Washington D.C. is a beautiful city, vibrant and full of life. Whether young or old, there are hundreds of activities to try. In June, my family took a long weekend getaway to our nation’s capital, seeking fun and education. Traveling with kids poses unique challenges and requires some consideration. Washington D.C. is typically overlooked as a family destination, but it has plenty to offer.
Our family consists of my husband, our six-year-old daughter, and two sons, ages nine months and four years old, as well as myself. At the time, our youngest was four months old! With a broad range of ages, we knew we had to plan well and offer a variety of activities to keep everyone pleased. However, time needed to be well balanced to avoid cranky children. Here are some of the tips and tricks we learned along the way.
1. Book the right hotel
I highly recommend you take plenty of time to research your hotel. You will spend a considerable amount of time in your hotel room, especially with children. I consulted the top list on Trip Advisor and spent time reading the reviews. These reviews are particularly helpful and give you insider viewpoints.
When I was searching, there were a few qualities I wanted.
- First, the cost had to fit the budget.
- Second, the location was crucial. I wanted to stay close enough to all of the activities. Washington D.C. is a hard city to drive a car if traffic intimidates you. It is frequent stop and goes. There are other options, such as the metro, taxis, and Uber. However, we decided just to pay to park and drive wherever we needed to go.
- Lastly, it was important to have an included breakfast at the hotel. The last thing I wanted to do is gather up starving kids to drive and wait at a restaurant. I surely didn’t want to give them fast food breakfasts. Also, if the hotel has any amenities like a pool or arcade, it increased its position on my list.
2. All of the Smithsonian Museums are free
There are some museums that you have to pay to enter, such as the Holocaust Museum. Since we were on a budget, we picked only the free ones. By far, our kids loved the National Air and Space Museum the best. They have a great area designed for children with hands-on centers. We spent over an hour in a zone!
TIP: Purchase a bag of astronaut ice cream! Kids think it is hilarious, even if it is gross.
The great thing about free museums is you don’t have to worry that they will be bored. Stop into whatever museum strikes your interest. You may spend three hours or 30 minutes. It is all free. If it rains, museums are a great way to wait out the break.
TIP: It is super crowded most days. Keep close eyes on your children at these museums!
3. You need a stroller
If you have young kids, a stroller isn’t optional. Your kids will have tired legs, and it is best to have a stroller that allows you to push them rather than hear whining for blocks. Washington D.C. is spread out. The National Mall stretches for miles. A young adult can accomplish it by themselves, but kids will struggle.
4. Visit the Capitol Building
You can tour the Capitol, but the wait is long. You also can email your state senator and schedule an appointment ahead of time. However, chances are your little ones won’t find the tour fun at all.
Instead, we opted to walk around the building and spend time in the visitor center. They have some great displays and plenty of free resources I snagged. We are a homeschooling family, so the free material is a bonus! The gift shops are also located in the visitor’s center.
Where to eat: The Capitol Grille is a great place to catch lunch. We scheduled our Capitol visit right before our kids were hungry. We ate and headed to our next place.
Tip: The Capitol security guards will give your kids “official” police badges!
5. Don’t tour the White House
I know, the White House is a desired visit for young kids, but I knew my kids would be bored. Plus, you aren’t able to bring a diaper bag or a stroller. Instead, we viewed it from the outside. There are some crazy squirrels in LaFayette Square across the street. This small park is a great place to bring a picnic lunch or let the kids relax while soaking in the ambiance of the area.
Where to eat: Old Ebbitt Grill, opened in 1856, is right at The White House. We caught lunch there on our first day. Even though it seems high class, don’t be afraid to take your kids. They have a great selection of food for kids. Plus, it is historic!
6. Visit the Washington Monument
If there is one monument that surprises kids, it is the Washington Monument. The sheer size wowed my kids. Once we left lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill, we followed the street down to the Washington Monument. We opted not to ride to the top; I have a fear of heights.
Tip: I would suggest purchasing tickets ahead of time; the lines were insanely long!
7. Take a Tour by Boat
There are thousands of tour options. When our kids are older, we would love to do a bike tour. Instead, we chose a boat tour with National River Tours. We scheduled the tour before dinner. That was awesome timing! The kids were tired from the day, but still awake and paying attention. Washington D.C. has an active water scene, with tons of boats passing by regularly.
FACT: The only way to take a picture of the Pentagon is by boat!
8. Go to Dinner on the Washington Harbor in Georgetown
The harbor is the happening place to be, with music and tons of people. There are several restaurants to pick. Our family highly recommends Tony and Joe’s Seafood Restaurant. The prices are high, but the food is worth it! However, there are choices for those who need an affordable dinner.
9. Tour the Monuments at Night
There is no way better to tour the monuments than at night. Don’t pay the insane prices that the tour companies charge, unless you think your kids will listen to all of the facts. Instead, find a place to park and walk! The Lincoln Memorial is breathtaking at night, overlooking the Reflecting Pool that illuminates the Washington Monument. It was one of our favorite memories, including the kids!