As we are currently living near DC, we try to take a day whenever friends visit and check out a part of DC we haven’t been to yet. This month, we applied for a tour of the White House and when the date was confirmed, we decided to take the whole day and cross a few things off our “DC Bucket List”.
How do you score a trip to the White House?
It’s pretty easy, actually. You just visit this page and fill in your zip code, which will lead you to your Congressperson’s page. From there, look for a link that says “Request a Tour of the White House”. Since we live nearby, we didn’t need to specify a certain time period we’d be traveling to the capital, so we pretty much just let the system choose for us. A couple of days later, we got an email listing three dates in November that we might be granted a tour. And then a couple of weeks after that, we received an email letting us know exactly which date and time, as well as a map showing us where to check in, and what items to bring and what we could not.
The Renwick Gallery
We arrived a bit early, so before we got in line for the White House tour, we stopped in at the Renwick Gallery. Downstairs they had a fascinating exhibit featuring 19 dioramas made by Harvard, which were case studies of death scenes. You had to read a synopsis of the police report and study each diorama and determine accident, suicide, or murder. Fun!
Upstairs in the Renwick my two favorite installations were “Volume”, a 32,000 LED light pattern powered by an algorithm, and a set of bronze doors by Albert Gates. But really all the art work up there was amazing, a blend of modern, unique, and a twist on the traditional. The Renwick is free and I’d definitely recommend stopping in. You could spend anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours here if you wanted to see it all. The gallery is open daily 10-5.
The White House Tour
After breezing through the Renwick, we headed to the White House Tour office, which is on the east side of the building. If you are in DC and you didn’t sign up for a tour, try going to the White House Visitors Center, just one block away- they have many artifacts and photographs from inside the White House.
After we went through security, we found ourselves at the residence portico. The tour is self-guided, and you can take up to 45 minutes to explore the 3rd and 4th floors of the residence (the 1st and 2nd are basement storage, and the 5th and 6th are where the President and First Lady actually live). Downstairs you can see rooms such as the Library, the Screening Room, the East Garden Room, and the China Room, where several sets of china service from past presidents are stored. Heading upstairs, you pass through the Green Room, Blue Room, and Red Room (the valets were setting up the table and china service for a luncheon in the Blue Room as we passed through), and then on to the State Dining Room, and out the cross hall- where John Travolta and Princess Diana shared a dance in 1985.
The National Geographic Museum
We’re subscribers and big fans of both National Geographic Magazine and NatGeo Traveler, so I’ve always wanted to look inside the National Geographic Museum. Part of the museum building is free, and you can see famous covers and short bios on several of their most well-known stories. They have two paid exhibits, and tickets are $15 ($12 for military). On the day we went, they were just finishing installing their newest exhibit: Tomb of Christ- The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Experience, so they gave us a free return ticket to use anytime for the rest of this year to come back and see it. The “Wild: Michael Nichols” exhibit was open, and it is fantastic. If you walk through this exhibit you will see some of the most famous nature photographs ever taken and watch a short video of Michael Nichols detailing his work over the years with NatGeo. Just walking past the amazing photos made me feel like such an amateur explorer!
Teddy Roosevelt Island
There was one more site in DC we’ve always been curious about. There’s an island in the Potomac River and I’d never ventured on to it, so today was the day to fix that. You can access it by the northbound lanes on the George Washington Parkway, just after the Roosevelt Bridge. There’s a parking lot on the Virginia side, and a short bridge takes you onto the island, which is car-free. On the island you’ll find three trails (the longest is a 1.3 mile loop)- the Woodlands trail, the Uplands trail, and the Marsh trail. At the center of the island is a statue and memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. From the island you will see nice views of Key Bridge, Roosevelt Bridge, National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center, and Georgetown Waterfront. There are deer on the island, so if you’re quiet you may be able to spot one.
There is no way that you could ever see DC in a day, but it sure is nice to be able to take a day every now and then and explore a new corner of it (well, new to me). What hidden secrets have you found in DC? Tell me about them in the comment section so I know what to look for on my next DC day.