Best things to do in DC with kids
Pint-size aviators and aspiring NASA team members will be able to explore a wide variety of topics at the National Air and Space Museum. Home to 22 exhibition galleries, an IMAX theater, a planetarium, VR experiences and other cool amenities, this museum will definitely keep curious kids coming back hungry for more. Currently, the attraction is gearing up for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo as well as its seven-year expansion project, which will reshape all of the galleries. Visit the museum online to see what's happening with the planned work before you make a trip.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more popular zoo than the famed Washington DC attraction. With over 1,800 animals ranging across 300+ species, the Smithsonian's National Zoo is a must-visit whether you're vacationing in DC for the first time, or making a seasonal pitstop. Not only will your kids gawk at the creatures in the Amazonia, Cheetah Conservation Station and other exhibits, but they'll loved getting involved with daily programs such as kids' farmkeepers talk and meet and greets with the animals. Perhaps the most esteemed aspect of the zoo is its tireless conservation work.
For city dwellers who are searching for an escape from urban life (or perhaps political unrest), the United States Botanic Garden is a green oasis that exposes visitors to all sorts of natural wonders. Kiddies will be in their glory with a trip to the Butterfly Garden and enjoy getting their hands dirty with interactive activities in the Children's Garden. To entice a new generation of botanists, the attraction offers a plethora of resources for youngsters, including a regional garden field journal and a plants and food passport that provides a (figurative) taste of how we consume plants.
Although contemporary art might seem a bit too advanced for children to appreciate, the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden makes the work accessible to its young visitors. On Wednesdays 10am and Sundays at 11am, little Picassos will take in the pieces on display through stories and interactive activities. Meet friends beforehand (or afterward) for a little pick-me-up at the Dolcezza Coffee & Gelato, which is located in the Hirshhorn Lobby.
What list of things to do with kids is complete without swings and jungle gyms? The Beauvoir Outdoors Playground is certainly one of the most alluring spots little ones will come across in DC. Located on the grounds of National Cathedral Elementary School, the outdoor hotspot is accessible to the public from 6pm–dusk when school or camp is in session. You'll want to keep your kids' comfiest sneakers close by, as the playground will keep them busy with rope bridges, wooden jungle gyms, slides and even a zip-line. Who can possibly say no to that?
There's a lot to uncover when studying history, and fortunately, this DC attraction dedicates its mission to focusing on a wide range of topics. Kids can learn about Women's History, Latino History, food history and so much more. Youngsters will gravitate toward the interactive elements, including Object Project, Wegmans Wonderplace (best for those 0–6) and SparkLab (for ages 6–12) where little academics will have access to STEM activities.
Take in views of the Anacostia River as kids splash in the dancing fountains or hop into a canoe or kayak for a fun adventure with the family! There's even a trapeze school at this stellar park. The waterfront green space is home to plenty of events, too, such as movie screenings and kid-friendly music class for tots, among many other offerings. Explore the events calendar before making a visit!
Let your kids wave at the ducks swimming up to shore or splash in the popular fountain during warmer months on this 10-acre city park space. Boasting views of the Potomac River and the Key Bridge, Georgetown Waterfront Park is a relaxing place to take in the city’s lush greenness. If your family wants to get a little more interactive with the water, rent canoes or kayaks from the Thompson Boat Center. If the kids would rather stay on land, opt to take them on a trip down the area’s dedicated trail. (Bikes are also available for rent.)
This examination of espionage will teach your kids about the fascinating spies who have contributed to world events. Attendees will get to glimpse at special equipment, including cameras and vehicles, and sign up for programs (ideal for kids under 10) that will have them embark on secret missions, climb through duct work, diffuse an atomic bomb, hang from a construction site and test their own spy skills. Try visiting on weekdays to avoid crowds and, if weekends are your only option, come early. That shouldn’t be hard if your kids are serious about espionage: The best spies are always on time.
Rock Creek Park offers miles of scenic nature trails to explore, though for kids, the highlights are certainly the critter-packed Nature Center and captivating planetarium. There, you'll find fun educational exhibits for kids as well as tanks with turtles and fish. The planetarium generally has programming for young children (ages 4–10) on Wednesdays. You can stop in a half-hour early to pick up free passes for all shows. Be sure to double-check the hours for both the Nature Center and Planetarium before visiting! (Note that Planetarium shows are temporarily canceled.)
This baseball park designed for fans of all ages offers special programming for kids, including giveaways and a play area featuring a jungle gym, in case the little ones need a break from the stands. Bonus for wannabe baseball stars: kids ages 4–12 can run the bases—yes, on the field—after select Sunday home games throughout the season, weather permitting. So bring on your Natitude, and play ball!
Another segment of Rock Creek Park to be explored, Pierce Mill (from the 1820s) is perfectly situated near a parking lot and picnic tables, making it an ideal spot for families with young kids to explore. From April through October (the second and fourth Saturday of each month), you can see the Mill in action and stop in for demonstrations, but it's still exciting to visit either way, since you can get a glimpse of some cool old-school construction and millstones.
Nesting isn’t just for birds. Kids will love seeing this garden’s (pretend) giant bird and sitting in its child-sized nest when exploring this part of the U.S. National Arboretum. Devoted to research and public engagement, this kid-friendly section seeks to enhance science learning and encourage healthy food choices. The garden works with area schools but is also open to the public. Watch your kids take in the whimsical designs or climb in the play area when dropping in.
Get your fill of architecture, engineering and design at this unique museum dedicated to everything from towering skyscrapers to incognito cities—even the stories of how household goods have changed over time and how modern architecture is changing to accommodate the needs of the modern American. Littles (ages 2–6) should cruise by the Building Zone complete with construction play trucks, a pretend hardware store and dress-up gear, as well as Play Work Build, home to a massive foam play-block area.
With 10 acres of parks in Southeast Washington, Capitol Riverfront Park is a crowd-pleasing destination. Start your visit at this sustainable and neighborhood-centric green space, located on three acres of the city. It’s home to seasonal markets and festivals along with dancing fountains in the summer and ice skating in the winter.
Your kids may not be ready for a full-on opera (that’s what date nights are for), but they can certainly enjoy one of the Kennedy Center’s daily free shows on the Millennium Stage. With performances at 6pm every day of the year, you’re sure to find something that will appeal. Park yourselves under the Kennedy Center’s beautiful high ceilings as you watch everyone from visiting orchestras and singers to instrumentalists and dance troupes do their thing. Kids may be particularly intrigued when their fellow, school-age performers take the stage (which does happen).
This District destination is a national historic landmark. Completed in 1816, the neoclassical house opened its doors to the public in 1988 and seeks to connect visitors to their own stories and to American history. House tours are available, though you may want to embark on those with your older kids. You and your nature-loving progeny can also enjoy tours of the 5.5 acres of broad lawns and kid-friendly nooks (self-guided and guided options are available). Pick up a print map when you arrive. You’ll also find various festivals and programs at this urban oasis.
This Northwest Washington estate turned museum includes an 18th century French decorative art collection, a Russian imperial art collection and 25 acres of gardens. If your child is more into culture than cars and trucks, this is a nice, family-friendly destination. Walk the grounds while discovering treasured art pieces and participate in programs that involve dance, music and storytelling. The museum even suggests imaginative games to play as you stroll, including posing to look like one of the many statues or portraits on the property. This destination is best for kids who can stay on the beaten path, as running around the grounds is discouraged.
The local library is always a must. And the DC Public Library system offers more than book-borrowing to draw kids in, though the books, of course, are key. Visit the Petworth location for kid-friendly classes and events, look for programs like family story time, which runs 30 to 40 minutes and features literacy activities, or try baby and toddler story time, which includes 20 to 30 minutes of books and songs for children up to age 2. Bilingual story time is available in English and Spanish for children up to age 5—and for “their adults,” as the library cheerily notes.
This indoor play center for kids 6 and under seeks to let them play, learn and grow. It offers drop-in sessions as well as memberships, and little ones can work on their gross motor skills by climbing, stretching and pulling on the equipment.
For more than 30 years, the Discovery Center has offered educational performances that focus on the National Mall attractions. The kid-centric venue typically offers shows on weekdays at 10:15 and 11:30am, but note that no programs run in August and September. Touring shows in 2019 include Tigers, Dragons, & Other Wise ‘Tails’ (May 13–17) and the Discovery series in the fall, which teaches little tots from pre-K to first grade all about numbers, science and literacy. All ages.