Recently, a friend asked me for some suggestions on kid-friendly places, and after emailing her a robust list of our favorite places, I thought I need to jot this all down! It might not last another year or so, but for now... here's a comprehensive list of our favorite KID-FRIENDLY things to do in D.C. I couldn't find anything close to it when I was preparing for our trip, because like I said - stuff changes quickly, so this list might only be useful for another year at most. And if it changes, it's still a great way to reminisce on our time in the District with three kids 4 and under (Jordan and Bubba both celebrated their birthdays while there.. so more like 1, 3 and 5...)
In order of my kids' preferences, here are the Smithsonian museums we loved the most, and all free, because we are cheapos (I know, I know.. the Spy Museum is sooo cool, but it's not free, now is it?!)
1) Smithsonian's American History Museum - With so many little kids, this was our favorite because Mom could chill and watch them in an enclosed space and the stuff was toddler friendly enough that my 18 month old enjoyed it also. The tourist tip we learned was the "express line" for those without bags, not something we could hack most days, but was useful when family visited and we sent in all the adults and kids to explore the non-kid portion of the museum while I waited outside with the stroller and bags.
2) Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum - We are fascinated with space and all that comes with it, as well as anything that goes in the air, specifically airplanes, so even just walking through and seeing stuff was cool here. But there's also a fun kid exhibit with hands-on stuff my active little ones could touch and explore, interactive handles, knobs, buttons, etc., and even live demonstrations (more suitable for kids 4 and up, but my oldest loved them!) There's a McDonald's inside so it's a nice place to venture to with kids for lunch, and it's directly across from the American Indian Museum which is next on our list. Super duper plus even though everything is relatively close at the Mall.
3) Smithsonian's American Indian Museum - There is an entire area dedicated to kids' learning and exploring here, and every kid can even get a passport to go around and stamp as they learn (so for my little ones, just stamp...) There are interactive learning items and my favorite is the canoe balance challenge that I am the bomb diggity at (my core is just so strong from all those years of dancing.. haha!) and even beat my husband (a rare incident). My kids loved the skateboarding game, the eskimo igloo building and listening to different duck sounds by pressing buttons!
4) Smithsonian's National Zoo - The zoo is one place I do not recommend on your own with three littles, but if you try it like me, you'll have a wonderful work out and lots of tired kiddos. My tourist tip here is to take the metro stop Cleveland Park and enjoy the short walk downhill to the zoo, go through the entire zoo, and leave from the entrance and turn left towards the Woodley Park Station, because both stops are pretty much equal distance, but but the uphill and downhill make a huge difference. There's a playground here that parents love to sit at, where kids can mimic gophers, and there are also pay for attractions like the carousel and a train (no, we're cheapos remember?) but the exhibits alone are awesome and will keep your kids entertained.
5) Smithsonian's Natural History - I think my kids are still too young to truly appreciate the learning that you can gain from a place like this, and without as many hands-on stuff, they quickly bored of just "looking" at neat stuff. I'd try to read them the information at each exhibit, but besides the animals on land and see (that are stuffed) to look at, they were over it. The dinosaur stuff was unfortunately closed, but I'm sure they would have loved that. There is also stuff you can pay for, like the butterfly pavillion, but there's also free demonstrations going on at random times throughout the day. We touched a weird cockroach while we were there.... I'm still shivering over that one.
6) Renwick Gallery - So this isn't “kid friendly” per say, there's no playground and you can't even walk around with a stroller, but I like it so much that I had to put it on the list. I also like the photo opps with your kids, and it's a small enough art gallery that your kids won't get bored walking through it with you. The stuff is cool, it's already changed since we were there, but it's amazing to see how the different artists utilize the space.
7) US Postal Museum - This is a great short stop for kids, the museum itself isn't large, and you can get through all of it pretty quickly and it's right next to Union Station. We spent about 30 minutes doing kid stuff and it's pretty neat to read about how mail came about. Kids can sort mail packages, learn about mail history with buttons, use scanners (if they worked...) to process mail, walk through a forest and experience the surroundings from mail delivery on a horse from way back when, and sit in a big delivery truck (everyone loved this one).
9) Library of Congress - There's a Young Reader's Center that has toys for little kids and all sorts of books that you cannot check out, hence the collection is quite amazing. There are bean bags everywhere for you to lounge around on and read, or for your 3 year old to sleep in because he fell asleep on the walk over. Enter with your stroller from the handicap level and then just take a left and go directly down towards the Young Reader's Center. There's even a legit storytime (with a massive sea of strollers parked during it from all the locals on the Hill) every Friday morning at 10:30 AM (and it gets packed, so get there early and get a fun sticker to keep for a souvenir) The only downside for me was this place closes at 4:30 PM everyday, so we couldn't just hang here until Dad got out of work at 5, but the Capitol is just across the way, so we could hang out on the grass right in front until then.
If you made it this far, here are my golden nuggets
- get a bike lock if you plan to bring a stroller, so much of DC dining is in a small space and it's way easier to lock your stroller outside
- bring an umbrella and a stroller cover because it does rain periodically
- pocket the mini DC Metro maps you can obtain from any Metro stop cuz you just never know when your phone might not work (I was without a phone for 2 weeks while we were there)
- have good walking shoes, DC is such a fun and great walking area, if you plan to hit up the monuments and museums, it's all relatively close by car, but by foot, it's a ton of walking
- bring snacks and water - though you can't eat at any of the monuments or museums, most museums have a cafe and once you're out of the museum or monument, you can feed your kids instead of paying monster prices for a tiny bag of chips from the vendors on the streets
- bring hand sanitizer! yes, they have it at all the museums and the restrooms, but so much of the exhibits are HANDS-ON, so be careful and have it in case you can't make a trip to the restroom before you leave