We (2 parents and a 28 year old daughter) have now returned from a family trip to Washington DC. Although we have been to the museums and major sites many times in the past - it has been a few years that we have all been able to do it together - and most importantly, I think, stay in DC rather than stay in Virginia where we normally stay - combining business with pleasure.
Our hotel was the Marriott Metro Center. The location is perfect for access to the metro (just a two minute walk from Metro Center station) and to many restaurants as well as perhaps a 15 minute walk to the White House and other venues. I have written a review of the hotel on the hotel pages.
We have used the metro several times before and since we live in the Chicago area and have toured world wide using the metro systems of major cites (Moscow, Beijing, Paris, etc.) we were not daunted by the Washington DC Metro. I think many people who post questions/concerns 'overthink' the metro system. My suggestions to those who are coming in to DC for the first time and using the metro are:(1) print out a map from the metro site,(2) look up online where the nearest station is to the site you are visiting (many even will give you what exits to look for and use), (3) locate on the map your starting point and end point (4) notice the line 'color' (5) follow the applicable line to find the final station of that line so that when you are in the stations you will know what line/train you are taking in what direction. Signage is very good - it just is a matter of stopping and looking at the 'pillars' in the station- stops are listed. And, in each car there are large metro maps for your use, as well as at the stations there are additional paper maps you can pick up.
We bought the Smart Trip cards online, and they were mailed to us. Very quick and efficient! We loaded each of our cards with $30.00, registered them to get the few dollar rebate. I think we have a few dollars left on each, so I will submit them for a refund (I forgot to leave them for the housekeeping staff as one poster suggested). The Smart Trip cards are simple to use - tap on the logo of the card on the machine as you enter and leave the metro ( as you enter the beginning balance shows, and when you leave the value left on the card will appear). We used them on a bus from Georgetown back to the Foggy Bottom metro as well.
As warned by local posters, the area was 'alive' with school trip kids! For the most part they were well behaved. However, if my annoyance can come out now, one school group (I think it is a local one) from St. Jude school was rude and obnoxious. I cannot for the life of me rationalize the parent chaperones allowing these girls to run up to the First Ladies Exhibit in the American History Museum - putting hands all over the display case showing Mrs. Obama's first inauguration, and blocking everyone's' view. Nor can I rationalize these same chaperones allowing and actually watching the girls having foot races in the hallways outside this exhibit. We walked through the FDR Memorial - a lovely walk actually, and nice to see it again. There were school groups walking through as well and yes, a few boys thought it humorous to jump in front of our cameras as we were preparing to take a photo! In the Newseum we encountered more school groups. I do wish the chaperones would give the students clipboards which they could use to take notes - vs laying their paper on the exhibit informational 'plaques' - it is rather 'difficult' to read the information if someone has placed their homework paper on it and is hunched over that! (I did mention that to a chaperone and to her credit she told the students to stop.)
So, now that I vented about the school groups...... we visited my favorite museum, the American History Museum. One could spend hours in there, but we only had so much time and patience! The other favorite museum was the Newseum. Yes, there is a charge to enter, but so worth it. The JFK exhibit is wonderful (we are coming up on the 50th anniversary of his assassination). Great exhibits on the Berlin Wall and of course for 9/11. The great thing about the Smithsonian is that they are free..... what a wonderful benefit for us! On our other previous trips we have visited in depth the Holocaust Museum, Natural History, Air and Space, etc. etc. This time we chose to choose just a few places to spend more time and more in depth rather than a quick in/out visit. Our daughter, on her own, chose to visit the Police Memorial (she works for a large city police department) and was able to make a rubbing of an officer in her department who was killed last year. She also visited the Museum of Crime and Punishment - from her response, she said it was 'fun'.
Obviously, we were unable to do a White House Tour, but, we did walk there our first night to view it at night. So pretty, and we had to chuckle at one overseas visitors comments, " I thought it would be bigger!'.
The yellow police tapes (as a result of the Boston bombings) were still up on that night, but by the middle of the week they came down. My husband actually went back a few days later, took more pictures - without having the fence in the way, and walked around to the south lawn and took photos of Mrs. Obamas garden.
We visited the Pentagon Memorial as well. A hint here - as you enter the memorial, off to the right is a small informational 'box' that holds pamphlets describing the layout and the meaning of the benches, names, dates, etc. By chance, as we were walking through the memorial, I came upon the bench with the name of one the Pentagon officers who is from my suburb.
After our memorial visit, we went to the visitors center to take our pre-arranged Pentagon Tour. On the way to the center, we noticed in the parking lot we were walking by, an unattended large bag. We watched for a few moments to see if anyone claimed it, and when that didn't happen - we flagged down a Pentagon police car, advised him of the bag and within moments 5 Pentagon police cars, a bomb canine unit arrived and the guards were clearing the area. It probably was someone's gym bag put on top of the car, and fell off when they drove away! But, we did our "See Something, Say Something' deed! As we cleared security to enter the visitors center, our daughter accidentally left her expensive sunglasses in the provided trays. When she realized it, she ran back, but, no sunglasses! The only people behind us in the line were Pentagon employees. No one turned them in to lost and found - we called several times. Sort of soured us on the trustworthiness of the employees! The tour - about 10 of us - was led by two young men - one in the Air Force and one in Navy. Yes, you walk quickly through the maze of the Pentagon hallways and you hear a lot of facts. I do wish they would allow you to stop for at least a moment to read some of the historical information on the walls and in the display cases. But all in all it was an interesting tour.
We ate at some very good restaurants - all recommendations by the locals here. THANKS! We had pizza our first night at Ella's Pizza.... good wood fired thin crust pizza. We also ate at Oyamel... wonderful small plate authentic Mexican cuisine; Georgia Brown's - jazz band on a Wednesday night and Peach Martinis and a Long Island Tea coupled with southern cooking. Also - Filomenas in Georgetown - yummy Italian cooking (like Momma made) and plentiful portions, and lastly - Asian Spice - Indian Curry Noodles and Mee Goreng... yum ! I have also posted reviews of these restaurants on the restaurant pages. All, but for Filomenas, are within easy walking distance of the Marriott Metro Center.
For those of you in the planning stages of your trip to DC - have a plan, but, know that you probably won't be able to fit it all in! The wonderful museums will absorb you totally! For your lunchtime meals - know that you will be ripped off by the hot dog stands or by the food courts in the museums - that's just the way it is. But, take time in the evening to sample some wonderful restaurants. WALK!! And, WALK some more! Take the time to stop and look at the monuments, the history behind them, and what it means for all of us. Most importantly, enjoy all that Washington DC has to offer the citizens of the world!