Getting unplugged as a family doesn’t always mean spending time exploring the great outdoors. There are plenty of ways that you can unplug and reconnect during a weekend in the city too. Our nation’s capital offers a plethora of family actives and adventures that will keep everyone fully engaged in their surroundings, connecting with each other rather than their electronic devices. Here are some of my favorite ways to come together as a family on your next trip to DC.
Visit the Museums
There is no shortage of museums in Washington, DC and one of the things that makes the city so family-friendly is the fact that the majority are free of charge. The Smithsonian Institution alone includes 19 museums and galleries as well as the fantastic National Zoo, which I’ll talk about a bit later. Still, some of the Smithsonian museums are better at keeping kids engaged than others. Here are my top picks of the places that are best for families:
- The Natural History Museum
- The American History Museum
- The Postal Museum
- Air and Space Museum
- Museum of the American Indian
- The National Carousel
As for museums that charge admission, The International Spy Museum is a great choice, though much of the content is geared toward kids ages 10 and older. While younger kids might enjoy the museum, my 10 and 12-year olds got more out of the experience than most little ones will–my youngest daughter still says that it creeped her out a little!
One thing to keep in mind about the DC museums is that most of them are enormous and can be a bit overwhelming as they are truly packed with some incredible exhibits and interactive experiences. If you only have a few days to explore the city, choose two or three to visit and save others for the next time. You, and your kids, will have a much better time if you don’t try to cram too much in at once.
Another tactic, especially since you are not paying an entrance fee, is to focus on only a couple of areas in your museums of choice. During a recent weekend trip I took with my girls, we visited the Air and Space museum but spent the whole time investigating the Amelia Earheart exhibit. If we had been trying to cover the entire museum, we would have been more likely to breeze through, missing a lot of the extraordinary details. This will work in any of the Smithsonian buildings. Less is most definitely more–it just means you’ll have to return to this fantastic city another time!
Tour the Monuments by Bike
A visit to DC would not be complete without seeing a larger than life President Abraham Lincoln stoically observing the National Mall spread out below his gaze or walking through the poignant spaces of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. With more than 160 monuments and memorials visitors definitely have to pick and choose the ones they want to see. The most popular and powerful monuments are located on and around the National Mall and Tidal Basin. While you can certainly hop aboard a trolley for a quick glimpse of these, it is far more fun to tour them on a set of wheels of your own. Bike and Roll, DC is one of the outfits that offers guided bicycle tours around DC and my girls and I took part in their 3-hour monument tour during our last visit.
The tour covered a distance of about 4-miles and we would have been exhausted if we’d tried to cover that on foot; however, that was not so on the bikes. At each of the monuments we visited our tour guide filled us in on some historical information and interesting facts and then gave us time to wander around on our own. Overall we visited 9 major Washington, DC sites and had a fantastic time doing so.
Get into Nature
Most major cities have beautiful, natural spaces for residents and visitors to enjoy and Washington, DC, is no exception. Take part in one of the high quality Ranger lead programs at Rock Creek Park, watch the koi at the National Arboretum, enjoy a bird walk or pond tour at the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens or hike along the Swamp Trail on Theodore Roosevelt Island. Finally, the National Zoo, also part of the Smithsonian Institute, is an absolute treasure. Each of these places is operated by the National Parks Service and all of them are easy to reach and offer a treasure trove of spots to relax, play and explore.
Relax Over a Great Meal
Because of late nights at work and packed extracurricular activity schedules, dinner together falls by the wayside for far too many families these days. Time away offers the perfect opportunity for families to reunite around the table and Washington, DC has tons of dining options to suit everyone’s tastes. During our DC weekend we had some hearty breakfasts at the Embassy Suites where we stayed, sampled some Italian small plates at Osteria Bibiana, enjoyed a healthy and delicious lunch at the Natural History Museum’s Atrium Cafe, and enjoyed a cozy meal at Clyde’s pub in Georgetown.
Each morning we planned what we were going to see that day over hot coffee and plenty of bacon while lunchtime allowed us to talk over some of our favorite highlights from the morning’s adventures and dinner was a chance to finally get off our feet, checking off sites on our DC map and coloring the kids’ menus together.
Everything in moderation is my motto and even the most unplugged family needs a bit of tech from time to time. After eating dinner and enjoying the view of the Capitol from our hotel room window, we spent our first DC evening snuggled up in bed together in our cozy suite watching a funny movie. With the busy-ness of our everyday left behind in New York we kicked off our DC weekend laughing away in our pajamas excited for the adventures ahead.