Most family vacations we’ve taken thus far have been non-educational, beach-y type of trips. It’s been time to relax and explore. This year, my husband had a summer conference in Washington DC, and we thought why not give DC a try…with a 5, 2, and 6 month old. Mere days before the trip, I realized I might be a little nuts to try to swing this as my husband would be at conference events most of the 6 days we were there. What was I going to do with these little kiddos?
Before our trip, I searched all kinds of traveling to DC with kids sites and blogs to get an idea of what we could do. I felt that almost all of the information I was finding really was for the 6+ age group. Well, that didn’t fit me at all! I know our kids won’t really remember this, but I at least wanted to have fun while we were there. So I’ll share our experiences and tips from our trip in hopes that if you visit Washington DC with young children, you can have a better game plan than I started out with.
TAKE A TROLLEY OR BUS TOUR
We chose the Old Town Trolley because of their route, additional Arlington National Cemetery Tram tour, and trolley style of bus. I would highly recommend buying a two day pass so you can split up the sites and not feel like you need to cram in all the museums and monuments in one day. Trolleys run every 30 minutes and the guides are informative and comical. The trolleys allow strollers to be folded and set in the front.
Tickets range in cost depending on your choices on how many days and ages. Plan about $50 per adult and $40 per child over 3. Tour companies typically have discounted tickets available online and you just show your electronic receipt on your phone to the driver.
Consider doing this early in your trip as the drivers may point out something you want to see later on in your trip. They’ve got great information!
MUSEUMS AND MORE
There are over 100 free attractions in the DC area. You couldn’t possibly hit them all up in one trip, nor would you want to take young kids to all of them. Here are some places to consider going.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: Watch the Night at the Museum before you go and point out that this is the same place the movie took place! It’s a great reference point. There are so many exhibits you and your kids will love: animals, ocean, evolution, bugs, and dinosaurs are just a few. Cost: Free!
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: Take a trip though the history of flight. You’ll see early days Wright brother contraptions to some of the modern space flight equipment. They even have pieces of early commercial flights with displays of the food served too. Cost: Free!
Smithsonian National Museum of American History: This one has some unique exhibits that can be super interesting to kiddos. Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and Abraham Lincoln’s top hat reside here, and you can take a stroll through American history. A featured exhibit is how the American dinner table has transformed our history. The biggest take away here is there is a 0-6yo hands on exhibit called Wegmans Wonderplace! COST: Free! NOTE: Wegmans Wonderplace is CLOSED on Tuesdays.
The Carousel on the National Mall: I’m always a winning parent if I bring my kids to a carousel. This one on the National Mall is a gem of a find as the kiddos can run through the grass on the mall, eat lunch from the hot concession stand, and view the Smithsonian Castle all at the same time. COST: $3.50 per ticket CASH ONLY (as of May 2018).
CityCenterDC’s Palmer Alley: Visit this stunningly modern high end outdoor shopping center…for the play fountain and a treat from the famous Milk Bar dessert shop. Seriously worth going here for some down time. I’m still salivating over the Birthday Cake balls we snacked on from Milk.
There are a few places we missed on our trip, but would visit in a re-do! Smithsonian National Post Office Museum where you can make your own stamp with your picture on it and the iconic Union Station with over 30 dining options, shopping, and obviously, metro rides.
Museum Tips: Strollers are ok to bring in. Most handicap ramps/doors are located on the north sides of these buildings, and I easily found elevators in each one to accommodate the stroller. Adults and walking children must go through metal detectors. All bags will be searched, so considering just stashing your stuff in the bottom of the stroller so you can skip the bag search line. All signs say food and drink not allowed, but my kiddos’ water bottles, baby milk, and our little snack bags were always ignored. Most of the museums have a snack area or restaurant located inside.
MONUMENTS AND BUILDINGS
The Lincoln Memorial is a top stop to visit and take pictures at the top with the President’s statue. Did you know you can skip the steps? Elevator is just to the left of the stairs.
The Washington Monument is under construction for some time to come with fences all around and the elevator is broken. So, just view this one from a distance is ok this time.
Some not as popular stops include the Jefferson Memorial and Franklin Delanor Roosevelt Memorial. However, these are two beautiful sites with significant presence. The Jefferson is riddled with his famous words and a beautiful view of the Potomac. FDR’s memorial features four stunning waterfalls representing each one of his terms as President.
The Capitol Building is simply breath-taking. It has nice walkways around it, but it is “on the hill.” So you do have to rise to the occasion if you’re carrying kids or pushing a full stroller. Also to note, you can request a tour from your Representative or schedule one online far in advance. We didn’t do this as I think it would be a little long for small children. Since we weren’t on a tour, we weren’t allowed to leave the “Visitor Center” of the building. So unless you have a tour scheduled, I’d pass on taking the time to go into the Capitol.
The White House is another one that you can request a free tour from your Representative in advance. Otherwise, take the stroll to the area and just take the from the lawn pictures.
Yes, you’ll need to eat while you’re there. However, DC is a working city and we found that most restaurants cater to business men and women and fancier adult dinners. We did find a Shake Shack, Chipotle, and Subway for quick bites, but two amazing restaurants were Matchbox and Pi Pizzeria. Both had wonderful food, casual atmosphere, and great with kids. And don’t forget the Milk Bar for dessert and Union Station as options too.
You’ll also find popcorn and ice cream stands scattered throughout the city. Make sure you have CASH on you for these.
Know more things to do with young kids in DC? Comment to add to the collection!