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East Coast Road Trip: Old Town Alexandria & Downtown D.C.

Welcome to my 14-day series on our East Coast Road Trip where I share our adventures along the way, how we’re doing this on a budget, honest reviews of attractions & restaurants we visit, and money-saving tips and ideas. If you missed it, read Day 1 here and Day 2 here.

Day 3 was a day full of lots and lots and lots of walking! I decided to skip my morning workouts on the days where I know we’ll be walking a TON because I figure I will be getting plenty of exercise! 🙂

Silas wanted to go on a morning walk with me, so we started the day by exploring Old Town Alexandria. It’s such an adorable area with so many cute shops, yummy looking restaurants, and just old town flair!

We found Payne Street so of course we had to take a picture! 🙂

We stayed a few blocks from the King St. Metro in Alexandria so that we could park our car in the gated parking garage the hotel had (we had to pay $20 per day for this, but it was worth it to not have to worry about our car getting broken into, etc.) and then take the metro into D.C.

This worked out really well and meant that we could easily get around the city, but didn’t have to mess with driving in the traffic or finding places to park.

The International Spy Museum

Our first D.C. stop was the International Spy Museum. This was on our must-do list and, despite the long lines and crowds, it didn’t disappoint.

The kids had been here before with Jesse (when I was in South Africa) and had long talked about coming back so I could experience it.

A few things we learned:

  • It’s really crowded in the D.C. area around the 4th of July. And the Spy Museum was a hot attraction… which meant that there was a long line waiting out the door when we got there. You can book your tickets online and by-pass this line.
  • However, we got our tickets free from a 5-attraction Washington, D.C. Explorer Pass we purchased with credit on Groupon. Even though we had these tickets, we still had to stand in line.
  • Tickets are regularly priced at $21.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids (ages 7-11). Children 6 and under are free. If you are planning to do multiple things in D.C., I’d highly recommend checking out the D.C. Explorer Pass. Even if we hadn’t gotten it free with credit from Groupon, it would have saved us quite a bit of money.
  • You can bring food and drink into the museum, you just can’t eat or drink in the museum. For those who have babies and toddlers, note that you can’t bring strollers into the museum, but you can check them at the coat check area.

When you first enter the museum, you choose a cover identity and then you keep that identity throughout the whole museum. They have a few different kiosks where they ask you questions about your identity to see how well you’d do at remembering facts and dates as a spy.

The museum is not as interactive as I expected and I think it’s geared for older kids and adults. Our kids really enjoyed it, but they also are obsessed with spy stuff and history. I wouldn’t recommend it if your kids are younger (say 8 years or younger) or if they aren’t really interested in spies/history.

The museum covers a lot of ground: the history of spies through the ages, spies in different wars, cool spy equipment through the ages, James Bond, information and displays on what it takes to be a spy, and a large section on spies in World War II.

My favorite exhibit, by far, was Spies Among Us which traces the impact that deception and spies played in the success of D-Day and the atomic bomb.

One of the other cool things about the museum is that it has the “largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display. Spanning the history of espionage around the globe, many of these artifacts have never before been seen by the public.” Read more here.


CitySights Double-Decker Bus Night Tour

After we left the Spy Museum, we walked for blocks and blocks to get to Union Station where we got our tickets for the CitySights Double-Decker Bus Night Tour.

We got these tickets with our D.C. Explorer Pass, but you can also purchase tickets for the bus tour only from Groupon (it’s cheaper to get the 3-attraction or 5-attraction Explorer Pass, if you’re planning to use that, but it’s still quite a bit less to buy the Groupon for the bus tour only than to get it from CitySights).

There was a LONG line of people going on the bus tours, but they were able to accommodate everyone and their staff was very friendly and helpful.

We loved this tour and would definitely recommend it. Not only was our guide incredibly knowledgeable, you could tell he absolutely loved his job and loved inspiring others and sharing interesting stories.

The bus tour was around 3 hours long, with a stop about 2 hours in at the FDR Memorial/Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Iwo Jima Memorial.

The weather was perfect, the sky was stunning, and I got all sorts of amazingly beautiful pictures. It was really fun to get to have such a great view of so many of the historic sites in the DC area — and to get to see so many of them in such a short timeframe!

We finally made it back to our hotel at 11 pm. Day 3 of our 14-day road trip was a success!

Book I finished today: Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents (I know it’s a heavy title; I’m reading some books on this trip to help me as I walk with one of my kids who is struggling and am trying to think through what I can do now to help prevent issues down the road.)

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  • Cheryl says:

    What book is your starting recommendation for this topic, to deal with a child who is struggling with respect? This book seems really intense, from the title. Just wanted your thoughts.

    • Hmm, I don’t know! But I’m reading a lot of books on similar topics this summer so I hopefully will have one to recommend in the next few months.

    • jb says:

      I’m late to this post, so you might never see this. But, I thoroughly enjoyed “Say Goodbye to Whining Complaining and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids” enough that I’ve continually recommended it over the past several years. In fact, it’s been so long that I can’t remember much about it (at all), I just know I liked it. I think I need to go back to it!

  • Anna says:

    Did you get to see the fireworks while in DC?

  • Heather says:

    I’m so excited your trip took you to DC! My family moved there for a year while my husband worked for the Dept. of Education. I home schooled my two girls in order to experience all there was to see (and we saw A LOT). One of our stops was the International Spy Museum! If you haven’t done the Portait Museum across the street from the Spy Museum I highly recommend it. It’s free and less crowded than the museums on the mall, but still has amazing art. We just moved back to our home in SC a week ago!

  • Jamie says:

    Does this book talk about how to prevent this problem from happening with my own kids? It looks like something I’d like to read, but sometimes when I read stuff like this I am just left worrying a lot. So, are there solutions in the book?

    • It’s moreso written from the perspective of helping adults who have dealt with difficult childhoods… but I read it from the perspective of a parent who wants to do all I can to be engaged and nurturing and loving my kids now.

  • Guest says:

    I hope you all go to see Mt. Vernon! We lived in the DC area for 10+ years and absolutely love the area. Mt. Vernon is great for kids and adults alike. Plus it’s just a 10 minute drive from where you’re staying in Old Town.

    We just returned from a 15 day road trip to New England. So many people thought we were crazy. And we probably were a little bit. 😉 But we had such a great time and I really think road trips are such a great way to see more and encourage (enforce? HA!) family time.

    We did something similar to what you’re doing from a packing perspective but slightly different. Each outfit (with undergarments and socks) was placed and tied in a plastic bag (we save Target/Walmart bags). Then each of us had a large duffel bag and a backpack. All the outfit bags were stored in the duffels. Our backpacks had toiletries, any medicines and a book. For stops where we were only staying one night, we pulled an outfit from the duffel bag and kept it in our backpack so we only had to take in our backpack. For longer stays, we took in both our duffel bags and our backpacks. It worked really well for us!

    We also had one medium tote where electronics (Kindles and iPad), chargers and a few snacks were stored which was great for keeping them together.

    • Yes! Road trips definitely, definitely encourage family time… because you can’t really avoid it! And it’s great to learn to work together and communicate better when you are in close quarters for hours and hour on end! 🙂

  • Susan says:

    Almost every big city has multiple-attraction passes through Groupon – not just DC! I used one for art museums in NY last summer.

  • Vee says:

    Hey, you were in my neck of the woods! I walk near and around Payne street often! I am glad you had a great time!!!

  • Margaret says:

    D.C. Is such a great family trip! Most of the museums are free, but the spy museum is well worth the price! It was one of our favorites too.

  • Kimberly says:

    I’m so glad you guys are having such a wonderful vacation! It’s fun to see and learn vicariously through your photos and descriptions, too. 🙂

    And thank you so much for this book title—when I saw this post yesterday, I was delighted to discover our library has it. Now I’m in line to get it!

  • Kim says:

    Will you be sharing your thoughts on this book soon? I’m in the midst of a family “crisis” and I think that this book may be what I’ve been unable to verbalize about my own mother/my past. I’m emotionally tired and tired of a relationship where so often I feel like I need to be the stronger one…the more mature thinking one…etc. Also, could you remind me what the title of the book you recommended about anxiety was? Thanks so much!

    • Hmm, was the anxiety one called DARE? That one had some good things in it, though I felt like you only needed to read the first few chapters, the rest of the book felt like it was just filling space to make it a book (if that makes sense?)

      As far as this book, there was some good stuff in it, but I felt like there was a lot of fluff in it, too. However, it might be worth checking to see if your library has it?

  • Lex says:

    We used to go to DC every single year for a family trip and it was always so nice because everything is in walking distance and it is really neat to see all of the different monuments that you can’t find around home.

  • I have ALWAYS wanted to visit DC! Thanks for sharing your vacation with us. I didn’t know about the spy museum, but one of my children in particular would adore that! I hope the next trip we take will be there, so I’ll have to bookmark these tips for later.

  • Yay!! I’m glad you were able to do one of the bus tours. They are an experience in and of themselves. haha

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