Spring Break Road Trip from Chicago to Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington D.C.

Why visit?

One of the most sought after Spring Break travel locations for the Cherry Blossom Festival in late March-early April. If you are in luck, you can catch wonderful weather too, it was 65F when we visited it in 2019.

How to Plan your visit?

  • Drive or Fly? We drove all the way from Naperville to D.C., took us 11.5 hours after couple of breaks in our Durango R/T. We run at a faster pace so please add some extra time if you stick to the exact speed limits.
  • For accommodation, I would recommend staying right in the heart of the city to cut down the travel timeWe stayed here. Contrary to the photos, I found this to be very dated place with no hot breakfast, would not recommend to the readers.
  • Other than the sought after Cherry Blossom festivities around Tidal Basin, we would recommend:
    • The National Zoo (only 4 zoos in US have the Giant Panda, including this one!)
    • Memorials – Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, MLK, World War 2, Washington Monument; they have it all, take your pick!
    • D.C.’s famous and no entry fee museums:
      • Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
      • Smithsonian National History Museum
    • Restaurants – Try the several highly rated Thai or Ramen restaurants, we tried Reren and Jinya and loved’em!

Our Trip Details from Naperville

Dates
March 29 – April 1, 2019

Road Trip
Naperville to Washington D.C. Google ETA is 11 hours according to Google but we gunned it down in 11.5 hours including couple of breaks.

IMG_20190329_112238 (1).jpg
Our beast (fully loaded Durango R/T) ready to roar after the pit stop

Stay
Hotel 1600
680$ for 3 days.

Travel Photologue

Views near our hotel

00100lPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190330110022793_COVER00100lPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190329215528758_COVER

Cherry Blossom Festival

00100lPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190330113353825_COVER.jpg

Lincoln Memorial

Preacher Alert: Lincoln’s second Presidential inauguration address is hailed as one of the iconic non-fiction literature. You can read it here and be a fan of Lincoln’s steely determination and humility, like me.

00000IMG_00000_BURST20190330131609048_COVER

PANO_20190330_131617.vr

Roosevelt Memorial

00100lPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190330212203980_COVER

MLK Memorial

IMG_20190330_220711
MLK – Towering over others, literally and figuratively!

IMG_20190330_215752
The murals on the walls were intriguing.

IMG_20190330_215133.jpg
Cherry Blossom looks even more stunning in the nox

World War 2 Memorial

Located near the Tidal Basin area, it offered a frisky zero-depth pond as well for the kids to waste parent’s coins.

00100lPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190330124131085_COVER

Washington Monument

00100lPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190330122909903_COVER (1)
View from World War-II Memorial

IMG_20190330_212921
View from the Roosevelt Memorial Lake

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

MVIMG_20190331_154402

00100lPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190331155220772_COVER

Smithsonian National History Museum

00000IMG_00000_BURST20190331112752534_COVER

IMG_20190331_123037

00100lPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20190331151148003_COVER

The National Zoo

00000IMG_00000_BURST20190330162846060_COVER-EFFECTS (1)
THE Giant Panda doing what it does, 20 hours a day!

00000IMG_00000_BURST20190330160603898_COVER
The crowd’s favorite award goes to the Red Panda though

Detailed Trip Notes (for the patient souls)

Day 1:

Started at 5:40 AM from Naperville. Took first break at service plaza about 4 hours from Naperville. Covered around 310 miles. Remaining distance: 424 miles. 6.5 hours.

Su started driving at 11:25 AM and drove 4 hours straight. We took next break at Breezewood which is nestled at the intersection of I-76 and.. can’t remember. 

Amit drove for couple of hours after the break and we reached hotel at 6:15 PM. DC traffic was crazy in the last leg, highly recommended to not travel during peak hours. Waze was buzzing with ‘traffic camera reported’ alerts so gotta be careful on over-speeding in the city.

Dinner:

We went at Reren– an authentic well-priced Lamen place (Chinese version of Ramen). The stir fry noodles were little low on the spice overall but still tasteful. Buddha Lamen (veggie) was good too. The Chinese Tsingtao beer was lite and crisp.

Day 2:

We went over to Jefferson Memorial but the cab driver dropped us few blocks away at the Tidal Basin citing huge rush. This was Kite flying day with hordes of big and small humans converging into the same Tidal Basin area. There was some festival going on and the place had good music and food as well. The Cherry Blossom was almost in full bloom and after clicking gazillion snaps, we strolled over to reach World War 2 Memorial followed by Lincoln memorial. Lincoln’s second inauguration speech is engraved on the walls and looks even more fascinating.

We had a quick lunch at Chic-Fil-A which was cloistered inside one of George Washington University’s buildings (thanks to G-Maps for guiding us). The food court had enough variety which paved the way for the kids to have pizza. We took a cab to White House from there. We couldn’t get into the lawn as it was blocked but had a good look of the West Wing. The park besides the white house was bustling with people and there was a carnival like atmosphere with several impromptu performances for small money.

We were little tired but I really wanted to see Giant Panda (only 4 zoos in US have Giant Panda and DC’s National Zoo is one of them), so after some convincing, we hailed a cab and went to be amazed by THE Giant Panda. The zoo is totally free as most of other touristy places in the city, which was refreshing, comparing it to Naperville/Chicago museums and zoos. Maintenance was on the poor side though and we couldn’t find a single working water fountain and the self serving unit gobbled our 3$ without returning water. Lesson learnt – Better to have some water in reserve before entering any public place warranting a lot of walk.

Things went much better OUTSIDE the zoo, we had sumptuous ice cream at  parlor right outside the zoo and then hailed a ride to our hotel. 

After a quick afternoon siesta, we ambled to a ramen restaurant called JINYA. A bit of a wait but the food more than made up for it – the spicy chicken noodle ramen was heavenly for the taste buds. A Japanese lager beer was a perfect compliment for the spicy food. Kids also loved the soupy noodles.

After dinner, we Ubered our way to Jefferson Memorial. We had heard that it looks majestic at night and the reflection of Washington monument on the lake in front of the Jefferson monument provides a beautiful view and it was truly a treat for the eyes. As the night settled in and gentle spring breeze greeted us, we strolled to Roosevelt and MLK Memorial accompanied by blooming cherry blossom trees.

Little bit of snafu while coming back as waited endlessly for the Lyft cab to arrive only to know its been canceled. Finally, we reached home at 11 PM after witnessing DC cherry blossom or rather the DC city in all its glory.

Day 3:

It rained in the morning to bring both the temperatures and the number of tourists down, the later was a huge relief. We started our day by visiting Smithsonian National history museum – the plan was simple – view Hope Diamond, Dianosaur Exhibits and then relax. But we ended up staying there for many hours (including lunch). The insects, mammals exhibit was wonderful for the kids. We did not cover the live butterflies exhibit as we had already seen it at Mackinac. We had lunch at the museum itself and it was very limited with no hot items at all. May be that was to save costs, after all this was no ticket museum. I had buffalo chicken cold sandwitch and others managed to eat enough to mark our lunch as complete and then we headed over to National Aerospace Museum in the National Mall. We got a good look at the Capitol building as well while entering the national history museum. There were a lot of food trucks in the adjoining park, which was tempting but we were already full so saved those for the next time.

We spent couple of hours at the Aerospace musem – it is highly recommended place for kids, there was gazillion things kids could actually interact with. We got some souvenirs from the big souvenir shop on the ground floor (for some weird reason, there were several small souvenir shops on different floors). 

We wound up around 5 and then hailed a ride home. We left early for dinner since this was our last night and the long travel back home was looming. We had dinner at Baan Thai, super authentic Thai restaurant. Spicy tuna Maki roll was succulent, easily one of best Sushi rolls I have had. Kids ate the soupy noodles ON THEIR OWN so we assume they liked the tasty food as well. Wife got vegetarian soupy noodles and it was delectable.

Then we walked back to our hotel, the weather was down to the 40s and the streets were almost devoid of people, stark contrast to the previous days. While checking on my car which was parked in the garage for all these days, we realized the garage entry might not be allowed at early AM so I got my car out and then parked at the street. Thankfully, Sunday is a free day for some of the street parking slots and I was fortunate to find one close to our hotel. We slept after some TV time, refreshing some DC memories and bracing for a travel long day ahead of us.

Day 4:

Woke up at 4 AM and started the 730 mile road trip at 5:15 AM.

We covered 270 miles in 4 hours and stopped at a small town for fuel and breakfast. The Pennsylvania hilly areas have very few food plazas so we had to take a detour for food and fuel. It would be recommended to do some research before-hand for the on road food plazas to save time and have more options for food.

Wife took control behind the wheel at 9:40 AM after the breakfast at SubWay and drove for 4 straight hours, knocking off around 280 miles! We took a pit stop for fuel and food at Qdoba in the Elkhart city.

I took us over the finish line for the last stretch where we scampered for 170 miles in 135 minutes to reach home at 4:45 PM.

That’s it.


Please let us know about your spring break road trip ideas or thoughts on this post via the comments.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s