I saved up my photos and information about Washington, D.C.’s presidential sites for this week, right before Presidents’ Day, so I could honor our country’s presidents, past and present. As you would expect, there are lots of sites in and around Washington, D.C. that honor the chief executive of our country.
Monuments and Memorials
You don’t exactly need to put the Washington Monument on your itinerary. It’s impossible to miss this monument to our first president, George Washington. Here’s a view of it from Arlington National Cemetery.
Here’s how it looks when I zoomed in:
Inside the monument is an elevator that takes visitors to the observation level. Unfortunately, it is currently closed because of earthquake damage from the August 2011 earthquake. You can still walk relatively close to the base of the monument though.
My kids wanted to see each and every monument and memorial around the Tidal Basin, so we decided to take a walking tour around the basin. Make sure you read my planning tips in my article on War Memorials. The memorials are located so close to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing that they are ideal to combine in a single day. Here’s what our day looked like:
Picked up tickets for Bureau of Engraving and Printing (Money Factory)
Walked to the Washington Monument
Climbed a few trees (The kids did. I didn’t.)
Bureau of Engraving and Printing Tour
Saw Daniel’s Story exhibit at the Holocaust Museum (no passes required for this exhibit)
Ate lunch at the Holocaust Museum Cafe
Clockwise walking tour around the Tidal Basin
Climbed a few more trees
Went back to hotel and collapsed
Here’s a map so you can picture our route.
In addition to the Washington Monument, there were three other presidential memorials on our route. Starting at the Holocaust Museum and walking clockwise, the first memorial we encountered was the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It honors the Founding Father who was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President.
Before I forget to mention it, the National Park Service has a handy app you can install on your phone. You can easily look up information about each of the memorials, get a daily schedule of ranger-led programs, and get directions for several different walking tours, including a Presidential History Tour.
Inside the neoclassical style memorial you’ll find a 19-foot-tall statue of Thomas Jefferson along with inscriptions of his writings on the walls.
I should also mention that the National Park Service offers a Junior Ranger program. We have done about a dozen or so Junior Ranger programs in the National Parks, and have found them to be very worthwhile, but this time we really wanted to do our own thing. If you’ve done this particular Junior Ranger program, please leave a comment and tell us how it was.
The next major memorial you’ll come to is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This one doesn’t have a single grand structure, but consists of five outdoor rooms with elements of stone and water along with a few statues. This was probably my kids’ favorite memorial.
The memorial covers the challenges FDR faced during his presidency, including the Great Depression. These statues depict men waiting in line for free bread.
I love that there is another statue that depicts First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. This memorial also has beautiful water features.
This is a good time to pull a penny out of your wallet and have your kids compare the image of the Greek-Temple-inspired structure on the back of the penny to the real thing. My son said you can’t appreciate just how big those columns are until you see them up close. While you are walking up the stairs to the memorial, go up the middle, so that you can see the exact spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Inside you can see the 19-foot-statue of Abraham Lincoln. If he were standing, he’d be 28 feet tall.
In the lower level there are exhibits on how the memorial was built along with a bookstore and souvenir shop.
Heading back toward the Washington Monument, you’ll pass more War Memorials and the Constitution Gardens. My kids couldn’t resist the urge to climb a few trees. If this was illegal, please don’t report us!
I do not recommend trying to combine a visit to the above memorials with Arlington National Cemetery on the same day. Both require a lot of walking. Visit the cemetery on another day. While you are there, you can see the burial sites of two American presidents: William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy.
Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
You might also be interested in visiting Ford’s Theatre which is where President Abraham Lincoln was shot. The site also includes the Petersen House across the street, where Lincoln was taken afterward, where he died. In addition to Lincoln’s death, this site also has many exhibits about his life and his presidency.
George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, makes a nice day trip from Washington, D.C. It is about a half-hour drive from Washington, D.C.
The White House
Yes, you can go to Barack and Michelle’s house, but you have to plan far in advance. Contact your senator or congressman’s office to request tickets as soon as you know your travel dates. You won’t find out until the week before your trip whether or not you will receive tickets. Photography is not permitted inside the White House, but you can bet we took pictures as soon as we got past the line. If you want to get this close to the White House, you have to take a tour.
If you are unsuccessful in getting White House Tour Tickets, you can still see the outside of the White House from the street.
Visiting Presidential sites is a fun way to learn about Presidential history. Have I missed any other presidential sites in D.C.? Which one is your favorite?
This attraction appears in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips.
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