Hoping to enjoy a special day with Colin and Serena, I found a top ten list of things to do in Christmastime in DC. I picked three things and off we went on the morning of Christmas Eve.
First, we made the obligatory trip see to the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse. Nearby parking was easy to find, so the walk there was cold, but short.
The largish tree is surrounded by model trains and a ring of smaller trees provided by each of the American states. Parents note: The first "state" tree sign that Colin read was from Puerto Rico. Caught with no Wikipedia in sight, I launched into a boring, confusing, and probably inaccurate explanation about American protectorates. Parenting is so much easier when the kids are illiterate...
After visiting the national tree, we hit the motherlode: the fabulous Windows to Wonderland exhibit at the United States Botanic Garden (the atrium-topped building near the capital, on the corner of 3rd St. and Maryland Avenue.)
During the holidays the US Botanic Gardens is famous for its train exhibit. This was enough to draw us in, but even more amazing than the trains were the replicas of famous Washington buildings made from natural materials.
The pictures above don't do the buildings justice; I can't get over how cool they are. The buildings are built onto foam frames, but are presented entirely in natural materials such as sticks, acorns, vines, and leaves. The dome on the Jefferson Memorial is a gourd. The columns on the White House portico are honeysuckle branches. Abe Lincoln's beard and hair are lichen.
The Washington buildings are exhibited in the main garden Conservatory, surrounded by lush plant displays. There's a brochure with a quiz with interesting facts. I think that my preschoolers and I were equally interested in the buildings, but the kids really loved the Windows to Wonderland exhibit.
Contained in a separate, smaller room, the hamlets in WinterFairy Tale Trails, Santa's Village, Secret Mountain, Castle and Gremlin Corner — are all connected by trains. We did the entire circuit (which takes about fifteen minutes) twice.
Afterwards we checked out the permanent exhibit, Plants In Culture. This exhibit features smells in a unique and enjoyable way: various spices and perfumes are displayed. They are displayed in kid-height metal flowers (below), so we could all experience the different smells. Such a cool idea!
Our whole visit lasted about an hour, which was just right for us. We'll be sure to come again next December; kids and adults will love it.
After US Botanical Gardens, we headed to our third and final stop, ACKC Chocolates in Dupont Circle for some hot chocolate. Unfortunately, while we found the Gardens to be completely free and unexpectedly enjoyable, ACKC was expensive and not that great. Fine, but not worth a special trip. To be fair, we were hungry and tired, but I wouldn't have included them on my top ten list.
In all, it was a fun and memorable trip to DC. If you can, visit the Windows to Wonderland exhibit before it ends on January 4, 2009; it's a gem!