Have you ever had to change travel plans last minute? TravelingMom Judy Antell was in Washington DC recently and had to totally rearrange her itinerary. But there are so many things to do in DC that the trip was still a success. And a Washington DC day trip works for visitors and residents.
Undrinkable water. A murder. Unbearable heat. Sounds like a vacation gone awry, in some remote location off most tourists’ radar. But no, my husband and I were in Washington, DC, for one last weekend before our middle daughter left the city for good. Or bad.
Yet, with some creative thinking, we were able to salvage our weekend.
Our first challenge was a water alert in the city. The drinking water had been compromised, so you couldn’t drink tap water. Since we had driven to DC, we decided to take a day trip, and drove about 30 miles away to hike.
Washington DC day trip: Hiking
We drove to Great Falls Tavern, where there are hiking trails along the Potomac River and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. We were scared off the difficult Billy Goat Trail, where dogs, pregnant women and those with back conditions are warned away. But we were still able to hike most of the day, in shade. The parking lot has bathrooms and water (safe to drink!) but there is no water on the trails. Bring more than you think you will need. In summer, figure at least two bottles per person.
Second Challenge: Murder in Old Town Alexandria
Our original plan had been to bike to Old Town. But we delayed our trip for a day. The day before, there was a murder in broad daylight, right on the main street. Caution tape covered some storefronts.
So we made a game day decision: head to Mount Vernon. The home of George Washington, the huge estate commands a full day.
If you make a last minute plan to visit, you can still save a few dollars on admission. My savvy daughter noticed the shorter line for prepaid admission and quickly went on her phone. She ordered four tickets, which we immediately redeemed. And we saved $8.
What to do at Mount Vernon
Whether you buy your ticket in advance or at Mount Vernon, you choose a time to tour the mansion. But you still have to line up for the tour. Try to get a tour within 90 minutes of arrival, giving you time to see the intro film and gardens on the way to the mansion. There is also an interactive theater where you can “Be Washington.”
The meticulously restored home is first on many visitors’ list, but you really can spend the day exploring the grounds and outbuildings . There are four gardens, a working farm, and animals. We expressed some interest in the heirloom sheep and spent half an hour talking about them with a docent. Be sure to visit the slave memorial, near Washington’s tomb.
Special free activities include historical reenactments, a meet and greet with Martha Washington, and games and crafts for kids.
You can tour the working distillery and gristmill. Avoid the long walk (2.7 miles) and catch the shuttle. You can even buy whiskey made on site. This tour is free. Other tours, including a boat ride on the Potomac, cost extra.
The Mount Vernon food court has plenty of options, including lots of vegetarian and gluten free choices. The kitchen is nut and peanut free. The tavern has a formal dining room, with a children’s menu. It is not nut free.
Note: For those traveling with a dog, Mount Vernon allows dogs on its extensive grounds. You can’t, however, tour the house or the gristmill with a dog.
Challenge Number 3: Triple Digit Temperatures
By the next day, Old Town was back to normal. But biking even just the 16 miles round trip from The District seemed foolhardy in the heat. Definitely a good idea for cooler times. There is a mostly flat, protected bike path, the Mount Vernon Trail.
We drove to Old Town and found plenty of street parking, both metered and non.
On Saturdays, there is a huge farmer’s market, with live music and lots of samples. Get there early; by noon, every vendor disappears.
Stroll historic King Street, with local shops and restaurants. The whole street is about a mile long. A free trolley is a great way to see the architecture from a different vantage point.
There are cobblestone streets (leave the heels at home) and brick sidewalks. We walked through artists’ studios at the Torpedo Factory Art Center. The building actually was a torpedo factory. And a real torpedo is on display and can be touched. Different studios offer free art demonstrations on Saturdays.
Old Town has several small museums, including the free National Inventors Hall of Fame and the The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum. This historic drugstore is a far cry from CVS.
What You Need to Know About the Mazda3
Just because the Mazda3 is small doesn’t mean it can’t be fully loaded. The car has heated and cooled front seats, a huge moonroof, heated steering wheel and radar cruise control, among other goodies. You could listen to satellite radio through Bose speakers.
My daughter and her boyfriend said the seats were comfortable. And despite extreme heat, they were cool, too.
The Mazda3 had a premium package, which included an easy to use navigation system and radar cruise control.
The Mazda3 has blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist and rear cross traffic alert. It also has a 5-star government safety rating.
With one seat folded down in the back, (there’s a 60/40 split) we were able to cram quite a bit of stuff in the car.
We truly put the Mazda3 to the test, using every cubic inch to bring out daughter’s stuff home. I viewed this as a puzzle and enjoyed the challenge. The 60/40 split seats allowed us to fold down one seat and still have room for a back seat passenger.
We got 35 miles per gallon on the highway.
The Mazda3 sedan is under $25,000, which includes goodies like a huge moonroof and rain sensing wipers. The model I drove, with premium package, came to $27,720.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the ultra family friendly Homewood Suites by Hilton Washington, DC Downtown, right near the Convention Center. The hotel has a kitchen, a pull out couch, with a door separating the living room from the bedroom, and free breakfast. There is plenty of space for a family – and if you bring a dog, there is no extra charge.
Note: Mazda loaned me the Mazda3 for this trip. Opinions expressed are my own.