Washington, DC: Monuments, National Archives, and Spy Museum

Another installment of our summer roadtrip re-cap! It won’t be summer anymore by the time I finish these! But that’s okay. I’m pretty sure all the stuff I’m talking about will still be around whenever you’re reading this.

So when we left off, we had just finished our visit to Colonial Williamsburg. We left Williamsburg in the evening and made the drive to our hotel, a Homewood Suites in Silver Spring, MD. We stayed in Silver Spring mostly because that’s where Dave’s aunt and uncle, Debbie and Paul live. It was also far enough out to be relatively affordable but still on the Metro. Our hotel was right in downtown Silver Spring, which is a nice little town–lots of restaurants and always something going on in the downtown area. It was walking distance to the Metro stop and to Debbie and Paul’s house. It took us a good half hour or so to get into the city, either driving or on the subway (we mostly drove on weekend days, and took the Metro on weekdays).

I won’t do a blow by blow trip report, but instead just give you a bunch of pictures and a few thoughts about the different places we went and how well suited they were to our giant party of up to nine adults and six kids ranging from one and a half to thirteen.

Lincoln Memorial and FDR Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

We got in very late Friday night, so Saturday morning was our first day of touring. We drove into the city with Dave’s aunt and uncle (his parents were flying in and wouldn’t arrive until late that afternoon) and met up with his sister, Amy, her husband, Craig, and their kids, Benjamin and Louis at the Lincoln Memorial.

For reference, I’ve been to DC a few other times (once in high school with my grandparents, once in college with my roommate, and a couple of times with the kids)…but all of those were short stays of just a night or two. This was a nearly week long trip, so we had plenty of time to explore, even with a crazy toddler slowing us down. So I’d seen the Lincoln Memorial before, but not for many years.

My first impression of the Lincoln Memorial was that there were an awful lot of people there. I kind of expected it to look more like it does on the penny, all empty and imposing. “There were an awful lot of people there” was a recurring discovery on this trip, in fact. I’d love to make the same trip in, say, October, when the weather’s cooler (but not freezing) and all the kids are back in school. Sadly, my husband and my nephews are back in school in October, too, so I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

But even with swarms of people, the Lincoln Memorial is an impressive site. And I’d been waiting to get this picture ever since Abe was born:


Little Abe and Big Abe! We’ll have to bring him back sometime when he’s old enough to know what’s going on.

The kids were quite content to hang out here for awhile, owing to the joyous reunion with the cousins that was taking place.

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washington monument

It was a beautifully overcast and relatively cool day, so we decided to make the walk over to the FDR Memorial, which no one in our group had ever seen before.

Everyone really enjoyed this….it’s a giant space, with four separate areas each representing one term from FDR’s presidency (I almost typed pregnancy. So far as I know, he didn’t have any of those). It also wasn’t crowded! So the kids had plenty of room to stretch out and explore. There were lovely water features in each section, which was sort of scary with Abe, but we managed to keep him from drowning, so all was well.

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I’ll be perfectly honest here: I think Roosevelt was a swell guy and all, but the thing I was most interested in seeing was his Scottie, Fala.

I’ve been fixated on seeing Fala ever since This Sarah Loves posted a picture with him over a year ago.

By the time we got to Fala, I was afraid I’d already worn the kids out on posed pictures and that I’d have to content myself with random photos of whatever kid happened to be in the shot, like this one:


…which would have been okay, because I think this is my favorite shot of the day.

But then all the other kids came rushing over without being asked, so I got this one with everyone in it except Louis (I think Louis might actually be behind FDR, but there’s no way to know for sure):


National Archives


The next day Amy and family had plans with some friends, so we headed off with just Dave’s parents to the National Archives. This had been high on Ari’s list of things to see because he read somewhere that the temperature was really cool inside. Ari loves his air conditioning.

The night before, I’d gotten the brilliant idea to actually research visiting the National Archives a bit, and learned that you can skip the lines by reserving tickets online in advance for a small fee (the tickets themselves are free)…..if you don’t wait until the night before when they’re already all gone. Oops.

We got there about half an hour after they opened and found a considerable line:



I’d say it took us half an hour or so to make it inside.

There are a few different exhibit galleries inside, but, of course, the main attraction is the gallery with the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. To see these, you have to wait in another line. The way they have things set up once you get in there is kind of strange. They let in a million or so people at one time and then everyone naturally lines up to see the documents. And then while this is going on, the guards wander around and tell people NOT to form a line, that they should just walk around and see whatever. Only there’s really no way to do this, because there’s a constant crowd of people in front of each document, so either you wait in line or you shove your way through the people who are waiting (or you’re exceptionally tall and can just peer over the heads of the people in front of you, I guess). Anyway, I’m glad we went to see them, but, as with many of the things we saw, it would have been a better experience on a less crowded day.

We checked out the other exhibits for as long as Abe would let us (another recurring theme on the trip), then went for lunch with the grandparents. Then they went back to the hotel while we took the kids to the…..

International Spy Museum

This is a private museum and, as such, one of the few that you actually have to pay for in DC. And it wasn’t cheap! The kids did have a good time here, but I’m not sure I’d do it again: there’s really just SO MUCH to see for free in Washington, paying for five admissions here was really expensive. Oh: and it was crowded.

The first section was the kids’ favorite: there were a bunch of interactive exhibits about spy techniques, including a chance to crawl through fake duct work:


This stuffed pigeon was my favorite part:


Here’s Ari being some sort of terrifying KGB guy or something:


There was an extensive James Bond exhibit that was mostly lost on all of us non James Bond fans, but I think that’s where this thing was. You hang on to this bar while they raise you up from the ground, so you can see how long you can last if you ever have to hang from the edge of a bridge or something. We discovered that if we ever need to dangle one of the kids from a bridge, we should go with Milo as he’d have the best chance of surviving until rescued:


Next time: The National Zoo and the Natural History Museum

Read more about our trip:

Part 1: Jamestown and Yorktown

Part 2: Colonial Williamsburg

Read about some of our other trips:

Chattanooga, TN


Saving Money at Disney World


Disney World with your Big(gish) Family



Washington, DC: Monuments, National Archives, and Spy Museum — 11 Comments

  1. we are planning a trip to DC for sawyer’s bday (of course now we will have a puppy so may need to alter plans!). i have never been to the FDR monument and would love to go- he is one of my favorites and had so much vision, but also put his vision to work. we have a state park near us that was constructed as part of the new deal, and several veterans were put to work there. i loved reading about it when we went to that park. and that photo with abe, FDR, and fala- LOVE.

    • I really liked it–it was so well done and in a lovely setting (right on the river–tidal basin? whatever it’s called there). We have the Little White House a few hours south of here where FDR spent a lot of time–we’re hoping to make it there on a weekend trip this fall. And you can stop hinting now: of COURSE I’ll come up and puppy sit for you while you’re on your trip 😉

  2. LOVE the Spy Museum, but yes, it’s pricey, especially if you’re going with a crowd. I’ve been a few times, and I always find something new and interesting. One of MY favs was the “doggy poop camera”. Very realistic. (After 10 years of manning the poopy bags on doggy walks, I fancy myself a bit of an authority in that regard.) Looks like it was a great trip!

    • I think if we lived in the area or were there frequently, I would feel like it was worth the trip….it’s just that there’s so much to do that we’ll never get to all the great FREE stuff; I felt kind of silly dropping $100 on the spy museum and not making it to the american history museum (on this trip), you know? I also felt like it was kind of cramped and didn’t handle crowds as well as some other sites. but the kids had a great time there! I think we missed the doggy poop camera–darn it! 😉

  3. Yay! You got to see FDR and his dog. Also, that picture of Abe is awesome. (Both of them, but I was specifically referring to the FDR one). Summer is crowded around here though, huh?

    • It is crowded! I knew this, but somehow I was still holding out hope that THIS summer, or at least our week, would be magically empty 🙂

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