When we moved from New York City to Portland, we decided to do a cross country road trip. No better time than the present, right? Our first stop on the road trip was Washington, D.C., a city I have wanted to visit for years!
The thing is, I only have two modes of travel: everything or nothing. Washington, D.C. was definitely everything. We were there for three days and basically didn’t stop. Our days were full of wonderful museums and so much history! If you’re looking for a breakdown of our itinerary and a few tips, you can skip to the bottom of the post. All locations we visited are linked for you there.
Day 1 - June 16
Our first full day in D.C. started by visiting Kramer’s Books and Afterwords Cafe, where I purchased my souvenir book. I started this tradition three years ago where I buy a book from every place I go. I try to make it relevant to the place - something about the culture or the city, or a book written by a local author, etc. The book I picked up in D.C. is They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hadif Abdurraqib, a book about culture and America through the lens of music.
After having the most delicious biscuits at the cafe (seriously, they were so good), we made our way to the National Archives to view the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence (no photos allowed), and the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum, a contemporary art museum. Barbara Kruger has a permanent installation in the Hirshhorn that is absolutely worth checking out. While we were there they had an installation called Manifesto. It consisted of ten videos featuring Cate Blanchett reading excerpts from manifestos written by artists of each art form represented, architecture, conceptual art, etc. If you’re into contemporary art, it’s a must see!
The National Portrait Gallery was mind blowing. We only got to spend a few hours there, due to losing track of time in all the other museums, but it is absolutely worth checking out even if you only have time to view the president’s portraits. Along with the president’s portraits I got to see Michelle Obama, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway, so I was happy. But you could spend a full day looking at portraits if you wanted.
Around 7p, after the heat had gone and it was bearable to walk outside, we walked the National Mall to see all of the monuments. Something I didn’t realize before we went was how much walking would be required, so be prepared for that when you’re wandering around. With the Capitol building on one end and the Lincoln Memorial on the other, the National Mall is lined with several Smithsonian museums. We saw the Capitol, the White House, the Washington monument, Lincoln memorial, WW2 memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial, the Tidal Basin, and the Thomas Jefferson memorial. We ended up walking 24,000 steps that day. So like I said, it’s a lot of walking. All of the memorials are so grand and worth checking out, but my favorites were probably the Lincoln memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.
One thing I loved and was surprised by with D.C. was the symmetry of the entire city. Pick a street to look down and it’s guaranteed to be a good view. I think it may be my favorite thing about the city.
Day 2 - June 17
We woke up a little early the next day to walk the National Gallery of Art & Sculpture Garden before the sun was too hot. Unfortunately we didn’t beat the sun, but the sculpture garden was still great! There was wonderful symmetry everywhere you turned. To escape the heat though, we visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. It was a great museum, but most natural history museums are all the same to me. If there was one thing I were going to skip next time I visit, it would be the natural history museum.
For lunch we went to Union Station, to see what it was like. Union Station seemed to be Washington D.C.’s version of New York’s Grand Central. It was beautiful to see and a convenient place to grab a quick bit to eat.
We had the incredible privilege of being given a private tour of the Capitol building in the afternoon! One of our internet friends’ mom works at the Senate Hart building and gave us a tour. It was so fun to be shown around. To see behind-the-scenes of inaugurations, the original Supreme Courts, and to learn about the two tiny paw prints that were left by a kitten in the concrete while it was still drying.
From the Capitol building we walked over to see the current Supreme Court, which is an incredible building by the way, and the Library of Congress. Unfortunately the library was closed (they close at 4:30 apparently), but we did get to sit on the front steps of the library while it rained, which somehow made up for it.
Day 3 - June 18
Our final day in D.C. was spent - you guessed it - in museums! I typically have a 2 hour limit on museums, my brain can’t take in much more information than that, but we spent a full 4 hours in the Newseum and I could have stayed a few more hours. The Newseum is one of the very few paid museums in D.C., which is why most people skip it, but I highly recommend not skipping it. That is, if you’re interested in news at all. There were exhibits on the history of news and radio, the Berlin Wall, 9/11, Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, and the FBI, an exhibit on newspaper cartoons, and others. It was truly astonishing and mind blowing.
The Newseum holds the largest section of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany! It was amazing to see the West side of the wall with all of the graffiti, and on the East side, not one mark. And the Pulitzer Prize winning photography exhibit brought me to tears more than once. It should absolutely be on your list!
Having spent the majority of our day at Newseum, we only had time for one more stop before driving out of town. So we chose to go to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Not only is the art inside beautiful, but the building itself is absolutely stunning. Inside there’s a room called Contemplative Court. Contemplative Court is a big open room with a circular waterfall in the middle of the room, with benches surrounding it. On each of the walls they feature a quote from an African American icon. The most notable one being from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We are determined… to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” I recommend sitting there for awhile. Allow the importance of the room sink in.
A few suggestions:
Unfortunately since we spent the majority of our time seeing museums and monuments, we did not get to explore neighborhoods. If you can spend more than a few days in D.C., I would recommend it. Or if you can’t, be picky on which museums you see so that you leave time for the neighborhoods. There are some really cute houses and great places to eat in the city that I wasn’t able to experience. On our way out of D.C. we drove through Georgetown and it made me regret not walking around the neighborhoods more.
There are e-scooters galore in Washington, D.C. right now. So far they haven’t been banned, and if you feel comfortable on one I would suggest using them! You have to do a lot of walking to see the monuments and the scooters are a great way to save time getting from one place to another.
Use the subway! Coming straight from NYC to D.C. was surprisingly refreshing. I hadn’t given the public transportation a thought until we got there. And it is my second favorite public transit I’ve ever used! Second to London’s Underground. It was so easy to navigate without really knowing our surroundings, unlike NYC. Don’t let it scare you away if you aren’t used to public transit.
A breakdown of our itinerary:
The National Mall - walked the mall to see the Capitol building, White House, Washington monument, Lincoln memorial, WW2 memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial, the Tidal Basin, and the Thomas Jefferson memorial
If you’d like to watch our film from D.C., it’s linked below. :)