I don't know why I don't take advantage of Washington DC more often, but the annoyance of the traffic and parking is a big part of the reason, so my plan on this trip was to dodge all of it, and take the MARC train and Metro all the way. It's so easy. The MARC train leaves from Penn Station. $7 per person gets you all the way to DC, efficiently and even fairly comfortably. Buy roundtrip tickets at the ticket counter and you can head home anytime. Trains run at least hourly throughout the day, but check the weekday or weekend schedule.
The end of the line is Union Station. I purchased and preloaded SmartTrip Cards and Charm Cards ahead of time for the Metro. This was totally worthwhile, especially when we cut our train home too close. Fumbling with ticket purchases is probably my least favorite part of public transportation and SmartTrip Cards/Charm Cards are not only interchangeable, they work on MTA light rail and buses too. We sailed through the Metro. Red line to Metro Center. Blue, Orange, or Silver Line to Smithsonian. Wow, I love a well-designed subway map. If you just keep track of which endpoint you are heading toward, you are all set.
We arrived at the Mall at a lousy time. Too close to lunch. My kids were mostly interested in the Museum of Natural History, so we headed there. The cafe had an incredibly long line. The guy at the information both pointed out that it was overpriced too. Even he recommended packing a lunch next time. Touché, information booth guy. I certainly will next time, but this time we were stuck with sub-par food trucks.
Still, the Museum of Natural History was a winner. Afterall, how can you not like a butterfly garden?
And I am always surprised, but my second favorite exhibit is probably gemstones, because honestly quartz is beautiful...
...and topaz is awesome.
Personally, I'm not that wowed by the Hope Diamond, but it's there too.
My kids transformed themselves into homo neanderthalensis and homo floresiensis in the Human Origins Exhibit. Adorable, aren't they?
We headed outside to enjoy some ice cream and walk along the Mall.
While I would have loved to explore the Washington Monument, you have to get there by no later that 6:30am to buy tickets, so clearly, that is never, ever, ever going to happen. At least we could enjoy the outside.
Next, we headed to the Air and Space Museum. I hadn't been before but again, you could get absorbed with the exhibits for the whole day. I loved the Wilbur and Orville Wright exhibit, but the Lunar Landings were also incredibly interesting. No good pics of this one, but I assure you it's worth the time.
We decided to head home. We raced back to the Metro so that we wouldn't have to wait an hour for the next departure time. Trains were incredibly easy to catch and I noticed a certain confidence as my travel companions kept up with my pace, or was it the other way around? Blue line to Metro Center. Red line to Union Station. And a mad dash to the MARC train. They were like spy kids, deftly managing the escalators and we made it with exactly one minute to spare. Proud mom moment. No lost kids. Did I mention I made them write my cell phone number on their arms before we left. Yep. I did. We need to get that one committed to memory, just in case.