Washington DC: An Ideal Family-Friendly Road Trip

Vanessa and her daughters in front of the Smithsonian (left) and US Capitol (right)
Enjoying the best of Washington, DC on our family road trip.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I packed up the minivan and took our two daughters on a 16-hour road trip from Miami to Washington, DC. Some may think that’s crazy, but we had an amazing time!

Since it was spring, the weather was cool and the cherry blossoms were in bloom, so it was perfect. But you can enjoy Washington, DC any time of year! For the 4th of July, you can see the National Independence Day Parade and enjoy an extravagant fireworks spectacle. If you go in the fall, you can admire the colorful foliage in hues of orange, yellow, and red.

We broke up the long drive into two parts each way. On the drive up, we stopped in Savannah, GA for the night. On the way back, we overnighted in Virginia since it was already late in the day when we left. However, given the choice, I’d recommend Savannah.

My girls enjoyed the drive. They kept themselves entertained with books, electronics, games, and arts and crafts. It’s a good idea to pack some entertaining items in their backpacks and throw in a couple of new surprises they’ll enjoy. They made up this game where they wrote down all the makes and models of the cars they saw and added a checkmark next to each one as they spotted them to see what make and model was the most popular one. Then they also looked for out-of-state license plates and kept a tally of all the states they found. They even napped!

Vanessa's family enjoying the cherry blossoms on the National Mall (left & middle), and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery
Exploring Arlington National Cemetery and the Changing of the Guard.

Once we arrived in Washington, DC we spent three full days exploring the area.

Smithsonian Museums & The National Mall

On our first day in town, we visited the National Museum of Natural History. My girls loved the dinosaurs, mammals, gems (especially the impressive Hope Diamond), ancient Egyptian artifacts, and ocean exhibits.

When we were done, we walked the National Mall and enjoyed lunch from one of the food trucks on the promenade. Here, you can grab a bench and take in the sights. We continued our walk toward the Washington Monument, National WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I loved that they were all within walking distance from one another. It was a great way to pack in many top attractions in one day.  

My girls were also entertained by picking dandelions along the way and making wishes! From there, we walked over to The White House for a few photos and made our way back to our car after sunset.

Arlington National Cemetery

On our second day, we drove to Arlington National Cemetery, a picturesque and peaceful place where you can visit monuments and memorials dedicated to some of the nation’s greatest men and women — from presidents to astronauts, members of the military, and Supreme Court justices. We opted for the tram tour, which leaves every 30 minutes, and had the chance to view Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s headstone, President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, Arlington House, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Memorial Amphitheater, the USS Maine Memorial, and space shuttle crew memorials, among others.

Don’t miss the Changing of the Guard, an impressive ceremony that takes place every hour on the hour from October 1 through March 31, and every half hour from April 1 through September 30. The tram tour was a great way to get around the cemetery, as there’s something to explore at every stop.

After the cemetery, we headed to a nearby restaurant called Quarterdeck for a late lunch. Here you can choose from many tantalizing seafood dishes. (Although they also have non-seafood dishes on the menu.) It was delicious and satisfying for the whole family! I highly recommend the lobster roll, crab cake sliders, and pretty much all their crab dishes.

Vanessa and her family enjoying Great Falls
Great Falls in Virginia is the perfect side trip for nature lovers.

Great Falls, Georgetown & The National Cathedral

In the afternoon, we took a scenic drive to Great Falls, where we had the chance to enjoy spring fully immersed in nature. You can walk out to the overlooks that offer a great vantage point to view the waterfalls, enjoy a short hike and explore history in a beautiful park that’s just about 15 miles outside of Washington, DC.

On the way back, we drove through Georgetown, stopped by the National Cathedral, and then went back to the National Mall to see the monuments lit up at night. It was a long day, but we had a great time.

Jefferson Memorial & The National Archives

On day three, we started at the Jefferson Memorial for some sightseeing and photos, then drove over to the National Archives to see the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence.

Capitol Hill

After that, we went to see the other side of the National Mall and Capitol Hill. We parked and walked over to the United States Botanic Garden, U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court. After a day packed with cultural fun, we built up quite the appetite so we met my cousin, who lives in the area, and his girlfriend at Carmine’s DC for a delicious family-style Italian dinner followed by a cup of gelato just down the street.

Vanessa and her family exploring Luray Caverns
Luray Caverns is home to the largest caves in the Southeastern United States.

Exploring Luray Caverns & More

On the fourth day, we left the DC area and road tripped to Luray Caverns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, home to the largest caves in the Southeastern United States. It was an incredible and otherworldly experience! The larger-than-life stone formations create columns and chambers that you can spend a couple of hours exploring. Located in Giant’s Hall, the tallest column in the cave stands at 47 feet tall. There are also crystal clear pools of water throughout that create marvelous reflections of the stone formations.

Once we were done exploring the caverns, we drove through Shenandoah National Park’s scenic roadway and Skyline Drive to catch some panoramic vistas and mountain ranges. We even spotted some deer!

Dining & Driving Through Savannah

After spending the night in Virginia, we continued our drive south and decided to make a pit stop in Savannah to visit River Street, see the Riverboat Sightseeing Cruise, and have an early dinner at Huey’s for some southern shrimp and grits. Then we took the girls to Forsythe Park, a beautiful park nestled among towering oak trees, walking paths, and an iconic fountain. We also showed them some of the famous historic squares — there are more than 20 in all — before continuing on our way home.

This road trip was a wonderful experience for us! Although it was a long drive, it was totally worth it. We can’t wait to do this again in the future.

What are some of your favorite family road trip destinations?


Thinking about planning a road trip this summer? Check out our Road Trip Series as well as these tried and true tips to make your road trip a success!