Hail to the Chief: A Guide to Attending a Presidential Inauguration

2013 Inauguration Ticket
2013 Inauguration Ticket

Did Your Candidate Win? Ready, Set, Request Your Inauguration Tickets!

Did your candidate win? Or will you go to the inauguration no matter who is the next president? Go to the websites of the members of Congress for your state and there will be a page and/or link for requesting inauguration tickets. If you don't know who your state representative is, use this link to the website of the United States House of Representatives to find out. To find your Senator, click here.

If you are an inauguration newbie, like I was, it may be helpful for me to impart this sometimes misunderstood point. You can always go to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration. There will be events, balls, lots of stuff to do. You can watch the inauguration at the National Mall with hundreds of thousands of other people on the jumbotrons. You only need an inauguration ticket to get onto the grounds of the US Capitol to watch the inauguration "up close".

My three Congressmen were distributing their tickets by lottery. Others may decide to use first come, first served. You'll win or lose all the tickets you request, so if you are a family of four, ask for four tickets with the one request you'll make to each of your Congressmen. Here's the catch. You won't know if you won a ticket until very late, maybe even a week or so into January. You will receive a phone call and/or an email if you are one of the lucky ones.

What if you don't get tickets? Watch the inauguration on the jumbotrons in the National Mall. Or for the best and warmest seats, you can stay home - but there's nothing like being there.

If you want to attend one of the many Inaugural Balls, it's time to start planning.

You Are Already Late Making Your Hotel Reservations

For me, making the hotel reservations was the hardest part of this endeavor. However, I didn't make my reservations immediately and you won't make that mistake. I waited a week and by then the hotels I wanted to stay at were either at capacity or had made the week of January 20th unavailable for individual reservations. I ended up staying at Comfort Inn & Suites New York Avenue. I have stayed in Comfort Inns all over the country and even in Italy, but this one was not up to par. Did I mention it was $250 a night (inauguration prices!)?

Look at a map of hotels around the US Capitol. Narrow the list by finding out which are walking distance (remember it will be very cold) or which have shuttles that will drop you at Union Station (this is a good place to catch a taxi into the Capitol area).

Now for a very important tip: Make sure you know the date by which you can cancel this reservation without penalty. If you only want to attend the inauguration if your candidate wins, and you have to wait for over a month to find out if you win the lottery for inauguration tickets, then you might end up wanting to cancel your hotel reservation.

The Normal Noon Temperature on January 20 is a Frosty 38 Degrees F

More often than not, it is bone chilling on inauguration day. Here is a link to the temperatures on inauguration day over the years:


Now, if you get your inauguration ticket (and maybe if you are watching from the national mall as well), you are in a huge crowd and that will help protect you from the wind. When I went to President Barack Obama's second inauguration, I wore thermals under ski pants, a long Irish fisherman's sweater, ski socks, boots, my warmest winter coat, gloves - you get the picture. I really wanted to carry an umbrella but they are prohited. You can carry a small daybag and pack a poncho, if you like. It's too cold to be cold and wet... and waiting for hours outdoors.

Trains, Planes or Automobiles... and Taxis

I have always found Amtrak to be the best way to get into Washington, D.C. Amtrak has an app for your smartphone that will keep you up to date on delays. Of course, you can fly to Reagan or Dulles. Or drive to Alexandria or some place else close, then take the train into the city each day. Just don't expect to drive into the city.

There will be barracades around the US Capitol starting a day or two before the inauguration. You might picture someone looking a lot like Danny DeVito pointing at a map of the US Capitol area to show the taxi drivers where the barricades will be erected and the best way to circumnavigate them. Not so. Or let's say, I saw no evidence of it from the twists, turns, supposed shortcuts and roundabout convolutions of the taxis that I hailed. So give yourself plenty of time.

When and Where to Pick Up Your Inauguration Tickets

If you are notified that you won inauguration tickets, you will be picking them up the day before the inauguration in Washington, D.C. They aren't going to mail them to you. I asked for tickets from both of my Senators and the representative from my district. Though I didn't win the lottery from either Senator, I was lucky enough to get tickets through my representative. My representative's office was very strict about when to and who could pick up the tickets. I had to send one person from my party, with identification, to the Rayburn Building during the hours of 10 am and 2 pm on the day before the inauguration. If I was late, my tickets would be available to the general public. So keep this in mind if you are traveling to Washington, D.C. that day.

The email from my representative's office said that the lines for the tickets are sometimes around the block waiting to get in to the Rayburn building. This wasn't the case for me, but dress warmly.

Rayburn House Office Building

A marker201 south capitol street sw washington dc -
201 South Capitol Street Southwest, Washington, DC 20003, USA
[get directions]

Your viewing area is shown on the back of your ticket.
Your viewing area is shown on the back of your ticket.
The Inauguration Ceremonies Map and Guidelines shows the viewing areas for each color. This map will be included in the packet you receive from your congressman.
The Inauguration Ceremonies Map and Guidelines shows the viewing areas for each color. This map will be included in the packet you receive from your congressman.

What is Your Ticket Color?

When you pick up your inauguration ticket from your congressman, you will then know how to plan your transportation on the day of the ceremony. The areas around the U.S. Capitol and surrounding areas all the way down to Union Station will be marked with color-coded signs and your ticket will be color coded. You'll also be given a color coded map in your inauguration packet.

There's an App for That???

Visit the Presidential Inaugural Committee's website to download an app for your smartphone. Then, theoretically, you can enter your ticket color into the app to find the best way to navigate to your viewing area. Here's the problem: the cell towers may be overwhelmed with the number of people trying to use their cellphones on that morning. So use the app as soon as you get your ticket and find out your color.

Early morning view of the Capitol on Inauguration Day 2013 from the orange viewing area.
Early morning view of the Capitol on Inauguration Day 2013 from the orange viewing area.

Rise and Shine, It's Inauguration Day

The morning of the inauguration is not a day to oversleep. If you have a ticket to the US Capitol grounds, you have been very lucky. But now, you have to achieve something almost as hard. You and everyone else want a good spot in which to see the inauguration activities. So get up early, get to a color coded sign near the US Capitol, and follow the signs to find the tail end of a very long line to security. The sun will not be up yet. It will be cold!

Don't make the mistake I made - once I made it through security, I waited in a very long line to use the porta john, while hundreds of people passed me to stand in the best viewing spots available in my standing area. Next time I'm going to get a good spot first and then have someone in my party hold my place if nature calls.

It's a very long wait until the music starts. Perfect time to chat up the people around you and take pictures.

Tree in your way? Can't see a thing? Wondering why you're here and freezing? That's okay. Wait until you hear the President speak and the crowd all around you breaks out into applause. Then you know why the trip, the cold, the taxi ride and all the other inconveniences are worth it. Plus you can tell your grandkids you were there.

The Inaugural Parade

The best spots to see the parade will be found right outside the US Capitol building, wherever you see the road blocked off. If you aren't sure, there will be plenty of police officers around to ask. The key is, that even though you have just left the inauguration and will be hours before the parade starts, if you want the best spot, you need to get it now. Send someone in your party around the block to get take out lunches.

Souvenirs and Keepsakes

Your best souvenir for the inauguration is your ticket, in my opinion. People were trying to buy mine off the street after the ceremony, so other people must agree! There is an official souvenir store and there will be street vendors selling t-shirts, buttons and more.

I hope this information has been helpful. You will find plenty of websites with other great tips for attending a presidential inauguration. Remember to vote in November so that you've done your part to ensure your guy or gal is being sworn in at the inauguration ceremony in January!

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