Spring is a lovely time to visit Washington, DC. Cherry blossoms are in bloom, the annual Easter Egg Roll is held on the White House lawn, and families have the opportunity to tour the White House Gardens. The Tour of the White House Gardens is one of the best-kept secrets in Washington. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required.
The People’s House
Known as the People’s House, the White House is the most visited house in the United States. We see its image on our $20 bills. The Oval Office, the South Lawn, and the Rose Garden are familiar to every school child.
The White House is the only private home of a Head of State open to the public for free tours. On the surface, this seems exciting. However, visiting requires a rather lengthy preparation process that includes writing to your Member of Congress or Embassy weeks or months in advance to secure a ticket for a White House tour. Even with the proper planning and permission, your tour may be unexpectedly cancelled at the last minute.
But you don’t have to take a White House tour to see this beautiful mansion. No visit to DC would be complete without at least standing outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to gawk at the president’s home. The White House is the symbol of Washington, D.C. and is one of the most Instagrammed spots in the United States. It is no wonder that my then 14-year old granddaughter was star-struck on our spring visit to the White House Garden last year. The White House Tour of the Gardens is your ticket inside those gates.
Your Invitation to Tour
Prior to our trip to Washington, DC for Spring Break last year I learned that twice a year the White House hosts a two-day, weekend tour of its gardens. Guests are invited to stroll around the White House grounds. No lengthy application process? No exhaustive security process? To attend the event, visitors simply obtain a ticket which is distributed on the same day from the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion. The White House tour tickets are timed and limited and it is on a first-come-first-serve basis.
The whole process is very simple but it wasn’t easy. The lines can get long. There is no seating along the queuing route. And everyone attending the tour must be present to get a ticket.
On the chosen weekend in Spring, National Park Service will distribute free timed tickets (one ticket per person) at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion located at 15th and E Street Northwest on each tour day beginning at 10 am. To get your ticket, get in line at the Visitor Center early. Only 2,500 tickets will be given to lucky participants each day.
If you need to kill time between picking up your ticket and beginning your tour, there are many bakeries and coffee shops in the adjacent streets. Be sure to be back at the White House 30 minutes before your appointed tour time.
Visitors can walk through the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Rose Garden (the site of many presidential ceremonies), the White House Kitchen Garden, and the South Lawn, which also hosts White House traditions like the Easter Egg Roll. Along with the gardens visitors can view many of the ornamental trees planted by former presidents.
This self-guided White House tour includes exhibits about iconic events on the White House grounds over the years. Each stop on the tour has a plaque with a photo explaining what historic event happened there. Anything that took place in the last century was ancient history for my granddaughter. She was amazed that I could vividly remember Richard Nixon flying off in the helicopter after his resignation as president in 1974.
The White House Kitchen Garden is the first vegetable garden since First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden. The White House Kitchen Garden includes more than 50 kinds of vegetables, as well as berries, herbs, and a beehive. First Lady Michelle Obama planted the garden in 2009 to initiate a national conversation around the health and well-being of our nation—a conversation that evolved into the Let’s Move! Initiative. The fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs are used when preparing the White House meals. Yum!
The Rose Garden includes a broad lawn for outdoor press conferences, events, and receptions. President Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon Cox, was married here in 1971. It is located just outside the West Wing in view of the Oval Office and it is often the site where the President officially greets foreign Heads of State. In the Rose Garden, if you look closely, you’ll see a podium on the left-hand side, next to a tree—the signature Katherine Crab Apple Tree.
The Jacqueline Kennedy Garden was designed by Jackie herself with designer Rachel Lambert Mellon. Lady Bird Johnson dedicated the garden to Jackie Kennedy in 1965. Like the Rose Garden, the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden is used for events.The president uses this Garden for awards ceremonies. It has also been used for parties, teas, and to exhibit contemporary sculpture.
The South Lawn is where the President departs in Marine One, the official presidential helicopter, and where children collects eggs during the annual Easter Egg Roll. It offers a great view of the Washington Monument. The Magnolia Trees planted by President Andrew Jackson can also be found at the South Lawn.
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- There are two tours each year: one in the spring and one in autumn. The spring tour typically takes place in late April, while the autumn tour is held sometime in mid-October. Tours are held on a Saturday and Sunday, and the final dates are usually released a few weeks before the tour weekend.
- You can only obtain tickets for same-day entry. Tickets are timed, meaning that you must join the tour printed on your ticket.
- The tour is child-friendly, but each child (including infants) will need his or her own ticket to enter the gardens.
- The tour is ADA-accessible, as the grounds are relatively flat and there are plenty of opportunities to sit down and rest. If you have difficultly standing for long periods of time, waiting in line for your ticket may prove to be a problem.
- The tour is self-guided. There are plaques in front of each stop that explain what you’re looking at. If you’re hard of seeing or simply want more information, the security personnel are incredibly friendly and eager to share their knowledge, so don’t be afraid to ask.
- Use #WHGARDEN to share photos during the tour. The invitation to post pics to Instagram is printed right on your ticket. One of your photos could be shared on WhiteHouse.gov!
- Call the 24-hour information line at (202) 456-7041 to check on the status of the Spring Garden Tours.
For more on Washington DC in Spring time check out Credit Card SheBuysTravel, Yvonne Jasinski’s post, Cherry Blossom Spectacular of Washington D.C.
If you’re interested in gardens, another great place to visit is Magnolia Gardens in Charleston NC. Julie Adolf, Garden Geek SheBuysTravel has a great post about it. You can read it here.
Where have you toured gorgeous gardens? Share with us in the comment section below.
This post was written by Maria Perez. She has been traveling for more than 60 years. She took her first cross-country trip before she was two years old and if you ask her when the next one is, the answer might be “tomorrow.” Planes, trains, automobiles – she loves all modes of travel but the best trips are those with her children and grandchildren.