Challenger School

Family Travel: Washington, D.C.


There are a few “must-sees” in family travel, and our nation’s capital is one of them.  I recently visited with wife Carol and our two daughters, ages 10 & 11.  Here are some places we visited which might help you plan a trip.


George Washington’s Mount Vernon was the plantation home of our country’s first president.  It’s located along the banks of the Potomac in Virginia, about 30 minutes outside of Washington.  When you first arrive, get a time to tour the main house and then check out all there is to see on the estate.  You can see the quarters of the servants, the blacksmith shop, the gardens, George & Martha’s tomb and many other historic sites, as well as tour the museum and education center to find out about Washington’s life.  It could easily be an all-day activity, and the surrounding landscape is beautiful.

One of the nicest things about Washington, D.C. attractions is that many are free.  Call ahead to reserve tickets for a White House or Capitol tour, or go anytime to tour one of the many Smithsonian museums.  When we were there we had time to tour three: the Air & Space, Art and History Museums.  Take time to walk the National Mall and surrounding area and see such favorite sites at the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.  We were impressed with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as well.  And, take time to see Arlington National Cemetery.


We enjoyed a club level room at the Ritz Carlton at Pentagon City, an outstanding hotel walking distance from the Pentagon.  It has all the amenities, including an indoor pool, steam room and sauna and fitness center.  The rooms were spacious and had great views of the city.  The Metro train stop is directly in front of the hotel, and it’s a short drive to Reagan National Airport.  If you are on the club level you can enjoy outstanding food and drink throughout the day.  They also offer programming and menus specifically for kids.

A second solid choice in the downtown area just east of the White House is the Courtyard Washington Convention Center.  This large hotel is actually in a converted bank building which backs to the alley that John Wilkes Booth escaped down after shooting President Abraham Lincoln (Ford’s Theater is just around the block).  It is centrally located near many Smithsonian museums and the National Mall, Verizon Center, shopping, restaurants and, of course, the White House and Capitol Building.  Amenities include a fitness room and a small pool.  Our room had two double beds and a nice view.  We had a great breakfast with many terrific choices at the hotel restaurant, The Bistro, which offered egg dishes, sausage and bacon, French toast, cereal, yogurt and many other breakfast standards.

A second dining choice on the property is the hotel’s Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, known for its handcrafted beers (and many fine wine options).  This is the place to go to enjoy pizza, salads, burgers, steaks, tacos and seafood, garlic fries and other specialty entrees.  And, don’t miss dessert; we had the triple chocolate brownie.


A great place to start your visit to Washington, D.C. is at the Skydome Restaurant atop the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Washington D.C.-Crystal City (across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia).  This magnificent restaurant with windows all around is located 15 floors up and slowly rotates around so you have views of D.C. and the surrounding areas.  You’ll get great views of the Washington Monument, Capitol building, Potomac and the airplanes taking off at Reagan National.  They offer a full bar, plus delicious starters, soups and salads, small plates and main dishes.  We had good luck with the fried Brussels sprouts and poke starters, as well as the Kobe burger and New York Steak.  And, although it’s a lounge, it’s very kid-friendly.

Across from the Ritz Carlton at Pentagon City is California Pizza Kitchen.  We came for dinner one evening.  While they have many outstanding pizza choices, they also offer some terrific salads, appetizers and specialty dishes.  Some suggestions: the Tortilla Spring Rolls/Baja Chicken is a good choice, as is the BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad.  We also enjoyed the fish tacos, and the Shrimp Scampi Zucchini.  If you want a pizza, take a look at their Jamaican Jerk.  For dessert, save room for the Key Lime Pie.

Near downtown, we ate at three great restaurants.  Fuddruckers DC Chinatown is the perfect place to stop if you’re looking for a burger, fries or onion rings and a shake.  They prepare your hamburger—or turkey or veggie burger, or chicken—and you put the condiments on yourself the way you like.  All was fresh and delicious, quick and reasonably priced.  Have a cookie for dessert.

Hard Rock Café is another great choice.  Located across the street from the FBI and next door to historic Ford’s Theater, this restaurant is themed with classic rock and roll memorabilia (I recall seeing, for example, a red, white and blue flag-themed costume once worn in a performance by Elton John).  Enjoy wings or nachos for an appetizer, and for a main course enjoy fajitas, steaks, ribs, salmon, sandwiches, burgers and salads.  Have a colorful cocktail with your dinner, or try any one of many beers or wines.  There are also some great desserts.  After dinner, go to their Rock Shop store and buy a t-shirt, collectable pin or glass.

One final restaurant we’d recommend for lunch or dinner is matchbox, also located in Chinatown.  They offer many fine bistro dishes with fresh ingredients, including pizzas baked in brick ovens which use a blend of wood to give the pizza that perfect crunch.  We enjoyed their appetizer trio with scallops, crab cakes and mini burgers.  Salads, sandwiches and a variety of bistro dishes make up the menu; in addition to their Cool Cocktail list they offer premium wines, beer and excellent desserts.  They have a nice touch for kids; they give them pizza dough to shape and then bake it for them.

It was a great trip.  We’ll be back soon.


About author

Jim Graves

Jim Graves

Jim Graves is a family travel writer. He is married to wife Carol, and has two daughters, Shelby & Claire. He specializes in finding family-friendly travel opportunities and sharing them with other parents.

No comments