Washington DC Travel Diary
If you follow me on Instagram at all, you’ve seen snippets of our spring break trip to Washington DC. DC is such an amazing city, full of history, culture, and lots of museums. My kids are finally old enough to be out of strollers, so we thought it would be a good time to go as a family. And we had such an amazing experience! Springtime is one of the best times to visit our nation’s capitol, as the cherry, dogwood, and maple trees come alive with blooms. And the weather is definitely a bit warmer than it is up north in Michigan. And that was certainly a welcome relief as I feel like we are the last state (with the exception of Alaska) to finally see spring. So today I put together a small Washington DC travel guide to show you all there is to do there.
Enid A. Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Castle
I kept tracking when the cherry blossoms were going to be blooming and knew we were going to be there a bit too soon. It can be hard to predict sometimes when they will in bloom, as so many factors come into play. Last year we would have been all set, but this year we were a week too early. I knew I wanted to capture images among blooming trees on this trip (after all my name is April!). Since the cherry blossoms weren’t quite ready, I did find the next best thing – the blooming magnolia trees at the Enid A. Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian. Honestly, I actually think blooming magnolia trees are just as pretty (if not prettier) than cherry blossoms. And since this garden isn’t quite as well known, we had the whole park to ourselves (save for some very fast cyclists and a local photographer doing an engagement session).
I happened to stumble across this garden when we were touring all the Smithsonian Museums (we saw the Air and Space Museum and the National Archives). I’m so glad I did! The magnolia trees look spectacular when in full bloom. And they are situated among the only “castle” on the National Mall. The magnolias look positively magical at sunset and they make you feel like you are inside a fairy garden.
My Gal Meets Glam Lizzie dress (on sale!) was perfect to photograph among the magnolia trees. I bought this dress specifically for our trip, but I knew that this would be the kind of dress I can wear over and over again, day or night. This dress is definitely made of high-quality fabric, and it has a slightly silky sheen to it. This dress is comfortable and easy to wear, yet when you wear it you look so put together and graceful. I am wearing my typical size 2 and it fits well, though I could have even gone down to a size 0 as this dress does run a bit large.
The Washington Monument at the National Mall
When you go to Washington DC, plan on wearing good shoes as you will do miles and miles of walking. On the third day of our trip we decided to see all the major outdoor monuments, starting with the Washington Monument. Alas we had to see it from afar as it is currently closed in order to modernize the elevator (which has been broken for many years).
The World War II Memorial
I hadn’t been to DC in many years, so this was my first time seeing the World War II memorial. The memorial itself is quite impressive, with many different symbolic structures to pay tribute to various aspects of the war. The most prominent structures are the Atlantic and Pacific Pavilions. During World War II American soldiers were fighting in both the Atlantic ocean (the Germans and Italians) and Pacific ocean (the Japanese). The two victory pavilions honor their heroic service and ultimate success. Listed at their bases are many of the major campaigns and battles from each theater of war.
The Freedom Wall
The Freedom Wall at the World War II memorial pays tribute to the 400,000 American soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and military personnel who lost their lives or remain missing in action in World War II. Of 16 million men and women in military service during the time, that number represents 1 death out of every 40! Each star represents 100 people who paid the ultimate price so we can enjoy the freedom we do today.
Cherry Blossoms at Tidal Basin
Even though we toured the Tidal Basin a couple of days before peak bloom, we were still able to witness them. At the very least, I was able to capture the iconic view of the Jefferson Memorial through the blossoms. This alone makes walking through Tidal Basin worth it! The basin itself is about a half mile away from the World War II memorial, so it is easily walkable.
We finished our monument tour with a stop at the Lincoln memorial. I have to say this is the most impressive memorial on the National Mall. We even came back the next evening to do more fashion photography (in this post) as the memorial is that impressive! And Abraham Lincoln looks god-like in his position sitting at the top of the memorial.
The White House Tour
We had the fortunate opportunity to be able to go on a tour of the White House during our stay. It is tricky to get tickets to do this. You either have to contact your congressman, or know someone who works there. The White House is so full of history, and we decided to go on this tour to experience this history first hand. What was clearly evident from this tour is that the White House doesn’t represent one single person, but rather it is a museum that pays tribute to every President who has graced it with their presence. The United States is not represented by a single leader, but rather we are a nation of laws – and this is what makes our country great (as I’ve always thought it was great to begin with!).
There were so many Presidential portraits to see in the White House! My favorite has to be the pensive portrait of JFK. And the portrait of George Washington has an interesting story behind it. When the White House was burned by the British during the War of 1812, Dolley Madison (wife of James Madison) made it a point to save the portrait (and in turn sacrificed her own personal belongings). With the task complete, Dolley wrote “and now, dear sister, I must leave this house, or the retreating army will make me a prisoner in it by filling up the road I am directed to take.”
After seeing Hamilton the musical, a stroll through Lafayette Square (just in front of the White House) becomes even more relevant. As you see the giant statue of the Marquis de Lafayette asking France for funds to help the Americans, you can’t help hearing the song “Guns and Ships” in your head. History really does come to life after watching that musical!
After touring the White House we grabbed some lunch at the Founding Farmers Restaurant. The food is “farm to table” style and is absolutely delicious! We took the restaurant being packed at lunchtime as a good sign we were in the right place. They offer a wide variety of dishes – from typical American fare, to Italian and seafood. I highly recommend them if you are visiting DC!
Mount Vernon Tour
If you have time in DC, I recommend taking a day to visit Mount Vernon, the historical plantation home of George Washington. We were not permitted to take pictures inside the home, but the outside grounds told just as much of a story. What impressed me is how small the rooms were, compared to what modern homes have. There are no kitchens or bathrooms in the home proper either. I imagine life for George Washington wasn’t exactly easy (and imagine how hard life was for the “common” people). But the rooms were definitely rich with history (oh if walls could talk!). We even got to see the bed where George Washington died.
George and Martha Washington are buried on his property. I didn’t know this, but originally there was a discussion about burying him at the White House. He wanted no part of it (and justly so considering it was burned to the ground by the British just a few years later). So strange to think the the bones of our Founding Father are just a few feet away from where his final resting place is.
What a different time the 1700’s were. George Washington was a slave owner, and his slaves helped to run his busy plantation. He did free his slaves upon his death, but so many gave up their lives so he could be prosperous. I thought this slave memorial at Mount Vernon was a touching way to recognize what our fellow citizens did for our country.
One thing is certain, I will say that George Washington had prime real estate even in the 1700’s. How amazing would it be to wake up to this view every morning!
Southern Charm in Alexandria Virginia
I just love seeing old row homes in cities and towns. And Alexandria, Virginia, which was founded in the mid 1700’s, has some of the oldest homes in the country. The whole city is so charming, and I could literally find a great spot to photograph on every street we walked. We even had a chance to step inside the historic Christ Church – the church where both George Washington and Robert E. Lee attended. And if you really want to experience history for yourself, you can even eat at Gadsby’s Tavern – the original restaurant where George Washington used to dine. We had the chance to eat there and the food is absolutely delicious. They take reservations only, so make sure to book ahead to eat there.
The weather was nice and warm the day we walked through Old Town, Alexandria. So it was the perfect time to wear this Loft Garden tie waist dress. I love the pretty blue floral design, and the tie at the waist adds a really nice touch. This dress is currently 40% off as part of the Loft Friends and Family sale.
Shopping and Dining in Georgetown DC
While in DC, I definitely wanted to make a stop in Georgetown, as the city is just so picturesque. And there are so many great places to eat and to shop! Check out this list for 25 things to do in Georgetown, as they explain all there is to do there far better than I can.
The weather was a bit chillier that day, so I was glad to have my Express trench (currently 40% off!). I love the pretty pastel light grey color for spring. And this Loft sweater (also on sale) was perfect for the day as well. With all the walking we did in Georgetown, I’m glad I had my Everlane Day Heels too!
Where to Eat in Georgetown
I went to Georgetown with my oldest daughter, and we made sure to eat some macarons at Laduree Georgetown. This was after having a wonderful Italian dinner at the Filomena Ristorante just by the old canal downtown. We didn’t get a chance to go here, but I’ve heard so many good things about the 1789 restaurant for classic American cuisine. For traditional European food (and a delicious creme bruleé) I recommend Kafe Leopold. Even though it was just my daughter and I that day, we made sure to stop by Georgetown Cupcake for a treat for the whole family.
I hope you have enjoyed this Washington DC travel guide! This post doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to all the things to see and do in Washington, DC. I think you could visit for a month and still not see everything there is to see. But at the very least, I’m glad we got to experience it at what I think is the best time of the year. And we will definitely be back again!
As always, thanks for stopping by!
xo | April
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