Here’s a bold statement: Few if any other U.S. cities are truly as perfect for kids as D.C. From the countless museums that keep them entertained (and educated, too) to the vast expanse of the National Mall (perfect for letting off steam), Washington is made for families. Start: The National Zoo.
The zoo opens early, so it’s a good place to start your day—just remember to reserve your free tickets ahead of time! 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. 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 2,700 other animals are on view elsewhere in the zoo.
Head across Connecticut Ave. to:
Located directly across the street from the National Zoo, this British gastropub has a little something for everyone, including a kids' menu with fish n’ chips and a “Proper Cheeseburger.” Open early to late.
Head down Connecticut Ave to the Woodley Park–Zoo Metro station and catch a Red Line train going in the Glenmont direction. Take the train to the Metro Center station, where you can transfer to the Orange, Blue, or Silver lines and travel 2 stops to the Smithsonian stop to reach the National Mall and two of the city’s largest museums.
3. Pick a Museum
One of the best things about the Smithsonian museums’ free entry is you can devote as much—or as little—time as you’d like to a visit. This is especially true if you’re here with kids; you can spend hours exploring exhibits dedicated to young learners; or pop, see one thing, and leave before any meltdowns take place. That said, the museums are large and can be overwhelming, so your best bet is to choose one that interests your kiddos the most. Have a young history buff? The National Museum of American History has tons of kid-friendly activities, from the hands-on Wegmans Wonderplace to a 23-room dollhouse and simulator rides that make you feel like you’re in a race car or rollercoaster. If there are fans of gems, bugs, or dinosaurs in your family, beeline it to the National Museum of Natural History. Activities here include a butterfly pavilion, tarantula feedings, mummies, gemstones, and the recently renovated Hall of Fossils, where you’ll find an impressive T-Rex skeleton, among 700 other specimens.
Exit either museum on the south side to find yourself on the:
It’s not actually a giant playground but it might as well be. The nearly 2-mile-long grassy expanse has plenty of room to run around and burn off some steam. On breezy days, you may see people flying kites, especially around the base of the Washington Monument. If the classical Carousel outside the Smithsonian Castle is operating when you visit, it’s a treat for the little (and not-so-little) ones.
Follow Independence Ave. on the south side of the Mall east, to where it intersects with Maine Ave. Cross over to reach the:
This tranquil inlet is famous for its cherry trees that blossom every spring, but it’s also a great spot to putter around on a paddle boat. You can rent boats that seat up to four people (two paddlers plus two passengers), and life jackets are provided. In addition to the monuments to Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr. that sit on the shores of the Tidal Basin, you’ll likely run into some curious ducks and geese on the water.
You must be starving! You can dine around the Mall in the Smithsonian's 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. Cross the Mall to reach 14th St., then follow 14th St. north, past the U.S. Treasury building, to reach a classic Washington restaurant:
Washington’s first saloon is now a D.C. dining institution, with something for everyone—including kids. The children’s menu features standbys like mac and cheese and mini cheese pizzas, while the full menu covers a mix of seafood and American grill classics.
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.