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We recently visited Washington, DC on a birthday trip for me and my Grandmother (who just turned 85!) and it was a really wonderful trip! From the mild sunny fall weather to the iconic DC monument tours, to a visit to a storied HBCU, to getting to see (some of) the African American Museum to our restaurant choices, to the beautiful hotel where we stayed right outside DC in Bethesda, MD all made this a nearly perfectly executed trip! Keep reading for my Washington DC trip recap and scroll down further for my travel tips!
Monuments by Moonlight Tour
*This tour was gifted to us by the tour operator, but reviews are all my own.
We flew into the DC area on my birthday, so I wanted to make sure the day didn't only consist of just an airport departure and an arrival. So after Googling and doing a little research on Pinterest on things to do after our late afternoon arrival into DC, the Monuments by Moonlight Tour by Old Town Trolley Tours Washington felt like it would be a perfect fit and something I thought my Grandma would also enjoy. This tour is "a great way to experience DC's most historic monuments in a whole new way... by moonlight." This Monuments by Moonlight tour would also be a neat "date night" idea just FYI. We loved it! And our driver, MJ could not have been a better tour guide.
We rode past the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (all above) the U.S. Supreme Court and the White House, we even crossed over into Virginia and rode past Arlington National Cemetery.
Parts of the tour was hop on/hop off where we were able to get up close to some of the Memorials. It was such an enjoyable experience and MJ, our driver and tour guide even led the people on our bus to sing Happy Birthday to my Grandma!
Those two really became fast friends! This tour turned out to be one of the best ideas of our trip, so if you're traveling to Washington, DC soon and looking for activities to do, the Monuments by Moonlight Tour is a good one to include on your list!
Our DC Area Stay, Visiting the African American Museum, What We Ate and Other Activities
I said our "DC area" stay because we didn't stay inside of Washington DC. Our hotel was just outside of DC in Bethesda, Maryland. We chose The Bethesdan Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton and we had a lovely stay there.
The Bethesdan (formerly the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Bethesda) had just completed a beautiful remodel of the property and we as their guests were the beneficiaries of all of their hard work. I can be a bit of a "hotel snob" (listen, one hotel years ago tried to give us a dark, moist room... nope.) but The Bethesdan passed my test with flying colors! We were more than comfortable there, the rooms were large and bright, the beds were comfy, the lobby was well appointed with attractive seating and multiple outlets to plug in for business travelers and the neighborhood where the hotel was located was super walkable with coffee shops, restaurants, and more all very close. All of that and the city of Bethesda is only about 7 miles outside of DC making The Bethesdan Hotel a good option for a DC visit.
Our Visit To the National Museum of African American History and Culture
This was our first time at any of the Smithsonian Museums which are all free to the public, but since the opening of the African American Museum back in 2017, this museum has been one of the toughest to get into. When I tried getting advanced tickets online for our birthday trip, I was met with the info that advanced tickets wouldn't be available until February 2020. Yikes. Because I really wanted this museum to be one of the highlights of our trip. So full disclosure, we got in by knowing people who know people (and a HUGE THANK YOU to those people!) But even if you travel to this museum before you can get your hands on some advanced tickets, you can still get daily walk-up entry tickets on the weekdays and timed passes on the weekends as they are available, click HERE to learn more on visiting the NMAAHC. All of that being said, the museum is beautiful and very, very thorough recounting both the painful and prideful parts of African American History. We only made it through the main floor and the 3 underground floors which means we have yet to even see the top 5 floors. Just know you will need TIME (and maybe more than one day) to make it through the entire wonder of this museum.
Everywhere We Ate
Hot dogs and burgers. We ate here late the night of my birthday, not the fancy birthday dinner one might expect, but also not a bad choice when there's vegan options and wines by the glass on the menu. Plus they didn't close until 2am that night and we were out pretty late.
Busboys and Poets has several locations in the DC area, but we chose the 14th Street location because we were headed to a Gospel Concert at Howard University later (click HERE to see a clip from the concert!). Busboys and Poets is a bookstore, a library, an event space, a living room and a restaurant. Hip Hop is what's playing through the speakers. My Grandma was impressed with the layout and how our food was served like we were in someone's living room. It was a nice feature.
Also, my Grandma met her birthday twin while we were there at the restaurant which was a pleasant surprise for her! And the Catfish dish over the corn cake on their dinner menu was pretty delish.
Eating at sweetgreen happened by accident, we kinda just fell in there after taking a walk one day and we were so glad we did! The kale salad (YES, kale salad!) we had was their kale caesar with chicken and parm cheese and it was sooo good. When do you leave a place where you had a salad still thinking about that salad? Well that's what happened here. I wish sweetgreen would put a location in New Orleans, real talk.
This neighborhood diner was walking distance from our hotel. It's an older diner shaped like a dining car on a train, and it's been in it's current location since 1958. They had a yummy BLT on the menu and their grits weren't bad either.
This is one of the spots Pinterest told me to check out. And since we were going to be on the East Coast we wanted to get lobster rolls! When you're in a city that offers fast food lobster rolls, well, you just have to check that out. They were good.
Now let me share a few tips that made this trip flow so well for us.
- Plan and Research Before Your Trip.
This right here is literally 90% of whether or not your trip will be a smooth going success. Plan your activities, plan where you want to eat, plan the area of your stay, and listen, there will always be contingencies that you didn't plan for, but plan anyway. Whether you're using travel apps or planning on your own, plan out as much of your trip as you can possibly. I promise you, a little trip planning will reward you dividends of ease of movement on your trip.
- Look for Discounts!
Check Groupon! Bundle your air and hotel with Expedia! Or fly Spirit and pack light like we did. And *hot tip* if you live close enough to your airport and you're flying on Spirit, go and buy your tickets THERE at the airport ticket counter in person to potentially save even more. We flew to Baltimore/Washington International for $57 roundtrip each using this tip! The online price quoted me $95 roundtrip. Just remember to pack a light enough bag to fit into Spirit's "Personal Item" bag slot, like this bag or this one to save on those bag fees.
- Map Your Trip.
This tip goes back to the first tip for planning especially if you're renting a car. Once you have all of the activities listed that you plan to do, map them out, write out the addresses and text them to yourself in a list so you'll have them handy when you need to plug them in your driving directions/GPS. *Extra tip, plan your parking. This was one of those contingencies where we fumbled the ball a bit because we didn't plan for most of our parking but we still ended up saving on parking by rush planning on the fly.
- Check Your Discount Club Memberships for Travel Savings.
Are you a member of Costco or Sam's Club? Check with them when you're planning your next trip! Both of these retailers have travel arms and we saved over half (over half y'all!) of what we would have paid on a regular car rental by booking a rental through Costco.
- Include Eventbrite and Pinterest in Your Travel Research.
Check Eventbrite for events happening in the area you're traveling to and check Pinterest for more things to do and other travel ideas. Eventbrite is how we found out about the (FREE!) Homecoming Gospel Concert that was happening at Howard University while we were in town. And Pinterest is what gave us tips on popular places to eat while we were in the DC, Maryland, Virginia (DMV) area.
Where are you traveling to next? Let me know in the comments and happy traveling!