Mr. Bill Goes to Washington : Family-Friendly Washington, D.C. Vacation

Action Shot!

I began planning our Washington, D.C. vacation primarily for my dad.  We typically took beach vacations but decided as a family that we wanted to do something different that year.  My dad had always wanted to visit the art museums at the Smithsonian, and this was a great opportunity to do something special for him since he always went along with what the rest of us wanted to do.  Although I had big expectations for our trip, this one exceeded them all and took the title of favorite family vacation to-date.

Location :

With eight of us, including 2 children, on the trip, I started my planning with finding a place for us all to stay together.  I scoured AirBNB and extended stay hotels with the ultimate goal of being within walking distance of the National Mall and the ability to cook our own food. We couldn’t fit together in a single vehicle, so I wanted to be as close to the museums as possible to make travel a little easier.

I hit the jackpot with the Residence Inn Washington, DC/Capitol:

  • 0.5 miles from the National Mall – It was a little bit of a walk but was well worth not having to drive and park each day.
  • We were able to get two one-bedroom suites next to each other, making it so easy to visit Mamaw and Papaw next door.
  • Each suite had two separate rooms with:
    • Full kitchen with dining table (seats 4)
      • Full-size refrigerator
      • Two burner stove
      • Microwave
      • Full set of dishes, glasses, silverware
    • Living area with tv, sleeper sofa, arm chair
    • Separate bedroom and bathroom
      • Two Queen Beds
  • Free, complimentary meals including:
    • Breakfast every day with:
      • Hot bar (eggs, bacon, oatmeal, etc), waffles, pastries, fruit, and several cereals.
    • Mixers with appetizers and drinks on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
    • One night with complimentary dinner of grilled chicken sandwiches and hamburgers
  • Very attentive front desk.  My dad actually forgot his camera when we left the hotel, and the front desk recognized our pictures and kept the camera for us for 2 months before we realized where he had forgotten the camera. They shipped it back to us for free!


After determining where we would stay, I wanted to map out the basic route for our trip each day.  I started with talking to my family about what each one wanted to see the most.  With 19 museums, there was no way we could visit them all, and I wanted to ensure everyone was able to visit a few of their favorites.  I also had to take into account 2 small children ( 2 and 4 at the time) and their attention spans.  We settled on the following schedule / itinerary:

DC Trip Map

  • Day 1:

    • National Gallery of Art Sculptures Garden
      • An outdoor extension of the National Gallery of Art, the sculpture garden was a great way to introduce the kids to some of the works of art in the museums in a more active way.  The kids particularly loved House I and how your perspective changed as you walked by. My son loved Spider as well since he’s a fan of all creepy-crawlies.
    • Natural History Museum
      • This was one of the children’s favorites. My son was enamored with the ocean exhibits and dinosaurs.  My daughter loved the mammal exhibits.  We actually visited twice to try to see all of the exhibits and still missed some!
  • Nationals Baseball Game
    • My parents are huge baseball fans and found a great deal for a game and dinner (hot dog, chips, and a drink) for only $15 each.  They have several other ticket specials you can find here.  Getting there was very convenient as well. You take the Metro to the Navy Shipyard stop and it lets you out directly in front of the stadium.  They also have a great playground inside the stadium that our kids were able to play on when they got a little restless at the game.
  • Day 2

    • National Museum of the American Indian
      • We walked by this museum each day on our way to the National Mall and decided to visit purely by proximity.  It actually became my favorite museum, and was surprisingly child-friendly. The Our Universes: Traditional Knowledge Shapes Our World exhibit has a wonderful section showing animated stories of the creation and order of the universe as seen by eight different communities.  I would highly recommend adding this to any trip.
  • Air and Space Museum
    • We expected to send more time in this museum that we actually did.  The exhibits were interesting, but our group gravitated more towards the American History and Natural History Museums. They were not quite as busy and had more kid-friendly exhibits. This museum was probably the busiest of all those we visited.
    • One nice feature was the food court.  We ate lunch there and had choices of both McDonalds and Boston Market.

IMG_0440_Air and Space

  • Day 3

    • We actually took an Uber to the end of the mall to the Lincoln Memorial and walked our way back to our hotel.  Starting at the Lincoln Memorial, we visited each of the War Memorials, Washington Monument and the American History Museum before calling it a day.  Mr. Bill was a huge hit at the Washington Monument and several people actually asked to borrow him for their pictures too!
    • Lincoln Memorial

Action Shot!

  • War Memorials
    • For us the WWII Memorial meant a lot to my mom as her father and uncles served, some giving the ultimate sacrifice.  My husband’s grandfather also served during WWII, and his father during Vietnam.  Each memorial was so special in its own way, and we were taken aback at the beauty of each.
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial : Freedom is not Free

“Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”

  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial : The Wall That Heals

“Honoring the men and women who served in the controversial Vietnam War, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial chronologically lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives in service to their country.”

  • WWIII Memorial : Service, Sacrifice, Unity, and Victory

“Through stone architecture and bronze sculptures, the World War II Memorial recognizes the ways Americans served, honors those who fell, and recognizes the victory they achieved to restore freedom and end tyranny around the globe.”

  • Washington Monument
    • It is impossible to truly appreciate the scale and size of the Washington Monument before visiting. It is so tall that I got dizzy staring up at the top.  We had several great photos with it in the background, but it was almost hard to get a good picture up close due because it was truly so big.
  • American History Museum
    • This was one of my top two museums of the whole trip.  I knew I would enjoy the American Presidency exhibit, but a surprising favorite for me was The First Ladies.  I loved getting to see the inauguration dresses, and the china pattern changes over time.  Each First Lady doesn’t get their own china. They are only allowed to order a new set if there are not enough of the previous set in good condition to carry out necessary dinners.
  • Day 4

    • Capitol Hill
      • Mr. Bill finally had his day!  We were determined to get pictures with Mr. Bill on Capitol Hill but found out we actually couldn’t take pictures on the stairs anymore.  My husband had downloaded all of the School House Rock videos to our children’s iPads a long time ago so they were fully aware of Mr. Bill and excited to re-create the cartoon.
  • National Archives
    • Both my husband and I wanted to see THE Declaration of Independence and THE Constitution.  I found both were at the National Archives, along with the original Magna Carta.  I was also amazed to see an original draft of the Declaration of Independence with George Washington’s own notes and recommendations.  For any patriot, this is a must-do.  It’s hard to describe what it means to see actual HISTORY, something that was touched and signed by our founders.
  • Second Trip the Museum of Natural History
    • Our second trip let us visit the Gem exhibits and see the Hope Diamond.


  • Holocaust Museum
    • While there is a children’s exhibit, we left the children at home and were glad we had done so. It was a fairly far walk from our hotel, but an amazing experience.  There is a fee as it is not part of the Smithsonian museums.
    • I was, along with the rest of my family, very moved and affected by the museum’s exhibits.  As difficult as it is to confront the things that humanity is capable of, it serves as a necessary reminder and we should be forever vigilant.


  • Day 5
    • My husband and sister took a quick trip to the White House just to get a picture with Mr. Bill.

IMG_1245_MR Bill White House


  1. We ate a great breakfast every morning at our hotel. It served a hot bar with eggs, sausage, bacon, etc. along with cereals and fruits.  For lunch, we ate in the food courts at the Air and Space Museum and the American History Museum.  We also ate at the Pavilion Cafe in the National Gallery of Art Sculptures Garden.  None of the food courts or the Pavilion Cafe would customize or change any of the menu items. My sister couldn’t even get a turkey sandwich without mayonnaise on it, so if you have dietary restrictions or are a picky eater, be prepared to either pack your own or compromise.
  2. There are not a lot of restaurants within walking distance of the National Mall that stay open past 5 or 6 pm since they cater to the employees of the government offices and most commute out of the city at the end of the day.  There were several within a short drive of the hotel, but few that we could walk to.  Try to plan out your meals in advance, because we showed up to a few places only to find they were closed already.
  3. Invest in good walking shoes : Even though we were only 0.5 mile from the National Mall, we still ended up with 5-10 miles every day in walking.  We weren’t quite prepared for the amount of walking but did enjoy having a more active vacation.
  4. For each museum, you will have to go through metal detectors and open all bags.  Pack as light as possible to make it easy and be mindful of metal objects that will set off the detector.  We packed the stroller a little too heavily the first day and spent a lot of time trying to make it into the museums.  If you are traveling in a group, each take a bag instead of leaving one person with all of the bags to keep the line moving.
  5. Make a list of your “must-dos”.  The Smithsonian is really 19 different museums and prioritizing the ones you want to see will help you make the most out of your trip. You will never be able to do it all.

Overall, this trip was one of my favorites, and we hope to make another to visit more of the areas we were unable to before.

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