Although I’ve already done a full list of 100 Free Things To Do In DC this is a more comprehensive itinerary that you can follow and tweak as need be.
Since we used to live in DC this is the number one thing people always asked me about. “I’m coming to DC for the day, Where can we go?” “I’ll be in DC this weekend, Which sights should I go see?” So naturally I already had my go to route that I always took my friends on. It is a great way to see all the major tourist points in the city from a locals perspective. Depending on how fast or slow you decide to walk and take in the sites this could be something squeezed in after a cancelled meeting or stretched out all day.
Fair Warning: This itinerary does include a lot of walking as DC so make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes. DC is a huge no parking zone so it would be in your best interest to download Uber or Lyft to avoid any unnecessary parking tickets on vacation. If it is your first time using the app feel free to use my code and get you a FREE RIDE. If there are multiple people with you, have each them also do the same thing and you could end up with at least two free rides per person 😉
The day of the week in which you attempt to explore DC will make a world of difference. Weekends tend to have more crowds at the monuments and museums, but if you venture out too late on weekdays (especially Thursday afternoons) you could find yourself stuck in some of the countries worst traffic. I would suggest weekdays (non holidays) around noon, as you will be free to enjoy everything at your own pace and there won’t be as many crowds.
As I said before feel free to add and take out what you want to see but understand that this route, as is, is a shortcut to see just about everything with the minimal amount of walking.
First Stop: The Wharf
Have your Uber/Lyft drop you off at Captain White’s Seafood City known locally as the Wharf. This hidden gem is a tucked away seafood haven that many tourists have no idea about. I lived here for 2.5 years before I discovers its existence and I am kicking myself I didn’t come across it sooner. The Wharf is the United States oldest open air fish market where you will have the ability to choose fresh seafood right off the Potomac River, to be cooked up right before you. This is a great place to grab lunch or a quick snack to fuel you up for the road ahead. I highly recommend the crab cakes (sandwich or dinner) from the place with a black over hang and black signs that say “The Wharf Fresh Cooked Seafood.” This place is located on the backside right next to the tables. I would also recommend the clam chowder from the place directly on the right side of Captain White’s if you are facing it. The sign on the roof says “Spiced Shrimp, Cooked Crabs, Raw Bar.”
Second Stop: Tidal Basin, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial
Trust me when I tell you this is the path you want to follow! Whether you are actually interested in Jefferson or FDR is irrelevant. This is the BEST short cut to get to MLK and Lincoln without having to walk around the larger side of the Tidal Basin. While you may not be wholly interested in seeing Jefferson this is a great point to take pictures of the Tidal Basin and The Washington Monument. Walking further along down this path you will reach the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. FDR is the only US President to reside in office for more than two terms. His memorial covers his 12 years in office categorized by each term. This is a huge memorial but it is really interesting if you take your time to stop and read everything presented. The memorial is jam packed with quotes from FDR and his wife Eleanor. What makes this maze intriguing is that the things that FDR said are still relevant in the world we live in today. If this isn’t up your alley feel free to breeze through this and follow the path out of the memorial.
Third Stop: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
After you exit the FDR Memorial you will continue walking down the path into the MLK Memorial. This memorial is the FIRST one to represent an African American near the National Mall. So its opening was a big deal and a big attraction to tourists of all races. This memorial sits upon 4 acres of land next to the Tidal Basin. It features some of MLK’s famous quotes along with a statue that appears to come “Out of the Mountain of Despair.” If you want to get a good shot with only him and no tourists turn your camera onto selfie mode. Stand about 30-40 feet in front of the statue using your camera as a guideline. Angle the camera in front of you below you so you can capture you and what appears to be MLK just over your shoulder. You can also capture a great shot of the Jefferson Memorial from here as well. Once you have finished indulging in MLK quotes return back to the mountain and walk through it. Once you cross the street and turn left you will continue walking to your next destination.
Fourth Stop: Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington Monument
This area is bursting with things to see. Each memorial in this area won’t take you more than 10mins to explore each unless you truly stop to appreciate each one. As you continue walking up the path to the Lincoln Memorial you will see multiple routes that lead off to the right. If you follow the first path you will happen upon the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The memorial is a collection of a mural wall, statues, a United Nations wall, and a Pool of Remembrance. The Mural Wall has images sandblasted into it to represent soldiers, equipment used during the war, and other images. The large statues that are there present a platoon on patrol. Each man in the platoon represents the different branches of military that were a part of that war. The United Nations Wall represents the 22 U.N.’s that contributed troops or medical supplies and the Pool of Remembrance contains plaques with the number of people either killed, wounded, MIA, or POW. After you finished seeing this memorial follow the path all the way out until you see an enormous white building. That white building in question would be the Lincoln Memorial. The steps you see out front are a popular hangout spot both day and night. You can even sometimes see people on picnic dates on some of the high pillars. If you are already beginning to feel fatigued, I suggest you take a rest here as there won’t be many more places to stop along the rest of the route. When you walk up way up the steps take a moment to look down. You can see the spot that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr stood when he gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. If it is a busy day it will undoubtedly be the spot the everyone is standing at. If you continue to walk up the steps you will be faced with a huge seated statue of Abraham Lincoln. On the walls inside the monument you will find his famous “Gettysburg Address.” Once you turn around to leave you can look out and see the Reflecting Pool, The World War II Memorial, and The George Washington Monument. Once you have had your fill of this great view, you have two options depending on what you want to see more. A choice between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or the World War II Memorial. Both are a great choice and neither one will take you off the path to the White House.
Fifth Stop: The White House (South Lawn)
For whichever route, you choose you are going to want to make your way toward 17th Street and make a left. The fastest way to reach the White House is to cut across the various parking lots that are around The Ellipse park. If you are visiting anywhere from the beginning of December until January 1st, this is the location of the National Christmas Tree. If you are planning to stop by at night you are in for a treat as the tree will be fully lit up usually by from 4:30PM-10PM (Dates and Times Subject to change). After cutting through The Ellipse you will be met with a barrier gate. Many people do not realize that you can actually cross this street and get right up on the gates to The White House. This back view of the house is the most common view you see on people’s pictures. Camera Tip: If you don’t want the black gates ruining your shot, place your camera/phone through the gates and gate a full shot of the house. There is no rule that says you can’t just don’t get crazy and try to put your baby through it. LOL If you want to get a tour of the inside of The White House read the article I wrote about it right here. Once you have taken all the pictures you wanted turn left and make your way back toward 17th Street.
Sixth Stop: The Reinwick Gallery
You will continue walking down 17th Street and make a right onto Pennsylvania Ave. Immediately on your left-hand side you will see a two-story bright red brick building. This is the Reinwick Gallery. This is probably one of the smallest but dopest museums in the district. It is a Smithsonian owned gallery that was just recently renovated and reopened to the public in November of 2015. Plus side it is free. Down side it is very small so depending on when you go it can be very crowded. I have seen lines literally outside down the block just to enter the museum. This museums content (at least on the 4 times I went to visit) are quite out the box compared to any other museum in DC which means you for sure will not be bored. One of the best parts about the museum is that it is only like 10 or 11 different rooms. Which means you can be in and out in as fast as 30mins or spend all day if that’s what you are in to. I also enjoy this museum because people often think they want to work a museum into their visit but in reality, do not want spend their whole day barely scratching the surface at some place like the Museum of Natural History. This will allow you to feel
like an adult cultured yet you didn’t waste a whole day. Once you exit the museum take a left and keep walking down Pennsylvania Ave.
Seventh Stop: The White House (North Lawn), Layfette Square
From here you can see a less popular view of the front of The White House. The house is much closer in distance from this angle but sometimes the police have the fence blocked off depending on what the security level is that day. Which means you may not be able to capture the house without the black fence in the way of the picture. There are also often protests going on right here. None of them ever get violent or anything but for crowd control purposes sometimes the police force everyone into the park (Layfette Square) and put up police tap on the street. If you happen to come up at one of those times just wait 5 minutes and they more than likely take them down and allow you closer access to the house. Layfette Square is a small beautiful park that is known for its red tulips. It is also home to a few statues of foreign Revolutionary War heroes.
Final Stop: Farragut North or West Station
This is the final stage on this little journey. Feel free to proceed to either Farragut North or West Metro Station to head to your hotel or Airbnb. From the North station, you can catch the Red Line and from the West station you can catch the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines. If you are unsure of how to use the DC Metro System feel free to read the article I previously wrote about it.
I hope you enjoy your trip to the nation’s capital!
Comment below and tell me how it went or something you think is missing.