Visiting the White House used to be a very simple process, so when my oldest girls were young, we visited it a few times. It was only recently that I realized that Natalie had never been inside the White House. She was born a few days before 9/11, after which everything related to security changed, including admission to the White House. But it was time to finally take her.
So the first thing I did was Google “white house tours”, and I came to this link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events, which gave me some good general information. From there, I Googled, “how to find your congressman”, since that is who you have to contact to get tour tickets. Then I came to this website: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. On that website, after entering your zip code and clicking “FIND YOUR REP BY ZIP”, you are given the name of your possible congressmen or women. When you click on the name of any of them, you are lead to their webpage for their contact information. (It doesn’t matter which one you contact because you can contact any member of Congress from your state.)
I called the DC office number listed on my representative’s website, and spoke with a very nice young man, letting him know I wanted tour tickets for the White House. He sent me an email full of information, which included a request for my top three choices of dates to visit. When I responded with my top three dates for visits, I was also asked to provide personal information for each person that would be going on the tour—including social security numbers and birth dates. A couple of weeks later I finally heard back by email letting me know which date our tour would be. (I got my second choice of dates, not my first—but it was still OK for us. Also the lead time for a tour is about six weeks I was told—so plan ahead!)
Our tour time was scheduled for 1:00 pm on a Saturday. I figured that before we visited the White House, we should go visit the White House Visitors Center, also on Pennsylvania Ave, and just a very short distance from where we were required to line up.
Sometimes my plans work great, other times not so great. My plan was to get to the White House Visitor’s Center at about 11:00. We would see the center, then go outside for a picnic lunch and then be in the required line by 12:45. I knew that no food or water was allowed in the White House (as well as no backpacks, purses, cameras, etc.), but I didn’t realize that you are not allowed to bring food or drink inside the White House Visitor’s Center either. Unfortunately, we were carrying our lunch in a little bag, which we couldn’t bring in.
Sterling immediately started searching for a place to stash our lunch outside. He even looked at the trashcan nearby. (Once Sterling’s niece and her husband told us they stashed their lunch in trash cans outside the Capitol, around the top of the rim, and when they came back out, it was still there! YUCK!) Natalie and I drew the line with the trashcan, and it didn’t seem like there were any other options. So we decided to just eat our lunch early, standing up outside the door. None of us were very hungry, but we knew we’d be hungry later.
After our lunch was gone, we could finally enter the Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center is one large room—as you enter the room, to the right is a gift shop, and to the left are exhibits and a theatre. The theatre is at the far end on the left. You should definitely take the time to see the movie—it’s about 15 minutes long and runs continuously. After the movie we looked at the exhibits—but ran out of time. I wish that we had at least an hour for the Visitor’s Center, but with our lunch fiasco, our time was shorter. But even our shortened visit to the Visitor’s Center made our visit to the White House much more meaningful.
From the Visitor’s Center, we walked the short distance across the street to get in line for the White House tour. After going through two I.D. checkpoints, and two metal detector checkpoints, we got to enter the house. (After one of the I.D. checkpoints, there is a ranger handing out White House pamphlets, and Junior Ranger booklets if you want them. I really like Junior Ranger booklets and programs for younger kids! We have done them all over the country!)
The White House tour is self-guided, takes you through about eight rooms in the White House and can easily be done in 30 minutes. No photography is allowed. In each room, there are one and sometimes two security guards who will answer a lot of the questions you may have. We enjoyed asking them about when they had seen the President last or been in the specific room for an event. They were very friendly and knowledgeable.
When you exit the White House on the north side, you can get out your phone and take pictures (since no cameras are allowed on the tour) once you are beyond a certain point. (The security guard on duty will let you know if you’re too close to be taking a picture! I speak from experience!)
Even though you are only able to see a small number of rooms in the White House, I recommend that you visit the “People’s House”. We certainly enjoyed our visit of such a historic symbol for our country.