A spring break in the nation's capital is a rite of passage for some families, but if the airfare from the West Coast to the East has stretched your vacation budget, take heart. Many places are free, thanks to government funding (although the
Smithsonian: No visit to
Some must-see exhibits: The Apollo 11 capsule that carried the first men to land on the moon,
The Smithsonian was founded in 1846 after a bequest by British scientist James Smithson to establish an educational institution in Washington. Smithson's remains are interred at the Smithsonian's oldest building, the red sandstone Castle. This is also a good place for a quick orientation to decide where to start. Details at http://www.si.edu.
National Mall: The nearly two-mile grassy expanse between the Capitol and Potomac River features memorials honoring presidents, including
Beyond the large monuments, there are dozens of smaller statues, historic sites and walking paths along the mall. The National Park Service offers a free new mobile app with a map and details on the sites. Go to http://www.nps.gov/nama/photosmultimedia/app-page.htm
The park draws about 1 million people each year to see the cherry trees when they reach full bloom in late March or early April. Some of the oldest trees, which were a gift from Japan, line the Tidal Basin and make for a picturesque view.
Behind the scenes: Washington is a place where everyone wants special access and a look behind the scenes of power. One of the best ways is to call your member of
If you don't have time to make reservations, the Capitol Visitor Center (www.visitthecapitol.gov) offers free exhibits and tours of the Capitol. Tickets are available online. Some same-day passes also are distributed at the information desks each day. The center also offers specialty tours on the Capitol's history and artwork.
Presidential sites: A walk through downtown Washington offers a chance to connect with presidential history. A short walk from the White House, Ford's Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated, offers daily tours with free same-day tickets distributed each morning at 8:30. Otherwise, advance tickets are $2.50 per person.
Walk five minutes from the theater to the National Portrait Gallery. Its most popular collection is the presidential portraits, including some of the best-known images of George Washington and Lincoln.
This living memorial to