Living near Washington, D.C., you will probably (at least once) be called upon to host out-of-town friends or family who want to see the sites in the nation’s capital. With so much to choose from, where do you start?

I currently have visitors from Canada with whom my family became acquainted during our family’s year of travel. They are another traveling family also named the Jameses and, since they had headed out for their world adventures ahead of us, we called them with many queries.

We encouraged them to visit us here and, being traveling kind of folks, they actually took us up on it. Now, we have the pleasure of answering their queries about our town and showing them around.

We warned them about the awful heat wave (they are from the Arctic Circle—imagine the weather shock!) and let them sleep in. No use hauling exhausted guests through the thick Washington air.

Take your time and see a few things a day or you’ll be overwhelmed and weary. Choose a single goal and embellish with cleverly planned walking routes that add some treats. Our guests’ son was keen to see the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History due to his fondness for “Night at the Museum 2,” so we made that our mission.

Here’s a suggested itinerary to get your guests oriented and in the D.C. tourist spirit:

An orientation on the Metro and multi-day “short-trip” passes for each family member purchased from the automated machines at each station.

A trip to Gallery Place: No train change if you’re on the Red Line and a lovely exit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum.

A quick walk through the art galleries (which are joined by the Kogod Courtyard, an architectural marvel). Since entrance to the Smithsonian Museums is free, you can do a sampler stroll through several, pointing out highlights, including some modern pieces that seem especially appealing to kids.

Then you can allow your guests to decide whether they’d like to linger or return another time.

Grab a quick lunch at one of the many surrounding eateries or in the Kogod Courtyard.

For a restaurant experience in this neighborhood, I love Ping Pong Dim Sum at Seventh and I streets, which gives you the added opportunity to enjoy the Chinatown gate at Seventh and H. Or try Ella’s Pizza for mass appeal.

Zaytinya, across from the Gallery, is another favorite, but slightly more upscale. They offer “small plates” with a Middle Eastern flair.
After some food, walk back down Seventh Street making sure the lettered streets you cross go down the alphabet (as in, crossing G Street, walk toward F Street). There’s a charming cupcake shop where you might like a tiny treat.

Once you cross Pennsylvania Avenue, there you are at all of the Mall’s wonders. You can point out the Capitol to the left and the Washington Monument to the right. The Capitol is the city’s geographical center and has no address. But everything else is numbered and sectioned into quadrants from that point.

We strolled through the whimsical sculpture garden across from the National Archives and the kids dipped their feet in the huge fountain there. (Doubling, in more Canadian-esque months, as an ice rink.) You can sit on the edge, but do not stand in the fountain; you’ll get a shrill whistle-blow and an admonishment, “Sit down!” (Seems like it could have all been handled in a friendlier way.)

As we approached the Museum of Natural History, we noticed a butterfly garden which, though devoid of butterflies for the season, offered some lovely color: Black-Eyed Susans and dark pink Crape Myrtle.

A walk through the museum revealed some of the movie’s “characters” and also piqued interest in other curiosities there. Don’t miss the Mammal Hall and the Great Oceans exhibit.

And, in the Gems and Minerals room, people get excited to see the Hope Diamond (though it’s always smaller than they expect.) My 15-year-old, Caroline, said, “I’m pretty sure the Hope Diamond is one of the most overrated tourist attractions ever.”

Take the Smithsonian Metro back to the suburbs and plan for the next day’s adventure over dinner (and a glass of wine!) at home.