Traveling to Washington DC is an experience. Try doing it with three little kids! Actually it is possible to have a great time in DC even with little feet. We’ve put together a list of fun things to do with little kids when you’re in Washington DC. We have tried to be budget conscious, which can be challenging in such an expensive city! With some stamina for walking and by looking for a deal, this can be a great experience for the whole family. So come along with us and see what DC has to offer for a family with small children.
Admission is free (awesome!) but parking is $15.
First on the list of fun things for kids is the Udvar Hazy Air & Space Museum is part of the Smithsonian; however, it’s not located near the National Mall like the other museums. This museum is located near Dulles International Airport, close enough that you can see planes on their initial take-off or final decent. IMAX movie (if you choose to see one, though there’s plenty to do without it) is $9.50 adults, $7.50 kids. Plus, if you save your ticket stub, you can see another IMAX at any of the Smithsonian locations for $6 each.
On display at the museum is a Concord jet, an SR-71 Blackbird and the space shuttle orbiter Discovery in all her majesty. The museum beautifully displays hundreds (maybe not “hundreds”, but certainly a lot!) of various planes, gliders, helicopters and flying gadgets throughout the oversized hangar facilities. In addition, there is the Mary Baker Engen Restoration hangar, which was working on Neil Armstrong’s space capsule while we were there! You can walk along a huge glassed-in balcony so you can see most of the hangar and all the projects currently underway.
Another cool feature is the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower. Guests take an elevator up seven stories to a 360 lookout tower similar to an air traffic control tower. From here you can see for miles in all directions as well as watch planes take-off and land at Dulles International Airport.
Thanks to McDonald’s there’s a McCafe for lunch or snack and a gift shop to guilt you into buying toys for the kids before you leave. Special note: no pocket knives or weapons of any kind are allowed in the facility. Plan to stop for bag checks upon entering but the line moves quickly.
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Admission is free (awesome again!)
Our next item in our fun things for kids list is the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. This place is jam-packed with things to see and our kids had so much fun wandering around the exhibits. They enjoyed seeing animal bones, mummies, a live insect zoo, the ocean hall and a current display of the Hope Diamond along with other gems and crystals. There’s a live butterfly exhibit (tickets required, but they’re free) so you can walk among fluttering, colorful winged creatures.
At lunchtime we found a restaurant (it’s DC, so it was kind of pricey…) called Pavilion Cafe. Kids ate hotdogs and peanut butter & jelly and there are lots of good lunch options like beef brisket, lunchtime gourmet salads, tuna salad sandwiches and the like. Where the lunchtime price got away from us was dessert…but they did not disappoint and all left lunch full and happy!
Admission is free! (Awesome again, y’all!)
The National Zoo opens at 8:00am, though no one told the animals! The buildings inside open at 9:00am and the concessions opens at 10:00am during the summer. We took Uber since it was too far for little feet to walk (and since we’d be walking once inside the zoo). Parking is a mess…not very many spaces to park and for the few spaces available, the cost is $22 so be warned.
We went during the summer so it is hot! The layout of the zoo is not so much a circle, but a main wandering path with side shoots of things to see. So there’s a lot of walking and it’s best to think through your route so you don’t get stuck hot and tired at the opposite end of the zoo.
Free, free, free and free!
Of course, a day of wandering around on foot to see the monuments and landmarks around the national mall is a fun, free option. You’ll see the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the White House, the Capitol and many others. And with little feet may come big complaints of being tired after a bit of walking so plan accordingly. You may split up the sight-seeing into smaller segments. Take advantage of the Metro or Uber to get you to your next destination or back to your hotel for a little rest.
Other Items of Interest
Our visit to Washington DC was only four days long so we quickly ran out of time. But there is lots more to see and do in the city for young children. These are definitely on our list for our next visit:
- US National Arboretum 446 acre living museum with lots of trails, gardens and the original columns from the capitol.
- Play in the Sprays Don’t forget flip flops and towels…lots of places to play in water fountains so find one close to your hotel and head on over!
- Smithsonian National Museum of American History Visit Wegman’s Wonderplace to see a child-sized replica of Julia Child’s kitchen. Be sure to also check out the tug boat that the kids can be the captain of!
- Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium Discovery Room, live turtles, fish, snakes and a bee hive! Also has the only planetarium in the National Park Service.
Don’t forget to wander around the neighborhood a bit to see the local sights and sounds. The area is mostly walking friendly and the drivers are accustomed to walkers. So you don’t get the feeling you’re about to be run over when you choose to walk. The foot paths are nice and the bridges are old and full of character. The Potomac River runs through Washington DC. So there are parks and areas where you can rent paddle boats in the National Harbor.
In the summer time, you’ll find the Georgetown Waterfront Park featuring a splash area for kids to cool off. Also, don’t forget to visit the hotel pool for a break in sight-seeing. If you’re lucky, you might score a rooftop pool like we did and get a panoramic view of the city.
We found low cost, unique burger joints, pizza places and the best ice cream sandwich shop near George Washington University called Captain Cookie and the Milk Man. How cute is that?! And they did not disappoint! We found tons of great little spots like this and they’re all nestled among the hotel neighborhoods.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, also known as Metro, provides train and bus service throughout the area. To use the train, riders must purchase a SmarTrip card and put funds on the cards. Children 5 and under ride free. Fares fluctuate during the course of the day based on the ebb and flow of rider traffic. You can buy the cards and reload funds easily at any terminal. And there are Metro stations littered all over the DC area.
Don’t forget you can most likely walk to your destination. With little kids, that can be tough. Our kids are quite accustomed to walking about 3 miles in a day (4, 7 & 8 year olds…not bad, eh?) so they fared well, but keep an eye on weariness because that’ll suck the fun out of any sight-seeing and I know I’m not telling you brand new information! Just know you have options with transit and Uber if you get caught with kids who’ve just had enough.
You can use Uber for wherever the Metro rail doesn’t quite make it (like the National Zoo). Schedule a pick up online (and add a tip now, too!) and they’ll zip you right to your requested destination. You have a 15 minute pick-up window and a friendly driver will meet you where you are.
So go enjoy the nation’s capital and don’t be afraid to walk around the city. It’s very bustling and in our experience, a very family-friendly area. There’s a good police presence and generally, we found that the drivers in the area were patient with walkers. There’s lots of sidewalks and the crossing lights are very generous. If you ever get tired, there are Uber drivers wandering around just waiting to take you to your next destination.