Washington D.C: 5 Things Somebody Should Have Told Us Before Our 1st Trip

The Washington Memorial in Washington D.C.

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As a military family, we have traveled quite a bit in the U.S. We’ve had a few bad experiences and wasted time on overpriced attractions, but we have never had a bad experience quite like we did in Washington D.C.

A trip to our nation’s capital has been on our Fort Liberty Bucket List since before we moved here. It’s less than 5 hours away from our home in Spring Lake, which is perfect for a weekend getaway.

However, our getaway was FAR from perfect. Much of our misery on this trip can be blamed on my lack of planning.

We would have had a MUCH better experience if someone had told me these 5 things before we went.

iPhone’s Walking GPS is USELESS in Washington D.C

On our first day in D.C., the plan was to take the Metro to the Smithsonian Zoo.

Everyone suggested getting off at the Cleveland Station since the zoo is a “quick and easy downhill walk” from there.

We exited the station via the longest escalators I’ve ever seen and started walking. Things didn’t look right to me, since we were walking into a residential area. So, I turned on my iPhone’s GPS (with the walking feature) and saw that we had gone the wrong way.

No problem, we turned around, took a left, and started walking downhill.

We walked and we walked and we walked, never straying from the blue path outlined on my phone. We could even see the zoo to our right, but we were outside the fence.

We walked around the perimeter of the zoo until we finally came to an entrance, but it was a long and confusing walk. What could have been a 0.5-mile walk turned into almost a 1.5-mile trek.

The kids were tired, sweaty, and cranky and our day had hardly begun.

My husband’s phone did pretty much the same thing the next day when we tried to visit the White House. Do yourself a favor and get directions before you go or stop and ask someone.

DON’T rely on your iPhone’s GPS if you are on foot.

How I should have walked to the zoo.
(This is the route we should have taken.)
How my stupid iphone took me to the zoo in Washington D.C.
(This is the route we took.)

The Zoo is Built on a Hill…a Long Freaking Hill!

I think it’s worth mentioning that the Smithsonian National Zoo is located on a hill. A hill that is almost a mile long!

The main path through the zoo, Olmstead Walk, is 0.8 miles long. This main pathway branches off into smaller paths that take you through different habitats to see the animals.

We already walked almost 2 miles BEFORE even entering the zoo. And now, we had to walk almost a mile UPHILL and then turn around a walk back down. (Not to mention the smaller pathways to see the animals.)

Despite the miserable walk, we still had a good time at the zoo. Plus, my girls got to see the panda bears that they were so excited about!

My kids were too excited to see the panda bears at the National Zoo.
Panda bear at the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington D.C
(The Smithsonian Zoo is 1 of only 4 zoos in the U.S that has panda bears.)

You Will Walk Until Your Feet Fall Off!

Getting lost and going to the zoo aren’t the only reasons that your feet will hate you.

Walking the National Mall is a FULL DAY of cardio.

Since it was the kids’ first trip to D.C., we wanted to see all of the major monuments at the National Mall. But I didn’t realize just how big this place is.

The National Mall is TWO MILES long!

It contains or borders dozens of monuments, memorials, statues, gardens, museums, and government buildings. To see all of the major monuments and memorials, you would need to walk up one side and down the other. This means that you would walk more than 4 miles. (And that doesn’t include going to see the White House or your walk to and from the nearest Metro station.)

Even though we wore comfortable shoes and took breaks, our feet were killing us at the end of the day.

The silver-lining was that we were able to see the monuments at different times of the day/night.

The Washington Memorial in Washington D.C.
(The Washington Monument at dusk.)
The Lincoln Memorial at night.
(Forgive the blurry cell phone picture, but the Lincoln Memorial was pretty after dark.)
The Lincoln Memorial is beautiful at night.
(The Lincoln Memorial was magnificent after dark!)
The WWII Memorial in Washington D.C at dusk.
(We loved seeing the monuments in the evening and at night!)

The Scooters are Worth It

Washington D.C. is joining the cities of the West Coast by offering dockless scooters on its streets.

After the first miserable day of endless walking, it didn’t take us long to decide to download some of the apps and rent scooters to get us around the National Mall and to the White House.

WHY didn’t we do this on the first day? WHY did we wait?

We could not have made it through the second day without the scooters. Plus, they were tons of fun!

The kids weren’t big enough to ride on their own, so we had to double up (which is probably against the rules). But even riding with mom and dad, they still loved it!

The scooters were 100% worth the hassle of downloading the apps and learning how to pay for them. They were also worth every freaking penny that we paid.

Save your feet some agony and use the dockless scooters while in D.C.
The scooters in Washington D.C are completely worth the hassle - make sure you use them!
(The girls LOVED riding on the scooters!)

The Crowds are INSANE

Again, due to my complete lack of planning for this trip, we didn’t realize that we were in D.C. during the week of the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Blossom Kite Festival. Needless to say, the crowds were insane!

I knew that the cherry trees were in bloom and that there would be larger-than-average crowds. However, I was NOT prepared for how many people would crowd into the city for this.

It’s a really big deal. People travel from all over the world to attend the competitions and workshops that take place during the festival.

The insane number of people in Washington D.C. that weekend made it impossible to do everything that we wanted to. The Metro stayed packed, restaurants had lines out the door, the sidewalks were jammed (you can ride scooters in the bike lane!), and the museums were impossible to get into.

Countless events, marches, protests, and rallies take place in our nation’s capital. A quick Google search will tell you what kinds of crowds to expect during your trip to Washington D.C.

Food Will Cost You an Arm, a Leg, and Your Firstborn

According to Smart Asset, the cost of visiting a restaurant in Washington D.C. is 45% higher than the national average. However, going from Fayetteville, NC where the cost of living is below the national average, the cost of food in Washington D.C. seemed outrageous to us!

Thankfully, I took some snacks with us, but we still had to buy lunch and dinner.

To give you an idea of how expensive the food is, I am ashamed to say that I paid $18 for 2 ice cream cones! Not extravagant, fancy ice cream either – just regular old vanilla ice cream with sprinkles.

The food is so expensive. This ice cream cone was almost $10!
(Enjoying her $9 ice cream cone!)

Between the aching feet, sore legs from the uphill trek at the zoo, the insane Cherry Blossom crowds, and spending wayyy too much money on food. Our first family trip to Washington D.C was kind of a flop.

Our nation’s capital is truly an awesome city. With MORE than 160 monuments and memorials, you will never run out of things to do or see. And even though we had a bad trip (this time!), it doesn’t mean that I regret it.

This trip was a learning experience. My husband will do another rotation there during the summer. And I am determined to make our return trip a success!

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