Seeing the White House, the First Dog and Michelle Obama’s Veggie Garden

white house south lawn
Seeing the White House up close is possible if you take the Garden Tour!


Holy crap, you guys!

During my visit to Washington DC several years back, I got up early one morning, intending to walk down to the White House to snap a couple of photos from each side of the building from behind the fences.

You can’t get super-close to the residence unless you book an official White House tour, and that has to be scheduled weeks or months in advance through your Congressperson. So I was prepared to be content with getting a couple of distant touristy shots.

seeing the white house close up


As I was snapping away, I noticed some volunteers walking around handing out free passes for something called a White House Garden Tour later that afternoon. It turns out that twice a year, the South Lawn is open for tours of the Rose Garden and the vegetable garden that was started by First Lady Michelle Obama. I was fortunate to be in the right place on the right day and secured a ticket. Score!


After passing through a heavy security checkpoint on the South Lawn side of the building, we were guided up the sidewalk right to the front door (or back door, officially) of the White House.

We were so close!

me south lawn

Up-close pics of the White House like this are rare, because on the official tours that take place daily, visitors must relinquish all personal items, including cameras. That made the opportunity to photograph the building from just a few feet away a very special experience.

How close were we? Close enough to see one of the workers bring out Bo, the First Dog, for an afternoon walk along the Rose Garden.



Close enough to reach out and touch the actual roses in the Rose Garden.



Close enough to have a hard time fitting the entire house into the frame.


Close enough to zoom in on for an extreme close-up of the architecture accents.

seeing the white house architecture close up

Close enough to see the West Wing, where the president spends his days working.


The walking path was surrounded by various types of trees, most of which had been planted by previous presidents. Many of them had photos showing who planted them and when. It was cool to see how they had grown. Hillary’s tree has grown up.


We had a clear view of what the president sees everyday when he looks out the window or steps out the back door: The Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial.


A look at the presidential putting green on the South Lawn.


And the Obama kids’ playground equipment.


The line was endless. Thousands of people must have visited that day.


After the initial stroll right past the back door of the White House, we were herded further south, past the beautiful fountain, where it was possible to get photos of the building from a bit further away.

Here’s that fountain surrounded by flowers with the Washington Monument in the background.



This poor guy on the grass got stuck with the task of trying to move everyone along in a timely fashion, which meant that every 30 seconds he would firmly but politely yell, “Folks, please move that way! Walk towards the band!” What a tedious day he must have had, doing this for something like six hours.


A closer look at that band, which played patriotic and celebratory tunes.


I think this dude was going for some sort of forced perspective shot.


I went with the victory formation, which has officially become my signature pose.


Park rangers and police patrolled the grounds. Imagine being a park ranger and working not in a wilderness park like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but instead being stationed on the White House lawn.


Next, it was on to the vegetable garden itself. Not far from the veggies sits a beehive. These are the official honeybees of the White House. These mindless insects have no idea they are living on special ground.


The garden was beautifully landscaped, with more than a dozen vegetables growing in their own separate boxes.



The presidential buttercrunch lettuce.


And peppers of various colors up close.


Remember when George H. W. Bush refused to eat broccoli? The current first family has no such reservations. But I have to brag – the broccoli in my garden was bigger than this!


Mustard and artichoke? I’ve never known anyone who grew these. Way to get creative, Michelle.


On the way out, we were reminded that we were being watched constantly. Wave to the Secret Service!


Seeing the White House this close, with a glimpse of the First Dog and the veggies that were planted by the First Lady, was an incredible experience.

You can take part in the next Garden Tour by applying online. Keep an eye on the official White House site for details. The next one takes place in Spring.

UPDATE 2020: The current administration has continued the Garden Tours, but they use a different link. If you want the experience of seeing the White House via a Garden Tour, click here.

36 thoughts on “Seeing the White House, the First Dog and Michelle Obama’s Veggie Garden”

  1. Love it ❤️ Thank you for sharing! I definitely need to go there soon. May i ask…1) when did you go? (the weather looks amazing), 2) how many tickets they gave out? (i hope to get it too), 3) can you walk around freely? Or you have to follow the guide? (wanna have cool solo pics at the south lawn like you too), 4) can we go to the north lawn? And lastly, 5) how long is the tour last? (I don’t mind staying there all day long waiting to see the 1st dog haha ? )

    Sorry for asking so many questions. I’m planning my vacation to DC right now & still don’t know when to go in Spring or Fall? and your answer will be very helpful for me to make a decision. Thank you Scott ?

    1. Hi Mike, I don’t know how many tickets were given out, but it was fairly easy to get one. They announce the ticketing times in advance, so keep checking so you can be there early. They only do this tour twice a year, April and October. I was there in October.

      You don’t get to walk around freely. You will be in a line that steadily moves through the grounds on the south lawn. You can pause for photos but otherwise you have to keep moving, so there isn’t much freedom to explore on your own. It takes about 30-60 minutes.

      1. Scott! Thanks so much for answering. I appreciated ?I hope to make it there soon…

        1 last question. I heard they have many time slots for a tour & I’m a bit confused…What time was your self-tour though?? ?(The sky was so blue! Perfect lighting on solo pic ?…i would like to follow your way there! I’m looking to go in this October. Hopefully, Coronavirus will be gone from the world, so they won’t cancel the tour again)…thanks & take care!

        1. I don’t remember the exact time, but I think it may have been around 2 pm. The weather is a total crapshoot at that time of year. It could sunny, or dark and rainy. I hope it works out for you!

  2. Although this is an older post I sure loved it. Timing really is everything. What an intimate view of the White House – in pictures you never see.Loved it – and as a gardener I would thoroughly enjoy checking out their garden.

  3. Wow! This is why I travel – you never know when adventure will strike!

    I have been to DC many times (even was an intern at the capitol) but never made it to the White House tour. Your photos look amazing…I need to get on the list for this tour.

  4. How lucky to have stumbled upon this! I love reading about the White House garden and the work the First Lady is doing to promote healthy eating and outdoor activity. (Also, Bo is adorable!) Did you know they use the honey from that beehive in the home-brew beer that the White House kitchen crew has been making?

    Awesome pics, thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh that’s great info, thanks! I was wondering exactly what the beehive was for, but that makes perfect sense. I wonder how I can get some of this White House beer. That could be my next challenge.

  5. You were super lucky to be there at just the right time! During the Clinton Administration, I took an inside tour of the White House, but had to wait a few hours in line. It was well worth it, however. I also got to see Buddy the dog from a window inside. You got some terrific shots!

    1. The band was fun. I started to capture a little video but they said they didn’t want any recording. I may post it at some point just to be a rebel.

  6. How cool! We managed to go to the Easter Egg Roll at the White House one year after my husband spent all night waiting in line in the snow and sleet. Even he’ll admit that it was worth it. There’s nothing like being on the White House lawn, is there? (Unless it’s going inside. Which I also got to do. :))

  7. Hi Scott, that’s so cool! You’re so lucky to be in the right spot at the right time. I enjoyed the photo tour. I’ve been inside the White House many years ago, but the lawn and garden definely look more interesting.

  8. That’s awesome!! Very cool that you were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve never done a tour of the white house, but a tour of the garden and lawn seems infinitely more interesting than antique objects in rooms I’ve never heard of.

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