Family Field Trip: Washington D.C.
What you should know about traveling to and from the nation's capital using public transportation.
Living in Catonsville has certain advantages. There are of course the schools, great neighborhoods, friendly people. But I think one of its greatest selling points, or at least the one many of us non-natives originally settle here for is, its convenience.
For instance, being able to buy a swimsuit and rent a tuxedo all in one shop? Pretty darn convenient. Even more convenient than that? Our location.
The other day I decided to seize a convenient opportunity to plan a little family field trip. The kids had been squabbling like crazy and I felt a little direction was in order. As you might have guessed from the ideas for summer months piece on Moms Talk, I have a touch of the ol’ wanderlust.
Having two kids in school means summer is the only time we’re able to travel. So on Thursday, the kids and I took the MARC train down to DC to hit the museums. I could have driven, but parking is a pain and I can't count on all my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve gotten lost driving in that city.
Plus, the MARC train is conveniently located in Halethorpe.
We hit the big three: Museum of Natural History, American History and the Air & Space Museum, and saw all the main attractions: the Hope Diamond, butterfly pavilion, the First Ladies' dresses, the lunar vehicle, etc. We had a great time. It was hot, yes. And if I’m being honest, there was some whining toward the end. It really is a lot of walking.
I’ve done this trip (MARC/Metro) by myself once before with the kids and here are all the things I wished I would have known the first time. At the end of this piece, I’ve included some apps that I think would either be fun for the trip or immensely helpful.
What you need to know about taking the MARC train & Metro:
- It only runs Monday through Friday.
- You can purchase your tickets in the trailer that sits on the first lot. Go ahead and purchase return tickets while you're there. They’ll say Halethorpe to Washington, D.C., but they’re good for both directions.
- They have free bottled water available in the luggage compartments. Look for the shrink-wrapped box.
- Once you make it into Union Station, follow the signs to the Metro station. Kids ages 5 and up need their own ticket. You’ll want at least $3.90 on each card to make it round trip. This is much easier to accomplish at the Union Station card vestibules than the ones at the Smithsonian stop—that one is usually mobbed with people. You’ll ride for three stops and get off at Metro Center. From there, go up the steps to transfer to the orange line. You’ll only ride it for two stops and then you’ll be at the mall.
- When you return on the MARC, walk all the way to the front of the train and get on one of those cars. Make sure you ask one of the porters which cars will let you get off at Halethorpe. Not all the cars let off there because the platform isn’t very long.
- In order to get back to the parking lot, you’ll have to walk up the steps, cross over the bridge and walk down the other side. There are plans to make an enclosed walkway for riders, but for now, this is the only system they have. It’s kind of a pain if you’re traveling with young kids and a huge pain if you have a stroller.
What you need to know about the museums:
- Most of the museums are open until 7:30 p.m. during the summer. You can check out their hours on their websites. Note: special exhibits like the butterfly pavilion close earlier than the rest of the museum.
- Museum food is expensive. Really expensive. It’s a better idea to either brown bag it or grab lunch or dinner at Union Station.
- Also, the walking. There’s a lot of it. Make sure the kids are wearing good shoes. Wear your good walking shoes as well.
- There are water bottle filling stations along the Mall. The water isn’t cold but it is free.
What it’ll cost you:
- MARC train tickets from Halethorpe: $6 each way (up to 2 kids under age 6 may travel for free with a regular fare paying adult)
- Metro Card: $3.90 (up to 2 kids ages 4 and under may travel for free with a reglar fare paying adult)
- Kids 4 and under ride free
- Butterfly Pavilion: $6 per adult $5 per child
- Red, White & Blue Popsicle: $2 each
- Stain stick to remove stains from red, white and blue popsicle: $3
MEanderthal by Smithsonian Institution: This app allows you to transform your face into the face of an early human (cost: free)
Infinity of Nations: Explore the items found in the Americas with this app. Best for older kids. (cost: free)
Getting around Apps
DC Metro Map: This way you won’t have to look silly checking the map next to the doors every few minutes to see where you are. Because you know those microphones the metro drivers talk into cut off every third syllable. (cost: free)
Family iTrips:This one is $1.99 but looks very promising. It has 90 MB, 500 entries, hundreds of photos, illustrations and maps.
They’re not apps, but if you have a web-enabled smart phone you can access basic info about the museums, including daily events, exhibits and find objects on display.
Air and Space Museum
National Museum of Natural History