Our Experience Touring The White House

Last January we checked off one of our big Washington D.C. bucket list items with a tour of the White House.  While it was a once in a lifetime experience, it was a lot of work to make it happen.  Today I thought I would share our experience and tips in case you get the chance to take the tour yourself one day!

To get tickets to the White House you have to plan months ahead.  You have to contact your local Member of Congress where you are given dates to choose from.  You commit to a date and then have to wait to hear back if you will be receiving tickets.  I believe that they may not even contact you until two weeks before your tour date which is pretty late if you are making travel plans around whether or not you are getting a tour.  You can find more detailed information on the White House Tours website.

My parents wanted to take the tour during one of their visits so I went ahead and put in a request for tickets.  We would still plan their visit based around the date we chose but if we didn't get tickets we planned to postpone our Washington D.C. trip with them until we could get tickets.  Even though they live in California and we live in Virginia, I was able to request tickets for all of us (versus my parents having to contact their own Member of Congress).  Needless to say, we were able to get tickets.

While we were able to pick the date of our tour, we were not able to pick a time.  So we planned to stay in a hotel during our stay so that we didn't have to deal with traffic or parking so we could get to the tour on time.  Especially with a small child this proved to be tricky.  Of course our tour was one of the first of the day so we all had to wake up early, make the trek to the White House, carrying our child (no strollers allowed), through the snow!

You are not allowed to bring any bags or cameras with detachable lenses.  So we used our phones for photos and packed a ziploc bag with two diapers and a few wipes.

As luck would have it, we went to the wrong entrance of the White House and had to walk all the way around the property (which is fairly large).  It was stressful and cold but we were able to get in line with enough time to spare.  And then of course our son had a DIRTY diaper.  So while we stood in line, outside, IN THE SNOW, we changed my son's diaper on my husband's lap.  Good times!

But we finally made it.  The line was pretty long for our tour so there was lots of waiting.  Luckily there was a group of young high school girls near us who gave our son a ton of attention.  This was a life saver!  Because all the adults were typical adults waiting in line - pushy, cutting, and not caring about anyone but themselves!

Going through security was pretty painless but a long process.  You have to have your printed tickets and ID with you and they have a list of names to check you off.  The ziploc of diapers was not a problem and we wondered if I had brought our Fuji camera that we might have gotten away with it.  But it is hard to know and you don't want to bring anything with you that you don't want to have to leave behind.

Being inside the White House is pretty cool and exciting.  Unfortunately there were so many people on our tour and they herded us around like cattle.  We tried to hang in the back so we had extra room with our son but this ended up meaning we were waiting at the back of the group the whole time.

I have a love hate relationship with phones on our cameras when it comes to large groups of people.  EVERYONE is trying to take pictures, selfies, and whatever else which means a lot of people not paying attention to anything around them.  Call me an old lady - but back in the day we would have one camera per family not one camera per person!

You only get access to the first floor which goes through the historical rooms.  Living in Virginia, we have been to quite a few presidential homes which all have the same look and feel.  And everyone takes turns peering through the door, taking their picture, and then moving on.

What I found most fascinating was this long hallway with the red carpet.  It felt like the iconic White House photos I have seen.  But sadly, this was the extent of the tour.  You don't get to see any of the functioning rooms to get a feel of what the White House must feel like day to day. 

So while the entire experience was a lot of work, we are still grateful we did it.  Would we do it again?  Not anytime soon - especially with a little one! 

But the rooms we saw were beautiful and it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.  I still am in awe of how much we have been able to do and see since moving to the East Coast that I would have never imagined in my lifetime.  So for that we are grateful.

And it all makes for a good laugh months...years later.  We cannot wait for when our son grows up and we can tell him all about the time he pooped at the White House!

There is plenty of security around that can offer you information if you ask.  But they do not have a script to offer up information like you would find at presidential home tours. 

And at one point, the secret service offered a fist bump to our son.  He obliged and it was pretty cute.  That will definitely hold as one of our favorite memories from the tour!

At the end of the tour you can take a picture in front of the presidential seal.  This was pretty cool and worth the wait to get to. 

Our little guy was such a trooper.  I am learning as a parent that we have to simply go with the flow and not expect too much if we want to experience these fun and unique experiences.  It definitely helped that my parents were there with extra sets of hands to help out.  All in all, it was a special memory we will all have together for years to come.

After the tour you exit outside which was pretty cool to be so close to the exterior of the White House since you can only see it from afar otherwise. 

Not White House related, but too cute not to share - during our trip this time the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial had frozen over.  We took our chances for some epic photos out on the ice.  We actually saw two people fall in while we were there!  We were wise enough to walk on areas that seemed safest but it was a little crazy keeping up with a toddler!

The White House Tour was pretty special but walking out on the water was pretty epic as well!