Make lunch simple and grab a bottle of water to hydrate.
Address: Corner of Constitution Ave NW and 17th St NW (in between The White House South Lawn and the Washington Monument)
Dinner at Gadsby’s Tavern – Enjoy a trip into Alexandria, Virginia, for your second night in the area. This time you’ll visit another restaurant full of historical charm. In fact, you’ll be dining where George Washington and Thomas Jefferson once roamed. Yes, Gadsby’s Tavern has been around since the 1700s.
TIP: Visit early and explore the museum, but plan accordingly as the museum closes its doors in late afternoon and some days does not open.
Brunch – Café du Parc – On your last morning in DC, pack your bags, drop them off with the hotel staff, and head inside Café du Parc, which is located inside your hotel (Willard hotel – see below). There is an outside entrance as well. The upscale dining room, just a stone’s throw from The White House, is the perfect place to end your weekend trip to Washington.
TIP: Order the Grilled Free Range Chicken Breast or Brioche French Toast with a side of bacon (extra crispy, because it is fabulous).
Where to Stay
There is only ONE thing to consider when looking for a place to stay in Washington DC – LOCATION.
Washington DC is a walking town (you can take advantage of ride share services, but traffic can get clogged in such a small downtown area), so a close location either to the attractions or a Metro station (DC’s subway system) is crucial.
Note: While on previous trips I have taken advantage of the Metro system, but on this particular trip, I used ride share services to/from the airport, to/from Georgetown, and to my first stop Saturday morning. All other times were spent walking.
Here are three picks at different price points right in the heart of downtown DC and walking distance to just about everything.
Willard Hotel (InterContinental) – The Willard was our choice for this most recent trip. Situated right on Pennsylvania Avenue, the hotel was literally next door to the grounds of The White House. Location could not be beat.
The luxurious hotel continued our history theme in that it has been named as one of the Historic Hotels of America. One look and you can tell this place is something special. So special in fact, that it was the location of the last major effort to prevent the Civil War. From the grand entrance and detailing on the ceilings to the ornate guest rooms, a stay here is a treat.
1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004
Hilton Garden Inn Washington DC Downtown – While a few blocks further away from the National Mall than the Willard, the Hilton Garden Inn is still within walking distance to so much.
815 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Capital Hilton – This Hilton is located just a few blocks north of The White House. I’ve stayed at the hotel before and loved the short walk to the National Mall area.
1001 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20036
Things to Do in Washington DC
You’ll notice that for this weekend itinerary I have focused on one side of the National Mall, the long grassy area connecting many of our nation’s most treasured monuments and buildings (and America’s most visited national park). This itinerary could be changed to focus on the other side, which would include the U.S. Capitol Building, U.S. Supreme Court, Library of Congress, Smithsonian museums, etc. Because we only had one full day of sightseeing, I chose the memorials because as I mentioned before, I could spend all day in just one of those locations and I would recommend going inside almost all the buildings. That is for another, much longer, trip.
1st Stop – The White House – A quick stroll from your hotel and you are literally in front of The White House, a must stop on any trip, no matter what political party you align with. This house has so much history. The street in front of it is closed to traffic, so there is plenty of room to take photographs, albeit behind a fence.
From there, walk across Lafayette Park (which sits directly across from The White House) to a non-blocked off road and catch a ride into Georgetown.
2nd Stop – Georgetown – If you get to Georgetown a bit before your reservation at Martin’s Tavern, stroll down the side streets near the restaurant. You’ll spy incredibly beautiful brownstone homes and might soon realize you are just blocks away from Georgetown University. We stumbled upon a castle of sorts, the college’s own Healy Hall.
After breakfast at Corner Bakery, be sure to use their restroom in the back, as you have a full day ahead of you. You’ll thank me later.
RESTROOMS: With so much walking in DC, and on any DC itinerary, it’s really important for all of us to know where public restrooms can be found, whether traveling with children, seniors, or those of us who may need to use the restroom more often than others. I’ve got you covered and talk more about that below.
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING: The National Mall area which contains all these monuments and memorials is deceiving in its looks. What appears to be a short walk can take upwards of 30 minutes, so be forewarned. On a beautiful spring day, the walk is lovely. In summer, it can be brutal. Stay hydrated.
1st Stop – Arlington National Cemetery
My husband had two requests for our Washington DC itinerary. Since our families have been blessed with a number of veterans, his first request was to visit a sacred place, Arlington National Cemetery. Having visited before, I knew this was important, and a perfect way to start our Saturday morning – remembering those who sacrificed so much, some who gave all.
There is so much to see at the cemetery and we surprisingly ended up staying almost 3 hours (and didn’t even visit most of the sites within).
Popular places to visit:
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (and Changing of the Guard Ceremony)
- President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite (along with Jackie and other family members)
I’ll be honest, there are so many unique markers and monuments on these hallowed grounds, that you could spend a good portion of the day here. You might not expect that a marker for those who perished in the Pentagon or on American Airlines Flight 77 on September 11, 2001 is situated here. Or that there is another President buried onsite – President W. H. Taft, who not only served as our Commander-in-Chief, but as Chief Justice of the United States. Did you know that little piece of trivia?
With so much ground to cover (and so many notable figures buried there), I made a huge mistake.
MY MISTAKE – Not signing up for the paid tour. While admission to the cemetery is free, you can purchase tickets for a tour on a tram with a guide. Here’s why it was a mistake…
We were ambitious. It was our first stop of the day, after all. We had beautiful overcast weather. Not too warm. I’ve visited before, albeit in my 20s. We wanted the freedom to walk wherever we wanted (the photographer in me needed that). The tour offered 6 stops on weekdays and 9 on weekends. I personally wanted to visit and see things up close (not just from a tram), specifically a Battle of the Bulge memorial off the beaten path. There were plenty of people walking, though most just to the popular spots. So off we went.
First up, we went against the grain. While everyone walked straight ahead and to the left towards Kennedy’s gravesite, we turned right, and headed to visit President Taft’s tombstone, a place almost everyone missed unless on the tram tour.
Then we walked uphill towards President Kennedy’s gravesite, where the flame remained lit and his famous words were engraved overlooking all of DC. What a view.
But by this time, I realized I needed a restroom. I’d had breakfast and well, we had done quite a bit of walking. There was no restroom around. We were well inside the cemetery, yet far from the welcome center and quite a hike from our next stop – the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
I tell you this because it could have been a huge problem. Imagine if you had little kids with you (or bigger kids, like my 11-year-old). Imagine if you had brought your aging parents on this trip, as I saw so many do. Or you suffer from incontinence or light bladder leakage, even the least little bit. Restrooms are necessary, and sometimes needed fast. I didn’t know at the time, but I just needed to get to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and restrooms awaited me. I had no choice but to tough it out. And thankfully I was able to. That may not always be the case for many. Read on and scroll to the bottom for more restroom tips in DC and a unique community that is a resource for those who deal with incontinence.
My Recommendation – Pay for the tour, or you could end up in some obscure part of the cemetery, and though beautiful and interesting, could become a problem if you have to walk and find a restroom quickly (or need water, or get lightheaded from the heat, etc.).
Transportation Tip – While you could quickly catch a ride to your next destination, the Lincoln Memorial, if it’s a beautiful day, consider walking across the Potomac River (there is a place for pedestrians), where it sits. Estimated walking time – roughly 25-30 minutes.
2nd Stop – Lincoln Memorial – My husband’s second request was a visit to one of the most iconic places in the world.
TIP: Take some time to stop and sit on the stairs just below Lincoln’s statue and overlooking the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and down towards the Washington Monument. It’s simply surreal to sit in such a place, where so much history has taken place. Best view in DC!
As you step down from the memorial, head off to either side where you will find stops 3 and 4.
3rd Stop – Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial
4th Stop – Korean War Veteran’s Memorial
5th Stop – Walk along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
6th Stop – World War II Memorial – Directly down from the Lincoln Memorial, at the end of the reflecting pool, is where you will find a more recently constructed World War II Memorial, and one that had a lot of meaning to both of us. My grandfather was a POW in WWII and my father-in-law served in the Pacific, where he lost his younger brother during the war.
TIP: Be on the lookout for guides who are well versed in how much detail went into the memorial. Every piece you look at has some significance.
7th Stop – Lunch at the Food Trucks
8th Stop – Washington Monument
9th Stop – Thomas Jefferson Memorial (if time)
Walk around the Tidal Basin (and if you can time it with the blooming of the cherry blossoms each Spring, even better) to visit this memorial.
10th Stop – Alexandria, Virginia – Head back to hotel in order to change for dinner in Virginia or grab a ride and head out immediately so you can access the attached museum.
After brunch you’ll depart to the airport, head out on the road, or maybe take in a few hours at one of the Smithsonian museums.
Be Prepared for Walking in Washington DC
- Sunscreen – be prepared as you will be exposed to a lot, whether sunny or overcast. The National Mall is a wide open area.
- Water – be vigilant about hydration. Take a refillable stainless steel bottle, as I have used these in the middle of July and the water stays cold all day – no need to fill with ice.
- Tours – if mobility is an issue (or you have more time on your hands), take advantage of city tours. Many are hop on and off.
- Restroom Locations – print off this list of restrooms in the downtown area.
As I have mentioned, DC is truly a walking town, and it’s vital that you know where all restrooms are, go when you are at an indoor venue like a restaurant, and take advantage of solutions if it could be a potential problem.
I’ll never let bladder leakage prevent me from traveling and making memories. Depend® brand, the incontinence category leader, has a number of solutions for everyone who deals with bladder leakage on any level. I’ve connected with others in a new private Facebook group – The Incontinence Community – and it’s incredible to see how others are managing their incontinence. For more resources, advice, and even funny stories, head here to join the community.
Ryan K Biddulph says
That breakfast looks so good Debra. Great review of a special city.
Thanks so much Ryan!
Thanks for sharing! I love DC!
I do love this city too – definitely looking forward to going back with my kiddo and staying longer! Each visit is so unique!
Sara Phillips says
I LOVE this itinerary! Thanks for sharing. I could definitely go for a stay at The Willard Hotel!
Oh, the hotel was fabulous for sure! I hope you can make it to DC!