Washington DC, Mt. Vernon, Monticello trip highlights

A few weeks ago I asked for advice on touring Washington D.C.  Thank you so much for all the info and recommendations!  We had a great trip.  I don’t have many pictures, because my phone battery isn’t holding a charge like it used to.  I found myself looking for outlets in restaurants and even bathrooms to keep it charged up!

We had four days to make the trip.  Two days were devoted to touring D.C.  Jim was working both of those days, so we toured without him.  We stopped at Monticello on our drive out.  And on the way back, we made a stop at Mt. Vernon.

I was worried about the weather being hot and muggy, but we lucked out.  Other than our afternoon at Monticello, when it was 95 degrees, we had beautiful weather.




We all loved Monticello!  We learned so much about Thomas Jefferson and the beginnings of our country through this tour.  The docents were all excited about sharing Monticello with visitors and that made for a lovely visit.  (Our visit to Mt. Vernon turned out to be a stark contrast, but more on that in a bit.)  

We arrived late in the afternoon.  I’d scheduled the last tour of the day when I bought tickets online.  The most surprising part of Monticello to me, was the entry room of the house.  It was filled with artifacts that Lewis and Clark had brought back from their travels, along with things various Indian chiefs had gifted Jefferson, and even a few mastodon bones gathered from Kentucky.  I expected something proper and civilized, but instead the room reflected all of Jefferson’s interests.  Wouldn’t it be awesome to have an hour with Jefferson in that room to hear his stories of those items?!

The Orchard

My mom had told me about an orchard that’s very near Monticello.  She said the views were wonderful and it was worth the drive up there.  Sure enough, we saw the sign for the orchard on the way to Monticello and decided to stop after touring.  Luckily, the orchard was still open.  What a beautiful place!  If you’re ever near there, do make the stop.  They even had cold peach cider for $1 a cup.  That tasted fantastic, since it was 95 degrees that day!

I ended up using the orchard as a place to work for a bit.  I checked my email on the drive up and realized that my website had crashed.  It turned out that the Kentucky Hot Brown post was going viral on Facebook and the traffic crashed the site.  I called my son, Peter who was still at home and he helped me contact the hosting company and my tech support people.  It took a while, but they got the site back up.

For dinner that night, I consulted Yelp.  Jim wanted bbq, so we chose Belmont BBQ in Charlottesville.  The reviews said to try the Slop Bucket, so I did:

photo-52A layer of cheesy potatoes, a layer of baked beans, a layer of pulled pork, a layer of cole slaw and a drizzle of bbq sauce.  It was good!  It was also huge!

We drove through a terrible thunderstorm to get to DC that night.  Since we were tagging along on Jim’s business trip, we got to stay in a nice hotel.  I’m pretty sure they don’t get many mini vans full of Kentucky hicks pulling up who aren’t used to things like valet parking and help carrying bags.  They probably don’t have a lot of people unloading coolers full of breakfast items either 😉

Washington D.C.

After a lot of deliberating on my part, we decided to buy tickets for Old Towne Trolley.  We also used the metro some, but I have a terrible sense of direction and I knew using the tour bus would save us from getting lost so much.  We still got lost.  Still did a ton of walking (22,000+ steps the first day and 21,000+ steps the next!).  The drivers on the trolley told a lot about the sites as we drove, and that was a nice bonus.

The first day, we stopped at the White House in the morning.

white house mia and isaac


That was the first time I’d been to the White House.  We couldn’t get tours inside, but it was fun to get a look from outside the gates.

After that, we were to meet an intern from a Kentucky congressman’s office for a tour of the Capitol Building.  This was a highlight of the trip.  Both the House and Senate were in session that day.  We were able to go to the House gallery and got to see the opening of the session for that day.  Hearing the opening prayer and saying the Pledge of Allegiance was very cool.

capitol building After the Capitol tour, we went to the Air and Space Museum, the art museum, and spent some time on the Mall.  We had dinner at Founding Farmers and then made our way back to the hotel.  But we got lost on the way and must have walked 300 miles.  My legs were so sore that night!

The next day we started with National Archives, then hit all the monuments.  At the Lincoln Memorial, we hopped on the trolley bus for Arlington Cemetery.  We saw Kennedy’s grave and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  After that we planned to walk over to see the Vietnam Memorial, but we couldn’t face walking any more.  Instead we rode the trolley around to the American History Museum and ordered ice cream in the cafe.  Jim was able to meet us there.

Dinner that night was at We the Pizza.  The pizza was great and it was much cheaper than dinner the night before.

Mt. Vernon


We hit Mt. Vernon on Saturday morning before driving back home.  This turned out to be a disappointing tour.  I knew the house tour would be short – 15-20 minutes is what the tickets said.  They let a group of people into the first room, where a docent would say a couple of quick sentences and move us all along to the next room.  Another docent would relay a bit of info and move the group along.

In one room, the docent working there told the people to take a quick look in each room and keep moving along.  She repeated, “keep moving along so everyone can look. Keep moving along.”  The man at the front of our group then started down the stairs to go to the next room and she rudely told him to stop.  He didn’t realize that she was going to give her spiel. None of us did. It seemed she was just trying to move us all through. Once she said her few lines, another man asked a question. She refused to answer him, instead saying, “Good bye, sir. Move along.”

The visit to Mt. Vernon was so different from our visit to Monticello.  We were at Mt. Vernon early in the day and there weren’t very many people there yet.  Monticello was much more crowded and it was late in the day.  Still, the people there seemed happy to share the house and stories with the public.  They encouraged questions, even though I know they were also on a schedule.

At Mt. Vernon, most of the staff seemed to view the public as an imposition.  The concern seemed to be moving people  through quickly, without as much care to educating people about George Washington in the process.

After the house tour, we looked around the grounds at Mt. Vernon and went through the small museum there.  The museum was quite good.  We intended to just walk through on our way to the car, but ended up stopping to take it in a bit more.  There were no staff people in the museum to explain anything though.

Still, Mt. Vernon was worth the visit.  Our whole trip was wonderful.  We’ve got an opportunity to tag along with Jim to Philadelphia in September and I think that will go along really well with our D.C. trip.

I’m curious – have you visited Mt. Vernon recently?  Have you had a different experience there?  I hope so!  I hope we just hit it on an off day.  The people who work there have such a privilege of sharing this historic site with the public. It would be a shame if they really are more concerned about moving people through than educating people.


  1. Nancy Keith says:

    Regarding your dying phone battery: I have solved this problem with mine by purchasing one of those battery chargers that doesn’t have to be plugged in. Mine is the size of a small phone and has its own little case. I charge it up and then can charge my phone several times without replugging the charger. Costs about $30, and has paid for itself several times over – plus the security of knowing I don’t have to worry about a dead phone battery.

  2. I’m a DC/Northern Virginia local. Your experiences at both Monticello & Mt. Vernon were on the mark. We were EMBARASSED when we took visitors to Mt. Vernon last year. One docent proceeded to start an argument with my guest for asking a question! Mt. Vernon is appalling. And Monticello is like the most perfect place in the world! We apologize for them 🙁

    • Oh, that is sad, but that’s the kind of experience we had at Mt. Vernon. We wanted to do the National Treasure tour, where they take you down to the places the movie was shot. I think that would probably have been a better experience.

  3. We are going to Washington at the end of August and I had planned on going to Mount Vernon, now I’m not so sure.
    What do you think?

  4. I just visited Mt. Vernon last week. We had an experience the complete opposite of yours. I’m so sorry that your visit was a disappointment. The staff members that showed us the house were efficient, informative, and friendly. We especially enjoyed the Grain Mill and Distillery.

    • Wendy, this makes me happy to hear! I was hoping we just hit it on an off day. We didn’t get to see the Grain Mill and Distillery. Next trip!

  5. I’ve never been to DC and the surrounding areas, but hope to one day. I’m so sorry Mt. Vernon was such a disappointment for you. It’s tough to go all that way, spending money on tickets, only to get the short end of the stick on a tour.

  6. I’m sorry you had a bad experience at Mt Vernon. We live in DC and have annual passes there and have always had a wonderful experience. Thank you for all the recipes by the way! Excited my recipe book is growing.

  7. I live in Northern VA and have visited Mount Vernon at least once in the last three years. I have also visited Monticello last year.

    I believe your descriptions are pretty accurate. I have always managed to have a great experience, regardless, and I am glad you did too! If you are ever driving through Northern VA again, I recommend visiting Oatlands plantation. Beautiful gardens, and great tour and history.

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