Your inside source for family friendly D.C.
Walking is BY FAR the best way to see Washington, D.C. The city is very pedestrian friendly, at least in all of the places that you’ll want to go tour around in. There are sidewalks, cross-walks, directional signs and maps. There are even helpful city employees scattered around downtown whose sole job is to help tourists get un-lost.
Just getting out and wandering the streets will let you discover shops, random little memorials and statues (did you know we have a statue honoring temperance? I found it from an impromptu wander!) and of course places to eat. There are lots of walking tours that you can get, either in person or through your phone/IPod etc., and you can also print off suggested routes from the internet. Seriously, it is one of the fun things about D.C. to just watch people and see where your feet take you.
You can pick up a good map of D.C. from any hotel or shop. I’m a fan of the “Streetwise” series because they are plastic and can be folded up for discreet checking. It is a good idea to have a map because, like any city, you can get turned around and find you’ve gone 10 blocks in entirely the wrong direction!
Learning how D.C. is laid out takes a few minutes, but then the city is pretty darn logical. You’ve got four “quadrants” (NW, NE, SW, SE) that use the Capitol building as the center point. Then, highly imaginative map makers that they were, used numbers on North-South streets and letters on East-West streets. This means you have a 6th St NE, NW, SE and SW….so when you are looking up addresses it is critical to know which quadrant you are looking for! There are a few rogue streets that run diagonally through the city, the most famous being Constitution Ave, Pennsylvania Ave and all of the other “state” streets. These can help you cut some time when you are walking.
Obviously you should use your judgement, and trust your instincts, about whether you feel safe just wandering around an area. Think carefully about walking alone at night, make sure you can hear what is going on around you (i.e. don’t blast your music in both ears from headphones) and in general just use your common sense. You can also ask someone where you are staying how walkable the area is. Downtown, especially where the museums are, is very safe and usually filled with people. Other areas may be quieter, but also are perfectly fine. There are some areas of D.C. that it is not such a great idea to wander around in, but you wouldn’t have much cause to head there anyway. Like I said, use some common sense and when all else fails…ask someone who lives here.