Washington, DC
Downtown - Penn Square
White House - The White House, home-office for presidents, and residence for first ladies and presidential families, has tours for the public (groups of 10 or more people). You request a tour from your member of Congress, at least a month, and to up to six months in advance. Here's more information. Of course, the White House is visible from outside, and just walking by, kids can imagine all the exciting things going on inside, every day, in this historic complex.
For an introduction to the White House, drop into the White House Visitor Center (on Pennsylvania Ave. South in the Commerce Building). The 30 min. video is a "virtual tour" of the White House, plus kids will enjoy the exhibits of first families and a history of horses over the years at the White House. (The exhibits in the Visitor Center are primarily wall displays, nothing hands-on for kids, but it's a great place to escape the heat, and there are restrooms.)
Ford's Theatre - On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln as he watched a play in Ford's Theatre. The theatre is as it was in 1865, and kids will be impressed by the flag-draped presidential box where it all happened. The theatre is open all year, but the 30 min. talk by a National Park Ranger really makes the event come alive. Here's information about timed entry tickets (theater is free, but you'll need a ticket).
Ford's Theatre Museum vividly recreates the life of President Lincoln during the Civil War, the Gettysburg address, and how to end slavery. Exhibits also feature profiles of the men (and woman) who plotted to kill Lincoln - kids can touch a replica of the deringer gun used, and see the real thing (it's tiny).
And be sure to walk across the street to see the Petersen House, where Lincoln died, and visit the new Center for Education and Leadership. The Center has interactive 3-D exhibits about John Wilks Booth, manhunt and capture of the assassin, and re-creation of the funeral train that transported Lincoln back to Springfield, Illinois.
National Building Museum - A hidden gem, this museum has a "Building Zone" for toddlers, where they can put on a hard hat, and stack up LEGO walls and towers, shop in a hardware store, older kids can build their own full size walls and structures with foam blocks in "Play, Work, Build," and there's always innovative changing exhibitions, such as an indoor beach or giant ice bergs (both were fun on a humid summer day).
National Portrait Gallery - Pop into the National Portrait Gallery to see paintings of all the United States presidents. Plus portraits of famous Americans, such as Daniel Boone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (who fought for rights of women to vote), Edgar Allen Poe, Benjamin Franklin, Dolley Madison, Civil War generals, and more. The museum is free.
Old Post Office Clock Tower (Waldorf Astoria Hotel) - Ride the elevator to observation deck for panoramic views of Washington, DC overall.
Clock Tower isn't as high as the Washington Monument, but it's a great alternative - you don't need reservations, and is free.
Tip: Open daily. Entrance to Clock Tower is on 12th St. (outside the hotel).
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