The ultimate Presidential site to visit is the White House in Washington, DC. Every President since John Adams has lived in the White House, making it the most historic home in America. From its burning during the War of 1812 to its complete renovation in the 1950s, the importance of the White House building has remained constant. If you are planning a trip to Washington, DC, you need to take your family to see the “people’s house.”
Before your trip, your kids will definitely want to read some of the books suggested below. The funny, sad, patriotic, and ghostly stories from the White House’s history is something that all kids will like to read. They will especially love hearing about the kids who grew up in the White House!
The White House is open to the public through your Congressional office on a first come, first served basis. While requests can only be made 3 months in advance, check in with the office as soon as you know your travel dates to make sure there is not an additional waiting list to join. Your Congressional office has a staff member who is in charge of these requests, and you will need to provide names, birthdates, addresses, and social security numbers for all visitors. Even if you plan well in advance, there is no guarantee that you will get tickets.
If you are lucky and get tickets, make sure all of the members of your party arrive together and have IDs for those 18 and up (children do not need to have IDs). You will have to go through security (see here for specific instructions on what is prohibited – note no bags, food, or strollers) so be sure to arrive well before your designated time, at least 15 minutes early. Make sure your children use the restroom before arriving as there are no restrooms available on the tour (stop in the White House Visitor Center at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue for restrooms – see more about this location below).
Your self-guided tour will take you through several of the main reception rooms on the ground and first floor of the White House. The rooms you will see are all fascinating and have Secret Service agents stationed in them to answer any questions. I also recommend downloading the White House Historical Association’s app to help guide you through the rooms.
Your kids will love walking through the window-lined corridor and glimpsing views of the gardens. Once while we were walking through this corridor, we saw President Obama’s dog in the garden!
Along the ground floor corridor, you will see a couple of smaller rooms, the library (look for Lafayette’s bust!) and the Vermeil room, which is one of the most beautiful rooms in the White House. This room showcases beautiful silver pieces along with well-known portraits of Jackie Kennedy and other First Ladies.
After seeing the china room, you will go into one of my favorite rooms, the Diplomatic Reception Room. I love the wallpaper with American landscapes that was picked out by Mrs. Kennedy when she renovated and updated the White House. My kids loved being in one of the oval rooms that you can see from the outside (just be sure they know that this isn’t the Oval Office!). Make sure to look in the adjacent Map Room – this was the location of President Roosevelt’s communications center during WWII.
Your tour will now head upstairs to the state floor, where most of the entertaining and public events are held. The tour through these rooms follows a certain path but you are allowed to linger as long as needed to take in all of the painting, portraits, and decor.
The massive East room, the most historic room in the White House, is jaw-dropping and contains the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington.
This is a great place to remind your kids about the painting’s famous survival story from the burning of the White House in 1814. I also like to tell the story about this room serving as Abigail Adams’ clothesline!
The next rooms, the Green, Blue, and Red Rooms, are where the President and First Lady receive guests and contain furniture and decor that date all of the way back to the Adams administration. My kids especially loved the oval Blue Room, which is directly above the Diplomatic Reception Room. I loved all of the furniture here, most of it imported from France by President James Monroe.
The Red Room is beautiful and a favorite of First Ladies. I love reading about First Ladies and especially enjoyed learning that this room is where Eleanor Roosevelt had her famous press conferences for female reporters. Don’t miss seeing the famous Dolley Madison portrait here!
The State Dining Room was my younger son’s favorite room since it contains the famous Lincoln portrait.
Don’t miss the inscription carved into the marble in the fireplace mantel that was written by President John Adams in 1800.
This is the last room you will see on the tour, and you will exit into the cross hall to exit. Don’t miss a family picture under the Presidential seal!
You will exit onto the north portico, which is also a good family picture spot.
If there is ever a chance to visit the White House at Christmas, be sure to take it! The White House is beautiful, and your kids will be in awe over the dozens of trees! I went at Christmastime in 2003 and still remember the amazing decorations.
My friend, author Libby McNamee, sent me these pictures of the spectacular decorations from Christmas 2019!
If you can’t get tickets to the actual White House, don’t worry. You can still see historic artifacts from the White House on your DC visit at the White House Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center makes a great stop before or after your White House tour, especially for a restroom break. It is located just southeast of the White House, on Pennsylvania Avenue, and contains several hands-on activities that kids will enjoy.
The Visitor Center has lots of fun activities, such as these plates of food. Kids can guess which President liked which food!
My sons’ favorite part of the Visitor Center was the interactive and hands-on models of the White House.
They loved debating where the Oval Office was located (look for the oval room in the West Wing).
There is also a short 10-minute movie about the families who live in the White House at the Visitor Center, and you can view many pieces of furniture, paintings, and other items as well.
Don’t miss the wall of Presidential portraits located near the restrooms. See if your kids can point out their favorite Presidents!
The grounds around the White House are called the President’s Park and are worth a visit as well:
- North of the White House is Lafayette Park, home to 4 statues of foreign Revolutionary War heroes and President Andrew Jackson. This square also contains the historic Decatur House and St. John’s Episcopal Church (known as the “Church of the Presidents”)
- South of the White House is the Ellipse, which is located between the White House and the National Mall. It contains several memorials, the site of the National Christmas Tree, and a small visitors pavilion at 15th and E Streets.
If you’d like to get an unforgettable picture of your child at the President’s Oval Office desk or press podium, visit the White House Gifts shop at 701 15th Street NW. You can also visit the Smithsonian Museum of American History, which has a Presidential press podium for pictures.
A visit to Washington, DC is not complete until you have visited the White House and the White House Visitor Center. A symbol of American history and power since 1800, the White House is an important and once-in-a-lifetime place to visit!
- Cost: Both the White House tour and Visitor Center are free
- Recommended for: all ages (no strollers allowed on White House tour)
- Tour time:
- White House: 1 hour
- Visitor Center: 30 minutes
- Gift shops are located in White House right after the tour entrance and in the Visitor Center.
- Transportation: Nearest Metro stop is the McPherson Square station on the blue/orange line. A convenient nearby parking garage is located at 1455 Pennsylvania Ave NW.
- Dining options nearby: A nearby restaurant that is a kid-friendly DC institution is the Old Ebbitt Grill. Other nearby family-friendly options include the excellent Sweet Home Cafe in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the food court at the Reagan building, and GCDC.
- Hotel options: See my DC guide for recommendations. The Hay-Adams is a nearby luxurious option. Closest recommended budget option is the Hilton Garden Inn DC Downtown.
- Nearby attractions include: Smithsonian Museums: Museum of African American History and Culture, American History, and Natural History, National Mall (Washington Monument, World War II Memorial), National Archives, National Gallery of Art, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (contains pieces of the Berlin Wall and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Memorial Exhibit), National Children’s Museum (just opened on Monday!), and Octagon Museum (served as the White House after the 1814 Burning of Washington)
- For additional information on the White House, check out the White House Historical Association, which also sells an annual commemorative ornament honoring White House history. We collect the ornaments and enjoy looking through them each year while decorating our Christmas tree. If you join the Association as a member, you get the ornament mailed to you for free!
Books to Read:
All links are Amazon affiliate links. You can visit my Bookshop.org shop to support independent bookstores and creators. Be sure to check out my list of recommended books about Presidents and First Ladies.
- 14 and up:
- The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House
- First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies
- Inside the White House: Stories From the World’s Most Famous Residence
- Jefferson’s White House: Monticello on the Potomac
- Lincoln’s White House: The People’s House in Wartime
- Downstairs at the White House: The story of a teenager, an Oval Office, and a ringside seat to Watergate
- 10 and up:
- Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out
- The White House for Kids: A History of a Home, Office, and National Symbol, with 21 Activities
- The White House: An Illustrated History
- White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, Problems, and Pratfalls of the Presidents’ Children
- 1,000 Facts About the White House
- When Audrey Met Alice
- White House Clubhouse
- 6 and up:
- Presidents of the United States (Fast-Fact Book) – my son’s favorite since it has all of the Presidential portraits!
- Where is the White House?
- Curious About the White House
- White House Q&A
- It Happened in the White House
- The White House Pop-Up Book
- The Gingerbread White House: A Pop-up Book
- The House That George Built
- Brick by Brick
- A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar
- Pets at the White House
- Abe Lincoln at Last! (Magic Tree House Merlin Mission #19)
- Capital Mysteries #4: A Spy in the White House
- Woodrow, the White House Mouse
- Lights On! Ike Hoover Electrifies the White House
- Diana’s White House Garden
- Who’s Haunting the White House?: The President’s Mansion and the Ghosts Who Live There