Visiting The East Wing of The White House
The first thing that I noticed was the noise, or lack thereof. Maybe it was the stress of the whole situation fading away. After the long lines, huge crowds, and multiple security checkpoints, the peace of the gardens and grounds was heightened in stark comparison to the the hustle and bustle of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Maybe it stood out because that tranquility was so antithetical to what we’re told the White House represents. As the seat of power and where much of our government conducts business, you expect things to be happening here. I had to remind myself of one of the White House’s other monikers, the presidential palace, to think about why that quiet had thrown me. The house is truly is the closest thing we have in this country to a castle, a place that exists for many reasons and one of them is to be beautiful. You’re welcome to fight me on that (does it exist for beauty’s sake or to convey power through perfection/wealth/beauty whatever Sharon I’m not having this conversation) but the point remains the same. The tranquility you feel approaching the door is something I would expect from a country estate miles outside of the city. It was a contradiction that caught me off guard.
The second contradiction were the signs encouraging you to speak with secret service agents. There are many messages telling you that the agents are there to provide you with historical information, but I didn’t believe it until our party was loudly admiring an inlaid table and an agent chimed in to tell us it was the most expensive thing in the place. That opened the floodgates for me and I inundated the poor man with questions (however I know now that Dolley Madison and her contemporaries would have used beeswax on their faces as anti-wrinkle treatments so it was worth it and you’re welcome). Also learned Angelica Singleton Van Buren threw some ragers at the White House, and (as you can see from her portrait) knew both her angles and how to use highlighter. She was a diva of the first order and I’m obsessed with her.
If you’re keen to stop by the East Wing and see the people’s house, be prepared to plan a full day of your trip around it. The tour is short but very particular. This isn’t something you can just drop in on or add to your itinerary last minute. It’s “self-guided” as they say, so you can dedicate as much or as little time as you’d like. Read on for more tips.
How to Visit
It’s tough to get a White House Tour but not impossible. You can talk to your member of Congress and they should be able to secure a reservation. I was fortunate to have a friend working for the federal government who hooked me up. You have to arrange them at least three weeks in advance (and don’t quote me on that - the further in advance you set it up the better.)
If you’re unable to see the real thing, the White House Visitor’s Center has loads of information and a digital tour you can experience for free.
You cannot bring a bag of any kind nor any camera with a removable lens. You are welcome to bring your phone and take pictures, but no videos. Hence my comment about ‘planning your day’ around this tour.
There’s no dress code but you will see people who have come for the occasion. It makes sense. This might be their only visit to the White House and they want to look nice in their photos. You’ll see outfits ranging from comfy clothes for touring to three piece suits to evening dresses. Don’t worry about it, you do you and wear whatever you’re comfortable in.
Can’t score a reservation? That’s cool. DC is full of many amazing things to do.