Visiting Washington, DC, is something everyone should do at least once in their life. There are tons of guidebooks and websites with detailed information about all there is to do in DC and no first visit to DC is complete without a visit to the National Mall, an obligatory family photo in front of the White House, and a visit to one of the many Smithsonian museums that offer free admission and easy access via Metro!
Having lived and worked in DC for nearly a decade, I’d like to share with you five off-the-beaten-path Fun Family Activities! These are activities and places that those of us who call this beautiful place a home enjoy visiting on weekends and days off with our kids.
#1: Gravelly Point
Gravelly Point is managed by the National Park Service and is located in Arlington, VA just south of DC. It’s a wonderful place to spend the afternoon, picnicking, biking, and plane spotting, as the Park is located just north of Reagan National Airport. Although the parking lot can fill up very quickly and there are no amenities other than restrooms (so pack in your own food!), it’s a wonderful place for budding aviation fans to spend an afternoon outside. Note that the planes are close and very loud, so if your child is sensitive to loud noises, the Park’s proximity to the airport may be a deterrent.
#2: The Tidal Basin
Nearly every visitor to DC makes a point of visiting the National Mall and the monuments, but I’m always stunned by the number of people who skip the Tidal Basin. In my humble opinion, the Tidal Basin offers some of the best views of the Washington Monument and it’s worthy of a visit even when it is not cherry blossom season (although if you have the opportunity to visit during cherry blossom season, please do! Despite the crowds, it is gorgeous and worth the walk). The Tidal Basin offers a small refreshment stand, restrooms, and paddle boat rentals, so this is a great way to enjoy a nice day outside with the family.
#3: Hiking Trails
Washington, DC is home to a great number of hiking trails. The Billy Goat Trail is one of the most popular trails in the DC Metro area. The trail itself can be challenging due to rocks, but if your kids are older (I’d recommend a minimum of five+, depending on maturity and previous hiking experience) and up for the challenge, it’s definitely a worthwhile experience. If the Billy Goat Trail sounds like too much, plan a visit to Rock Creek Park, which boasts over 32 miles of trails. The Park also offers a number of activities, such as horseback riding lessons, golf, and a boat house where you can rent paddle boats, kayaks, and canoes. Finally, Theodore Roosevelt Island is a national memorial located in the Potomac River. No cars or bicycles are permitted on the Island and access is via a footbridge. If you’ve ever spent time in DC visiting the National Mall and museums, I encourage you to take a hike and explore one of the many areas maintained by the National Park Service! You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll forget that you’re in the Nation’s Capital!
#4: Go for a Bike Ride!
The Mount Vernon Trail is an 18 mile paved multi-use trail that stretches from Mount Vernon to Theodore Roosevelt Island. At any time of day and in any kind of weather, you can find people on the trail biking, running, or just walking along the Potomac River. Happily, a local company, Capital Bikeshare, offers a safe and relatively inexpensive way to explore the trail as you can rent both bicycles and helmets from the company and drop them off at any one of 440 Capital Bikeshare stations located in the DC metro area.
#5: Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s country estate, is located just 18 miles south of Washington, DC and is a fantastic way to spend the day for the entire family! Although the Estate is highly recommended as a place to visit in many tourist books, its distance from DC likely causes many to pass it over as an option during a quick visit to DC. I am here to encourage you to go! Visit! Over the years, we have visited Mount Vernon many times and it is one of our favorite places to take out of town guests. Not only does the Estate allow you to visit the Mansion that George and Martha lived in, but the Estate also boasts farm animals, gardens, stables, and live demonstrations by period actors. Throughout the year, the Estate will offer special programs that coincide with the season. For example, one year we visited one early December and happened to catch the Pardon Turkey!
We have also visited during the Fall Harvest Family Days, which feature hands on 18th century activities and demonstrations. It’s a great way for the family to experience a little bit of Colonial America.
Although portions of the Estate are wheelchair (and stroller) accessible, the vast majority of the grounds are not (and the Mansion itself is not). The Estate also has as excellent gift shop, a food court, and a sit-down restaurant that serves hearty and satisfying food.
I hope you enjoyed my off-the-beaten path list of Five Fun Family activities and encourage you to think outside the box next time you are in DC!
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