Question: I'm taking my son (age 8) to Washington, D.C. for the first time in June. I'm going to try getting a tour reservation for the White House early, but I'm wondering if there are any other tours worth taking my son to? -- Carolina from San Jose, CA
Answer: D.C. is a fantastic city to visit with kids, not least of all because there are so many free museums and tours. Two of the most worthwhile free visits require a ticket that must be requested months in advance. With a little less than six months before your trip, it's time for you to get busy.
As you may already know, free self-guided tours of the White House (www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events/) are available Tuesday through Saturday mornings. Tickets are not as impossible to land as you may have heard, but you should get started now. Here's how it works: No sooner than 30 days and no more than six months before your visit, submit your request through one of your members of Congress. You'll need to provide your travel dates along with the names, Social Security numbers, and birth dates for everyone in your party. Tours are provided to groups of 10 or more, so if your group consists of just you and your son, your congressperson will group you with other tourists from your district. If you haven't heard anything within eight weeks of your travel dates, follow up every week thereafter with your congressperson's staff. If this tour is important to you, put this at the top of your to-do list. If you procrastinate until your visit is less than 30 days away, your chances become much slimmer of landing a tour; your only option is to enter a lottery for last-minute openings.
Keep in mind that the White House visit is a self-guided tour. When you contact your congressperson for your White House tour, make an additional request for a guided Capitol Building tour led by one of your congressperson's staff. This is a fantastic way to see the Capitol Building and has to be booked through your senator or representative (www.visitthecapitol.gov/Visit/Page%20-%20Tour%20Information.html). Again, you'll need to provide the names, Social Security numbers, and birth dates for everyone in your party.
You won't need such a crazy lead time to snag tickets to visit the top of the Washington Monument, but it's worth making the effort before you leave home. Again, admission is free but it requires a ticket. The hard way: When you're in D.C., get up early one morning and head to Washington Monument Lodge, located along 15th Street, which opens at 8:30am for distribution of free, same day, timed tickets on a first come, first served basis. One person may pick up as many as six tickets and choose a preferred time to visit. Each individual (including children) must have a ticket. Be aware that tickets run out quickly during the spring and summer. The easy way: Order them online in advance (www.nps.gov/wamo/index.htm). You'll have to shell out $1.50 per ticket in service charges, but it's worth it.
Here are some additional resources for you and your son:
- Washington.org (www.washington.org), the official tourism site for Washington, D.C., is packed with helpful planning tools, hotel and dining deals, and information on special events.
- WeJustGotBack.com's Insider Guide to Washington, D.C. is full of readers' recommendations for kid-friendly places to have fun, eat, and stay in the District.
- Washington DC for Kids! (http://kids.dc.gov/kids_main_content.html) features a games section with politically-inspired puzzles, word searches, and coloring pages, as well as sections on the district's history, top places to visit, and sports.
- Run by the Office of the Clerk of the US House of Representatives, Kids in the House (http://kids.clerk.house.gov) gives kids a fun overview of how the legislative branch fits into our government.
Have a wonderful time!
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is a family travel expert and mother of three. She is co-founder and editor-in-chief of WeJustGotBack.com, an award-winning family trip-planning website that features reviews of kid-friendly hotels and resorts, expert planning advice, readers' travel tips, vacation deals and more.