Whirl Wind Weekend in Washington D.C. : Part 1

Our visit to Washington D.C. over the Labor Day weekend just ended and it was great! First, the weather was awesome. Second, the sites were not too busy, at least not initially. And finally, our feet did not fall off from all the walking, although they did hurt pretty bad at times.

There was so much that we did, I cannot go into each site’s significance in every detail. Therefore, this review will mainly provide an overview of the overall trip, where we went and some tips that we learned that others may find helpful.

Our first visit of the day was along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor center.  The visitor center was found on the Maryland side of the Potomac, and after a long drive everyone was eager to get out and explore.  The amazing day provided a great refresher as we started toward the visitor center. This eventually led to a short hike to the Great Falls overlook.

Stamping Station C&O
Passport Stamp Station

The small Visitor Center held maps, a small store and exhibits.  The stamping location was nicely positioned by a sunny window. I was impressed by the large number of stamps that represented the local C&O lock locations found along the road toward DC.   A pick-up of the map and we were on our way!

C&O Canel white Visitor Center

We found the stroll along the Canal tow path pleasant and interesting. It illustrated the way canal boats were pull along by mules to bypass the rapids and head into town to market.  After strolling pass lock 20, 19 and 18, we turned into the 0.25 walking path toward Olmstead Island and the main falls.  During the walk, we went over a couple of bridges that afforded a wonderful view of rapids.

C&O Canel boat and walkway

We were presented with a wonderful view after arriving at the Great Falls overlook.  The kids loved climbing the rock outcropping jutting out the middle of the overlook.  You can see the overlook on the Virginia side of the falls. This reminded me of my long-ago Rock-Climbing adventures at that park.

Tip:  If you have more time, there are numerous hiking trails along the rocks throughout the park property. 

We continued to drive east toward the city, hugging the canal system of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal system.  On the way we stopped in to see the National Park Site at Glen Echo Park, which also is the location of the Clara Barton Historic Site.  Unfortunately, the Clara Barton house was closed at the time of our visit.

Therefore, we could only catch a glimpse of the outside of the majestic house.  It is my understanding that the NPS is has a plan enhance the exhibits at the site.  Once those upgrades are completed, we will certainly need to return to learn more about the site and the founder of the Red Cross.

Main entrance sign of "Glen Echo Park"

As we walked to Glen Echo, I was unsure of what to expect and was surprised by what we learned.  It was apparently THE Amusement Park for the Washington DC area from the 1900s through the 1960s.  Additionally, it is the only amusement park preserved by the National Park service.  It started as an artist colony in the and then evolved into a traditional amusement park we would recognize today. The Park also was home to bumper cars, a pool, trolley rides, a dance hall and other larger rides.

In addition, an original running 1921 Dentzel Carousel still sits in its original location.  My kids were rather annoyed by the fact that the carousel was closed on Fridays.  Probable more annoyed that I mentioned the Carousel as a selling point to stop and see the park.  One planning demerit on Dad.  

In 1960 Glen Echo Park played a role in the Civil Rights protests of the times.  Howard University students held a sit in on the Carousel to protest the Whites only policy of the park, eventually opening up the park to all races.  At the present time, the Glen Echo Park is now home again to artists and crafts people.  We actually ran into a silversmith putting out brochures and was able to check out their work in part of the park. They were looking forward to a very busy Labor Day weekend, that was going to start on Saturday, oh well.

Tip:  Best to try and plan ahead and check the times for special activities and programs.  

If you are looking for a nice local place for lunch, and don’t mind navigating a tight parking lot, check out the Wild Tomato in Cabin John, MD.

After lunch, I thought we had plenty of time (more on that later) to stop in on the Old Stone House site.  The drive from the West through Georgetown was actually very interesting. Seeing this bustling side of town and running through the round-abouts was neat.  The atmosphere of this part of town was the topic of conversation by the family.  

Stone House external View from street

The house is wedged in-between some building and a parking lot, so you do have to pay attention to know where you are.  We tried to park on the street, but it the streets were very busy.  Consequently, we ended up briefly parking at the lot literally right next to the building (see the “Park” sign in the picture). It was convenient, and we paid the price for it ($15!).

The Old Stone House itself is an old two-story home that has been used for a business since 1800. The house is the oldest structure on its original foundation in DC, originating before the revolutionary war.  Additionally, there are many rumors that swirled stating that George Washington slept here (he did not), which contributed to the mythology of the site. The first room is setup as the visitor center and store. The back room, which was the kitchen, holds a small set of exhibits.  

The exhibits walk you through the history of the site in an interesting way.  The kids enjoyed sizing up against the tape measure along the wall to see how they measure up to the height of George Washington and an average English soldier.

As you would expect the stamping location was very small.   So much so that I had to apologize for knocking over the brochures setting next to the stamp pad. Oops.   

Stamping Station at Old Stone House

After we finished checking out the site, getting our stamps and some souvenirs, we went out back to check the gardens.  Unfortunately, we were less than impressed.  While I am sure there was some effort at a time, it looked as if the heat of the summer took a toll on the vibrancy of this area.

Our final stop of the day was at Arlington National Cemetery.  The overall location managed under the Department of the Army. The Robert E. Lee’s Memorial and his previous home, the Arlington House, sits in the middle of the cemetery and is managed by the park service.   I made a few wrong turns along the drive to the cemetery. Consequently, I had to turn around, but we eventually we made it to the parking structure.  After a security check, and brief stop at the visitor center, we started along the road toward John F. Kennedy’s gravesite and the eternal flame. We initially looked at the trolley but at $17 a person, I could not see us spending that across four people.  If I had known about the hills, however, my knee may have stepped in and changed my mind.

The Lee Memorial and the Arlington House

After a stop at the eternal flame, we went toward the Arlington house. We overheard the Park Ranger announce that he was closing the house soon, so we hurried over before he locked the door.  I looked at my watch and it was close to 4pm.  Another schedule failure as I thought we had more time.  The bookstore also closed at the same time, so we were lucky. If we did not make this, we would not have been able to pick up any cancellations stamps at this site.

Roaming Monk and Park Ranger at Lee house

The Park Ranger was very enthusiastic in sharing the history of the Lee house. He included a broader unique perspective about the complicated history of the site.  We ended up being in the house for over 30 mins past the normal closing time discussing the exhibits and listening the stories from the Ranger. A truly memorable experience.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

After leaving the Arlington house, we wanted to take in the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  We were there with plenty of time to take in the elaborate ceremony.  It was clear that these soldiers were a select group and represented the honor of this prestigious post well.

Soldier at Arlington National Cemetary guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier.

After leaving the Arlington house, we wanted to take in the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  We were there with plenty of time to take in the elaborate ceremony.  It was clear that these soldiers were a select group and represented the honor of this prestigious post well.

Where to eat in Crystal City after a long day touring

We drove to the hotel in Crystal City after the long walk back to the car. Everyone was hunger so we enjoyed an early dinner out after checking into the hotel.  If you are into tapas style traditional Mexican food and are in the area, try Tacombi in Crystal City.

Read More: A One Day Walking Tour of Washington D.C.

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