Washington's Monuments in Minutes? Yes, You Can!

Did I say "all" the monuments in one day"? Yeah, more or less.
06/07/2013 11:42 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

We blew it.

I could tell the minute we emerged from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. We'd spent too much time at the irresistible Time & Navigation exhibit, which features historical sextants, clocks and star maps. Dark clouds had formed above the National Mall and we'd have to get a move on if we were to make it to all the monuments today.

Did I say "all" the monuments in one day"? Yeah, more or less.

We gave a quick look at the Capitol Building from the grassy grounds lined by museums. The iconic building looms over the historic strip that runs all the way down to the Potomac River, and that has hardly changed over the years. We'd save that area with the botanic gardens, Senate chambers and our favorite Supreme Court tour for another day.

Today was all about the monuments, rain or shine.


A monumental strategy

During the summer, we like to start our DC tours at a free museum to cool off and to fill our water bottles, especially in the summer months. You just have to be careful not to get sidetracked by the exhibits. There are too many.

Because we know we're easily distracted and have a limited amount of combined energy, we plan our days out carefully, including water breaks, lunch stops and rest areas. It's a pain when the kids or certain adults get cranky and start the self-perpetuating circle of complaints.

All that planning just flew out the window because today was the day to visit all the monuments and that's pretty darn hard to do in a downpour since they're all outdoors. Especially if you forgot your umbrellas, which we did.

We checked out weather apps and gauged that we had maybe two hours before we hit a 100% chance of showers. That's 12 monuments in 120 minutes. Could we do it?


Experience versus learning

The better question might be: should we do it? Would we be shortchanging ourselves by forgoing tours, talks and studious appreciation in exchange for speed? Maybe.

There were two new additions we missed on our last visit and one historic memorial we'd never seen. It's not that we don't like Thomas Jefferson, it's just that his monument is so far away from the others that squeezing it in has been difficult in the past.

But this was our fifth time visiting the National Mall as a family. And in between visits we've spent time on the National Park Service site, researching the history and design of these memorials. So we opted for speed.

Plus, I was really curious about what the kids would remember along our whirlwind tour.

A tragic loss

We started at the Washington Monument which is closed due to earthquake damage. Its entire structure is enclosed in construction scaffolding. The external elevator is fascinating, and we wished we could ride it up the side.

We picked up Junior Ranger Activity Booklets for the National Mall at the Survey Lodge near its base. The Junior Ranger program is packed with interesting facts, symbols and stories that make visits more like a scavenger hunt than a civics lesson. You can pick up an activity booklet at any ranger station or online. Many ranger stations also have trading cards for the kids.


Next, we stopped at the World War II Memorial. Ten minutes was not enough. Twenty-four bronze bas-relief panels show glimpses into the human experience at home and at war during the conflict. Fifty-six granite columns symbolize the wartime unity among the forty-eight states, seven federal territories, and the District of Columbia. Most folks posed for pictures alongside the column with their state's name.

Our first victim was the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial. That's a mouthful! The sky had turned slate-gray and the wind carried a few droplets of rain that signaled the coming storm. Instead we cut through the Constitution Gardens directly to the Vietnam memorials.

My mother's cousin is named on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and we see it every visit. You can find family members' names at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Search the Wall page. Some people will pause to take a pencil rubbing, but we just take a picture. Nearby, the Vietnam Women's Memorial is an emotional tribute to the care and service by women in the war.

After that we pass the Three Servicemen statue and we're off to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There are so many things hidden in this monument, you can't rush through. It was such a madhouse, it took us forever to get close enough to get a decent picture inside. Plus, we had to catch our breath after climbing all those stairs.

It's nice to pause on the steps and look over the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument while resting. Be sure to visit the museum below and walk the memorial's perimeter looking for secret symbols.


With no time to spare, we marched on to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The combination of overcast skies, gray soldier statues, faces etched in stone and floating mist made this spot the most solemn of all the tributes.

Just around the corner and across Independence Avenue we found the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. A lot of people had a hard time finding this one. We met them later at the DC War Memorial, which was our final stop. You can't see the memorial from the street, you have to follow the signs.

There's so much symbolism in the King monument, you'll want to take your time to appreciate it. There are hourly talks by the parks service about the secrets of this memorial which are worth knowing. As though carved from stone separated from the mountains, the great speaker faces over the tidal basin toward the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.


With rain clouds chasing us, we yet again ditched both the Jefferson and Roosevelt memorials in favor of staying dry.

We made it as far as the DC War Memorial, an elegant marble structure, which doubled as a shelter. And during a break in the weather, we sprinted past the John Paul Jones Memorial back to the car, making our total for the day nine instead of twelve.

Next time I think we'll park at the Jefferson and give ourselves much more time to explore. How about 12 monuments in 180 minutes?

Yeah, that's doable.