I personally dislike red eye flights but they are sometimes the cheapest way to travel and it’s very time effective (sometimes). Why do I say that? Well, if you leave the West Coast around 10:00 pm, you get to DC around 6:00 am. Which means you technically don’t have to pay for hotel for one night and you can start your day in DC. Well, this is assuming you’re coming from the west coast lol. However, if you’re like me, I tend to lose momentum by 2:00 pm and revert back to the hotel which is fine because by the time I get back to the hotel, it’s time for check in. I take a little nap but lose 4 hours lol. This itinerary will not provide you with the nap but be my guest if you decide to add one in! Also, there’s a lot of things that I had planned in my itinerary with my friends but we didn’t have time to cover or just slept in. I am kind of tweaking this itinerary just because it’s normally what I would do during vacation; Instead of vacation with the friends (sleeping in and clubbing is usually not in my vocabulary when visiting other cities, but checking out the sites and getting lost is one of them!) I’ll put in some of the nightlife in case you are looking for something to do at night.
Depending on which airport you land in, it takes about an 1 hour or so from IAD and BWI depending on traffic. The closest airport is DCA which would take about 30 minutes to DC Center. My friends and I all took different flights for some odd reason and ended up at the hotel exactly at the same time. They landed in IAD at 7:30 am and I landed in DCA at 8:30 am; they used Uber while I used the metro. We all got to the hotel around 9:00 am ~ 9:15 am (please note that this was on a Thursday with morning rush hour).
Usually hotels let you check in early for an additional fee or if they’re nice … for free if there’s a room available. However, some hotels do hold your bags/luggage for you so you don’t have to worry about carrying them around when tourist-ing.
Our hotel, the Marriott Metro Center, was pretty close to everything. First stop was breakfast!
The thing about domestic flights, especially American flights, is that they are pretty frugal with food! Plus, technically with a red eye, you probably already had dinner and you’re technically waking up for breakfast. However, unlike most Asian flights that are 5~7 hours long, they only provide you with refreshments. In Asian flights, I still get a full meal! What’s up with that? Of course, in an American flight, a meal/sandwich is available for you for a fee lol. So like I said breakfast was needed at the start of the day.
I could recommend some breakfast places but most of the places I ate at weren’t that great or have a wow factor. But my friends and I ate at Old Ebbitt Grill and the Wicked Waffles the first two days we were there. Both of these places are close to the White House and the Renwick Gallery.
The Renwick Gallery is located on 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW Washington DC and Open Daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 am. Since it’s one of the Smithsonian Museum, it’s Free!
The next thing I would check out is the North and South Lawn of the White House. Yes, this is the closest you can get to the White House unfortunately; unless you planned in advance and requested entrance you can go in and do your own self-guided tour; but don’t fret you can always visit the White House Visitor Center at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC. Open Daily from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm. It’s alright lol. It’s not really something I would recommend. I mean why see a “museum” if you can go to the real thing right?
So here’s what you can do. Most and if not all the museums and monuments are located in the National Mall and it takes more than a day or 2 to visit every museum properly or if you’re a museum enthusiast. I, on the other hand, do not care to visit every single nook and cranny of each museum. However, I tend to visit things that intrigued me when researching about it (which I will explain more below). When you’re at the Mall, I would start from one side first and then do the other side. Crisscrossing from one museum to the next is just not acceptable!
If you’re starting from the White House, I’d walk straight to the Washington Monument then turn left to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Natural History Museum has a rotunda with an elephant in the center and it’s an amazing sight to see! I personally think that if you’ve been to one Natural History Museum, you’ve probably seen them all, but of course each rotunda is different so you must go for this fact alone.
After the Natural History Museum, walk through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden to the National Archives Building. The National Archives Building is where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are located. It was definitely something to see if you’re a history buff like me. I mean seriously, I learned about it my history class and I just had to see it with my own two eyes!
After the National Archives Building, I recommend going to the National Gallery of Art. The West and East Garden Court and the Rotunda is very remarkable. The East building really has a really cool modern architecture! There’s also this walking escalator that goes under a tunnel of lights which I didn’t see (so sad).
Depending how long you stay here is totally up to you but usually the above museums closes around 5:00 pm/ 5:30 pm. Hopefully, you can get through all that in Day 1! By this time, you’re probably hungry. The museums usually have cafes in them or there’s food trucks on 7th St. NW. My friends and I opted for something further.
By this time, we were kind of tired from the night before so we opted to take Lyft to Chinatown. There’s a chain restaurant in DC that’s a must visit and it’s called Matchbox. They have various pizza choices which I think is really tasty. Plus, this location is right next to the City Center DC and walk-able distance to our hotel. From here, we took a nap.
Since I was with my friends, we went out to a bar after our nap as the museums were closed. There are two places you can visit and they are Adams Morgan and the U Street Corridor (14 St and U St) if you want to find good bars. However, if you’re like me, I would’ve opted for the night tour of the Monuments and check out the Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial and then call it a night! lol (but that never happened). When I mean night tour, I mean going there at night and walking from the Washington Monument to Lincoln Memorial at night. I guess you can do both if you’re up for it!!! Plus, it’s a great way to just finish that side of the National Mall.