Washington Inside-Out With Kids: The Nation’s Capital From the Inside
National Geographic Traveler columnist Christopher Elliott recently visited the Washington area with his family. His three-part series, Inside-Out With Kids, explores the D.C. region from different perspectives. Today, on their final stop, they return to the nation’s capital. Read the first and second blog posts in the series.
What does it mean to be an “insider” in Washington? Money? Power? Access? All of the above.
For our family of five, we would have settled for not having to fight the crowds and seeing a few attractions off the grid. Like the United States National Arboretum, the nation’s garden where you can find every state tree and the forner pillars of the Capitol. No one goes there. Well, compared with the tourist magnets like the Smithsonian and the Capitol, at least.
We stopped by the Arboretum one afternoon and could hardly believe we were still in D.C. The noise of the big city faded as we walked into the forest and toured the property, which including an impressive collection of hollies, magnolias and a Japanese bonsai garden. There were moments, even at the height of tourist season, when we were completely alone.
Now that’s an authentic experience.
So is this: After trying, and failing, to get into the White House, we had two standing offers to escort us through the House and Senate — one by our congresswoman’s staff, and the other by our friend Charlie, who also happened to have a press pass. Since it’s an election year, we didn’t want to trouble our representative, so we said “yes” to Charlie.
I had been through the nondescript office buildings in the past, and they weren’t all that special. But the House and Senate visitors galleries
were well worth a return trip. Although the two youngest kids weren’t allowed in during the session (there’s an age limit) our oldest son, Aren, was able to watch the legislature at work. The Senate was relatively quiet, with two representatives on the floor speaking on a jobs bill. The House, by contrast, was buzzing with energy. It was like the difference between a funeral and a wedding reception.
When our friends at the Fairmont Washington
found out that we’d been tourists for a few days, they would have none of it. They immediately put together an “insider” itinerary that included a visit to the
International Spy Museum, one of the city’s newest attraction. I had briefly visited the museum just after it opened a few years ago, but couldn’t imagine the impact it would have on my kids. For the next few weeks, they were referring to each other by their code names and asking if Santa could get them spy gear for Christmas.
It was July.
Our inside connections also pointed us to several terrific restaurants, including Poste at the nearby Hotel Monaco, which served excellent vegetable crepes, and Firefly
on New Hampshire Avenue, which lets kids decorate and then bake their own cookies for dessert. We also grabbed a burger over at the Four Seasons in Georgetown before making the grueling 18-hour drive back to Orlando.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
What a great way to end our “insiders” tour, at one of the most insider-y properties in the city.
In the end, we were thrilled to have seen D.C. from different perspectives.
As outsiders, pushing our way around the monuments and museums, we felt like citizens of a very big and very crowded country. As out-of-towners
in Annapolis (which, coincidentally, was briefly the nation’s capital)
we were able to appreciate the mid-Atlantic region, and get out on the water. And later, as D.C. insiders, we really saw places that few tourists ever get to see.
Read Chris Elliott’s monthly column, The Insider, in Traveler’s October issue. Photo by Chris Elliott.