The good thing about the capital, parents, is that history is in plain view. The National Mall, with its green sweep of landmarks from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, offers plenty of opportunities for educational moments. This itinerary leans more toward fun, though as you’ll see, there’s a lot of learning going on, too. Start: The National Museum of the American Indian.

1. National Museum of the American Indian 

Inside the museum’s imagiNATIONS Activity Center (open every day but Mon), children can traipse through Amazonian stilt houses, test their balance while learning about kayaks, weave a giant basket, and learn to make beautiful music using traditional instruments.

Exit to the National Mall and walk west past the National Air & Space Museum, Hirshhorn Museum, and Arts and Industries Bldg. until you come to the:

2. Carousel

For little and not-so-little children, the carousel is a treat, operating year-round, weather permitting. Good to know: Another carousel awaits at your final destination, the National Zoo, where a solar-powered, custom-designed carousel with 58 animal figures operates daily.

Now cross the Mall on the diagonal, heading west to reach the:

3. National Museum of American History

Like all the Smithsonians, this one has tons of kid-friendly activities and exhibits. If your children are younger than 6, visit Wegmans Wonderplace, full of fun activities and toys related to the museum’s collections. Kids 6 and older will appreciate Spark!Lab; the 23-room dollhouse; “interactive carts” of objects, such as a stereoscope, that children can pick up and experiment with; artifacts on display including Kermit the Frog; sightings of historical figures in your midst; and the simulator rides that make you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster or driving a race car.

You must be starving! You can dine here in the museum cafes or from the food trucks parked outside, but if your family has the energy, it’s worth the short walk to get to your next stop. Exit to Constitution Ave. and cross it to reach 14th St., then follow 14th St. to Pennsylvania Ave. Cross Pennsylvania Ave. and walk past the main entrance to the Willard Hotel to find a seat inside or outside at the lovely Parisian brasserie:

4. Café du Parc

It’s open daily 7am to 10pm, has a children’s menu of delicious items ($5–$16), and offers French tastes and D.C. ambience. The White House is across 15th St., just beyond all those barriers and trees. tel. 202/942-7000.

Now head north on 14th St. to G St., turn right, and follow G St. to 13th St. to find the entrance to the Metro Center subway station. Board a Red Line train going in the direction of either Shady Grove or Grosvenor. Debark at the Woodley Park–Zoo station and walk up Connecticut Ave. to reach the:

5. National Zoo

Certain children’s exhibits (the Kids’ Farm, the seasonal ZooTubing down Lion/Tiger Hill) lie at the very bottom of this large zoo, situated on a hill. Keep that part in mind as you explore the zoo, since it’ll be all uphill—and quite a long hill it is—back to Connecticut Avenue. (Tip: A free shuttle does loop continuously between the upper and lower zoo.) But you need not go all the way to the bottom of the hill, as pandas, a solar-powered carousel, a fab elephant exhibit, and nearly 1,500 other animals are on view elsewhere in the zoo. 

Head down Connecticut Ave. to:

6. Lebanese Taverna

The menu here has something for everyone, including kids and those with gluten allergies. The restaurant stays open straight through from 11:30am/noon until closing.


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.