How to make the most of 36 hrs in Washington D.C.

Photo by Olivia Bias

For my daughter’s 18th birthday she requested a trip to Washington D.C. This is a very do-able request for us. We always encourage memories over merchandise. The hitch here is that this request came about one month before her birthday. To make planning a bit more interesting there are some relatives up north that we are overdue to visit so the four day trip just lost two days.

We only have 36 hrs in D.C.!

Being realistic sounds trite but you very much have to accept that you will not see everything you want to see. I really had to restrain my self from turning this into my trip to Washington D.C. instead of letting it be my daughters trip. There is just so much to see!

I worked with her to narrow, narrow, narrow, down what she wanted most to see. Her final list included:

This was good because all of these Smithsonian Museums were close together and in D.C. you have to consider traffic. Everyone I talked to and all my research told me this fact over and over again. There are a couple of ways to avoid having all your sight seeing time sucked away by slow moving traffic and circling around looking for a parking spot. I hate this by the way. I have absolutely no patience for driving around looking for a “prime” parking spot, or any parking spot. My legs work fine, just park the car and let’s go!

36 Hours Total

D.C. cures for torpid traffic

  • Hotel Shuttle Service
  • Metro Card
  • Scooter / Bike Rental
  • Bring your own bike

“Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.”

We went to see the Lincoln Memorial after checking in at Wainwright Hall on Ft. Myer. By then it was 6:30 PM on a Monday. Traffic was still slow but it didn’t take long to find a parking spot about block from the memorial. I was surprised at how much activity was still going on. Truly I’d imagined it being almost abandoned for the evening. I wanted it quiet so I could have a moment to let it sink in and admire the huge presence of the memorial. Not so. It was still bustling with visitors. We had to struggle to get the photos we did and my desire for a pensive moment was smashed by echoing cries in many languages. Looking back I am happy that we were all there together for the purpose of admiring a remarkable leader human being.

Our Hotel offered a free shuttle service to the metro station. It is definitely worth looking in to which hotels offer free shuttle services and where they go. We purchased an all day pass because after calculating up the difference between paying per stop at peak times there just wasn’t enough of a difference to warrant stressing over the value of one possible unused stop. The Metrorail website has all the info you will need to figure out what is best for your group. Simply Googling “what is the metro stop near (enter your destination)” is also an easy way to figure out which line to use. I used Google Maps to look at all the places we were visiting and lined them up to reduce backtracking.

Once we exited the metro it was a lot of walking. According to my Garmin we walked 6.72 miles! That is in and out of every museum. If your day, like ours, includes several places that are all close enough together, you could bring a car with a bike rack and pay for an all day parking spot. This would save you a good bit of money and you would have a bike to make the journey between locations easier. You can find links to all day spots and reserve on this site:

Bringing your own bicycles is also helpful because not everyone in your group, as in ours, may be 18 or older. The electric scooters we noticed many people cruising by on can be rented via a phone app but all riders must be at least 18. There are several companies offering rental scooters but the most common are Uber-Jump Scooters, Lift, and Byrd. They each are different colors. With some you can even reserve a scooter ahead of time and have it placed where you will need it! I suggest looking into a couple companies, then creating an account and downloading the app before heading out on your trip.

We were lucky that admission to the butterfly garden in the Natural History Museum was free on Tuesdays. I love butterflies and could have stayed half a day in there. Visits are limited to 1 hour though. Still it was wonderful.

The museums and many other sites in Washington D.C. are free. Parking and eating however are very expensive. One friend advised me to eat a good breakfast but for lunch just pack snacks and keep site seeing because the detour of finding a restaurant and returning would suck up way too much usable time. With only 36 hours I intended to do this and my crew was on board with the plan. The unexpected cold weather and scattered rain made everyone’s attitude change though. Some museums do not allow guests to bring snacks inside and eating granola bars on a bench did not seem so minor a discomfort now. So we ended up eating lunch in the American History Museum cafeteria, which is good but expensive($$$). The vegans had a pinto bean succotash and the omnivores had baked macaroni and cheese and a BBQ sandwich.

We did get to eat at the Cheese Cake Factory for the first time ever that evening. It was wonderful. Michael and I(vegans) had the Impossible Burger. Complete with vegan cheese and a vegan sandwich sauce on a toasty bun. So very yummy! The omnivores had salmon with dill sauce and pineapple grilled shrimp with brown rice. Everyone was full and happy but you must get cheese cake when at the cheese cake factory, right? A slice each of Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple and Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch was ordered to go. The Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple did not make it out of the restaurant. “It looks so good, I just want to take a bite” was the augur statement whispered as the clam shell box cracked open.

On our last evening we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe. It was fun to look around at the rock memorabilia and discuss what our own music videos would be like. Of course Michael and I had a Hurricane and took home our souvenir glasses as we began doing in 1996 and have continued doing all over the world.

I look forward to going back to Washington D.C. and seeing more of our great capital and our nation’s history. Let me know what you think is the best place to visit or eat along with any tips or tricks to make visiting easier!

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