Advice from folks whoâve been there By the MiniTime Community
The Washington Monument (Flickr: humbertomoreno)
Why Go: Looking for the motherlode of national treasures? Youâve come to the right place. No city delivers such an all-star line-up of marquis attractions and one-of-a-kind experiences. Your family can view the Lincoln Memorial at sunset, spy on giant pandas at the National Zoo, and ogle the space suits worn by the first astronauts to walk on the moon. With some advance planning, you can also tour the White House and the Capitol Building. Visiting for just a few days? No worries. Since so many major attractions lie within a compact, walkable area of âthe District,â youâll be amazed at how much you can do and see in a short amount of time. Yet whether itâs your familyâs first or twenty-first visit to the capital, there are always new, underhyped attractions to discover and explore.
More good news: Itâs unlikely that a visit to DC will break the bank. Compared to the cost of visiting other major cities, a Washington getaway is surprisingly affordable with (mainly) reasonable prices for lodging, dining, and entertainment. Of course, it helps that almost all the major attractions are free. Thatâs because so many of the cityâs most popular museums and monumentsâincluding the 16 Smithsonian-run attractionsâare government-subsidized and charge zero admission. As every parent knows, thereâs nothing more family-friendly than a bonanza of free fun.
Best hotel: Marriott Residence Inn at DuPont Circle (2120 P St. NW; 466-6800; rooms from $299 a night). âAn ace for families. All sizeable rooms include a full kitchen and an incredibly tasty free full breakfast. The location canât be beat, just two blocks from a Metro and central to just about everything if youâre driving.â
Get Your Bearings
We can thank our founding fathers for Washingtonâs open and uncluttered skyline. Their declaration that no building shall be taller than the dome of the US Capitol ensures that commercial buildings never reach higher than 110 feet, all the better for us to view the wide array of monuments that dot the cityscape.
Kids at the Lincoln Memorial (Flickr: yosoynuts)
Luckily for Washingtonians and out-of-towners alike, our capital has a logical layout. The US Capitol sits at the center of the city, which is divided into four quadrants (NW, SW, NE, SE). Note that most, but not all, of the major monuments and attractions are in the northwest (NW) quadrant. Numbered streets run north-south, starting with 1st Street on either side of the Capitol. Lettered streets run east-west, beginning with A Street. Avenues are named for states and run diagonally across the grid and often intersect at major traffic circles. For example, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts avenues converge at Dupont Circle. Washingtonâs main drag is Pennsylvania Avenue, which runs northwest in a direct line between the Capitol Building and the White House. Directly west of the Capitol Building is the grassy expanse of the National Mall, with its famous reflecting pool and the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial beyond.
Washington is an accessible place for families to visit. The city boasts an efficient, safe public transportation system, so save yourself the hassle and expense of parking. Ditch your car and jump on the Metro. Just make sure youâre wearing comfortable walking shoes.
Most Fun Way to Get Around
The Metro (single rides from $1.35, one-day pass $7.80/person, seven-day pass $39/person). âClean, safe, and mostly easy to use.â Children 4 and under ride for free.
Best local tour:
White House Tour (1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 456-7041; Tours available Tues-Sat mornings). Landing a tour of the White House is not impossible if you plan ahead. No sooner than 30 days and no more than six months before your visit, submit your request through one of your members of Congress. If your visit is less than 30 days away, you can also enter a lottery for last-minute openings. âTours are provided to groups of 10 or more. If your traveling party is smaller, your congressperson will group you up with other tourists from your district.â âAs your travel dates approach, keep following up with your congresspersonâs staff.â Youâll need to provide the names, Social Security numbers, and birth dates for everyone in your party.
DC Ducks (Tours run on the hour, daily 10am-4pm, mid-March-Oct; Union Station; $29/adult, $14/child 4-12, free for kids under 4). This tour takes in many major sights in DC aboard an authentic, fully-restored 1942 amphibious âduckâ vehicle. âThis tour is really fun, especially when you splash into the Potomac and float under the approach pattern at Ronald Reagan airport.â
Monuments Cruise from DC Cruises (Cruises every hour on the half hour, daily 11:30am-6:30pm; Moonlight cruises at 7pm and 8pm, 9pm cruise in summer only; Washington Harbor, Georgetown, bottom of 31st St NW; 595-5555; $13/adult, $8/child 3-12, free for kids under 3. Buy online for $2/ticket discount.). This 45-minute Potamac River cruise is âreally special, with awesome views of all of DCâs iconic monuments. I highly recommend the moonlight cruiseâthe monuments are especially beautiful when illuminated at night.â
Tidal Basin Paddle Boats (1501 Maine Ave. SW; 479-2426; Rental: $18/hour for four-seater boat). Take the kids on a paddle boat in the Tidal Basin for âa fun outing with great views of the Jefferson and Washington Memorials.â âParticularly spectacular during cherry blossom season.â Boats can be reserved online in advance.
Washington Monument (National Mall; Free, but tickets are required). âFrom the top, the views stretch for 30 miles on a clear day. Fabulous!â Or better yet, âgo at night, when the cityâs lights twinkle below. The monument stays open until 10pm in the summer. It is really something to behold.â Note: Admission is free but does require a ticket. The Washington Monument Lodge, located along 15th Street, opens at 8:30am for distribution of free, same day, timed tickets on a first come, first served basis. One person may pick up as many as six tickets and choose a preferred time to visit. Each individual (including children) must have a ticket. Be aware that tickets run out quickly during the spring and summer. An easier option: Shell out $1.50 per ticket and order them online in advance.
National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW; requested contribution: $15/family).âThe view from the cathedral is breathtaking. Make sure you bring your camera.â âThe cathedral has a brochure for a family scavenger hunt, which my kids really loved. You have to search for gargoyles, stained glass windows, and other interesting visual elements. It was a fun way to explore the church and grounds.â âTry to be outside when the bells ring in the tower. Itâs a very beautiful experience.â Note: Carillon recitals take place each Saturday from 12:30pmâ1:15pm. Peal bells are rung on Tuesday evenings from 7pmâ9pm and Sundays at about 12:30pm.
Rooftop restaurants at the Kennedy Center (2700 F St. NW; 800/44-1324 or 467-4600). âBoth the Roof Terrace Restaurant & Bar and the more casual KC CafÃ© have floor-to-ceiling windows with amazing views of Washington and many of its monuments. Itâs a very dramatic place to eat, particularly at night.â
Capitol Building (East end of National Mall, First St. and East Capitol St. NE; 226-8000). âStand on the steps of the Capitol and look west across the National Mall to the Washington Monument, reflecting pool, and Lincoln Memorial in the distance. It is one of the most photographed views of DC.â Note: With just a bit of advance planning, you can get a super insiderâs tour of the Capitol Building by booking through your senator or representative. Youâll need to provide the names, Social Security numbers, and birth dates for everyone in your party.
(MORE: Browse kid-friendly hotels in Washington DC.)
Soak Up the Local Scene
Best food market:
DuPont Circle Farmerâs Market (20th St. between Massachusetts Ave. and Q St., in adjacent parking lot of PNC Bank). âVendors sell mainly yummy organic produce, with plenty to nibble and wonderful sourvenirs like handcrafted honey and jams.â
Eastern Market (Capitol Hill, 7th St. and North Carolina Ave. SE). âThis is a terrific place to get picnic provisions, and thereâs a great craft market every weekend.â
Ultimate Frisbee on the National Mall (Saturday afternoons, May-October). âYou can catch frisbee exploits in front of the Smithsonian Castle or the Air & Space Museum. This is so much fun for kids to watch. Bring a picnic and relax.â
The DuPont Circle neighborhood. âThe area is incredibly lively and diverse. Pull up a chair at one of its many streetside cafÃ©s (Le Pain Quotidien is a child-friendly favorite) and relax for an hour or two.â
Nationals Park (1500 South Capitol St. SE; 888/632-NATS). âThe team is still growing but the new stadium, which opened in 2008, is totally state-of-the-art and amazing. Get some cheap seatsâgrandstand and upper terrace seats go for $5 to $10. The food is really good and not too overpriced. It is a very family-friendly ballpark.â
Let the Fun Shine In
C&O Canal (north bank of Potomac River, from Rock Creek Park). The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is one of the most intact examples of canal-building in the US. It runs 185 miles, from Georgetown to Maryland. âThe section of towpath in Georgetown is a favorite place to stroll, jog, or go for a bike ride.â
Rock Creek Park (5200 Glover Road NW; 895-6070). This enormous, 1,750-acre park (more than twice the size of New Yorkâs Central Park) bisects Washington DC. It is one of our oldest national parks and features a huge array of amenities, including a golf course, horseback-riding trails, a nature center and planetarium, an outdoor concert venue, and playgrounds. âThis is a great place to let the kids run off some steam. On a nice day, plan to picnic here.â
Hains Point (Ohio Dr. SW). The 300-acre East Potomac Park âis perhaps the most beautiful place to go for a walk in Washington.â It is almost completely surrounded by water, as it is the place where the Potomac River and Washington Channel meet.â There are playgrounds, tennis courts, and a mini-golf course. But perhaps best of all, âThe park contains a ton of Washingtonâs famous cherry trees. Come for a picnic in the springtime, when they are in bloom.â Note: You can get to the park on foot via trails from the Jefferson Memorial.
Best public beach or pool:
Fletcherâs Boat House (C&O Canal National Historic Park, 4940 Canal Rd. NW; 244-0461). âDonât go swimming. Rent a canoe or rowboat, or go fishing.â
Palisades Playground (5200 Sherrier Pl. NW, near Georgetown). Local kids love this playground for its âmulti-level forts and tire areas that are fun to climb. Thereâs also a curvy tunnel slide and a sandbox for little ones.â
Walk on the Wild Side
Best animal experience:
National Zoo (3001 Connecticut Ave. NW; 633-3025; Free admission). âThis is one of the best zoos in the country,â housing 400 different species. It is unique in that one out of every five species is endangered. Some of the more popular sections include the African Savanna, Amazon, and Asia. âMy kids absolutely loved the apes and primates. Of course, the Asia Trail is fabulous and offers super views of the giant pandas.â âPrepare for pandamania!â âIf you have little kids, donât miss the petting zoo section.â Tip: âTake Metroâs Red Line to the Cleveland Park stop. Do not get off at the Woodley Park/Zoo stop, or youâll have to walk uphill to the zoo. Go one more stop to Cleveland Park, and you walk the same distance but downhill.â
Feed Your Culture Vulture
Kids love the fountains in the National Mall (Flickr: NCinDC)
Coolest place to catch a movie:
Uptown Theater (3426 Connecticut Ave. NW, Cleveland Park; 966-8805; ). Opened since 1936, this Art Deco gem is the cityâs last movie palace showing first-run films. âPure NostalgiaâWashingtonians cherish this place because of its huge 400-seat balcony and the enormous screenâthe largest in DC. It is a memorable place to watch a movie. Kids love it!â
Best museum for kids:
Museum of Natural History (10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW; 633-1000; Free admission). âThere is a great program here for kids interested in dinosaurs.â âMy kids thought it was fun to see the exhibits featured in âNight at the Museum 2,â so we made up a little scavenger hunt to find elements from the movie.â
National Air & Space Museum (National Mall, Independence Ave. at 6th St. SW; Free admission for museum only; IMAX and planetarium shows: $8.75/adult, $7.25/child 2-12). âItâs a good idea to book tickets for the IMAX and planetarium shows online, in advance of your visit, since they do sell out on busy days.â
National Gallery of Art (National Mall, 4th St. and Constitution Ave. NW; 737-4215; Free admission). âYouâll get more out of your visit if you plan ahead, since you need passes for some exhibitions. Also, the childrenâs and parent-and-child workshops are excellent, but you need to pre-register for them. Well worth it!â âLittle kids love the sculpture garden.â
Phillips Collection (1600 21st St. NW; 387-2151; Suggested donation: $10/adult, free for kids 18 and under). This wonderful museum houses nearly 3,000 works by French Impressionists (Degas, CÃ©zanne, Gauguin, Matisse) and other European innovators (Van Gogh, Picasso) to American modernists such as Klee, Homer, Whistler, O’Keeffe, and more. âGreat art tours for kids. Call in advance and set one up.â
(MORE: Read reviews written by parents on attractions in DC.)
Best for live music:
Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center (2700 F St. NW; 800/444-1324 or 202/467-4600; Nightly at 6pm, year-round). You never need a ticket for the free nightly concerts at the Kennedy Centerâs Millennium Stage, but seats are available on a first come, first served basisâso get there early if you want to see a well-known artist. âThe performers are different every night, and the schedule is a mixed bagâit can be thing from a military glee club to an ethnic ensemble to a string quartet to an accoustic guitar soloist.â âTry to catch a performance scheduled on the South Plaza Stage, whose view over the Potomac is really gorgeous.â
Evening Parade at Marine Barracks Washington (8th St. and I St. SE; 433-4073; Fridays at 8:45pm, May-August). This âjaw-dropping show of military pageantry takes place every Friday night all summer long. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance online. âTickets get booked up months in advance, but you can line up at least an hour in advance; at 8:15pm, unclaimed seats are released.â âThis is a very moving, unforgettable presentation.â
Sylvan Theater (Washington Monument, National Mall, 15th St. and Independence Ave. NW; 426-6841). The theater is actually a simple wooden stage, from which the lawn slopes back to form a natural amphitheater. âThere is a wonderful, free military band concert series here every summer, drawing crowds of up to 10,000 people.â During the spring, summer, and fall, the program includes everything from concerts to Shakespearean plays to puppet shows.
Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art (National Mall, 4th St. and Constitution Ave. NW; 737-4215; Concert series: Fridays at 5pm, late May to mid-September). âAll summer, Friday evenings mean free jazz concerts in the museumâs sculpture garden. Itâs a phenomenal venue, and kids love it.â
2Amys (3715 Macomb St. NW; 885-5700). This casual pizzeria is âalways noisy and full of kids at dinner time. No question, it serves the best Neapolitan pizza in town.â âThey donât take reservations, so if you have young kids, itâs best to go early so you get a table quick and donât have long to wait for your pizza after you order.â âThis is as close to gourmet pizza as youâre ever going to find.â
Jetties (1213 U St. NW; 667-0909). This Georgetown sandwich-and-salad place is right on the water. âWhen the weatherâs nice, stop for a bite and sit outside at the picnic tables.â Specialties are the gourmet-combo sandwiches on fabulous breads and terrific mixed salads. âAs sandwich places go, this is definitely upscale. It can seem pricey until you taste one of the meatball subs or club sandwiches. They are all so delicious, youâll forget the price and think itâs the best sandwich you ever ate.â
Benâs Chili Bowl (1213 U St. NW; 667-0909). This landmark all-day diner has been around since 1958, serving everything from pancakes and French toast to burgers, chili dogs, and vegetarian chili. âItâs a must-stop when youâre in DC. The burgers are amazing. Even President Obama is a fan!â
Maine Avenue Fish Market (1100 Maine Ave. SW; 484-2722). This waterfront haunt has âthe freshest, best seafood in DC.â âGo to Jimmyâs for steamed crabs and crabcake platters.â
Best ice cream:
Fro-Zen-Yo (5252 Wisconsin Ave. NW). This new chain has three locations in DC and âthe most awesome frozen yogurt, with tons of toppings and frozen drinks.â See the web site for other DC locations.
Best kid-friendly menu:
Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th St. NW; 347-4800). This historic (circa 1856) place was a favorite of Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding, and Teddy Roosevelt and is still a popular meeting spot for politicos and Washington insiders. âItâs a fun place to stop after a White House Tour. Its kidsâ menu features a grand slam of favorites all on one plate: mac ân cheese, chicken fingers, and fries. Adults will enjoy the Walrus seafood samplers and towering burgers. It gets very busy, but seats are usually available at the bar for drinks and munchies, including the fab kidsâ menu.â
Best toy store:
National Gallery of Art (National Mall, 4th St. and Constitution Ave. NW; 737-4215; Free admission). âThe Childrenâs Shop has some of the most amazing crafts and art-based toys (including high-tech building blocks) ever.â
Best gift shop:
Museum of Natural History (10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW; 633-1000; Free admission). âFantastic stuff for kids. Check out the Mammals Store for animal-themed items and the Family Store for educational and reasonably-priced items like crystal-growing kits, musical instruments and a bag of polished stones.â