The Newb's Guide to Visiting the National Mall & Memorial Parks
Visiting Washington D.C. is something every red blooded American should do at least once in his or her lifetime. There’s something so inspiring about walking the same streets our nation’s greatest leaders once walked. It’s easy to remember why you love this country so much when you see and admire the places where landmark American events took place. Plus! It’s where Olivia Pope lives, so that’s awesome.
My husband, son, two dogs and I now call Northern Virginia home. We are a solid 45 minutes from the heart of D.C. Would I love to live in the city and do things like ride the metro instead of drive and get season tickets for the Nats? Absolutely! But with my husband working in Reston, VA, there’s no way he’d be cool with that brutal commute just so I can feel like Claire Underwood. So, we get to enjoy D.C. from a distance. We’re close enough to visit for an afternoon, but far enough away where we don’t have to deal with the stress that comes with living in a major metropolis.
The very first trip we made when we decided we needed a legitimate break from unpacking was to the National Mall. Last time I visited D.C. was 10 years ago, and my husband had only been there once, but for work. Our son, Gavin, was only 18 months old, so he wouldn’t have cared if we were at a local gas station, but we still wanted him to see the world-famous sights.
Gavin abides by a sleeping and eating schedule like an OCD German Shepherd, so we only have a 4-hour chunk of time to work with in the morning before he turns into a gremlin. Luckily, one can check out the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Korean War Memorial and Lincoln Memorial in that time frame. If you don’t have a kid who is basically a ticking time bomb, you can also throw in the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and FDR Memorial.
Right and Up tip: The best piece of advice I can give is to visit this area on a Sunday morning. There’s no traffic into the city and the sidewalks are almost empty. Plus, you’ll be able to see the landmarks without swarms of people everywhere.
We opted to park in a parking garage using the Parking Panda app. If you come to this area on Sunday morning, there will be plenty of free street parking available (except on streets flanking the Mall and right by major landmarks). We found this out the hard way and wasted money by parking in the garage! Any other day of the week, though, Parking Panda is the way to go. We are nerds who like to be prepared, so having a reserved parking spot gave us a sense of comfort. But, again, since it is so quiet on Sunday morning, you shouldn't have a problem finding street parking.
Our favorite place to park is on D Street SW just off 14 Street SW. It's about a block away from the National Holocaust Museum. It's incredibly close to the main attractions, but far enough away that you're not fighting for a parking spot. If you want to use the Parking Panda app and park in a garage, D Street SW is where you'll find the Portals III Garage. It'll cost $11 to park here from morning til night.
Park, and head north on 14th Street SW and in about half a mile you'll be standing right in front of the Washington Monument. People with tiny bladders rejoice! There are public bathrooms on the east side of the monument in what's called the Washington Monument Lodge.
Go for a Stroll
Walk toward the Washington Monument and face its east side. Standing here, you'll get a glimpse of the Capitol behind you. To your right is The White House. To your left is the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial. And straight ahead (the west side of the Washington Monument) is the WWII Memorial, Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial.
From here, you can choose your own adventure. We opted to go straight and see the WWII Memorial first. This memorial is truly a sight to see, especially for anyone who has family who fought in WWII. The quotes engraved in marble throughout the memorial are awe-inspiring, and really make you reflect on and appreciate the sacrifices the Greatest Generation made.
You can continue on west and walk along the Reflecting Pool and head toward the Lincoln Memorial. You'll get the best view of the Mall from the top of the steps here. Keep an eye out for the engraving in the center of the landing of the white marble steps. It's the exact spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous "I Have a Dream Speech" in 1963.
Inside the Lincoln Memorial you'll see Honest Abe enshrined in 175 tons of white marble. Etched inside the walls is the text from his Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address.
To the north east of the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam Memorial, and on the south east side is the Korean War Memorial. Both are definitely worth a visit. Be prepared to get emotional at the Vietnam War Memorial, especially if there are veterans visiting using a paper and pencil to rub over the names of men they once knew.
An often overlooked area near the National Mall is the Constitutional Gardens. It’s beautiful and quiet down there, which seems a bit odd considering all the hustle and bustle going on just a few blocks over. If you're making a day of your visit, this is a great place to set up a picnic and take in the sights around you.
If you're up for the walk, head toward The White House and see the world-famous building for yourself. It's just more than a mile walk from the Lincoln Memorial. There are other smaller landmarks and memorials along the way, like the Albert Einstein Memorial, First Infantry Division Monument, Eisenhower Executive Office Building (fans of VEEP will know this building!) and more.
Go for a Run Around the Tidal Basin
I've always wanted to go for a run in Washington D.C. Gavin has a sweet Thule jogging stroller, so we loaded up on a crisp Sunday morning and headed into the city for a family run. We decided to start our run in front of the Washington Monument. From there we headed toward the Tidal Basin and ran along the path right next to the water. In the springtime, gorgeous cherry blossoms are everywhere. But it's still beautiful anytime of year.
On this route you’ll pass the Jefferson Memorial, followed by the FDR Memorial then the MLK Jr Memorial. We got mixed up here and went over the Kutz Bridge, realized we were wrong and had to double back. We went behind the Lincoln Memorial, up Constitution Avenue, around the Ellipse and back toward the Washington Monument. With our double backs, we covered exactly 5 miles. And it was amazing! It’s just so cool running past all the landmarks and thinking, “We live here now!”
There is so much to do in Washington D.C., and we have only just scratched the surface. Unless the Army has other plans, we hope to be here for at least two more years. Stay tuned for more articles sharing tips and suggestions about the National Capital Region!
about the author
Rachel is an Auburn grad (War Damn Eagle!) and holds a degree in journalism. While working as a sports writer covering the Tigers, she met a cute, tall officer stationed at Fort Benning. A few margaritas, some conversations about why a no-huddle offense is superior and 18 months later, they got married. They have PCS’d to Fort Huachuca, Fort Riley and recently moved to the National Capital Region. They have a ridiculously adorable son named Gavin and two furry children, Jeter and Lilly.