I remember when I was 16, my grandparents paid for our family to visit Washington D.C. We spent a week visiting the nation’s capital and Williamsburg, Va.
We spent months preparing for the trip. We read books about each of the monuments we would visit and each of us made a list of what we most wanted to see.
We visited the National Archives, the White House and the FBI.
I remember the first night we were in D.C. we visited the National Archives so we could view the original copy of the Declaration of Independence. It took my breath away to be looking through the thick glass at that amazing document.
Our trip to the White House was so memorable that I can still visualize what it was like to walk through the Blue Room and see the portrait of George Washington on the wall and the 1817 ormolu French Empire mantel clock.
I remember that our painstaking research paid off when we were allowed extra time to stay in each room because we knew so much about the décor and furnishings.
Our visit to the Lincoln Memorial was equally enthralling. We visited during dusk and were there as darkness descended on the Capital. My aunt started asking questions of the National Park Service ranger in attendance, before we knew it a crowd gathered around as he launched into an impromptu and informative lecture about the memorial.
It is important to plan carefully for your trip to Washington D.C. and to plan well in advance.
You can request tickets for tours of the White House, U.S. Capitol Building, Supreme Court, Library of Congress and FBI Building.
Chris Jusuf, communications director for Representative Steve Knight, said constituents in the 25th Congressional District can make requests online at Knight.House.Gov.
Click on the “Services” tab and then click on “Tours.” Requests should be made three months in advance. If you make your requests more than three months in advance, the office will keep your requests on file and submit your requests at the proper time.
Because of demand, there is no guarantee that you will receive tickets for all the tours you request.
Summer is extremely busy in Washington D.C., as well as hot and humid.
Jusuf said that fall is a good time to plan your trip.
“Washington does have four seasons,” he said. “I think the best time to visit is in the fall, when it starts to cool down, but it isn’t snowing yet.”
The spring, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, is another good option for visiting the nation’s capital. However, determining exactly when the cherry trees will be in full bloom is more art than science.
There is so much to see and do you’ll never get to everything you might want to see. Carefully prioritize what is important for you and your family to see. Plan your trip with your children’s ages and interests in mind, as well.
Jusuf said constituents are also invited to visit Knight’s office in Washington D.C.
“Our doors are always open and unlocked,” he said. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. when Congress is in session, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. when Congress is out of session.
“Washington is a great town to visit. It’s really good for students who are learning American history to see how our nation was founded and the unique system of government that America has,” Jusuf said. “You can really see all of that up close when you come to Washington D.C.”
As a Washington insider, Jusuf said he recommends visiting the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.
“I’m a big airplane and rocket nerd, so I think those museums are spectacular,” he said.
Some tours (White House, Library of Congress, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and United States Capitol) can also be requested from the offices of California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.
What to see in D.C.
The cornerstone of the White House was laid in 1792. John Adams and his wife moved into the unfinished White House in 1800. He was the first President to live in the White House. The interior of the White House was gutted and rebuilt during the Truman Administration, only the exterior walls were left standing. Truman and his family moved back into the White House in 1952. If you score tickets to a White House tour you must have either a valid government-issued US identification card (such as a driver’s license), or a passport to enter. No other ID is accepted. Make sure the details on your ID matches your submitted details exactly. Also, there is a long list of prohibited items including video recorders, purses, bags and backpacks, strollers and food and beverages.
The United States Capitol Visitor Center opened in 2008. The center provides a single security checkpoint for all visitors and offers visitors a food court, restrooms and educational exhibits, including an 11-foot scale model of the Capitol dome. It also features skylights affording views of the actual dome. George Washington laid the cornerstone for the Capitol in 1793. The building was finished in 1800, however the iconic dome was not added until 1855. The dome took 10 years to build and is made of cast iron, not stone.
The 555-foot obelisk honoring America’s first president towers above the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and was completed in two phases over 36 years. It is built from marble, granite and gneiss from three different quarries. Visitors experience a 360-degree view from the observation area at the top. The interior of the monument contains nearly 200 memorial stones donated by states, cities, civic organizations and other nations in memory of President Washington. Twice a day, the National Park Service gives “walk-down tours,” providing a history of the construction of the monument and stories about individual memorial stones for anyone willing to make the 897-step journey down by foot.
Construction of the Lincoln Memorial began in 1914, and it was ready for visitors in 1922. The memorial was designed in the style of the Greek Parthenon with the idea that a memorial to the man who defended democracy should be modeled after a structure from the birthplace of democracy.
The memorial is 190 feet long, 119 feet wide and almost 100 feet high. It’s constructed of granite, marble, and limestone. To reach the Lincoln statue, guests must climb 98 granite and marble stairs and pass by the 36 Doric columns around the memorial chamber that represent the states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
There are 58,000 names inscribed on the two polished black granite panels of the Vietnam Memorial. These are the names of the U.S. soldiers who died in service during the Vietnam War or who were unaccounted for when the wall was constructed in 1982. The memorial is located on the northwest corner of National Mall and Memorial Parks. A bronze statue, The “Three Soldiers,” representing soldiers of the Vietnam war, was placed nearby in 1984.
Saying “visit the Smithsonian” is very misleading. The Smithsonian is actually a collection of 19 different museums, 11 of which are on the National Mall. You could spend an entire week just visiting Smithsonian museums and never get to any other attraction.
Smithsonian Museums include: National Air and Space Museum (see Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraft piloted by John H. Glenn, Jr. in America’s first orbital flight and the Apollo 11 command module spacecraft from America’s first moon landing), National Museum of American History (see Thomas Jefferson’s portable desk used to draft the Declaration of Independence and Archie Bunker’s chair from “All in the Family”), National Museum of Natural History (see the Hope Diamond and the Hall of Dinosaurs) and National Portrait Gallery (see the Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, 1796 by Gilbert Stuart and Martha Washington, unfinished, 1796 by Gilbert Stuart).
The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, located on the upper level of the National Archives museum, is the permanent home of the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.
The Rotunda was renovated in 2003 to ensure the safekeeping of these records. Visitors will notice the cool temperature and the low lighting, which are designed to reduce the devastating effects of heat and light on the records. The Charters are displayed in specially designed encasements with aluminum and titanium frames, and the documents are surrounded by an inert gas.
Arlington National Cemetery
The first military burial took place for Union soldiers during the Civil War on May 13, 1864. President John F. Kennedy is buried here, along with his brother Robert F. Kennedy. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery stands atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of nearly 400,000 people who have honorably served the United States.
For more information, visit https://washington.org/visitors-guide.