Washington, D.C. feels like my second home. I spent several years living in the city while earning my college degree at Howard University. While there, I soaked in the culture, history, and food that makes D.C. unique. My favorite thing about D.C. is that I met my wife there. I will always have an emotional connection to the city.
I’ve longed to take a family vacation to D.C. because I want my kids to experience all of the wonderful things our nation’s capitol has to offer. Although I haven’t had an opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. with my whole family, I was able to spend three days in the city with my 12-year old daughter, Nee. It was great to see my old stomping ground through her eyes.
Prologue – The Secret Mission
I didn’t tell Nee much about the trip because I wanted it to be a surprise. The night before we were scheduled to leave, I told her to meet me in the guest room because I had something to tell her.
She entered the room and I closed the door behind her.
“What’s up, Daddy?” She asked.
“You know we’re going to Washington, D.C., right?” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
“Well, I need to tell you why we’re going,” I said.
“I thought we were going to see where you and Mommy went to college,” she said.
“We are,” I said. “But there’s something else. I have to complete a mission in D.C.”
“What kind of mission?” She asked. I paused a few minutes and then looked out the window and closed the shades.”
“I’m a spy,” I said. “And I’m on a secret mission from the President.”
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Can I go back to my room now?”
“Sure,” I said. “But keep this between us. I don’t want you to blow my cover”
Day 1 – I Spy Washington, D.C.
The next day, a black sedan came to pick us up.
“Why is that car outside?” My daughter asked.
“It’s our secret transportation to the airport,” I said. “Hurry up and get in before the neighbors notice us.”
My daughter shook her head and proceeded to the vehicle.
“While we’re in D.C., don’t call me Daddy,” I said. “Use my codename: Mr. Awesome. Your codename is Parakeet.”
“Wait,” she said. “Why do you get the cool codename?”
“Because I’m the spy,” I said.
The flight to D.C. from Houston was fun. I told my daughter stories about my college days and we talked about her future plans. About 3 hours later, we landed at Dulles International Airport.
At the airport, we met a man dressed in black, holding a sign that read GOODALL. He lead us to a black SUV with tinted windows. My daughter had a confused look on her face as I whisked her inside.
“Okay, Parakeet,” I said. “We’re in D.C. and our mission is about to begin. Are you ready?”
“Daddy, please stop pretending you’re a spy,” she said. “And stop calling me Parakeet.”
“You’re right, we should stop talking,” I said. “This SUV might be bugged.”
As we crossed the Potomac River, my daughter got her first glimpse of the famous monuments. The look of wonder on her face was priceless.
Hilton Garden Inn
We arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn (disclosure: HGI paid all travel expenses) and was greeted by a helpful, friendly staff. Our check-in was fast and the desk clerk offered several recommendations for dinner and other activities.
In the room, my daughter noticed a black bag on one of the beds.
“What’s that, Daddy?’ she asked.
“The instructions for my mission,” I said.
“Daddy, please stop with the whole spy thing. I know you’re not a real spy,” she said.
“If I’m not a real spy, then why do I have this,” I said as I pulled out this box:
Nee gasped. Her eyes grew wide and her jaw nearly hit the floor. I opened the case and read the mission instructions:
You have received instructions to photograph top-secret documents inside a high-security building and deliver the pictures to an unknown accomplice.
I pulled out the fake ID cards and sunglasses and handed them to my daughter.
“Are you ready, Parakeet?” I asked.
She snatched the IDs from my hand to inspect them. After a few seconds, she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Daddy, these aren’t even real,” she said. “That’s a toy spy set.”
My cover was blown and I had to abort the mission.
“You have to admit that I had you going for a little while,” I said.
“Only for a little while,” she said reluctantly. We both laughed and prepared for our actual mission – to visit my old dormitory, Sutton Plaza.
When we arrived, we discovered that the dormitory had been turned into private apartments. I was a bit disappointed, but it was good to see the old building again. I told my daughter several stories about my two years living there.
Capitol City Brewing Company
Later that evening, I met Jeff Bogle, my wingman, during my Southwestern Pennsylvania DadVenture, and a few other friends at Capitol City Brewing Company for dinner. The hostess escorted us to a private room upstairs.
Our meal began with some freshly baked pretzels and a delicious dipping sauce. My daughter ordered the Traditional Club Sandwich and I chose the New York Strip (12oz steak, seasoned and grilled, served with smashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables – tasty). We enjoyed the meal and the conversation with the my friends and their kids.
After dinner, Nee and I walked to the Mall to admire the brightly lit Washington Monument. Back at the Hilton Garden Inn, we were pleasantly surprised to discover a plate of warm cookies waiting for us in our room.
International Spy Museum
We began our day with a cooked-to-order breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, Grist Mill. I had 2 eggs medium, potatoes, and fruit. My daughter settled on a couple of boiled eggs, toast and fruit.
After breakfast, we boarded the shuttle and proceeded to the International Spy Museum, the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage.
My daughter and I were fascinated by the artifacts. We agreed that being a spy would be pretty cool if not for the deception and constant threat of danger.
I really enjoyed the 007 Exhibit. It was a detailed retrospective of the James Bond franchise. There was even a replica of his famed Aston Martin (read my daughter’s account of our visit – The Day I Became a Spy at the International Spy Museum – Washington, D.C.)
After learning more than we ever wanted to know about spies, we walked a few blocks to tour The Smithsonian museums. Every American should visit these museums because they preserve the history and culture of our country and they are free.
We strolled through the Sculpture Garden, but a rain shower forced us to seek shelter in the National Museum of Natural History. Our favorite exhibits were “Explore Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” and “The African Diaspora: Integrating Culture, Genomics, and History.” It was also exciting to see the Hope Diamond.
Touring the exhibits left us famished. We left the museum and headed to the Metro station. My daughter was excited about riding the Metro because she’d never been on a subway before. I taught her how to buy a ticket and read a subway map. We took the Yellow Line to the U Street corridor for lunch.
U Street Corridor
When I was in college, I spent much time on U street browsing used bookstores, listening to poets and musicians in cafes, and going to nightclubs. The area has grown a lot over the years and I’m glad to see that it’s flourishing. Although many things about the area have changed, one thing has remained constant – Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
As a Howard student, I spent a lot of time at Ben’s Chili Bowl. It was a nice place to get a quick, tasty, inexpensive meal. Over the years, the restaurant has become a popular tourist attraction. My daughter and I walked in to discover a long line. Fortunately, we located a couple of seats. She was excited to see that Bill Cosby was a regular at the restaurant (she is a huge fan of The Cosby Show).
She ordered a Ben’s Chili Burger and I got a Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half-Smoke. We shared a basket of chili-cheese fries. The chili was hearty and spicy – just as I remembered it.
With our bellies full, we headed over to my alma mater, Howard University. I could write ad nauseam about my days at Howard, but I will spare you that torture. Suffice it to say that I had a great time, learned a lot, and met the woman of my dreams.
I was disappointed that I couldn’t show my daughter more of the university because most of the buildings were closed for summer. But I did show her the place where I met her mother, my freshman dormitory, the student center, the famed Founders Library, and a few other historic places on campus.
While we walked across The Yard, I heard music. I followed the sound until I located a Go-Go band performing on Georgia Avenue. I was thrilled that Nee would be able to hear a live Go-Go band. I was first introduced to the music when I was a freshman and I’ve been a fan ever since. To my dismay, she way not impressed – even when I started dancing on the sidewalk.
By this time, we were worn out and went back to the hotel to rest before heading out to dinner.
My daughter and I took the train to Georgetown for dinner. Georgetown is a cool section of Washington, D.C. that is packed with great shops and restaurants. We choose Paper Moon because my daughter wanted to try some Italian food. Paper Moon is a popular Georgetown restaurant tucked on a side street. My daughter ordered a pizza and I got the Lobster Fra Diavlo, which was delicious.
After dinner, we stopped for ice cream at a local parlor. I’m disappointed because I cannot remember the name of it. The place had the creamiest, tastiest ice cream I’ve had in a while. I sampled the Vietnamese Coffee, Salted Caramel, and Chocolate with Pretzels and finally settled on the latter.
My daughter and I enjoyed our ice cream cones while strolling the streets of Georgetown. It was the perfect way to end the day.
We got up early to get in a little more sightseeing before we had to leave for the airport. After a hearty breakfast, we walked to the White House. This was probably the highlight of the trip for my daughter.
Next we visited the World War I Memorial, The World War II Memorial, The Korean War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Our final stop was the Martin Luther King Memorial. We took several pictures and enjoyed our remaining hours in D.C.
We headed back to the Hilton Garden Inn and had Nee’s left-over pizza for lunch.
Washington, D.C. is a great town filled with fun family activities. It will always be one of my favorite travel destinations. I can’t wait to return with the rest family.