I had been looking forward to the 2017-2018 school year for over a decade. It was the year that our son would be the 5th grade – the first year in which California students study American history. I had visions of showing him (and his 9-year-old sister) the places where all that crazy rebellion, revolution and nation-forming happened; places I had visited in the distant past and which I was eager to see again through the new lens of older eyes.
So we set about planning something more profound than a star-aligned school year: a fun-filled, educational family adventure that turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of our lives. It hit my husband and me the same way. We realized that we are in the midst of a very special window in time, wherein our children are old enough to really appreciate and understand what they see, and wherein they still think it’s pretty cool to hang out with their parents and, yes, wherein they are still subject to our schedule and our whim. That window is a narrow one. We are determined to make the most of it.
We believed the historic weight of Washington D.C.’s Constitutional establishment and Baltimore’s rich founding settlements would prove to be a real boon to our kids’ elementary education so at the start of their summer vacation in June, our family headed east. First stop: Baltimore.
Inner Harbor, Baltimore
Humanity is drawn to water. For survival, originally, then for industry and trade, and now, for leisure. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor has been a haven for humanity since the city was founded in the 18th century. Named in 2009 as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment around the world” by the Urban Land Institute, the Inner Harbor in Baltimore is an attraction itself. Not just attracting ships for trade any longer, the waterfront was adapted as a focal point for public spaces, tourism, and housing. Now a historic port, the Inner Harbor is home to the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, the Port Discovery Children’s Museum and a short ride away, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s Druid Hill.
Boasting more than 16,000 animals, from sharks to sea turtles, the National Aquarium is a family favorite. Stunning exhibits attract guests from all over the world. A water taxi connects the harbor to attractions further off, including Fort McHenry and Fells Point. The renewal and transformation of the Harbor began in 1958, with the adoption and redevelopment of the 33 acre Charles Center by the City Council and Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro, and has continued since, directing the course of waterfront redevelopment with the successful additions of office buildings, hotels, and retail shops.
If the two-story dinosaur exhibits at the Science Center aren’t enough to keep the kiddos busy, and the pirate ships (ok, they’re really called tall ships) occasionally ported won’t suffice for the long days of summer, just head on over to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and you’ll be talking about the world’s most interesting oddities for days.
Founded in 1729 and 1790, respectively, the cities of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. hold much interest in the line that extends from the British settlement, through the war for independence, up until the battle of 1812; when at the Battle of Baltimore, the valiant defense of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to pen what would eventually be called “The Star Spangled Banner.”
A decisive victory won by the colonists on September 13, 1814, the soldiers defending the Fort repulsed an attack from both land and sea following the burning of Washington D.C. by the redcoats. Named after James McHenry, a soldier and physician who served under Washington and Lafayette during the War for Independence, the Fort is star-shaped and red-roofed. Touring with one of the Fort’s rangers, we discovered what it was like to be soldiers during the Battle of Baltimore, witnessed a re-enactment, took in a twilight tattoo ceremony, and even saw the Fort McHenry Guard performing drill, musket and artillery demonstrations.
Open year round, and just a cannon’s trajectory away from historic locations such as Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Antietam National Battlefield, the USS Constellation Museum, and Gettysburg National Military Park.
Gettysburg National Military Park
The site of yet another turning point in the tide of American history, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania serves as a reminder of the devastation the Civil War brought to the front porches, fields and gardens of its residents. Every home turned into a hospital, and every farm a graveyard. Known as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion,” the National Military Park now remains as a marker to honor the lives given for freedom under the Union cause. President Abraham Lincoln commemorated the park with his famous eulogy, reminding those who listened to “renew their devotion to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
For me, this stop ended up being one of the major highlights of our trip. The entire battlefield is now a national park. You can walk the grounds and see it as the soldiers saw it. There are monuments on site from just about every state, because sons of just about every state bled there on that field. I cannot express with enough enthusiasm the experience of letting an expert historian and tour guide drive us around the battlefield in our own car, unfolding for us as he drove the events of those three heartbreaking days (visit www.gettysburgfoundation.org). The museum at Gettysburg is one of the best I’ve ever visited, and that part of the country is unspeakably beautiful.
The USS Constellation is actually the third in the line of American ships dubbed for the configuration of 15 stars found in the original flag of the United States. With its own proud and distinguished record, “Connie,” as her crew calls her affectionately, has almost 40 years of service - through the turbulent waters of the Arabian Gulf to Yankee Station on the coast of Vietnam.
The first Constellation was built by naval engineers Joshua Humphreys and Josiah Fox, 165 years before rivets were put to metal on the USS Constellation’s proud lines. Immediately put to the test, much like her predecessors, the USS Constellation sailed out of harbor straight into conflict, as the first U.S. airship to launch strikes against North Vietnamese vessels and bases in August of 1964.
For the eight years following, Constellation returned to the South China Sea seven times, conducting air strikes, engaging enemy aircraft, and naval targets alike. Sailing under the motto “Spirit of the Old, Pride of the New,” Connie was the second ship in the Kitty Hawk class of aircraft carriers, and has hosted various dignitaries over the years on her illustrious decks, including U.S. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan. Pronounced “America’s Flagship” by President Reagan in a watershed moment in the carrier’s history, the Constellation would go on to lead 21 successful deployments, with over 30 commanding officers, over 41 years of proud service to her country.
For centuries, sailors have navigated the vast waters of the world’s oceans by starlight, finding their way over the dark and dangerous seas. And for over 200 years, the Constellation and her legacy have guided seamen home to free shores, kept so because of its work abroad in unfamiliar waters; a guiding light of American freedom.
America’s Favorite Pastime
Now in its 25th season, Oriole Park at Camden Yards (www.mlb.com/orioles) is considered one of the best stadiums in baseball, with its throwback atmosphere, accessible location, and variety of concessions. We were lucky to experience America’s favorite pastime at the retro-style downtown ballpark that has inspired many other stadiums since and cheer for the Orioles against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Not to be outdone, on the grand tour of America’s history stands the Washington Monument, just an hour south of Gettysburg, and though currently closed for renovations, the 555-foot obelisk stands as a record of one of our first American heroes: George Washington. Part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, the Monument is administered to by the National Park Service, receiving approximately 24 million visitors each year.
If you’re one of those 24 million, and you’d like a tour of the White House, make sure you’re thinking well in advance: tours are scheduled through one’s member of Congress and requests can be submitted up to three months and no sooner than three weeks in advance). Like most of the famous National Monument sites, the White House’s draw is both culturally and historically weighty, housing the President of the United States since 1800. The President’s Park and its surrounding 82 acres offer myriad opportunities to step back into another time.
We contacted Congressman Darryl Issa’s D.C. office a few weeks prior to our visit and were offered a tour of the U.S. Capitol by a member of his staff who walked us through the Capitol Building’s historic rooms, including the National Statuary Hall, the Old Senate Chamber, and the Old Supreme Court Chamber.
During our “capitol wanderings” over the course of our stay, we got a glimpse of researchers working at the (stunning) Library of Congress, walked by the World War II memorial, touched the Vietnam Wall, stood in awe of Lincoln’s much larger than life (in reality and in spirit) marble figure, visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, strolled the National Gallery of Art and encountered Picasso, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Dali and others through works we had no idea were housed there.
For the kids, walking around the Mall was hard work. There were steps to climb, fountains to attempt jumping into, and I’m certain the takeaways seemed almost too grandiose to comprehend. The legends of American history brought into sharp relief before our eyes: Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR and Martin Luther King, Jr. From historic battlefields and modern day attractions to an all-American pastime, we started out chasing history but ended up making memories. We were lucky enough to get both. It only required a week away, a bit of forward planning and a realization that the window is open now, but won’t always be.
KIMPTON HOTEL MONACO, BALTIMORE – INNER HARBOR
It seems incongruous to describe a lobby characterized by soaring marbled staircases and crystal chandeliers as “playful” until you step across the carefully preserved threshold of the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Baltimore (www.monaco-baltimore.com). The entire experience was akin to playing dress up in the most exquisite jewelry and ballgowns as a child, only to find out that all the gems were real, and the dress was an Alexander McQueen original. The hotel does relaxing and luxury without the pretension behind it, and as such, has created a restful haven near the Inner Harbor. Ideally situated, the hotel offers amenities such as in-room spa services, and every suite is outfitted with a yoga mat, making your stay feel like a wildly relaxing version of home.
Complimentary morning coffee and tea service elevate the experience even more, starting your day off with the right lift to get you out the doors and onto one of the Kimpton’s perfectly appointed custom PUBLIC bikes to ride around town. Back to the historic Beaux-Arts building for a lunch or dinner sourced from local farmers and purveyors at B&O American Brasserie will give your palate the ride of a lifetime. Once the headquarters of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the restaurant serves only the freshest ingredients, and boasts a buzzing happy hour with a craft cocktail program that makes it one of the city’s favorite hangouts: for both locals and travelers alike.
Just a short walk or ride to the city’s most famous attractions, and a short skip into its historic neighborhoods makes the Kimpton Hotel Monaco a perfect jumping off point for any social event, business meeting, or quick, luxurious and truly playful getaway.
KIMPTON GLOVER PARK, WASHINGTON D.C.
Sometimes, staying in the heart of the action is exactly where you want to be. But occasionally, a tree-lined street away from the sensory barrage of the city beckons with a Siren’s call. A quiet, boutique hotel nestled in Upper Georgetown, the Kimpton Glover Park (www.gloverparkhotel.com) offers beautifully appointed guest rooms above the canopy of Rock Creek Park. Easily accessible to the buzz and hum of Georgetown’s cobblestoned streets, the hotel finds a quiet confidence among the neighborhood, oozing relaxation after a hectic day of business meetings or sightseeing.
Whether you just came from the Kennedy Center or Georgetown University’s stunning campus, life is good inside Casolare, a James Beard award-winning destination restaurant. Serving Chef Michael Schlow’s family favorites from Amalfi, Sardinia, Puglia, Cinque Terre, and Livorno, Casolare brings Italy to Glover Park. The eatery provides a vibrant selection of seafood, as well as wood-fired pizza and antipasti. Perfect for a large group of friends and family, or new colleagues eager for a taste of the city. Inspired by the neighborhood’s namesake, Charles Carroll Glover - a banker and philanthropist who famously helped reshape the nation’s capital with donations of almost 3,000 acres of parkland - the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel blends the urban edge with familial comfort and tranquility.