Best resources and tips, please!

My elderly parents have decided that they want to take my special needs son with autism, age 21, to Washington DC this October. I have been elected the driver and planner of this expedition.
My son has been asking to go for a few years. He would enjoy the monuments, seeing the White House, and museums. He specifically wants to see things related to George Washington as he enjoyed a visit to Abe Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky.
My parents are limited in their ability to walk. I considered a bus tour, but they also need the bathroom frequently. I have not been to Washington DC since I was a young child. So it is like going for the first time.

Please give me all your tips and resources.
Where do I start to plan this trip?
Is there a good book or website?
Is there a resource for traveling with special needs?
How do we avoid the worst crowds?
Any help is appreciated.

1 Like

How fun. The girls and I had a great trip to D.C. in March. I will say that March is busy because of spring break and lots of middle school trips (from what we saw). Summer is busy too and hot. I would avoid those times. I would also avoid driving in D.C. as much as possible–we relied on the Metro, the bus system and sometimes Uber. We did do a fabulous nighttime monument tour which included a bathroom break.
Our D.C. liners (@MouseGirl42, @DumboRunner, @terp05) might be able to give you some better advice.


So, I’m hoping you’ve already looked at the Unofficial Guide to DC… :wink:

Avoiding the worst crowds is less simple than it sounds - the district is always in motion, as it’s a working city. That said, the Smithsonian Museums are generally less crowded when schools are in session; October is far “less bad” than either spring break or summertime.

As far as walking is concerned, Taxis, Uber, and Lyft are pretty ubiquitous.

If he’s really into all things George Washington, I would recommend finding your way down to Mt. Vernon - which was the Washington estate, and only about 10 miles from the district proper.

There’s also a free tour of the US Capitol available, which could be interesting if you’re into that sort of thing.

I honestly don’t do the “tourist” thing in town much, but I’ll help whenever I can!


Regarding a bus tour - we did a half day, morning and loved it. This was back in about 2002 maybe. DH’s knees were painful. We had an 11 yr old and a 9 year old with us.

At the end of the tour the 9 yr old said that tour was “just enough - my brain is full!”

However DH and I had been to DC and the kids didn’t have requests.

The tour had certain places it went to. Probably not the same now. I think it was Gray Line?

There was a Red Trolley, might be the name. It’s kinda like a city bus - with a particular route or maybe two. You get on and get off near the sights you want to see. Perhaps this is not going any more. We almost did this instead of the bus tour. I think I opted for the bus because of less walking.

We were actually staying at a campground in Maryland which had a Metro stop right close. Which we wound up not using afterall. For some reason the Metro stop was a Gray line pick up as well. We were the only ones on the tour in early June.

I would look at the National Park website for info.

1 Like

Interestingly, my library does not have the Unofficial Guide to DC. The last version was 2016 & I can get the ebook version. The new one does not come out until December. :frowning:

Do you think the 2016 version would still be helpful? My library has another guide that is 2018. I’m on the waiting list for it.

1 Like

I’m not a resident of DC, but I’ve played the tourist quite a bit as I have a son who goes to school in the area. Also sometimes we, too, have to worry about accessibility. So here are my tips:

1). The time of year you’re going is a good one, crowds and heat are both less then. We also often go in Oct. and will be going again this fall.

2). I second the idea of going out to Mt. Vernon. There are many tour companies that do this. The Unofficial Guide from 2016 is reasonably up-to-date and should help you there.

3). Transportation- Strongly consider relying on Uber/Lyft. The metro stations are busy (a problem for your son) and require more walking than one might think (a problem for your parents)- some are very large with multiple levels. Of course there are elevators and escalators but just getting in & out of some of the stations requires a bit of walking.

4). Try to ditch the car. If you’re driving in in your own car, you’ll need to park it at the hotel and then pay parking fees (on a vehicle you won’t be using), and this will not be cheap. As others have said, it’s too hard to drive in town and too expensive to park (kind of like WDW, hah) & there are other options.

When we visit, we sometimes fly & sometimes drive in, but leave the car at the airport (DCA), If it’s a rental car, you can turn it in there. If it’s your own, depending on what your hotel charges, you may consider parking it in Economy. It’s then about $15 to get downtown by taxi, which is where you’ll want to stay.

You can then Uber/Lyft a short distance to anywhere you want to go. For people with a medical problem, Uber/Lyft are are a godsend. They have transformed our vacations.

Once, we were out walking the Tidal Basin and had just had it.We could go no further An Uber driver came and got us, far from any metro, taxi stand or even a building of any kind. If you sign up for Uber/Lyft about a week before you depart, they’ll have some new user offers.


I just checked, and the hotel where we often stay charges $63 per day for parking. You might even consider renting a car to drive to DC, then leaving it at the airport!

1 Like

:open_mouth:! Thanks for the tip! I had no idea parking would be that much. Can you drive to Mount Vernon & park reasonably close?
None of us have ever used Uber or Lyft so this will be a new experience. My parents live in a very rural area. No car service of any kind there. :rofl::rofl:

1 Like

You can drive to Mt. Vernon, but parking is hit-or-miss depending on how busy it is. As with all tourist things, the earlier in the day you can go, the better. I think there is a drop-off area right up front, but you might want to call and verify that.

Do either of your parents have a handicapped parking tag? If not, it would be worth asking their doctors for one. Even a temporary tag would help on a trip like this.


Yes. My son & my parents have handicap placards.


That will help a great deal. Then you can park right up front at Mt. Vernon.

Parking elsewhere is a problem… because there isn’t any! The metro is a great way to get around the city as a whole, but the parks, monuments and museums are still huge and spaced fairly far apart, between metro stops, so you’ll need to walk several blocks to get to your destination after exiting the metro. Not to mention all the standing in lines and walking around to look at all the cool stuff.

You can get wheelchairs for free at the museums, so don’t hesitate to ask.

But definitely I’d just call Uber/Lyft and have them pick you up at the hotel and take you exactly where you want to go.

1 Like

Thanks! That sounds like a good plan.

1 Like

We were in DC in the summer of 2014 for 10 days. There is so much to do and we only scratched the surface. Here are a few things I learned that might be helpful to you.

We flew into Dulles, rented a car, and drove to Arlington. We bought some snacks and drinks, dropped off the luggage, food, drinks, and teenagers at the hotel before returning the car to Reagan. Alamo did not charge us to return the car at a different location. Our hotel sent a shuttle to pick us up from Reagan but we could have easily hopped on the Metro. We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Arlington because it was cheaper than staying DC and we could easily take the Metro. We have stayed in a dozen Embassy Suites around the country and Arlington is still our favorite one (The free breakfast area is well done and spacious; breakfast is plentiful; and there are shelves in the closet to keep our stuff organized). The hotel does provide shuttle back and forth to the Metro stop at set times. But, if you will be taking Uber/Lyft, it may be better to stay in DC.

On the day we went to Mt. Vernon, the hotel dropped us off at Reagan to rent a car. We enjoyed Mt. Vernon, but once again, it is a lot of walking on his estate. We returned the car at the end of the day to avoid paying for parking. And we rented again from Reagan to get back to Dulles. The rentals to and from Dulles gave the space geeks in our family time at the Air and Space Museum at Dulles. This is home to the Space Shuttle Discovery. There is a parking fee.

Pay a few bucks per person to reserve tickets online ahead of time. That way, you have control over your time in advance and are not stressed everyday to go get tickets. Plus, we didn’t want to go line up early in the morning for tickets. It didn’t have to be like RDing at WDW!

DO NOT drive in DC! Ditch the car. Hotels charge a lot for parking and it is not that convenient to have a car in DC (parking and traffic). Depend on Uber/Lyft. It’s probably the cheaper alternative.

There is a lot of walking; from and to Metro, between the monuments and museums, and in the museums. With mobility challenges, Uber/Lyft may be the way to go. Choose the museums people want to see. Some places, we only wanted to see a couple of items and then we left.

Go during a time when there are not crowds of people pushing and shoving. Summer was hot and crowded.

Do not plan 2 building tours in a day. It was stressful to get from one place to another on time and it didn’t leave much time to stop and smell the roses. We rushed through the National Gallery of Art -Sculpture Garden. It was a cool place to stroll, sit, and chillax. Places are far away and lots of walking!

We toured all of the monuments on bike by ourselves, took Metro and walked to Arlington and the Marine Corp Memorial, and did a guided evening bike tour. But with 2 elderly parents and a special needs son, you might want to consider a narrated bus tour with opportunities to stop and get off the bus. They have day tours and night tours of different lengths. In San Francisco, I’ve seen bike tour guides with a “buggy” for 2 in the back. I don’t remember seeing them in DC and couldn’t find any online. I did find this and may be reasonable and personal for your family: DC Monuments and Capitol Hill Tour by Electric Cart

My family also enjoyed the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. It was very solemn and beautiful. It was a long walk from Metro. Uber/Lyft

If the Washington Monument is open again when you go, reserve a tour to go to the top. You get a 360 view. We got tickets near sunset.

For the White House tour, you need to get your Congressperson to get you a reservation. Do that ASAP. It takes months and they don’t let you know your reservation time and date until like 4-6 weeks before your tour.

You can get your Congressperson to get you a Capitol tour, too. But you can book this online and select a time that best meets your need. Do this early, too.

We also enjoyed a free tour of the National Archives. But I recall going up and down stairs. They have lovely exhibits on our nations history, including some paintings of Washington. Reservations and Tours | National Archives Museum

I took several sheets of paper, made a row for each day we were going to be in DC, and taped it to a wall. Each family member wrote must see/must do on Post Its, one Post It for each thing. We moved the Post Its around to fit the tour schedules.

We enjoyed eating at Legal Seafood, Matchbox, Founding Farmers, and Sweetgreens (seating here is not plentiful at some locations around DC). Founding Farmers requires reservation days in advance or show up at opening.

Happy planning!


Thank you so much! I appreciate you taking the time to share all this great info!

If you haven’t left yet I want you to really invest some time into finding bathrooms in every place your going and places along the way. if you have people who need to go frequently it makes life easier if you know where to go. The Lincoln memorial has one on the left side as you’re looking up at him, the jefferson memorial has one underneath, and the museums have them while they are open, but they close at 5 usually.

Have fun!

National Archives is seriously underrated! It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in DC, especially the interiors. I’m sure I have more pictures of this place than I do of the Washington Monument. If you’re into American history especially foundational documents and philosophy, this is the place. They have really fascinating tours, as well.

It has a direct underground route to the Capitol because of all the information stored at Archives that they need to reference in Congress, so if the weather is inclement, it’s a nice way to get over there. There is security as you enter the tunnel, and they will make you pour out any water you might have, etc., FYI.

1 Like