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Washington D.C.: The Perfect Destination for a Staycation
Welcome to the Nation's Capital
My husband and I reside in the D.C. metro area, which is a perfect location for a stay-at-home vacation or staycation. If you have read another one of my lenses, How to Survive Relocating to the D.C. Metro Area or "DMV", you may recall the "metro area" refers to Washington DC, northern Virginia, and Maryland. We are fortunate to have a plethora of museums, festivals, and historical landmarks within driving distance. Over the seven years we have lived here, we have made a determined effort to take advantage of all the nation's capitol has to offer.
In this lens I will detail several of our favorite spots in and around the D.C. Metro area, all of which are great options for a staycation or day trip. Unknown to many people, is the fact that a large number of the attractions in D.C. are free or at a relatively low cost. Throughout this lens I will share with you knowledge we have gained through touring these attractions, such as the fastest way to get to a particular spot, the best time of day to see an attraction, and how to get discounts on tickets. So, sit back and go with me on a tour of what I believe to be the best attractions in Washington D.C. for a stay-at-home vacation.
The National Archives
United States History on Display
The National Archives is, by far, one the most interesting museums in D.C., and should definitely be included on your must-see list when you take a trip to Washington D.C. This museum houses The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, and numerous other historic documents. If your schedule allows, take advantage of the opportunity to watch the short movie offered by the museum, which details the founding of the National Archives. Both my husband and I found the movie to be educational and interesting.
My personal favorite part of this museum is the collection of letters written to all presidents over the years. Of course, quite a few letters were written by children, but others were from adults. All the letters were very touching and entertaining. You can also view the White House's very first website on a computer from the early 1990s! It was so funny to see this big bulky computer from back then.
Some helpful tips to keep in mind when you are planning your trip to the The National Archives include planning on getting to the museum early and being prepared to wait, because a only certain number of visitors are allowed inside at one time. Due to this, the line gets long quickly and, during the peak tourist season, wait times to can average 1-2 hours . My husband and I visited the museum during the off-season and still waited in line 45 minutes. I strongly suggest taking the subway to the archives, because there is actually a stop located very close to the National Archives. Finally, all visitors must go through a metal detector, and all bags and purses will be searched by security before you are allowed to enter the museum.
You can learn more about The National Archives by visiting: the National Archives
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George Washington's Mt. Vernon
Home of our country's first President
Mt. Vernon is another of our favorite local places to visit when we want to do a day trip. Mt. Vernon is the home of our country's first president, George Washington, and is open year-round to visitors. Mt. Vernon is operated by the Ladies of Mt. Vernon and is not owned or operated by the U.S. federal government, as is often mistakenly assumed by many people. Mt. Vernon operates only on the charitable donations of the public, and endowments from it's members, and has not accepted any funding from the government in over a century. Admission to tour the home and grounds costs around $20 per person, but discounts are available for senior citizens. You can find out more by clicking here: mt.vernon.org.
Mt. Vernon is a fully functioning farm, and visitors are able to walk the grounds most of the year. The farm raises the food served in the restaurant inside the visitor's center. I have dined there for lunch, and found the food to be quite tasty. As you walk the grounds you will come across sheep, goats, and other farm animals, and there is a fabulous view of the Potomac River from the back side of the home. You can take a guided tour of George Washington's home, and I suggest you do so, because the home is in amazing condition and the history is palpable as one walks through the corridors. Sadly, pictures and video are not permitted inside of the home, but are allowed anywhere else on the grounds.
If you have time, try to include a trip to George Washington's Grist Mill after you tour Mt.Vernon. The grist mill is located about 3 miles away from Mt. Vernon. Tickets for the grist mill may be purchased from the ticket booth at Mt. Vernon. Guided tours are given at regular intervals throughout the day. The tour takes you through the entire process of grinding corn, all the way through to the distillation of corn mash into whiskey. George Washington's Grist Mill is still fully operational, and produces whiskey for sale once to twice per year. Pretty cool, right?
Mt. Vernon is a very special place, and I feel extremely blessed to live in such close proximity to it. Walking around the grounds and through the home, knowing I was treading on the very same ground as George Washington was a surreal experience. If you are ever in the area, take advantage of the opportunity to visit this beautiful piece of history.
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My husband gave me this camera as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago and I absolutely adore it! It is easy to use and lightweight. It is just right for capturing once in a lifetime memories.
The Smithsonian National Zoo
A great place for adults and kids!!
The Smithsonian National Zoo is a marvelous place to go and spend the day with friends and family! Located in the heart of D.C., the zoo is best accessed by subway, because there is limited parking on site. Admission to the zoo is free, but donations are always welcome. If you become a lifetime member of the Smithsonian National Zoo, extra perks come your way, such as early entrance and reserved parking spaces on site.
The National Zoo houses a large variety of animals, both native to the U.S. and from overseas. My personal favorite exhibit, hands down is the family of Giant Pandas! The Smithosonian National Zoo has two giant pandas on loan from China as part of a research project; and a baby panda, Bao Bao, was born in August of 2013. This area of the zoo is always super crowded with locals and tourists from all over the world waiting to get a glimpse of the Giant Pandas. The picture shown here is of the male panda Tian Tian. I took it just days after Bao Bao was born. Mei Xiang and Bao Bao were both still recovering, and unable to be seen the day of our visit. However, Tian Tian loved the crowd and posed for many photos.
The zoo is also home to majestic lion and tigers, cheetahs, elephants, gorillas, black bears, seals, sea otters, and many more exotic animals. If you like insects and reptiles, there is an exhibit dedicated to them too. There is also an entire building dedicated to the native wildlife found in the Amazon rain forest, if you are into the rare creepy crawlers found in the tropics.
The zoo is super kid friendly and there are multiple interactive exhibits designed just for children. Zoo volunteers also have stands set up along the walkways and offer face painting and caricatures for a small price, with all the proceeds going to the zoo. Snacks and drinks are also available for purchase throughout the zoo. When planning your trip to the zoo make sure to wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Personally, I do not carry a handbag and do not suggest bringing a purse or backpack, as you may get tired of carrying it. Instead, I carry only my phone and identification. If you have small children a stroller is a good idea, because the zoo toured on foot. I should warn you the zoo is built on a hill and goes downhill from the entry point, but the walk back to the entrance is all uphill. Not to worry though, there are numerous spots to stop and rest your feet along the way.
If you are looking for a great place to spend the day with friends or family, The Smithsonian National Zoo is the perfect destination. The zoo is an educational and fun activity for all ages. We have been more than once and always make sure to suggest the zoo as a must see attraction to people we know who are coming to D.C. on vacation. For additional information about the Smithsonian National Zoo visit nationalzoo.si.edu
Washington National Cathedral
A house of worship open to all people
Located in northwest Washington D.C., The National Cathedral is on our list of favorite spots to visit whenever we can. After each visit there, I always leave feeling peaceful and inspired by what I have seen, and I find something new each trip. Admission is free, but there is a fee for parking in the underground garage on site. As always, donations are welcome, because the cathedral is a non-profit organization. You may take guided tours which are scheduled throughout the day, or if you prefer, you can take a self-guided tour. For the self-guided tour you are given a headset and map, then you simply proceed from spot to spot as directed, and are given details on each location in the cathedral.
The National Cathedral is open to all faiths, but is an Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Washington D.C. It is a fully operational church with services conducted multiple times daily. If you happen to be visiting the cathedral you are welcome to attend a service of Holy Eucharist if you wish. If you would like an even quieter space to worship, there are numerous chapels located throughout out the church, which are perfect for solitary prayer.
The National Cathedral's stunning stained glass windows are breathtaking to look at, but even more important, each one of these windows tells a different story. From depictions of biblical events, the apostles, saints, and constellations, every piece of stained glass has a meaning. As you move through the cathedral, you will notice the change in the stained glass, from the first windows in the older portion of the cathedral, to the more recently installed stained glass in other parts of the church. The older stained glass windows have fewer colors and are not as bright, compared to the bright, vivid colors of the newer windows. If you are interested in learning more about the cathedral's stained glass windows, the book Jewels of Light, gives a comprehensive history behind all the stained glass of the church. A visitor could, literally, spend hours gazing at and learning about these amazing pieces of art. I am captivated by them every time we visit this beautiful church, and I leave knowing I have truly been in the presence of God.
In addition, to being recognized for its stained glass windows, The Washington National Cathedral, is also well known for its gothic style construction, complete with gargoyles and towers. We were unable to tour the tower portions of the cathedral the last time we visited, because of the damage done by the earthquake in August of 2011. Sadly, the cathedral was damaged again last summer, when a woman vandalized interior portions of the church by throwing green paint on multiple surfaces. Hopefully, an incident like this will not happen again, but unfortunately is all too common in our world today.
Finally, if you are a history nerd like me, you will be in awe of all of the historical and artistic details found in every nook and cranny of the National Cathedral. If you are ever in the area, I encourage you to put the Washington National Cathedral on your list of places to see. The National Cathedral is an inspired work of craftsmanship, and by being open to those of all faiths, it is truly representative of one of the most important rights we enjoy as Americans, the freedom of religion.
To find out more about Washington National Cathedral visit: WashingtonNationalCathedral
Here are some additional photos taken during our staycationsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Share your thoughts with me!
Have you been on a stay-at-home vacation? Do you have a favorite place in your hometown you would recommend for a staycation? Share your memories with me here! Thanks for stopping by my hub!