Background Check You have a lifetime subscription to American Heritage magazine. You’re much more up on the American Revolution than on American Idol. Your cats’ names are Grant and Lee.
Washington—site of two presidential assassinations and 217 years of congressional machinations—is your paradise. Your big challenge: resisting the urge to read every sign and see every exhibit.
Where to Begin
Unless you’re a hardcore Lincoln fan, nix Ford’s Theatre, an overrated attraction. Start instead at the newly renovated National Portrait Gallery (Eighth and F Sts. NW; 202/275-1738; npg.si.edu). Point your kids toward the presidential portraits and have them find Gilbert Stuart’s famous George Washington—they know it from the dollar bill.
Another Essential Museum
The National Museum of American History is closed until 2008 for renovation, but that gives you more time at the National Air & Space Museum (Independence Ave. and Fourth St. SW; 202/633-1000; nasm.si.edu). Practically every key aircraft is here (the Apollo 11 command module, Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis)—plus the IMAX Theater has a five-story screen and the gift shop sells astronaut ice cream. Count on crowds: this is the most-visited museum in the city.
The Battle Zone
To escape the throngs, head for the war memorials (adjacent to the Mall, between 17th and 23rd Sts.; 202/426-6841; www.nps.gov). While you study the new World War II monument, let the kids race around its circular plaza. Then walk along the south side of the Reflecting Pool to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Its granite wall may be a knockoff of the Vietnam Memorial, but the 19 statues of soldiers are heroic. Climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and read the two greatest speeches in American history, Lincoln’s Gettysburg and Second Inaugural addresses, carved on the walls inside. Your last stop: the Vietnam Memorial. This stark black gash still has the power to quiet children and bring adults to tears.
Where to Stay
Crammed with leather sofas, brass beds, and vintage photos, the Hotel Tabard Inn (1739 N St. NW; 202/785-1277; www.tabardinn.com; doubles from $163) in Dupont Circle feels like an old club. Nab room No. 62—the penthouse—and you’ll get a huge living room and your own kitchen.
Your Stomping Grounds
Nowhere is the Washington of yesteryear on better display than in Georgetown. From Wisconsin Avenue, meander down O, P, and Q Streets, with their 18th- and 19th-century town houses; then walk over to Georgetown University’s Gothic-style campus (37th and O Sts. NW; 202/687-0100) and up to Dumbarton Oaks (1703 32nd St. NW; 202/339-6401), a 19th-century mansion with 10 acres of formal gardens. Forage picnic sandwiches at Dean & DeLuca (3276 M St. NW; 202/342-2500), or try the Moby Dick House of Kabob (1070 31st St. NW; 202/333-4400). Eat your takeout along the Potomac or the towpath of the C&O Canal, a relic of the brief period when Washington was a commercial city. At Dolcezza (1560 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202/333-4646), the creamy handmade gelato is a treat George Washington could have sunk his teeth into.