A Guide to Tours and Events at the White House

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Since moving to DC about 9 months ago, we have been very fortunate to visit the White House a number of times and partake in different events. We have been able to do so much because we happen to know a couple people who work at the White House who have been so gracious with helping us get set up with tours and tickets. Some of the things in this post are things that are open to the public, and others can only be done if you have a connection on the inside. I would recommend no matter when you visit to carefully look at the rules and restrictions for your event. They are different depending on what you do. Here’s an overview of our experiences, hope it’s interesting and helpful for you!

White House Garden Tour

There are garden tours offered twice a year, one weekend in the fall and one in the spring. We attended in the fall. This event is open to the public, the Nation Park Service distributes same day tickets from a tent on Constitution and 15th. You need one ticket per person in your group, everyone must be present to receive a ticket. It will be a timed entry and we were able to walk in at our time without waiting in any long lines.

The “tour” is not so  much a tour as an open house. There is no one guiding you around, but you are given a program that tells you about different areas in the South Lawn. It is all outside, you will be able to walk very close to the White House but will not be able to go in it. There is also some live music, the Marine Corps band was playing while we were there. You may bump into some recognizable people from the administration so keep your eyes out!

I think we spent about an hour meandering around, taking some pictures and enjoying the scenery. The website for the Spring Tour can be found here if you are interested in attending.

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Trick or Treating

This year the trick or treating happened the night before Halloween. The event actually was moved a day due to weather (thankfully because I would not have wanted to be out there in the rain). I’ll be honest in that, I actually have no idea how people go about getting tickets for this. I never heard of a lottery. I’ve heard military people are often given tickets but have no idea how true that is or how many tickets they get access to, etc.

We had a timed entry for the event. I had asked for the 5:00 time slot thinking it would give us plenty of time with the light to get some great pictures, and early enough that our kids would not be melting down before bedtime. I made the mistake of thinking because it was timed, we would not need to be there early, that we would be able to just walk right in at our time. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We arrived to the White House about 4:40 and were greeted with a long line down the street. We asked volunteers who were working if we were in the right spot and were told we were. So we waited, waited, and waited. By looking at the timestamp on my photos, we didn’t actually start reaching the fun until about 6:25. We were very unprepared for this. We didn’t bring snacks or a stroller. Our little one was wanting or needing to be held the entire time to keep him happy and off the grass (the people in charge kept telling kids to get off the grass).

This event is also outdoors and on the South Lawn. There were tables and displays set up by different government agencies along the path. Each one was handing out either candy, stickers, bookmarks, coloring books, postcards, or other little treats. There was fun Halloween music playing and the White House was decorated and all lit up. The President and First Lady typically make an appearance and hand out treats to the trick or treaters who happen to be there at the same time. We did not see them, but there were staffers dressed up handing out the treats, and they are generous with them! Each kid got at least three giant decorated cookies, and plenty of candy including special presidential M&M’s.

Overall, we were happy we went but would’ve done things differently had we known what we were getting into. If you ever get the chance to go, my recommendation would be go to the earliest time slot, and arrive at least an hour early to wait in line. Parents of little ones, bring a stroller or comfortable carrier, and snacks!

East Wing Tour

Currently the White House offers tours of the East Wing which has various historical and ceremonial rooms. Tours have to be requested through members of the House of Representatives or Senate, the link with the information is here.

We have done this tour twice, once at Christmas time and once this spring. Each was enjoyable, but if you have the chance Christmas is particularly fun because of all the Christmas decorations. You can take photos on this tour, but the restriction was no cameras with detachable lenses. Always check the restrictions for these tours and events because they could easily change and are different depending on the event you’re attending.

The tour is self-guided. You are given a program with information about the different rooms you’re seeing. There is also a small gift stand set up toward the beginning of the tour where you can buy White House souvenirs. You may also be able to get some of the same things in gift shops outside the White House, but it is fun to buy from inside. There will only be this one shop, so if you want something go ahead and buy it then because you won’t have another opportunity on the tour. Keep an eye out for all the different portraits of presidents and first ladies, check out the view from the Blue Room upstairs, and take your picture under the Presidential Seal at the end of the tour. Families with children are welcome to take this tour.

Here’s some side by sides of the rooms at Christmas and in the spring:

 

Here’s a couple more pictures from our Christmas time tour:

 

Here’s a couple from the spring tour:

West Wing Tour

These can only be arranged if you know someone who can set it up for you and take you on the tour. They are conducted after business hours, so don’t expect to see the President sitting in the Oval Office. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the West Wing, but we could take pictures at the entrance to the West Wing, inside the Press Briefing Room, and in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building which was part of the tour. We were allowed to see the doors to the Situation Room (not inside it though), Oval Office, Cabinet Room, Roosevelt Room, the Press Briefing Room, and we were taken over to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where a large majority of staffers work. I saw other tour groups with children, I would just advise to know whether your children can be quiet and respectful on a tour like this.

 

Bowling at the White House

There is a bowling alley at the White House! The Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley is a two lane bowling alley that actually resides underneath the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Again this is something that has to be set up by someone who works there. We were able to take our family there while they were visiting us. We had a couple hours to bowl and have fun. We all really enjoyed it! We were even able to put up bumpers for the kids and they had a little ramp they could roll the ball down to help them.

Easter Egg Roll

The Easter Egg Roll is a long standing tradition at the White House. This year was the 140th year! It is open to the public. In the spring the White House will announce when the lottery for tickets is open and anyone can apply for a chance to get tickets. Results were announced about a month before the event. So even if you live out of town, you could apply and have time to make arrangements for a trip to DC if you won. The President and First Lady also usually make an appearance at one of the time slots, this year they came out around 10:30 A.M.

This was also a timed entry event, and after Halloween and reading other people’s experiences we knew to be there early. We arrived an hour early and I felt that was a good time. Each time window was two hours, you have to leave when your time is up no matter what time you arrive. We were not at the front of the line by any means, but we entered the South Lawn about 10 minutes after our start time, which still gave us plenty of time to do all the activities we wanted.

The event included the namesake Easter Egg Roll, an Easter Egg Hunt, egg decorating, cookie decorating, lawn bowling, story times, coloring cards for troops, lots of characters walking around the lawn for pictures, hard boiled eggs on sticks, live music by military bands, and more.  We found this event much more enjoyable than Halloween. There was so much to do, and not being held to a line once we got in the grounds was nice. There were some lines to do different activities, but we found that they moved quickly and we were able to do everything we wanted to do. Just a note on characters, if you see one you want a picture with, get in line right away. They rotate out and the line for them may close as the characters need to take breaks. We missed out on pictures with the characters from Zootopia for this reason.

The weather this year was chilly and it had been raining the night before so we opted for rain boots as we knew we’d be walking around the grass the whole time. My recommendation would be to dress nicely-you’re going to take pictures and you want to like how you look, but also be sensible! Especially about your shoes. It’s a lot of standing in line and walking in grass. You don’t want to ruin your heels for the sake of this 🙂

I was happy we had a stroller, mainly for the waiting in line before the event, and after when we had to walk to lunch and the metro. It also gave us a place to stash coats and treat bags. Also you do not need to bring your child’s Easter basket. The only thing they would use it for is the egg hunt and they had baskets for the kids to use and then return after they were done.

When you leave the event each child under 13 will be given a goody bag. Each goody bag had candy and an official White House Easter Egg. I read a tip to exit through different lines so that you get different colored eggs. We did and ended up with a green egg and a pink egg, so it worked for us! Not to fear though, there was also a stand set up near the exit where you could purchase more eggs if you wanted. They were $8.50 each.

We really enjoyed the Easter Egg Roll and would love to do it again!

 

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I think that pretty much sums it all up! If you have any other tips or experiences to share, I would love if you left them in the comments below! Also if there are any questions I can answer for you please feel free to reach out, I’m happy to try and help!

 

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Favorite Things To Do With Toddlers in Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is probably the most well-known attraction on the peninsula, and for good reason! It’s waterfront location provides a perfect place to spot marine life in the wild. During whale migration season in August, it is not uncommon to spot whales in the bay from the aquarium’s viewing platforms. The aquarium has wonderful exhibits that are very engaging and interactive for children. There are touch pools, an interactive create your own fish activity, great kids’ play areas, and various feedings and talks you can see throughout the day. Our favorite to try and attend was the feeding at the Open Sea Exhibit. We would go a little early to find a spot near the glass to sit (it can get pretty packed), have a snack, and watch the fish get their snacks! The aquarium also has a nice, albeit a little pricey, cafe with beautiful bay views.  You can also bring in snacks and water and find a bench outside to eat at too. Many locals buy year long memberships because the ticket price is steep and if you think you will visit more than a few times, it is completely worth it!

 

Caledonia Park

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We lived walking distance from Caledonia Park, so we were there quite often. This is a wonderful park for little kids. It has a fence around it, so no running away. It also has a bathroom and drinking fountain. It’s just off of Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove,  which is the main shopping and restaurant spot in town. So it makes for a good place to let kids burn off some energy. I prefer this park over the more well known “Dennis the Menace” park. Dennis the Menace park is also very fun, but it is much bigger, the playscape are bigger and I felt like I had to be very “on” there because of the size of things and the amount of kids. Caledonia is more manageable and better for small children. Also a short walk from the park is Lovers Point which is a scenic outlook, beach, and start of the Coastal Recreation trail. The park also hosts different little fairs and events throughout the year that bring in petting zoos, bounce houses, and some rides.

Walk on the Coastal Trail

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This is probably the place our family spent the most time, besides our house. We could also walk here and we loved to either walk, run, or bike the trail. I think it is a must do activity in Monterey. It’s very stroller friendly from Lovers Point toward the wharf (inland). If you go from Lovers Point toward Asilomar it is not paved and you may have to deal with some narrow parts, and uneven terrain. You can rent regular bikes or surrey bikes from bike shops near Cannery Row and cruise up and down the trail to the aquarium, Coast Guard pier (where the sealions hang out), the wharf, and all the way around the bay if you really wanted to! Keep an eye out for seabirds, otters, whales, sea lions, and harbor seals from the path. I guarantee you spot at least a couple animals. It is so scenic and beautiful, especially if you are there in April when the “magic carpet” is blooming and the coastline is bright pink!

 

Carmel Beach

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Carmel Beach is my favorite beach of the area. The weather always seemed to be better here (less windy than Asilomar), the water is gorgeous, and it is dog-friendly. Not to mention Carmel-by-the-Sea is just behind it with numerous restaurants, shops, and tasting rooms. It is also fun just to drive around Carmel and look at the thatched roof cottages and premiere real estate! If you are here in October, look for the sand castle contest. It is a local favorite event with everything from very amateur constructions to elaborate and impressive sculptures.

Pizza & Gelato at Cafe Ariana

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Our favorite place for pizza and gelato was Cafe Ariana on Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Grove. There is another ice cream shop down the road known for its kitschy Beatles decor, but I preferred the always changing flavors at Cafe Ariana. It’s a family owned business serving up salads, paninis, pizza, beer and wine. Sometimes we would walk over after dinner just to get some gelato. The atmosphere is calm and there is some nice outdoor seating on Lighthouse Avenue for people watching. Everyone who travels with kids knows you always need a good ice cream bribe, and this is the place to do it!

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A short drive into Carmel Valley is the Earthbound Farm Stand. We loved coming here for outdoor play time. There is a giant tipi, children’s garden, cut your own herb garden, and of course a place to buy all organic lunches, groceries, and ice cream. Throughout the year the also host fun family events, like a bug walk where you are led through the gardens with one of the farmers to learn about the plants and pollination. At the end, each child is given a handful of ladybugs to release on the plants! This is also a great place for pumpkins in the fall. Look for pumpkin painting and fall festivals through the season. Also next to it is a feed store that you can walk to that has several different farm animals to look at.

Wharf Marketplace

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The Wharf Marketplace sits along the Coastal Trail nearby the wharf. It carries specialty groceries and serves salads, sandwiches, ice cream, beer, and wine. There is outdoor seating where you can relax. Kids can climb on the big stationary tractor, adults can play bags/corn hole. Our favorite thing to do on a nice day was bike on the trail from Lovers Point to Wharf Marketplace, have lunch and a beer, then bike home. Also look for wine tasting events and specialty food being cooked up on the weekends!

Drive Highway 1

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This is also a must of visiting the area. It isn’t technically Monterey Bay, but Monterey is the perfect jump off point for a drive to Big Sur. Try to aim for a day where it is clear so your view won’t be spoiled by fog. Drive south on Highway 1 AKA the Pacific Coast Highway. Stop at as many or as few lookout points as you want. Once again, if visiting in peak whale migration season (either January or August), bring your binoculars and look for whales! You don’t even need the binoculars though, you can see whale spouts with your naked eye. Bixby Bridge is along this route, a great photo spot but just hold tight to your little ones and head the warning signs about where to walk. Other great stops are Garapata State Park, McWay Falls, and Pfeiffer Beach. The views are unbeatable! We had a great lunch at Cafe Kevah which is the same location at Nepenthe. Both are great and have stunning views!

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Lunch at Cafe Kevah

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To Blog or Not to Blog…

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Here’s a fairly current picture of us at the White House this fall, just because!

Hello! If anyone is still out there, welcome back to my long neglected blog!

Over that past year and a half (eep!) I’ve been toying with the idea of how/if I want to continue with this blog. It started to become overwhelming and daunting and I sort of just let it die. I was actually ready to cancel my subscription to WordPress this week, when OOPS! I let the deadline to cancel pass, and it automatically renewed for another year.

So here I am, figured I might as well just give it another go since I’ve already paid for it. I have a lot of updating to do and I’m way out of the loop (not that I was ever in the loop) on blogging, how to make your blog cute, etc. If anyone has blogging advice, tips, resources, or encouragement please feel free to comment below because I need all the help I can get, LOL!

P.S. I’m already wishing I could add emojis to blog text, is that a thing?

Strolling through Split

More from our trip to Croatia in 2014…

After two full days in Dubrovnik, we packed up and drove a few hours north to the coastal city Split. Split is a major cruise port and jumping off point to head to famous Hvar island. We chose to rent an apartment north of Split near Trogir. If I was a young twenty-something looking for nightlife, I’d stay in Split. If you are traveling with children, I’d look for something just outside the city. One thing I loved about Croatia is it seemed like you could pick any town along the coast and find pristine water and a quaint old town. I didn’t feel like you had to stay right in the big cities to enjoy your time.

Before continuing on to our apartment, we stopped in Split for lunch and to have a look around the city. One of the first places we went was Podrum, an underground market. It lies beneath Diocletian’s Palace and is the perfect place to find souvenirs and crafts.

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Next stop was the Saint Dominus Bell Tower. Most of the family elected to climb up. But if you remember from my previous posts, I don’t do well with heights and winding staircases. So I opted to stay below with baby girl.

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Can you find me and baby girl waiting at the bottom?
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Lots of cruise ships in the port.

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Wandering a bit more through town.

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Split was pretty, but I didn’t find it as charming as Dubrovnik. An afternoon seemed to be enough for us to wander the old city. Once we had our fill, it was a short drive to Trogir and up and around small, steep roads to find our apartment. It took a while, but luckily we didn’t stay lost for too long. We met the owners, asked for advice and settled in. We would be looking for more great snorkeling for the next day.

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When in Croatia, definitely pick up some sailor attire for the littles! Too cute!

Throwback Travel: Lokrum Island

From our trip to Croatia in 2014…

Just off the shore of Dubrovnik, is Lokrum Island. It is very easy to get out there, you can just buy a boat ticket at the harbor the day you want to go. The boat ride was quick, probably 15 minutes or so (from my memory). If you’ve spent a day walking around Dubrovnik and are ready to get out to see something else, this is a great option.

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Here’s the harbor where you will find the ferry.

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Be sure to sit on the outer edges of the ferry so you can take pictures of all the beautiful views!

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Room for babies in small strollers on the boat!
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This is the ferry we took, docked at Lokrum.

It is super important that you find out when the last ferry of the day is, and make sure you don’t miss it! There aren’t any hotels or places to stay on the island, so you’ll want to be sure you don’t get stuck. We almost missed the last ferry, it was vacation stress I could’ve done without. I wonder though, what would happen if you missed the last ferry? Is there a back up plan or are you just out of luck? I’d love to know, but wouldn’t want to be the one to figure it out the hard way!

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The island is very lush and quiet (except for the locals). It is perfect for wandering and having a little downtime. You could go and just walk around, or spend some time at one of the beaches. There is also a botanical garden and an old monastery you can walk through.

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Locals on Lokrum, colorful peacocks!

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Peacocks everywhere, even willing to hang out with you at the beach!

We chose a beach and the big kids started snorkeling. They all decided to buy snorkel gear on the previous afternoon at another nearby beach. It turned out to be a lot of fun for them, I think they would’ve snorkeled all day everyday if they could’ve.IMG_2278 (2)IMG_2294 (2)IMG_2305 (1)

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One important thing to note about Croatia is that the beaches are rocky. Water shoes are important and it may not be as easy to just lay out a big towel for little ones. We would find the biggest flat rock we could, and camp there. The rocky beaches make for some very clear, blue, gorgeous waters though! Don’t let the rocks deter you, just be prepared!

We spent the bulk of our day at this rocky cove area. We left to for a bit to eat lunch at a restaurant near the old monastery on the island. The food was great, and the scenery was tranquil. As I said earlier, we got so lost in the tranquility that all of a sudden we realized we were about to miss the last ferry. We were all happy to spend the day on Lokrum. Dubrovnik is beautiful, but Lokrum provides a different kind of beauty. It’s a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of tourists in the old city.

Throwback Travel: Dubrovnik-Walking the Wall

Continued from our trip to Croatia in 2014…

I think I could’ve shared about 50 more photos from this day. Seriously gorgeous views to be had all around! Our first full day in Dubrovnik, we spent the morning walking the wall that surrounds the old city. Honestly I wasn’t even sure I really wanted to do it, but I can vouch that it is a “must-do” activity. It took us a couple hours to walk the whole thing. It wasn’t too strenuous, but there are quite a bit of stairs which is something to keep in mind if you’re traveling with little ones (you’ll see why later). I think there was one place to stop and grab a drink or snack, but that’s it. So you will want to bring plenty of water, especially if you visit during the summer! And just a quick photo credit to my brother in law! We all shared photos at the end of the trip so I’m not sure which pictures are his or ours. But I’m fairly certain he took a good number of these!

I’ll just let the photos do most of the talking…

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Parenting on the go, time for a nap.

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About strollers on the wall. So, we were told there would be stairs. The guy at the ticket booth even offered to let us leave our stroller at the gate, but we thought we would bring it anyway. Mainly to give little girl a place to sleep, and to give me a break from wearing her ALL DAY. In hindsight, I might have just worn her. But at the time I was doing a lot of wearing her, carrying her etc. and this mama just wanted a break. So it can be done with a small umbrella stroller, but do not plan to bring your BOB up on the wall. Nope, not happeing.

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At this point she had fallen asleep, and we were trying to keep her that way. Thank goodness for a strong, and helpful Daddy!

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Dubrovnik is one of those cities that can truly transport you. The walls are beautifully preserved and I haven’t seen another place quite like it. It really is a charming (albeit a bit touristy) place. If we get the chance to go again, I’d love to ride the cable car up to the top of the mountain behind the city and check out that view, because I’m sure it’s pretty spectacular!

Throwback Travel: Dubrovnik at Night

From our trip to Croatia in the summer of 2014:

Our family was done touring around Rome for four days and it was time to move on to the next destination: Croatia. I’d been wanting to visit Croatia since we arrived in Germany. It seemed like I kept hearing people talk about it and what a beautiful destination it was. I think our family was a little skeptical when I first brought up the idea to them. I think for their first trip to Europe they probably were thinking, “what is in Croatia?” But they are amazingly awesome and open-minded so they went with it. By the end of the trip, I don’t think there was any disappointment at our choice.

We hopped a short flight from Rome to Dubrovnik, rented cars and drove to our vacation apartment that we rented high above the old town. We had a beautiful view out to the ocean from there. By the time we were settled, we really only had time to walk into town for dinner. We walked about 10 minutes down small alleys and staircases to the walled old town.

If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you are now fully aware that Dubrovnik is a filming location for the show. You might recognize parts of it as King’s Landing. It is a gorgeous city. Made of all white travertine stone. The streets are gleaming, like someone polishes them every night. It does feel a bit touristy, but for good reason. It is a beautiful, charming, ancient city with a character all it’s own.

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We wandered until we settled on a place for dinner. A restaurant serving seafood and other grilled meats set against a gorgeous staircase. Our daughter was still a new walker, and the stairs were very tempting to her. We made a couple trips up and down. A year or so later while watching Game of Thrones, I recognized exactly where we had eaten.

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GoT fans, can you hear it? “Shame!”
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There she goes, up the stairs! And with a watchful audience.
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A peek at the seafood platter for two. It doubles for food and entertainment!

That was it for night one. More around the wall of Dubrovnik later! Have you been to Dubrovnik? What did you think?