America’s capital city is a treasure trove of unique places to see and do. Every visitor to Washington, DC knows the city is full of monuments and historical sites. From the National Monument to the Capitol Building, the Vietnam Memorial to the White House, there are so many things to do in DC with kids.
But there are so many things for kids to do in DC than just the standard tourist attractions. Having lived in DC for two years, my husband and I had a chance to explore some of the more interesting sides of the city.
Ideas for things to do in DC with kids
Even though I love living in my current city of Seattle, I often miss the hustle and bustle of Washington, DC. There is something exciting about being in the center of government, where decisions about the fate of our country are made, and where so much history has occurred.
In our two years of living in DC, we had a chance to experience DC quite a bit. Here are my top picks for fun things to do in DC with kids.
For a unique and historical way to experience DC, spend the day in Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. Located 17 miles south of DC, Mount Vernon is an expansive estate that has been well-preserved and well-maintained. Visitors can take a tour of its grounds any time of the year, and catch a glimpse of what life was like for America’s first president.
Tickets to Mount Vernon are $20 for adults, and $12 for kids. There is a $1 to $2 discount for tickets purchased online. Mount Vernon is open to visitors all year.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
If you’re looking for outdoor things to do in DC with kids, consider taking them to a park. The city of Washington, DC has many parks and green spaces for relaxing and exploring. Roosevelt Island, located along the Potomac River below Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge on Highway 66, is the perfect place for an urban retreat.
The island is accessible by foot from the Mount Vernon Trail, just off of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The 88.5 acre island, which is considered a national park, has a number of trails for visitors to walk, jog, or run through, and is home to a number of wild birds. Canoeing and kayaking are popular activities on the island during the summer time. Even though it was still within the city limits, the place felt surprisingly peaceful and disconnected from the rest of the city. We loved the tranquility that came from being on the island.
For a travel lover like me, Embassy Row, located mainly along Massachusetts Avenue in the northwest portion of the city, was always fun to walk or drive through. I feel like you can’t really experience DC without getting a glimpse of the international dignitary life!
Along Embassy Row, you’ll find many embassies, consulates, and private residences of diplomats from around the world. In the spring, the embassies host Passport DC, where they open up its doors to the public for one month and host cultural events that let you learn about the country without leaving the city.
I’m not a big history buff, but I do appreciate historical documents. One of the surprisingly interesting Smithsonian museums to visit is the National Archives, located on Pennsylvania Avenue, across from the northeastern corner of the National Mall. Here is where some of America’s most important historical documents are stored, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.
The National Archives is open to the public every day from 10am to 5:30pm. Last entry to the museum is at 5pm. The National Archives is also open to the public for research.
One of the fun things for kids to do in DC is technically not in DC. Alexandria, VA is a great city to visit, purely for its wealth of historical landmarks. Old Town Alexandria, in particular, is worth visiting.
Here, you can find one of DC’s oldest bars, Gadsby Tavern. You can also take a ghost tour of Old Town, and learn about the myths and legends surrounding the city’s historical buildings.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
A longtime institution in DC is Ben’s Chili Bowl, which has been serving up soulful chili since 1958. Located on U Street, Ben’s Chili Bowl has served everyone from foreign dignitaries, to the President, to the everyday person off the street. Ben’s Chili Bowl has always been a favorite among things to do in DC with kids.
Ben’s Chili Bowl is a great starting off point for exploring the rest of U Street and its surroundings, which was once a hot spot for jazz legends like Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington. The area surrounding Ben’s Chili Bowl and U Street was also once the cultural center of DC’s African American community, and is still a great place to catch a music show.
DC’s Chinatown is no match for New York City’s or San Francisco’s. But amidst the chain stores and restaurants labeled in Chinese writing, there are a few gems of authenticity. Chinatown Express, located on 6th and H Street has the best hand-spun noodles in the city. Passers-by can watch them make the noodles right in the front window!
Gravelly Point Park
For those wanting an exhilarating experience, Gravelly Point Park, along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, is a popular spot to visit. Here, visitors and locals alike can experience the rush of watching jet planes take off and land from DC’s Reagan National Airport, located right next to the park. We lived a short drive away from the park, and on sunny days, sometimes we would ride our bikes there.
The Fish Market at the Wharf
When we lived in Washington, DC, one of our favorite things to do in DC with kids was to head to the fish market on Maine Avenue. We would buy several pounds of fresh shrimp, and eat them at the market! The fishmongers would steam it and season it with Old Bay right there on the spot, and we would find a quiet place next to the water to enjoy our fresh-steamed shrimp.
The market is actually located on a dock, with the stalls situated on floating barges surrounding the dock. Besides fresh shrimp, you can also buy a large selection of other seafood including fish, oysters, clams, crabs, and even octopus. The fish market is open all year long
Although I only lived in DC for about two years, the city will always hold a special place in my heart. That was where my daughter was born, where my career took off, and also where my husband and I first started our life together. With so many fun things to do in DC with kids, you can easily spend years in the city and only begin to scratch the surface of all that DC has to offer. I look forward to the day when I can return to the city and explore it some more. In the meantime, I can share what I know and love about DC with all of you.
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