By Susan Farewell
Think your Congressman’s family gets first-class treatment when visiting our nation’s capital?
Chances are they are just doing what they’re entitled to and it’s available to your family as well.
Through every Congressman’s and Congresswoman’s office, visitors can arrange a variety of tours to several governmental buildings and offices including The White House, the United States Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, The Supreme Court, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Pentagon, the National Archives, the Treasury and the State Department.
But which ones should you take your young kids to?
We spoke to Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes about the places and experiences that have had the biggest impact on his two young daughters (ages 8 and 11) when visiting Dad at his office. Here’s what we learned.
• The 13-minute film at the US Capitol Visitors Center puts everything in perspective. “Out of Many, One” explains the history of the Capitol and Congress and helps clarify what your children are looking at before going on the tour of the historic part of the Capitol.
• The Bureau of Engraving & Printing gets lots of points. Not only do your children get to walk on the catwalks and watch money being made (starting with huge sheets of paper), but the staff tends to ham it up for the tourists, making it a lot of fun.
• The US Capitol Subway, aka the Senate Subway, is a real hit with his girls. This little-known underground railroad links the Capitol building to all the Senate Office Buildings, as well as to the House Office Building, allowing every member of Congress to reach the Capitol with great ease. Though you don’t have to be a member of the Senate, you do have to have clearance to ride it.
• Dad also recommends visiting the House Office buildings, saying hello to your Representative, and signing the guestbook. And while it’s not always possible because you have to be escorted by a Member of Congress, it can’t hurt to ask about touring the Capitol Dome and the Speakers Balcony overlooking the Mall.
What else in DC has left a lasting impression on the Himes family? “The Spy Museum really impressed the girls,” says Himes. “with its ‘bugs,’ its secret cameras and other spy-tech exhibits.” And, of course, “they are fans of the Air and Space Museum.”
Also high on the list for the Himes kids is a fun place to eat. The Good Stuff Eatery on Pennsylvania Avenue features toasted marshmallow milkshakes and delicious burgers.
Himes reports his family had a wonderful trip to Mount Vernon and they also loved going to Great Falls Park where you can hike, picnic and watch kayakers navigate the treacherous waters.
So how do you take advantage of the insider benefits? It’s who you know. Your Congressman or Congresswoman is your connection.
As soon as you confirm the dates you’ll be in Washington, DC, go to your representative’s website (put your representative’s name in place of Himes at this address: http://himes.house.gov/). Fill out a Tour Request Form. Many of the tours are provided by staff and interns and have scheduled departure times. The White House tours must be booked as close to six months in advance as possible but keep in mind, because of their popularity, those are first-come, first-serve.
If you want to visit an area that requires being escorted by a member, you need to establish that well in advance with the understanding that cancellations can happen.
Photo credits: All right reserved by Congressman Jim Himes. Photo of capitol by Jake McGuire for Washington DC Tourism.