*This post was originally written for and shared on Hellobee.com, check out the comment section for some more great tips, especially for Holiday fun!
After two years living in the DuPont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC we’re abandoning our one bedroom apartment and moving farther out of the metro area to Alexandria, VA. With the move creeping up on us, I’ve been doing some thinking about all our favorite places here, the places we’ll miss being so close to, and the places we’ll make the metro trip into the city to revisit. So I thought, what a perfect time to share! If you find yourself in Washington, DC here’s my guide to family friendly fun and food!
As you probably know, Washington DC is full of national museums and parks. Translation: there is a whole lot of free stuff to see and do. When it comes to the “national” stuff here are my favorites for the kids:
The National Building Museum: Located directly across the street from the Judiciary Square metro stop on the red line (perfect on a rainy day), this museum offers the best of all indoor museum play spaces with their Building Zone, designed for children ages 2-6 (though I’ve been bringing Roman since he could crawl). They charge $3 to enter and it is well worth it.
National Museum of The American Indian: Besides being architecturally interesting from the outside, this museum has created my favorite free indoor museum play space with their imagiNATIONS Activity Center. They are also famous for their cafeteria, serving up a variety of Native American inspired cuisine by region.
National Museum of Natural History: Natural history museums are always a hit with kids for the giant dinosaurs alone. My favorite part of this museum however is their Butterfly Pavilion. With $5 admission for kids and $6 for adults, you can immerse yourself in a beautiful garden full of live butterflies, magical for kids and adults alike. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people walking by this and turning down their children’s request to go inside because of the $5. Try to make room in the budget because how often do you get to be surrounded by dozens of varieties of gorgeous butterflies!?
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden: If only children could play on the sculptures, this would be perfect! With a nice cafe and beautiful fountain, the grounds are lovely to stroll along or sit and relax. The kids can let out some energy while experiencing some culture all at once.
United States Botanic Garden: I am always a fan of botanic gardens as they are gorgeous from the outside and the inside. I think exploring the flowers and plants from all regions of the country is enjoyable for people of all ages.
The National Zoo: A free zoo! Obviously children love zoos, and this one also has a splash park in the warmer months, tucked away by the sea lions on the American Trail. There’s also a petting zoo and a carousel!
The National Arboretum: This national treasure is not exactly metro accessible, but if you’re looking for a lovely place to picnic in the spring, it makes for a gorgeous day. If you happen to be visiting during Cherry Blossom season (as many people do), these gardens have some cherry blossoms of their own, and a pretty magical magnolia grove too.
National Harbor: The most notable feature of National Harbor is the huge, beautiful Ferris Wheel. They also have a small sandy beach area with a giant sculpture for children to climb, a carousel, paddle boats and kayaks for renting, restaurants on the water, the National Children’s Museum (not free) and a ferry to Old Town Alexandria!
The National Monuments: As far as the monuments go, be prepared to do a lot of walking. If you take the metro to the Smithsonian stop, you can check out a few museums, go for a spin on the carousel and take in a view of the Capital building and the Washington Monument. From there you can walk The National Mall to visit the World War II Memorial, with its beautiful fountain and stroll along the reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial. From there you can also venture over to the Tidal Basin (the spot for the Cherry Blossom Festival), maybe take a ride on a paddle boat or walk around the basin to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the FDR Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Like I said, it’s a lot of walking, unless you opt to take a tour bus of some sort.
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Outside of the “national” hot spots, DC has some other lovely parks you can enjoy for free, our favorites being:
The Yards Park: Fairly new and just off the Navy Yard Metro Stop on the green line, or Capital South Stop on the orange/blue, this beautifully landscaped park sprawls along the Anacostia River in the Capital Riverfront neighborhood close to Nationals Ballpark. There are several restaurants along the park with outdoor seating by the water, and a beautiful fountain with a waterfall feature all designed for children to play in while the weather is warm. Canal Park can be found in walking distance, offering more water features for the kids and outdoor sculptures for them to play on.
Georgetown Waterfront Park: Our other favorite fountain for water play in the summer is along the water in Georgetown’s beautiful park. If you venture to that charming part of town for its popular shopping and restaurant offerings, this is the perfect place to let the kids run wild for awhile. Rose Parkis available nearby if you’re looking for a playground!
Meridian Hill Park: Not far from the popular U st Corridor, this park is worth checking out for its beautiful fountain… though I would not recommend it if you are lugging a stroller since it is full of steps! An alternative in the U st area is my absolute favorite playground and splash park, colorful and musically themed due to the area’s jazz heritage, located on Vst between 13th and 14th (not far from the metro!)
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When it comes to kid friendly dining I can honestly say we have been well received everywhere we’ve attempted to take our 15 month old, from birth until now, in the DC area. But obviously, some atmosphere’s are better for kids than others…
Our favorite “kid friendly” places to eat:
Union Market: Walkable from the NOMA metro stop on the red line, or easy to drive to with their large free parking lot, this large indoor market has a large selection of local vendors and a variety of eats.Neopol Savory Smokery makes my favorite sandwiches and I love the fresh sodas at Buffalo & Bergen. Besides the delicious lunch and dinner options, they have cupcakes and ice cream, fancy chocolates, a bakery, fresh juice, coffee and tea. We are obsessed with Lyons Bakery bread. They have produce, a butcher and a fish market and Salt & Sundry, a beautiful home goods shop (with a small selection of cute baby things.) The place is SO kid friendly; Wednesday mornings at 10:30am they even host a music show called “Boogie Babes” for toddlers. It’s become a very popular spot for young parents.
Founding Farmers: Another “everything’s local” style spot. They have food the whole family can enjoy in an atmosphere I’ve found to be family friendly!
Comet Ping Pong: We haven’t actually been here yet, but it’s at the top of our list. I’ve heard such great things about its casual “family friendliness” I feel like I have to recommend it!
Pleasant Pops: Located in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, this popsicle shop is also great for lunch. It’s small with a cafe style, but they have high chairs (and delicious popsicles!).
Other Favorite Restaurants (that have all welcomed our baby):
Barcelona: This is definitely not designed for children, but they have a large outdoor seating area which I think always makes for a more comfortable dining experience with kids, and they have high chairs. Basically this is our favorite restaurant — somewhere we enjoy more without the baby, but have never felt uncomfortable bringing him because the staff is just so friendly and excellent. Located on 14th street, it is one of many great restaurant choices on that strip.
Garden District: Also located on 14th st, this is a beer garden with all outdoor picnic table and high table seating. They don’t have high chairs, but the food is casual barbecue style and very reasonable, a great place for slightly older kids!
Hanks Oyster Bar: A DC staple, they have locations in DuPont circle (our favorite), Capital Hill and Old Town Alexandria.
Duke’s Grocery: Fairly new to the DuPont Circle neighborhood, Duke’s makes excellent sandwiches and an awesome brunch. They have a nice outdoor seating area, but no high chairs. The staff is always friendly and welcoming with the baby, and there’s a very casual atmosphere.
Glen’s Garden Market: Also in DuPont Circle, Glen’s is a market, cafe and deli with all local everything. There’s some seating inside and picnic table seating outside. As far as I know there are no high chairs, but it’s totally casual. The sandwiches are excellent — a perfect place to pick something up to go before a picnic. DuPont Circle and Mitchell Park and Playground are both in walking distance.
For a coffee break on your sight seeing filled visit to DC I recommend:
Filter: This is our go to coffee shop in DuPont Circle and they are also located in Foggy Bottom. Delicious, STRONG coffee and espresso drinks. It’s small –better as a place to grab coffee on the go than to sit and relax.
The Coffee Bar: Located in the Shaw district, not far from 14th St, this is our other favorite coffee shop. It has a large, cozy, charming interior and outdoor seating, delicious coffee and espresso drinks and a small selection of pastries, donuts and bagels.
Baked and Wired: Located in Georgetown, this hot spot is half coffee bar, half dessert destination (cupcakes!). They do separate lines for both, so don’t be intimidated by the people waiting outside the door. They have a good amount of cozy seating inside, and isn’t far from the Georgetown Waterfront Park!
Peregrine Espresso: Located in Eastern Market, at Union Market and on 14th St, this is a popular DC coffee spot. Always delicious.
Dolcezza: We generally go here for the gelato, but with the joint coffee bar there’s something for the whole family!
Tryst: Located in Adams Morgan, this is a great spot for coffee or a meal. They have a very charming setup with lots of seating.
Busboys and Poets: We’ve visited the U st location multiple times. It’s great as a cafe or for a meal, with lots of cozy seating available. They have a colorful DC vibe going and an awesome little bookstore with a selection of children’s books as well.
If you’re looking for somewhere to pick up something special, I have a few favorite shops:
Tabletop: This little home goods shop in DuPont Circle has a great selection of children’s gifts in addition to their beautiful assortment of grown up things! I always love browsing this shop, and head there whenever I need something special for someone.
Kramerbooks & Afterwards Cafe: I LOVE this bookstore in DuPont Circle. Every time I walk in I find dozens of new books I want to read!
Pink and Brown Boutique: Located in Old Town Alexandria, this children’s boutique is pricey, but it is definitely my favorite in the area. A beautiful place to browse if you are looking for something special.
Dawn Price Baby: Another pricey boutique, you can find them in Georgetown and Eastern Market, and if you’re lucky they’ll be having their “crawl, walk, run” sale and you can find something amazing!
About the Metro: As far as urban public transportation goes, DC’s Metro system is fairly simple to navigate and wonderfully handicap/stroller accessible, with escalators and elevators at every stop. I think the color coded lines make it pretty visitor friendly, and with the exception of Georgetown and the increasingly popular H st Area/ Atlas District, most of the city’s attractions are reachable. What gets confusing for many people, especially people already familiar with other subway systems, is the way the ticketing works. Each rider (with the exception of children under 4) needs their own ticket. You swipe the ticket when you enter AND exit and the metro because they charge you by the distance you travel, not simply per ride. This can make purchasing tickets confusing, however the cost of fairs is listed on the website and on the purchasing machine, so you can calculate exactly what you need, or you can purchase day passes. Rides cost a dollar more with paper tickets than with a metrorail pass. The pass costs $10, so if you are in town for a while and plan to use the metro heavily it might be worth it to buy one.
As far as when to visit, I find spring to be the most beautiful time in Washington, DC. The streets are lined with blossoming trees, the brownstones gardens are in full bloom, and all the parks are at their peak! Of course, fall is full of its own charms as well.
Fellow DC residents, what are your favorite places and recommendations for family fun?
*Check out my DC Love series for more details on our time spent at most of these spots!