The most popular time of year to travel to D.C. is when the cherry blossoms are in bloom between March and April, peaking around April 4. The Cherry Blossom Festival takes place this time of year and people come from around the country and world to watch the capital turn into a sea of pink and white. Although this is a beautiful spectacle in the spring, Washington D.C. has its unique beauty in the fall and winter months and tends to be a little less crowded. The architecture alone is a sightseeing adventure filled with rich history, so have a camera at hand.
There are wheelchair accessible guided walking tours and others by transportation to the National Mall and Park Monuments and usually cost a fee. There is one walking tour that has free scheduled tours called DC by Foot. Or the Old Town Trolley Tours have some vehicles that are wheelchair accessible, but it’s best to arrange in advance as they are limited.
A self-guided tour of this area can be liberating and just as rewarding. Maps are available throughout the area to guide to the various monuments, so you can pick and choose what you want to see. Everything is connected somehow and with good endurance, one can explore the entire grounds by wheelchair.
Of course, there is exploring the historic U.S. Capital itself. To visit areas of the Capitol beyond the Capitol Visitor Center, you must make a reservation in advance and tour schedules can fill up quickly, so book your tour well in advance of your visit. Reservations can be taken up to 6 months in advance and as little as 30 days. If you are a U.S. resident you can contact one of your congressmen because their offices offer their staff-led tours or some can assist you in booking a general tour. It’s very important to inform them if you use a wheelchair. One can also book a tour online for a specific date and time, which can be modified later if needed. View the map of the U.S. Capital Complex for a better understanding of what there is to see.
The National Mall
Depending on how fast one moves, visiting the National Mall Park Monuments can be spread out over a couple of days, especially if checking out a few museums. The walkways are smoothly paved with curb cutouts in the streets as well as the National Mall and many of the monuments have accessible restrooms, though many are portable toilets, but at the larger monuments, nicer permanent restrooms may be found.
Ten of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution are located on the National Mall ranging in topics from space exploration to fine art. There is no admission to the Smithsonian Museums and National Zoo, it’s completely free, and more reason to jump around to see what you want. Most are also open seven days a week from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm, closed on December 25.
To see the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence go to the National Archives as well as many other historic documents. It’s located just on the outer rim of the National Mall on Constitution Avenue, see hours. A couple of blocks away from the National Mall on the corner of F and 9th Street is the International Spy Museum, which opened in 2002 and showcases the largest display of espionage artifacts ever seen by the public. Find out more about opening hours and admission fees.
Places to Stay
When looking for a place to stay, one accessible suggestion is Hotel Harrington. This historic hotel opened in 1914 and is just a few blocks from the U.S. Capital and White House, which makes it a great location for visitors. There are also tons of restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops surrounding the hotel so there’s not much need to use public transportation.
However, if you care to venture outside this tourist district there is the Washington Metro Center is two blocks away and is wheelchair friendly. Most importantly there are two accessible rooms with roll-in showers equipped with a flip-down wooden bench and hand-held shower nozzle. The bathroom has a door clearance of 36” wide and the bathroom is approximately 6’X9’.
Another wheelchair traveler stayed just two miles from Washington D.C. in Arlington, Virginia at the Crystal Gateway Marriott with a large roll-in shower and overall rated it very highly.
Restaurants, Cafes, and Eateries
Besides a place to stay, a person has to eat too. A part of the fun of traveling is experiencing the culinary signatures of a destination. Washington D.C. has an ample selection of restaurants to choose from ranging in international cuisine and local favorites, price, and accessibility. Everyone has their own opinion on what sounds good but here are a few ideas to get you started.
Comet Ping Pong is a hip and affordable place to get great New Heaven-style pizza and gourmet beer on tap not to mention wheelchair accessible. There are three ping pong tables and usually, on Friday and Saturday nights, there is live music entertainment by local musicians. Closer to the Capital, another local favorite is called the Oohhs & Ahhs Gourmet Deli, which is filled with soul, soul food that is. Do not be deceived by appearance because this place is a little rough around the edges but once you have your first bite nothing else matters but what’s on your plate. One of the biggest draws is the mac and cheese with 45 different kinds of cheese along with the chicken wings covered in house-made buffalo sauce. The restroom accessibility at Oohhs & Ashhs Gourmet Deli is unknown but may still be worth checking out.
For a more fine dining experience, one can consider Old Ebbitt Grill. It opened in 1856 and uses fresh ingredients from local farms to create the breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and oyster menu. Old Ebbitt Grill has hosted many presidents over the years because of its proximity to the White House and provides quality experience. If you are not hungry then come in anyway for a drink at the bar.
A resident of the Washington D.C. area had several suggestions for places to eat and to get a drink or maybe just a cupcake. At Baked & Wired one can indulge in delicious handcrafted baked goods. Everything that is put in the oven is made in small quantities because quality is Baked & Wired main objective. This is an excellent stop in the morning for breakfast but an afternoon cupcake is quite satisfying too.
One fine dining place suggested is Komi which serves a fixed multi-course dinner with an optional wine pairing. If looking for a modern, eco-friendly, and causal place to get homemade and scratch-made American food then head to the Founding Farmers. They are open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch and there are two accessible restrooms. Rosa Mexicano is a delicious upscale restaurant serving authentic Mexican dishes. Sushiko is not your traditional Japanese cuisine but a fusion of the traditional with east coast ingredients and a great choice.
For some nightlife action, a few bars were recommended also by a long-time local who is hip to the scene. Meridian Pint is open until 3 am Fridays and Saturdays and focuses on American-crafted draft beers to cut down on environmental impact. There are two levels, one only being accessible and has a suitable restroom. POV Roof Terrance and Lounge at the W hotel is a classy establishment with spectacular views of the White House and other D.C. monuments. POV serves cocktails, wine, and a seasonal menu. The Red Derby is another choice to hang out and grab a drink with a ramp to the front door and accessible restrooms.
I too have a love for adventure..even after being paralyzed I share the same want to experience this world..thank you for creating a site where people in wheelchairs can see and read what to expect when travelling..
Thanks Joshua! You can always be a travel writer too for the community… Would you like to join us?
But where to rent a wheelchair?
Just back from 4 days of happy touring in DC. My
husband is fully wheelchair dependent, using a
lift for transfers. We stayed at The Capitol Hill Hotel
and walk-n-rolled everywhere from there. Great staff,
great location, rates great when Congress is not in
session. Wonderful food a block away with access for
our wheels. Loved The Trolly tours, nighttime
Monuments Tour was great and Trolly’s have full
lift for wheelchair pickup with great open spot in back.
Wonderful to hear! DC has it going on when it comes to access.
I’m so glad you had such a good time! I am looking for a place to eat, and some of my friends need wheelchair access. You said “wonderful food … access for our wheels” near Congress — where was that?
If you happened to go to the National Zoo, did you eat around there with a good accessible experence? Please tell!
Pennsylvania Ave has a number of restaurants
with outdoor seating. We ate early dinners behind the Library of
Congress in the outside seating areas. Staff was happy to
move tables to accommodate us AND had a ramp to get
us inside if we wanted to. Great food and variety, great people
watching.We also ate well in the museums – especially
Native American and Am Museum of Art.
We stayed in the Mall area.
Where can you rent a wheelchair?
I would like to find out myself… If you can, please let me know if you find anything.
But what about Alexandria, just outside of DC? The sights are beautiful, but I could hardly go into any shops/restaurants with my wheelchair because there were very few ramps!!!
This is very good to know, thanks Paulina.