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Washington D.C. (Day 1): National Museum of American History and the National Mall

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

Summary: Our first full day in Washington DC featured the National Museum of American History and an afternoon on the National Mall, visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and the Washington Monument. The whole day is within walking distance and 100% free of charge, except for transportation. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic on the 2-mile long National Mall. This blog post is part of 6-part series related to our time in Washington D.C.

What You Should Bring. We packed sandwiches, a ton of snacks and lots of water so we wouldn't be caught trying to find a place to eat. Park benches on the National Mall made for a convenient picnic spot. During our Spring Break/March trip to Washington D.C., the temperatures were still freezing at night with a fairly cold wind during the day. We packed extra layers and scarves to stay warm.

Getting there. We left our Air BnB in time to arrive at the Museum of American History when it opened at 10:00 a.m. via an Uber. There is also public transportation available but for our particular route, it was easier to just take an Uber. The Museum is located on the National Mall between 12th and 14th Streets.

Museum of American History (3 hours). In an effort to avoid the peak in crowds, we started our day with the Museum of American History right when they opened. Like all of the Smithsonian museums, entrance is free. Backpacks are permitted but they will be subject to security screening at the entrance. There are no bag and coat checks.

Photos: The Batmobile from Tim Burton's "Batman" movies is on display on the first floor.

Museum Background. The Museum of American History was first opened in 1964 as the Museum of History and Technology before being renamed in 1980. Collections in this Museum, as the name suggests, focus on American history including cultural and political events, as well as scientific and military events in US History.

Why We Liked this Museum. So much of what we see in Museums, while fascinating, originate loooooooong before our time. If you're traveling with teens, especially, this may be the first museum they have visited where they can personally identify with some of the artifacts on display. Take the photo above, for example. Both the boys are San Francisco Giants fans. They got a kick out of seeing Willie May's hat, glove and cleats on display. The Museum is also unique in that many of the exhibits are actual vehicles and other large items, rather than the usual oil painting they've grown accustomed to seeing.

National Mall. After the Museum of American History, we stepped back out onto the National Mall and spent the rest of the day exploring some of the National Monuments and Memorials that make up this 2-mile long National Park located right in the heart of Washington D.C. The concept of the National Mall was the brainchild of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, a French-American engineer who helped design Washington D.C. in 1791.

Washington Monument. Construction on the Washington Monument began in 1848 and was completed in 1884. At the time of its completion, it was the tallest building in the World. Designed to pay homage to the first President of the United States, the ambiguous project was designed to match the brilliance of the former commander of the Continental Army.

US Capital View. If you spin around and look directly down the National Mall, from here you can see the U.S. Capital.

War Memorials. From the Washington Monument we walked towards the Lincoln Memorial, passing through the World War II Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, and Korean War Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial. Construction on the Lincoln Memorial began in 1914 and was completed in 1922, where Lincoln's sole surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, attended the dedication ceremony at the age of 78 years old. Lincoln's statue is 19 feet tall, is made of George white marble, and situated on a pedestal of Tennessee marble. Standing up close to it in person, we were awestruck by its enormity and beauty.

Tidal Basin: We finished our day walking over to Tidal Basin, a man-made reservoir on the Potomac River. Here, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial can be viewed, along with beautiful views of both the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. It is fitting that Dr. King's Memorial is so close to the Lincoln Memorial, which was the site of his 1963 "I Have a Dream," speech.

Side Note: We came about a week too early to catch the cherry blossoms but this is where you want to be if you visit in early April.


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