I spent my Thanksgiving in Washington DC. My family has trained me into a traveler, and my mom and I have a tendency to ditch Thanksgiving dinner to travel. I hesitate to share this secret, but Thanksgiving is an excellent time to travel. Places that would be teeming with visitors come summer are usually pretty calm! So even though I only had four days for Thanksgiving this year, instead of my high school’s week off, my mom and I continued our tradition and met up in DC. I’d never been before; I feel like some part of me doesn’t realize how much there is to see right here in the US. This trip definitely brought that home!
I flew into Washington-Dulles, which is kind of a wild airport. It’s maybe a little more than a half hour out of the heart of the city, a sprawling airport that requires both trams and shuttle buses to get from terminal to terminal. But they have lots of signs telling you exactly where to go, so that’s a plus.
Once I got into DC, I discovered that one can walk everywhere! Our cab driver said that driving in DC isn’t worth it, and we didn’t have any need to while we were there. That very first night we walked to the Washington Monument. Nothing in DC is allowed to be built higher than it, and honestly I am so glad. Almost everywhere we went I was able to spot the monument, and it made me feel really warm and excited about our country’s history.
The museums in DC are absolutely amazing. If the museum you want to go to is one of the Smithsonians, then entry is free. We got in line for the Natural History Museum on a whim, and were able to go inside and see everything from living butterflies to mummified lizards. That’s right folks, they have both a butterfly sanctuary, and a mummy exhibit. The museum houses every branch of natural history that you can imagine. There’s an exhibit dedicated to gems and geology, where the Hope Diamond is housed. There are dinosaur fossils on display, and fossils currently being cleaned by volunteers and staff that you can watch at work. There are imax films and ocean animals and live bugs. We only got to see a few floors before the museum closed, but it seemed like a place that I could’ve spent days in.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a Smithsonian museum, so it’s free, but you have to reserve tickets in order to get in. The tickets are taken out way into the future. My mom and I just walked by to get a glimpse of the beautiful architecture. A guard stopped us and asked if we had our tickets. My mom said no, and asked if there was any good way to get tickets, because aren’t they almost impossible to get? The guard smiled at us and said, “Until you met me.” He pulled to tickets out of his pocket and handed them to us, and we got to spend the rest of our day exploring one of the most poignant, well-organized, inspiring museums in the world.
The last museum we visited during our trip was the International Spy Museum. This one’s not Smithsonian-run, but it’s definitely worth paying for a ticket. It was all of my Spy Kids dreams come true! In the museum you can take on a persona and test your spy skills crawling through air ducts, learn about all sorts of spy gear, and get the in-depth scoop on James Bond. Not only did we walk through the main museum, but we also participated in Operation Spy and took on the role of secret agents tasked with saving the world. We made it out folks! Live to die another day.
Museums aren’t the only places you can go to learn about the history of DC. We took a tour of the Capitol building as well. It’s full of gorgeous paintings and statues, historic architecture, and George Washington looking down at you from the rotunda. The Capitol is absolutely huge. It was like walking up to a castle, or the colosseum. The only way I can think to describe DC is as a reminder of cities like Rome, but to be magnificent and imposing, and beautiful to look at.
From the Capitol, we went to the Library of Congress. This is probably my favorite place in DC, because every single book printed in the United States is somewhere in that library. My mom got so excited when she realized that books she’s written are in there, and it is my greatest hope that one day I can publish something that will live within those walls. The building is absolutely beautiful too. The inside is covered in paintings and mosaics. They have books galore, including a recreation of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. Apparently he’d read every book in there. It made me feel a need to read a lot more.
After the Library of Congress, we walked through the National Botanical Gardens. It was so fun to walk from the tropics to the desert in a matter of seconds, and seeing all these beautiful flora and fauna in out of the cold. They even had a display dedicated to the Torrey Pines, which grow in the national park near by house in San Diego! It was like a quick trip home.
And to fuel all these adventures, DC provides a lot of delicious food. We found a Peruvian-Chinese fusion restaurant that serves a mean brunch, a place that appeared to be the Chipotle of Indian food, and Lincoln’s Wafflehouse, a diner that is kitschy and homey and absolutely delicious. We had Thanksgiving dinner at Ollie’s Trolley, which is apparently a favorite of President Obama. I can see why. The fries are delicious.
We walked all the way down the mall, from Washington’s Monument to Lincoln’s Memorial as the sun was setting on our last day in DC. The walk up to Lincoln is kind of amazing. You don’t realize just how huge his memorial is until you’re walking up the steps, and then inside with a giant Abe Lincoln looking out over DC. As we went up the steps, people were sliding down slopes of marble carved out beside the staircases, playing freely on this giant monument. There was something really fitting about that. The monuments are just part of our country, the way historic sites in Rome are everyday to the people who live there. They’re significant nonetheless.
Overall, this Thanksgiving trip to DC was a fun-packed few days, in which I slept, explored, ate well, and remembered how historic America really is in a time when I’ve been working hard not to lose hope in it. Everywhere we went there were stories to be told. I felt really inspired by the buildings, the history, the people. Sometimes I hate on America for not being old enough, not working hard enough, but my goodness, DC reminded me of our history and how hard America worked simply to exist. that place made me feel our history. People cared enough to do all that work, and if we keep caring, our country will keep on growing. We are living history, and that’s pretty cool.