18 Family Fun Things to do in Washington DC

When traveling to the Washington DC area, most people think of museums and monuments, history and relics, and shops and buildings. Although those types of attractions can be fun and educational, they can sometimes get a bit tedious and boring for young children – and even some adults! There are so many more things around the DC/Metro area that families can do and enjoy that don’t involve reading plaques on walls. The surrounding area of Virginia and Maryland hold so many special places to visit, both historical and not. There are hiking trails, presidential homes, playgrounds, lakes and rivers, outdoor concerts, and more! Here are a list of some of the best kept secrets of things to do in and around Washington DC with your family.

The Lesser Known Museums and Monuments 


In making plans to travel to Washington DC, you probably are bombarded with information about the Smithsonian Museums and touring the White House, the Capital, and some of the larger monuments. But there are some really wonderful lesser known museums and attractions in DC and the surrounding areas that can be tons of fun for the whole family!

  • National Zoo – The National Zoo is located in the heart of Washington, DC. One of the biggest perks, however, is that it’s free! There is a fee to park, but you can also take the Metro to the Woodley Park or Cleveland Park metro stops- both are within walking distance. One of the biggest attractions at the National Zoo are the Giant Pandas, and a new baby panda was just born this past winter! 
  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing – Although this may sound like another “read it on a plaque” museum, a tour of this department of U.S. Treasury allows you to get right into the thick of it. You are able to watch money being printed and produced, as well as learn about the different ways currency has been used throughout our history. Kids love to watch the large machines at work! The museum and the tour is free, but tickets are required during certain parts of the year. 
  • International Spy Museum – Do you have a budding secret agent on your hands? Kids adore the spy museum. Its interactive displays allow visitors to experience different tools of the trade, and learn about how espionage has worked throughout our history. They even have a one-hour live action spy adventure located in the museum, as well as a GPS guided tour through DC in which you can see DC through the “eyes of a spy.”
  • Newseum – Maybe espionage isn’t your thing, but how about being on television? The Newseum offers a unique experience for visitors to learn all about the world of broadcast and journalism. Your little ones can pretend they are news anchors and watch themselves broadcast live in front of green screens. You will learn how journalists capture the news every day, and the risks they often face when getting information out to the public. 
  • Mt. Vernon – Looking to get away from the city for a bit, but still delve into some history? Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home, is a great place for young kids. They often have activities planned specifically for children, and the tour guides and employees all stay in character of the era. 

Theater and Outdoor Festivals


Washington DC boasts the country’s best museums and historical buildings, but there are several events and activities you can find outdoors as well! The events listed below are seasonal, so be sure to check what is on tap in the area for the time you are planning to visit. 

  • National Gallery of Art – The National Gallery of Art is a beautiful museum located on the National Mall. Although the inside of the main hall is breathtaking, they also offer several different outdoor events throughout the year. During the winter months, the NGA opens an ice skating rink to the public. During the summer, they move into Jazz in the Gardens in the Sculpture Garden every Friday. They also have large spouting water fountains in which you may see children running through during hot days!
  • Movies on the Potomac at the National Harbor – The National Harbor is located outside of Washington DC in Maryland. Each summer, beginning in May, they offer movies on a large outdoor screen! Thursdays at 7pm are “Date Night” movies, while Sundays at 6pm are “Family Movies.” Click here to see the schedule for this summer’s line up!

  • Children’s Theatre in the Woods at Wolfe Trap – Located outside of Washington, DC in Virginia, the Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods is great for children of all ages! They have musical performances, puppetry, and storytelling. Many of the performances are interactive with the audience, making it a great escape from the city for little bodies to move around. Click here to see the current 2016 summer schedule!

Outdoor Activities 


If you are looking for some time outside of the city, there are several outdoor trails, parks, and exhibits just a short drive away in the Maryland and Virginia areas. If you love to experience nature and be a bit more active during your vacations, here are some options for you!

  • Rock Creek Park Planetarium – The Rock Creek Park and Planetarium is actually located in Washington DC, but it doesn’t feel like it! Their Nature Center offers several educational opportunities including tours and forest animals on display. The planetarium is open on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays for guided astronomy tours. There are also 32 different hiking trails and paved biking trails if you are interested in getting moving! 
  • Frying Pan Park – Looking for a little farm life? Frying Pan Park is located in Herndon, Virginia- about 35 minutes outside of DC. This is a very kid-friendly park with a playground and farm animals such as pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, and even peacocks! They have an entire equestrian building as well, where you can sometimes catch horse shows and training exercises. 
  • Burke Lake Park – Another park located outside of Washington DC is Burke Lake Park. This park boasts several playgrounds, running and biking trails, and even a train for children to ride on! It’s a great place to get out and be active. There is a fee on weekends and holidays for non-county residents, but during the week it is free!
  • Gravelly Point Park – Right in the heart of Washington DC is Gravelly Point Park. From here you have a wonderful view of the Potomac River, walking and running paths, and large expansive fields, but you also can watch aircraft fly right overhead from Ronald Reagan National Airport. Kids love to be so close to the planes as they fly above, and they will be amazed at how close they seem to the ground. This is a fan favorite of DC tourists and residents alike!

Best Places to Eat with Kids in DC


You are bound to be left finding a family-friendly place to eat after walking all day in the city! Washington DC has some wonderful restaurants, exquisite faire, and some beautiful places to dine, but not all of them are conducive to a family with a couple tired kids in their stead. Below are some great places to eat that will keep your children occupied and food they will actually enjoy!

  • Food Trucks – Like any big city, you will find different food trucks parked around the city as you explore. Some of these trucks are famous for their good food and quick service. They are a great option when you are on the go and need a quick bite to eat. Many speciality food trucks also offer faire that you might not otherwise choose, making a cultural experience out of your lunch or dinner. 
  • The Food Court at Union Station – Although a food court may not be the experience you are looking for when dining in DC, this one is special because of its location. Located within the heart of Union Station, your family can choose from a large variety of restaurants from fast food and quick service meals to full-seated dining. The atmosphere is what makes this experience, though- your children will love hearing the train whistles and watching the hustle and bustle of travelers while they eat!
  • Metro 29 Diner – Metro 29 Diner is located outside of DC in Arlington. They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner in this retro-styled eatery. Kids will love the music and milkshakes, and parents will love the affordable prices and friendly service!
  • Generous George’s Positive Pizza and Pasta Place – Although they recently closed their location in DC, Generous George’s has a location close to Frying Pan Park if you decide to put that on your itinerary! This Italian style pizza parlor is very family-friendly, and they will do whatever they can to accommodate families. The great service alone is one reason to give this place a visit! 

Desserts

After a hearty meal, who wouldn’t want to try some of Washington DC’s famous dessert spots? Below are a few places located in Georgetown, a small urban area of the city known for its shopping and main street feel. 

  • Georgetown Cupcakes – Georgetown Cupcakes is known as one of the best cupcake shops in Washington DC. They change their flavors daily, but all are wonderful! They often have a line wrapped around the building, so be sure to stop in early or let someone stand in line while you look around the shops in the area!
  • Georgetown Chocolate Walking Tour – Want more? This is a two hour long guided tour of Georgetown in which you can taste all the best dessert spots in the area! Some of the spots include Sprinkles Cupcakes, Thomas Sweet, Dean and Deluca, and Pie Sisters. Some of the stops can take a couple minutes as they give you a history of their store and you are walking along city streets, so if you have busy toddlers this may not be the best option for you!

Washington DC is a great place to visit with your family. With all of the history and culture that the city has to offer, you will not be disappointed in whatever you decide to do during your stay. From the best known monuments and museums to the little places on the outskirts of the city, there is so much to do and to see!

For more vacation destinations and places to travel with kids, check out Daily Mom’s Destinations page!

Photo credits: Deanna Rhinehart-Dolan, anjanettew, yeowatzupDana Voss, Geoff AlexanderJaysin Trevino

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Lauren Lomsdale

Lauren is a full-time mom of three girls, who also happens to run her own in-home preschool. She loves to write, run, yoga-it-out, and keep fit. She’s kind of crunchy in her homeschooling, cloth diapering, and natural products sort of way, but she also loves Starbucks and trashy tv. For more about her internal judgments of herself and hilarious quips about motherhood, follow her on IG and Twitter @thescoopmama, fb.com/thescoopmama, as well as her website theSCOOPmama.

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    Kristen

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    We love Frying Pan Park! Great to do list here! We lived in Arlington for 5 years and didn’t even get to all these places.

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