Road Trip to Washington DC

Last Spring, Jeff and I took a quick road trip down to Washington, DC. Because hotels in the city were so expensive at that time (we went right around Cherry Blossom Season) we stayed a bit outside of DC in Alexandria, VA. I loved having a second place to experience, especially one with a different type of scenery.

Our first night there, we hopped on a trolley to explore the charming and historic “Old Town” section of Alexandria and ate a delicious meal on the patio at Virtue Feed & Grain.

Road Trip to Washington DC

The next day, we had a lazy morning and cozy breakfast at the Fontaine Caffe and Creperie while the rain fell outside. I’ve been experimenting with a gluten-free diet since January and was psyched to learn that crepes made with 100% Buckwheat flour are gluten free! Breakfast is my favorite meal and it can be tricky to find gluten free items while traveling.

Road Trip to Washington DC

After breakfast, we headed into downtown DC to visit some of the Smithsonian museums. It was easy to get into the city from Alexandria (we could walk to the metro station from our hotel) but it was a bit of a haul and could make for a long day if you planned to stay out for nighttime fun too. Or maybe we are just getting old!

Of course we had to visit the Smithosonian Museum of Natural History . They’ve been renovating parts of the museum over the past several years and it’s so interesting to see how exhibit design has changed. The new(ish) Ocean Hall and Mammals Hall are gorgeous and really interactive!

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One of my favorite things about DC is the prevalence of “happy hours.” It’s a great way to try lots of new restaurants and find affordable food and drinks. One night, after delicious appetizers and margaritas at Oyamel, we walked over to the National Mall for an unofficial nighttime tour of the monuments. Maybe it had something to do with margaritas, but it was pretty romantic and awe-inspiring – I’d highly recommend it!

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Speaking of happy hours, they’re also a great way to catch up with friends who live in the area without interrupting their busy schedules too much. I met these girls at the Nicholas School of the Environment and seeing them is always a highlight of my year!

Six months before we left for our trip, I contacted my local state senator’s office to request a White House tour. Unfortunately I found out a few weeks before I left that my visit wasn’t approved (rude!), but we still walked to the landmark and took some photos.

Later, I met my friends at the POV Bar in the W Hotel, which overlooks the White House and the view (and company) were a great consolation prize.

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On our final day, we went back into the city to visit the Smithsonian National Zoo. It was raining again but it did keep the crowds away. The exhibits and landscaping were beautifully maintained, and despite the rain it was a pleasure to wander through them.

We barely scratched the surface of all there is to do in DC (if we’d had time, I would have loved to take Jeff to the United States Botanic Gardens). There are so many museums and attractions we didn’t get to explore and I can’t wait to go back.

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Some Tips for Visiting DC

  • If you can find a good hotel rate, I think DC can be an relatively affordable vacation – most of the Smithsonian Museums are free, and you can get a great dinner for cheap at happy hours.
  • I would probably try to stay in DC next time to make it easier to see more of the sites and then go out at night. But Alexandria was a great alternative!
  • Be prepared to do a ton of walking, but DC is arranged in a grid system and I found it easy to get around. Many of the most popular museums and sites are located near the National Mall.
  • A good friend of mine who lived in DC for years recommended the Old Town Trolley. We decided against it because our visit was so short and we could only see a few museums. But next time I plan to follow his recommendation, trolley tours are a great way to get a lay of the land on the first day you are in a new place!
  • If you want to tour the White House, you should contact your state senator’s office as soon as you know about your trip to request a tour. They will notify you if there is availability two weeks before you go.
  • Many of the museums had a security check, which could take a half hour or more of waiting in line – especially since DC is such a popular spot for school groups. If you don’t need to carry a bag or purse with you, you can pack light or store your bags in a locker and skip the bag check line.