A Family Trip to Washington, D.C., Part 15: Day 2 in the City

In case you missed the first few posts in this series, we are chronicling our family trip to Washington D.C.  The first post in the series is here.  You can find the rest under the travel menu on our main page.   Last week I reviewed what we saw and did on our first day in D.C..  This week I will continue on with the events of our second day in the city.

We found many useful smartphone apps that enhanced our Washington D.C. sight-seeing tour. The bulk of this post will be about the events of the day. First, I want to take some time and cover two of the apps we used to enrich our experiences. These two apps were not only used on this day of the trip, but nearly every day after that as well.

The first app is the NPS National Mall app created by the National Parks service. This app includes several great features. It not only lists the hours of all the sites on the National Mall, and many others around the city, it provides some other fun features. There is a daily list of special events taking place at the locations. It also features a walking map, with directions, of the mall area. The “park lens” feature was great for identifying monuments from a distance on the occasions we were not sure which was which. There were may other features, but these are the ones we used the most.

The other app we used on day 2 was the Smithsonian Mobile app. It provides extra information for many of the exhibits contained in the various Smithsonian Museums around D.C.. There are maps and tours available on the app. These include turn-by-turn directions to navigate through the massive buildings. A search feature is included so you can try to find specific items easier than the old fashioned method of wandering aimlessly.

So now you know what aps we used. But what did we use the apps to see? We went to four attractions. The bulk of our time was spent at the National Museum of Natural History, but we also spent time at the National Archives and the White House. While on one of train rides, we stopped at Union Station for a quick lunch and look around. Since it is such a large and well known station, we thought it would be fun for the kids to see it. Then when they see it in movies they can claim to have “been there, done that.”

dc 2nd day

The White House

The White House was a must see on our list of things to do in Washington D.C.. With the current state of events, we were not sure our kids would be able get into the building once they were grown. Besides, we all see the White House in the media hundreds of times a year. Who wouldn’t want to take a walk through it?

One thing to note: getting a White House tour time is not a last minute endeavor. It is a process that takes several months to complete. You need to contact a Senator from your home state and submit a background check form through their office. This isn’t difficult, but it takes time. In fact, you can complete and submit it up to six-months in advance of your visit. In fact, it is recommended that you aim for that six month advance request time, especially during busy tourist times.  Part of the form requires you to state your arrival and departure dates as well as your preferred tour dates. While you can request dates, there is no guarantee you will get them. All you know is that, if you pass the background check, your tour will be sometime during the travels dates you declared.

We found out we were approved for a tour about two weeks before the tour date. That was barely over one-week before we started our road trip. For a pair of planners like Melissa and I, this was not the easiest thing to work with. We needed to keep our schedule flexible enough to accommodate a last minute White House tour, but wanted it finalized enough to make us feel comfortable.

Overall, the tour was fun. The White House is much smaller than it appears during the Presidential speeches. It was very neat to walk through and see all the historical artifacts and pictures adorning the various rooms. The grounds were beautiful, but not as big as I expected. We made the mistake of jokingly telling our kids that they would get arrested if they touched the curtains during the tour. Rather than being a word of warning, they responded to the news as if it were an invitation. Needless to say, Melissa and I kept a close watch on them throughout the tour.

White House

The National Archives

The most anticipated part of this tour was the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. Being able to look at the Constitution of the United States, Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights was amazing. Even if we had to navigate through the crowds to see them. The staff was well organized and was able to control the chaos pretty successfully. Trying to give people enough time to look at the documents while moving them through so the next wave of people could come in can’t be an easy job.

The documents were surprisingly easy to read, and seeing hand and fingerprints from centuries ago only helped to transport me back to the time they were written. After we spent our time looking at the prized jewels of the Archives, we continued on through the rest of the building. There are a few fun and interactive displays, like the one about D-Day, that brought parts of history to life. There were also several other great historic displays in the building, many of which shaped the direction of our founding fathers.

National Archives
Click on the image to see a visitor’s guide to the Archives.

The National Museum of Natural History

We have been to a few natural history museums in the past, so we had an idea what to expect with this one. Still, we were surprised by the volume of artifacts in the museum. Several years ago we went to the Field Museum in Chicago, IL and thought it was amazing. But there was no comparing the size of the collection on display between the two. There were rooms and rooms filled with skeletons in the D.C. museum. There was one whole room devoted to the skeletons of various fish.

There were also incredible numbers of animals on display. I cannot even fathom a guess as to how many varieties of mammals, oceanic life, and dinosaurs were available to stare and marvel at. There was also an amazing amount of space devoted to the evolutionary timeline of the earth and human life. The displays, while well laid out, held little interest to us. Our creation based ways of thinking were much more fulfilled at the Creation Museum on our trip to Washington D.C..

The highlight of the museum for our family was probably the hall of minerals and jewels. The Hope diamond was the centerpiece, but there were many other beautiful items on display. I can already tell that my kids have expensive taste when it comes to jewelry. Some of the natural mineral formations on exhibit were also fascinating to look at. Pyrite and it’s natural cubic shape makes for lots of questions from the kids.

natural history museum

After a wonderful day of seeing the sights in the city, it was time to take the train home and relax. And plan for the following day packed with more adventures and entertainment.

What is your favorite way to explore history? Hand on? Through books? Pictures? Share it with us.