By Brian Hoyt
I've gotten to know Washington D.C. as a tourist, as a political junkie and wannabe journalist during college, and as a resident, and one truth has become clear to me: Washington, D.C., is “the” place for recession-proof family vacations. If you have a family and want to travel during these tough economic times, there is no better place to visit for the day or for the week. Sure, getting here will cost you, and if you don’t have family nearby, there might be a hotel bill too, but once here, there are plenty of free things to do.
There are plenty of reasons to love D.C. and its surrounding communities. Let me give you a few of my favorites while considering a trip here.
I didn’t realize growing up that most museums outside of Washington and around the country actually charge you money to visit their collections. Culture in other cities can come at a steep price, but in Washington, your federal taxes take care of the entry fees and the privilege of seeing some of the greatest artifacts and artistic collections ever assembled under one roof. The best known Washington museum, The Smithsonian Institution, is more than just “a” singular museum — it's actually the world's largest museum complex and research organization, composed of 19 museums, 9 research centers, and the National Zoo — and it's all free. Take a look at some of my favorite Smithsonian offerings:
- National Museum of American History: With more exhibits than Abraham Lincoln could shake his top hat at, the American History museum is a fun way to learn about the history of the United States without opening a text book.
- National Museum of Natural History: Check out the famous Hope Diamond, explore the hidden life of ants, and of course, check out the dinosaurs at one of Washington D.C.’s most popular museums.
- Hirshhorn Museum: Probably one of the only museums where you will find an exhibit dedicated to strange human bodies, the Hirshhorn Museum is home to a wealth of art and sculpture collections. A perfect place for families with older kids.
Times are tough, but if shopping is on your family vacation agenda, check out these great spots that are only steps off the Metro (even if it is only window shopping):
- Georgetown: A short walk from the Foggy Bottom Metro Station and a few blocks west down Pennsylvania and M Streets is Georgetown. Its streets are lined with designer brand name stores and trendy eateries, some of which are more family friendly than others.
- Mazza Gallerie: Off the Red Line’s Friendship Heights Metro Station is the trendy Mazza Gallerie, which includes a number of high-end shops.
- Fashion Centre at Pentagon City: Also known as the Pentagon City Mall (and located off the Blue and Yellow lines) the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City is an indoor shopping mall in Arlington, Virginia. On rainy days, this mall is the perfect place to take the family.
- Pentagon Row: This chic outdoor shopping center located on South Joyce Street features an ice skating rink in the winter and plenty of window shopping in the summer.
- Eastern Market: If you are looking for a less “corporate” scene, check out the Eastern Market, an indoor marketplace housed in a 19th century brick building. Famous for weekend farmers and flea markets, Eastern Market is a fun family adventure.
Visits to your Congressmen and the President
Tip O’Neil, the Speaker of House of Representatives in the 1980s, is famous for the saying, “All politics are local.” Here are some tips for arranging a meet and greet with your elected officials:
- Before you come to Washington, go to www.house.gov and www.senate.gov
- Find out who represents you in Washington in both legislative houses and try to schedule a visit with your elected representatives or their staffs on Capitol Hill. (Keep in mind most representatives and senators are only in D.C. from Tuesday to Thursday).
- Check out the new Visitor’s Center in the U.S. Capitol for more guided tour information. Nearly all congressional offices are Metro accessible off the Capitol South and Union Station Metro stops.
- White House tours are still available by request via your member of Congress up to six months prior to your visit to D.C.
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Brian Hoyt is Orbitz's head of corporate communications and government affairs. He and his wife are parents to an energetic 3-year-old daughter and a newborn son. Their favorite places to visit are Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Florida, New Orleans, Charleston, and Yankee Stadium.