Washington DC sightseeing ideas for a bus load of seniors
January 14, 2015 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out a 4-hour sightseeing itinerary for a bus load of senior citizens (60-70 year olds) in Washington DC this February.

We will have the bus for 4-6 hours and would like to include a quick-ish visit to a free museum or two plus any other interesting sights and destinations you can recommend. We would like to give a few opportunities to hop off the bus and explore by foot, but also take advantage of having a warm bus with big picturesque windows to see some sights from the comfort of our seats. Recommendations that don't require an entrance fee are most welcome! Thanks so much!
posted by Triumphant Muzak to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Smithsonian is free, so any of the museums, although I have a fondness for the National Museum of American History.

Here's a map of some monuments you can drive to.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:02 PM on January 14, 2015

Sounds like you're just looking for the standard tour of DC memorials: Vietnam, WWII and Korean War memorials, the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, MLK Memorial, FDR Memorial. All of those are either quick drive-bys or a 15 minute walk through, but actually visiting all those memorials is going to be a bit strenuous for 60+ year olds, and in what is going to be uncomfortable weather (in the mid 40s on a good day).

You can probably do a drive by tour of the Mall in about an hour, then I'd focus on one museum that matches whatever their particular interests are. Everything worth visiting is free, so cost isn't an issue.
posted by empath at 2:19 PM on January 14, 2015

1) Google "DC bus tours" to get a sense of what the big companies do.
2) Look at Frommer's DC in one day suggested itinerary. (And if you don't already have a guide book for DC, buy one.)
3) Call Destination DC (DC tourist office) at 800-422-8644 to discuss with an expert. If you don't have a driver who's experienced, you should also talk to them about parking and other issues. For example, there are bus parking areas at various monuments, but - having never driven a tour bus - I don't know if you need a permit, or if there are certain places where it's easier to park a tour bus.

There are of course dozens of free museums, so it really depends on the group's interest - art? history? science?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:21 PM on January 14, 2015

Also look into all the cultural heritage "trails" the city has been unveiling for the last decade+. They're more centered to the impact of national history trends on the local landscape, and some of them are very cool.

Here's the one for my former neighborhood.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:23 PM on January 14, 2015

You can spend a long time on the top sights in DC without paying a dime, so that's pretty easy. I don't know the ins and outs of tour bus driving and parking.

There's so much to do that your group and their interests are the most important factor - there's something world class in pretty well every topic (arts, science, technology, history) to see. A group in that age bracket could be spry enough to do loads of walking, or could have lots of mobility challenged people, which might help narrow things down.

As far as monuments, I thought the two that most reward an on-the-ground visit as opposed to a drive by are the Vietnam memorial (also may have more resonance with people of that age group) and the Lincoln memorial, which are a thousand feet from each other, easily doable unless there are serious mobility issues. My number 3 is the Jefferson monument, which is really reachable by car. While the Washington monument is great and is seen from everywhere, I wouldn't bother with the wait and hassle of actually going up it - I'm sure the elevators will take a while for a group, and the view is good, but through small (and when I went, dirty) windows.

Maybe the best single bet for a diverse group is the American History museum; it's under renovation, but the open exhibits I might include on a circumscribed visit are the Star Spangled Banner (this didn't do much for me, but I'm not American - my country was the one bursting the bombs in air) and in particular a recently opened gallery I haven't personally visited called American Stories, containing 100 of their artifacts spanning history and culture. (The sports fan can check out Muhammad Ali's gloves, the music fan Dylan's leather jacket and the nerd can check out the apparatus from the Michelson-Morely experiment - something for everybody).

The Air and Space museum has a nice feature in that the first gallery you enter in ("Milestones of Flight") also has the best exhibits - of the top ten biggest name aerospace artifacts on Earth, maybe 6 or 7 are in this gallery (and #1, the Wright Brothers flyer is just up the escalator to the left). I'm a big nerd, so I think everything in the museum is great, but you could do an abbreviated stop to pick up the highlights.

The National Gallery of Art has a lot of good stuff in it, but it's mixed amongst a huge collection - their website says that (with a reservation and space permitting) they do free one-hour group tours. That might be a good bet, if you can make a spot.

The National Archives also books groups; if the monuments don't feel like enough civics time, then seeing the Declaration of Independence, etc. is probably the next best choice.

The other Smithsonian museums are all also world-class; just because I haven't mentioned them doesn't make them second-rate. You know better than I if seeing a good collection of African art or precious gems or something will turn your group's crank.

Note that most of the museums close around 5 or 5:30. That's also shortly before the sun will be setting behind the Washington monument (viewed from the Mall).
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:31 PM on January 14, 2015

I really enjoyed my tour with DC by Foot, which also does free or pay-what-you-like tours. They are really knowledgeable and could probably help you figure out the bus parking situation.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:07 AM on January 15, 2015

I have done this for family members many times. I can help you work out a route and various destinations. Feel free to PM me or email me.

With that age population, i think you'd better have a multiple options for each stop. Also, I think trying to see anything more than 1 musem and the sites will be ambitious.

I think your best bet, would be drive the sites, stop at either Korean/Lincoln/Vietnam (close proximity), then stop at MLK/FDR memorial (good view of Jefferson)... And then drive up to WW2 memorial, since it's one of the newest and nicest memorials.

Then you can drive by Washington/Capital/Whitehouse for some pictures.

As for a museum... I recommend, US History, Native American, and Gallery of Art.... If you are looking for less crowded museums, Check out the National Portrait Gallery and US Postal Museum.

In fact, the US Postal Museum is my favorite, as it is right next a great food spot (union station), and it's pretty good and never crowded.
posted by fozzie33 at 5:18 AM on January 15, 2015

Bunch of good suggestions here. My questions when planning this sort of thing revolve around interests and mobility. I wouldn't take people to the Air & Space Museum if they don't actually care about planes. And I wouldn't take people on a walking tour if they have canes, walkers, or bad hips (or whatever). My mom has bad knees and is basically limited to a certain number of steps per day before she's just too worn out, so I wouldn't ask her to walk around the whole West Building of the National Gallery. Nor would I take her on my sort of monument tour, which is pretty much walking all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument by way of most of the other things near there.

Sites: Both my parents are in their 70s and they wanted to see the World War Two Memorial on a recent trip. I don't think they were particularly interested in the Vietnam War Memorial, though. You can see many of the monuments from a car or bus, but a few of them should be experienced on foot (say, the Lincoln Memorial or the Thomas Jefferson Memorial).

Museums: The American History Museum is probably my first recommendation for a catch-all museum visit. I loathe the National Museum of the American Indian but it is generally known for having the best food in its cafeteria, so if a meal has to be on the plan it might be a good choice. Natural History is more fun with kids than with adults, in my experience, but maybe you have a bus full of retired biologists who'd like that sort of thing. The National Gallery of Art spans two buildings, one of them merely large, the other enormous. The National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American Art share a building which I love, but the two different missions can feel a little overwhelming if you're not actually into that sort of thing.

Other: If you prearrange a tour of the US Capitol (say, through a senator or representative) you can skip the line at the visitors' center and get a slight bit more access. It's worth it more for the line skipping than for the extra access, but you do see a little bit of stuff you wouldn't see otherwise (and my parents' senator's office staff were friendly). Once you're at the Capitol, the United States Botanical Gardens are excellent. White House tours must be arranged far enough in advance that you've probably missed the chance.

Off the beaten path, if you have a bus full of history buffs they'll enjoy Lincoln's Cottage, which is on the grounds of the Old Soldiers' Home. Lincoln used to go there to get away from the noise and crowds downtown. The grounds are lovely and the tour is interesting.
posted by fedward at 3:07 PM on January 15, 2015

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