If you’re planning a family vacation to D.C., or if you’re planning to move nearby and are looking for what it has to offer kids, Mayflower and Livability have got you covered. From roller coasters to spies, we’ve found a varied pack of experiences that should be fun for the whole family!
Kids a little tired? Take a trip out to the National Arboretum. It’s free; it’s stunning; and frankly it’s underrated to the point that it’s nowhere near as busy as other D.C. sites. A current feature that would please any child (or adult) is the live video feed of the baby eagles that are nesting up in an azalea tree on the property. And besides all the natural beauty, it’s a wonderful teaching moment—like the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum inside of the arboretum. This part features bonsai trees that are older than our country, and it’s a fun way to teach your children about traditions from a foreign culture!
We still remember touring the White House as a child; it was very exciting seeing where the President lived. Your kids might find it cool, as well. This does take a bit of planning ahead, though. Between six months to 21 days in advance of your visit, you have to submit a public tour request through your local member of Congress (or through your country’s D.C. embassy if you’re from a foreign country). But then the tour is free!
There is a large cluster of monuments and memorials all around the National Mall and Tidal Basin—but with smaller children, we would recommend splitting up the walk because it’s around a four miles or more to do the whole thing at once. If you’re interested in going up to the top of the Washington Monument, keep in mind that it’s a relatively small obelisk—meaning not many people can go up each day. Booking tickets ahead of time is a must. Also, the National Park Service Rangers know tons of great information—encourage your children to ask them questions!
Everyone knows about the National Air and Space Museum (NASM)—which is slated for a desperately-needed renovation starting in 2018. Outside of D.C., though, is the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, the companion facility to the NASM. Not only is it significantly newer, but it has some features the D.C. branch doesn’t (and probably won’t ever) have—like the Observation Tower, which not only lets you see planes taking off at Dulles, but teaches how airports work. Even cooler, the Center is more or less an enormous hangar, filled with loads of airplanes and other vehicles—like the surprisingly enormous space shuttle Discovery. (It doesn’t look that big on TV!)
There is probably nothing more exciting than for kids to walk around towering dinosaur bones, feel the skin of a crocodile, spend time at the Insect Zoo, or learn about the 45-and-a-half carat Hope Diamond and its curse. The Natural History Museum truly is a kid-pleaser.
Not all kids want to see monuments and museums—so Six Flags might be a good option for them! It’s only 30 minutes from downtown Washington and has both the regular theme park and a water park—perfect for scorching summer days.
If your children are a little older—as in 12 and up—the International Spy Museum is a hands-on experience in what it’s like to be a spy, complete with your own cover identity and code-breaking. Plus, there’s currently a James Bond villain exhibit!
Or, alternatively, Mount Vernon is about a 40-minute drive from D.C., and they’ve developed a clever new way to keep kids engaged onsite—a mobile app called Agent 711: Revolutionary Spy Adventure App, which lets kids wander all over the site working as one of George Washington’s Revolutionary War spies.
Kids of all ages are invited to the National Building Museum, which not only teaches the history and science of building, but lets kids try a hand at it themselves in the Building Zone. On top of that, this museum also features a special exhibit during the summer months: the BEACH. The BEACH is a 10,000-square-foot display filled with games and cool drinks on the shore of a giant “ocean” ball pit—the perfect escape for hot weather.