Washington D.C. and Virginia: A Presidential Visit Getaway

We recently returned from another wonderful trip to the East Coast and had a rather unique agenda. Our goal was to spend ?ve days in Washington, D.C. visiting as many meaningful historical highlights as possible. And the more iconic museums and renowned memorials we visited, the more we came to realize how truly important a visit to our nation’s capital should be for all Americans. We then embarked next door to northern Virginia to concentrate on visiting the famous estates of four of our most renowned U.S. presidents. The entire visit to D.C. was exceptionally edifying, and each presidential home provided an exceptional look into our country’s history. Nowhere in the U.S. can you visit so many glorious presidential estates, all within close proximity to D.C.
As in past visits, we decided to do without a car for the first few days since it’s an enjoyable walking city. And, once again, it was a smart choice! Parking can be expensive and sometimes difficult to find in D.C. And if your destination is too far to walk to their local transportation system is one of the East Coast’s best. Good news for folks on a budget: there are no admission fees at the must-see National Zoo, the multitude of amazing Smithsonian Museums, National Monuments and many other federally owned attractions. Of course, as taxpayers we all support these unbelievable facilities and exhibits via our taxes. Be sure to walk the National Mall and the cobblestone streets of the trendy Georgetown area and visit the following: the Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson Memorial Monuments; the War Memorials; Martin Luther King Monument; National Cathedral; and our personal favorite, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The White House is once again open for a limited number of tours, but if you want to arrange one contact your congress member. Can’t arrange a tour? No problem, as it remains visible enough to recognize its classic architectural beauty from afar. Capitol Hill, home to the Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court, Library of Congress and Botanic Garden is a must see free tour, but reservations are needed. www.visitthecapitol.gov. For non-walkers, be sure to sign up for the Big Bus open top sightseeing adventure for an on/off tour of most of D.C. and nearby Arlington, Virginia’s iconic landmarks like their National Cemetery featuring the Tomb of the Unknowns and the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Big Bus also offers some bonus admissions to the Crime Museum, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and a
river cruise. www.bigbustours.com. Need a break from history? One of the funniest nights we’ve experienced in years was attending the long- running play “Capitol Steps” at the Ronald Reagan Building.
If you like topical political humor and uncontrollable laughing, don’t miss this show! www.capsteps.com. As professional baseball junkies, we walked a mile or so to watch a thrilling Washington Nationals baseball game in their stunning new waterfront ballpark and recommend the experience to all sports enthusiasts. http://nationals.mlb.com. For complete info on the above plus more things to do, events, hotel packages, dining options, etc. in D.C. go to: http://washington.org.
Admittedly, hotel rates in D.C. can be on the high side, but we’re fairly certain you can find lodging that will fit most budgets. And when you consider the many free attractions and no need to rent a car, readers may wish to stay at one of D.C.’s premier hotels. Three four-star hotels that we’ve personally experienced and emphatically recommend are Hotel Monaco, Omni Shoreham and Hyatt Regency. The Monaco, built in 1842, is located downtown and was the former site of D.C.’s original Post Office and later housed the Tariff Commission. It’s better to experience this great property as an elite hotel rather than going there to “pay taxes”. And it certainly had better service than any post office we’ve ever visited.
For more info: www.monaco-dc.com.
Since 1930, the classic Omni Shoreham has been ideally located near Embassy Row, the Zoo and the National Cathedral. Eleven acres of lushly landscaped grounds give guests a feeling of being at a resort rather than a large metropolitan hotel. The best dining experience we had in D.C. was a delightful dinner at
Robert’s, Omni’s critically acclaimed signature restaurant. For detailed info: www.omnihotels.com. Seeking a newer hotel? If so, the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill is a perfect upscale choice with gracious service and deluxe amenities ideally located in the heart of town. Best news: we were probably very lucky to capture a rare $99 per night rate via Travelocity.com! www.washingtonregency.hyatt.com. For some of D.C.’s best dining options, foodies should head out to historic 8th street, better known as Barrack’s Row-Main Street. We had a memorable Puerto Rican/Cuban dinner at Banana Café and found numerous other restaurants along this bustling and picturesque avenue that tempted our palates. www.barracksrow.org/on-the-row/restaurants
Upon finishing our tour of D.C., we rented a car and headed next door to Alexandria, Virginia and Mount Vernon. This former plantation of our first president, George Washington, is on the banks of the renowned Potomac River. Of all the presidential estates we visited, Mount Vernon (in our eyes) provided the most awesome and inimitable setting and requires the most time to thoroughly enjoy all it has to offer. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to go into much detail about each of these celebrated presidential residences in such a short article. But we can honestly say that each visit was worth the time and minimal expense to experience. So we encourage our readers to go to all the websites we’ll provide to find complete details about each. Hopefully this article and the websites will pique your interest to make a similar sojourn. You shouldn’t be disappointed! www.mountvernon.org. Our next destination was Monticello, the magnificent hilltop mansion of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, located in the beautiful city of Charlottesville, Virginia. Everyone should know what Monticello looks like. Just take a peek on the back of one of your nickel coins. Jefferson not only served his country as President, but was the author of our Declaration of Independence. He’s also known as a famous architect (remarkably self taught), and some of his most famous architectural masterpieces are Monticello and the original buildings of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. It’s one of the country’s most beautiful campuses and deserves a separate visit. www.monticello.org. While in Charlottesville, consider a night’s stay at the famous and historic Boars Head Inn. Or, at minimum, stop in for a delightful dining experience at a downtown Charlottesville restaurant. Then take a tour of this charming property. www.boarsheadinn.com A few kilometers up the hill from Monticello, you’ll find the rather small Ash Lawn-Highland, the modest home of James Monroe, our 5th U.S. President. Although the Monroe homestead was the most unpretentious we visited, we gained a ton of respect for his humble lifestyle, loyal marital life and unbelievable service to our country. He held more high level government positions, both elected and appointed, over more years than any other past president. www.ashlawnhighland.org. Be sure to check into the special “Neighborhood Pass” ticket that includes both tours at Monticello and Ash Lawn, plus the landmark Michie Tavern established in 1784. You might consider having a dining experience rich in southern culture and hospitality at this rustic tavern featuring 18th century recipes served by waitpersons in period attire. www.michietavern.com Just a couple of miles north of Charlottesville near the town of Orange is Montpelier, the manor of James Madison, our 4th president.

For many years, the famous DuPont family owned this marvelous property and had added numerous rooms and made countless changes. Millions of dollars were raised to hire the finest artisans to restore the famed domicile back to its notable origins, and the dramatic results and grand setting are definitely worth the visit. www.montpelier.org

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Written by Don and Ann Jackson