Teenage visitors to D.C. are awkwardly wedged between the age where you can push their stroller around the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum and the age where you can treat them to a fancy happy hour. I’ll admit I was kind of at a loss when my 15 and 17-year-old cousins were going to visit me in D.C., but after running the gamut of day trips, museum visits and trying to show them the best of D.C. they had a lot of input on what Washingtonians should – and shouldn’t – do with their teenage visitors.
1. Pick your museums wisely
Alysia, 17, and Isabella, 15, visited The Hirshorn, The National Portrait Gallery and The National Gallery of Art during their 13-day stay in D.C. and the reviews were mixed. Although they were fans of the Obama portraits and the more modern works, they were less interested in spending an entire day looking at art. “To get the full experience, you need to look at the whole museum,” Alysia said, but she explained that younger visitors just might be more drawn to modern art. “We don’t need to spend all day at a museum, we can just walk through and I’ll take pictures of the things I like so I can look at it later.”
Art museums weren’t the only draw. Although both girls weren’t a fan of walking around Mount Vernon in the heat, but they thought the accompanying history museum was engaging. We didn't get to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, but if you're ready to have some difficult conversations or just want your teenage guests to leave D.C. with some new perspective, it's worth putting on your itinerary.
2. Monuments are cool
I warned Alysia and Isabella that it would be really hot when they came to visit, but I don’t think I adequately prepared them for the soul-crushing humidity. Although they liked visiting the monuments, especially the Lincoln Memorial, they said it was better to visit when the temperatures drop at night.
3. How to make sure everyone eats
To say Alysia and Isabella are picky eaters is an understatement – one doesn’t like pasta, the other loves Italian food, they both hate seafood and neither of them like anything especially spicy. Still, they were gamely willing to try out a few dishes.
Both girls agreed that Carmine’s was among their favorite meals, although it was one of my least favorite stops. The tourist-friendly chain offers huge servings that are meant to be shared among family, but it seemed like a good option when it became clear that a teen-friendly restaurant offering filling and reasonably priced Italian food doesn’t seem to exist in D.C. I felt the meal was underwhelming, but the ginormous plate of spaghetti and basket of garlic bread was a hit at our table.
After agreeing to take Alysia and Isabella to a more hipster restaurant, we settled on Maketto. Although I ate the leek buns and fried chicken like it was my last meal, Isabella complained that even the bread was spicy. Although Alysia wasn’t sure about the spices that her chicken was seasoned with, both teens were happy to try out Maketto’s deconstructed pineapple upside down cake. Alysia and Isabella said that their peers tend to prefer the more Instagram-friendly meals and they loved Maketto’s vibe, but maybe the lesson here is to start your teenage visitors with something they’re more familiar with and ramp up to more exotic cuisines.
4. You're allowed to venture outside of D.C. too!
This might only apply if you have guests that are staying for a while, but since Alysia and Isabella came all the way from California to visit, we decided to see as much of the East Coast as possible – in day trip form.
Spoiler alert: A single day in New York wasn’t enough time to do everything and forcing two jet lagged teenagers to board a bus at 4 a.m. was rough. But am I brave enough to chaperone two teenagers in NYC overnight? Absolutely not.
I decided to let them take the lead on our trip, so we took a Big Bus Tour around Manhattan. Both Alysia and Isabella liked that it was a time efficient way to see the major sights and we had the ability to hop on and hop off as needed. However, after a brief stint in the sweltering lower seating section of the bus, we agreed we wouldn’t get on again unless we had rooftop seats.
True to stereotype, both teenage girls expressed a love for shopping. However, they said teens often try to mix up their Forever 21-and –Target wardrobes with vintage and consignment goods. With that in mind, we drove out to Richmond and focused our efforts on Carrytown, which is a hub for upscale thrift stores. Isabella liked the small-town feeling of Richmond and Alysia asked if we could do some of her senior class portraits in front of the murals in Carrytown. While we were in Richmond, the teens found a lot of great thrifted items at Ashby - although I picked up some very cute vintage boots too! Although it’s not a thrift store, Alysia and Isabella grabbed some off-beat accessories and souvenirs at World of Mirth and we capped off the day with stellar Thai food at Sabai.
We stuck to Hampden for another round of thrifting, but no trip to 36th Street is complete without a trip to Golden West Café, where we grubbed on breakfast burritos and giant pancakes. With a hearty breakfast to start us off, we ventured to Double Dutch Boutique to try on the most outrageous vintage dresses we could find. Although wandering around in the heat eventually took a toll, we capped off our day-trip with a trip to Baltimore’s Mount Vernon to try out Topside.
Topside is a bar and restaurant inside Hotel Revival, but during daylight hours it’s decidedly teen-friendly. Topside features panoramic views that were swiftly Snapchat’d by Isabella and they have tons of games available, including Apples-to-Apples, foosball and more. Although the menu is decidedly higher end, craft cocktails are $13 and bartenders were more than willing to whip up some booze-free lemonade. It’s an adult enough experience to make teenagers feel like they’re not being treated like children, but it’s an enjoyable and chic experience for the 21+ crowd too.
5. Teens are real people - act accordingly.
If you're hosting teenagers or just guiding them around, it can be both gratifying and bonding to show them what your life really looks like and engaging them on a person-to-person level. At one point in my cousins' visit, Isabella pointed out that teenagers aren't far away from adulthood. I was deeply horrified and shocked when the girls were coming to visit my house and a man rolled down his truck window to catcall all three of us. They told me later that people were rude and leered at them while visiting the monuments with their uncle, who also lives in the area. However, I was deeply proud when Alysia told her sister "it's never your fault, it's always on the guys that do stuff like that and you don't have to be nice to them."
I don't think anyone told me that until I was well into my 20s and it was a reminder that teenagers do often face the same problems as adults and you can't always protect them, especially in a big city like D.C. However, you can be a positive adult presence by talking to them about your life in D.C. and how you handle living in your shoes - whether that means dealing with sexual harassment on the street, talking about budgeting, making it through college or just offering an open ear and a supportive shoulder, like a good friend and peer would.