An American Pilgrimage Story (Washington D.C.).

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The Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial.

I had been to Washington D.C. once, back in 2003 at the tender age of 13 for my 8th grade graduation school trip. To say I barely remember it is an understatement. Returning 15 years later as an adult was an entirely different experience. It was still a whirlwind trip, as we only had one day there, but I will remember and appreciate it this time. The number one thing I came away with after visiting our capital city is that you need at least 4 to 7 days to see and do everything. We stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton, located at 300 at Army Navy Dr, Arlington, VA 22202 (highly recommend), and it was one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed at. It’s right across the state line and only a stones throw away from the Pentagon.

Without further ado, let’s go! 🇺🇸

The view from our hotel room.
One side of the Pentagon as seen from the highway.

Marine Corps


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The next morning, we hopped onto the D.C. HoHo and off we went. First stop was Arlington Cemetery, which we regrettably did not visit, then the HoHo drove us around the Marine Corps Memorial, Unfortunately, the bus didn’t stop at this memorial. Officially named United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), it was unveiled in 1954 and is dedicated to all of the U.S. Marines who have given their lives since our country’s inception in 1775. It’s one of the few memorials located in Arlington, Virginia and not within D.C. limits, or more specifically, along the Mall.

Lincoln Memorial

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Our first stop inside of D.C. was a big one – the Lincoln Memorial. A massive and mesmerizing marble building perched on a slight hill, it cannot be missed. One of the most well-known sights within D.C., it was packed, as to be expected. It was a fight and a lot of patience waiting to get a picture with Honest Abe that wasn’t full of strangers unintentionally invading the background. Regardless, it was still wonderful and amazing to view in person. It was interesting that a mere 50 feet from the memorial were police officers with high powered rifles. It was a stark reminder of where we were and our world today.

Located at 2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW, it’s open daily for 24-hours. It’s an open-air memorial and completely free to view (as is almost everywhere in D.C. – if it’s government owned/run). It was built between 1914 and 1922, officially opening on Memorial Day 1922. Cool fact – President Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was in attendance. He was 78-years-old. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 1966. It’s an impressive memorial and likeness of Lincoln, and one of my favorites.

Reflecting Pool

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Directly south of the Lincoln Memorial is the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Truthfully (and sadly), it was disgusting, something I was not expecting. I’m not sure if this was due to natural reasons like weather and plants, or because people are terrible and don’t care where their trash goes. Either way, it was a disappointing. It’s not the only reflecting pool in D.C., but it is the largest and most well-known. It was built between 1922 and 1923 immediately after the Lincoln Memorial’s dedication ceremony.

Korean War

Veterans Memorial

By far my favorite memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial is a very short distance from the Lincoln Memorial. It’s such a gripping and well done memorial, and unlike any of the others throughout the city. There are 19, 7-foot statues of soldiers depicting a platoon, lurking through the Korean jungle. They represent all 4 branches of the U.S. military – 14 Army, 3 Marines, 1 Navy, and 1 Air Force. The detail in these statues is breathtaking, as you can see all the stress and strain on their war-torn faces. There’s also a mural wall, in the shape of a triangle and made from black granite. Definitely make sure to check this memorial out.

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Martin Luther

King Jr.


Continuing our walk along the Mall, we made our way to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. Most of the main memorials are all located along the Mall and are within reasonable walking distance from one another. The MJK memorial was impressive, with an excellent likeness of the great Reverend. It stands at 30 feet (9.1 meters) and is made of solid white granite. It was created by Lei Yixin, who began the sculpture in 2009, and completing it just 2 years later. It was officially opened on August 22, 2011. The centerpiece of the memorial references a line from MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It reads: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope“.

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WWII Memorial

Next up was the WWII Memorial. This is another one whose design I really liked. It’s essentially a giant circle, with a large fountain and pool in the middle. Every l state and U.S. territory that fought in WWII has its own column. We each found our respective states – California and Indiana – and our mutual home state of Illinois. We noticed that basically everyone who comes to this memorial finds their home state and does the exact same thing.

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This memorial has been steeped in controversy, with people upset over the location. Their complaint was that it would interrupt the view between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Plus they argued that that space had historically been used for protests and demonstrations. Congress ended up ruling against the protesters, in no small part because WWII veterans were beginning to expire before ever seeing a proper memorial erected in their honor. Construction for the memorial finally began in 2001, and opened to the public in 2004… 17 years after the initial request for the memorial was made in 1987 by WWII veteran Roger Durbin.

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Washington Monument

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Next was the Washington Monument. In my opinion, poor George got the short end of the monument stick, as Lincoln and Jefferson have grand mausoleum-esque structures, and Roosevelt has his own island, yet our first president, Founding Father, and overall puffed-haired hero of the Civil War gets a giant, pointy stick. Fun note: it’s also the center of many conspiracy theories, mainly those involving the Masons. Not fun: it’s one of the very few memorials that may have been built by slaves.

Located at 2 15th St NW, it’s open daily from 9am to 10pm, as you can go inside of it. It stands at 555 feet and is made of marble. Construction began in 1848 and lasted until 1854, when donations needed to build it ran out. Then the Civil War happened, continuing the halt on construction. In 1879, construction finally resumed, with the monument finally finished in 1884. It was officially opened in 1888.

White House

Next up, the White House. When I first visited Washington D.C., George Bush Jr. was president and the atmosphere wasn’t as heightened as this time around. You could walk up, touch, or lean against the black gate that surrounds the President’s home. This was not the case in 2018. There is now a good 50+ foot gap between the black gate and where visitors can stand, barricaded off with cement barriers, and standing in this gap are armed police officers with rifles.


We hung out outside the White House for a few, as you can only go in with a pre-bought tour. We bought Gatorade from some business-savvy young men out front (you’ll see that a lot in D.C. and NYC). It gets hot in D.C. during the summer and there were people selling Gatorade and water for $2 a piece on all the street corners and in front of various hotspot locations. I’m adding this as a heads up to carry some cash, otherwise you’ll end up paying double at most of the stores.

National Archives

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Continuing our journey back on the HoHo, the next stop was the National Archives. If you come to D.C., you must go to the National Archives, because this is where the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights are housed. Viewing these famous and historic documents is free, bur you must go through security and wait in line to view them. They only send in a certain number of people at a time to try and fight overcrowding. It honestly didn’t seem to do much good since people take forever trying to read every single line in the dark.

Pictures are strictly forbidden of all three documents because one single flash from a camera speeds up the documents fading by 30 days. The lights inside the document area are very, very low, which is another way the government is fighting the fading. Unfortunately, the documents are already extremely faded, so I suggest getting to D.C. asap if you want to view the original documents! All we’ll have left are copies in the future 🥴.

U.S. Capital

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We meandered around the National Archives for a bit before heading to our last stop of the day, the U.S. Capital building. You can take the HoHo to the Capital, but we decided to just walk – it’s not that far (all downtown D.C. is walkable, in my opinion). We didn’t go inside because 1) we didn’t know if we could, and 2) we were too lazy to find out. Rule #2 of my road trip rules (SeeWorldNotSeaWorld’s 5 Rules for Road Trips.) keeps springing to mind, because had we spent more than one day in D.C., we would have had the time, energy, and patience to actually go into places like the Capital or any of the numerous museums. However, since we had already spread ourselves so thin throughout this entire trip, we were somewhat defeated at this point and didn’t really bother with it (a lot of regret 🤦🏻‍♀️).

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Seeing the U.S. Capital building in person, however, was awesome in and of itself. As an American citizen who is currently rather dissatisfied with our entire government, it was surreal to be standing outside of where all those politicians go to duke it out constantly and somehow get absolutely nothing accomplished in the process. Beautiful building, though.

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All-in-all, our day spent in D.C. was satisfactory, more than I can say for some of the other places we visited during the road trip. While we certainty didn’t get to do a ton, we did see the main iconic locations and monuments, and for that I cannot complain. I regret not being able to go to any of the Smithsonians, but that is our fault for thinking we could foolishly do D.C. in one day. I don’t necessarily think you need an entire week in D.C., but certainly 3 to 4 days. This city is one of the very few places I will be making a THIRD trip to in the future. I’m not done yet, D.C.!

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial with the Washington Monument peaking through from behind.

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