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Ahhhh, Washington DC, the birthplace of Freedom and protector of Truth, Justice, and the American way. Okay, so maybe Freedom was born in Philly, over cheesesteaks and beer, a generation before D.C. was founded, and if we fast forward to today, nobody can really agree on what we should be protecting in Washington. But there is something most of us can agree on. Washington DC is a great place to see some of those tax dollars being used to deliver quality learning experiences to some of our best citizens, the kids that will be steering this ship when we hand over the keys.
Whether visiting in the spring to see the cherry trees blossom or catching a ride on Santa’s sleigh to see the lighting of the National Christmas tree, families will have no difficulty filling out an itinerary. The National Mall is loaded with over 100 unique monuments and memorials and ringed by several world-class museums for kids with admissions fees we can all get behind…..Free.
Let’s take a look at some of the great spots on offer right in the heart of the capital.
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National Air and Space Museum
Many kids dream about traveling to infinity and beyond. Especially when homework or chores are involved! Visiting the National Air and Space Museum with kids is an awe-inspiring experience. The wide-eyed wonder on their faces as they explore the history of flight is priceless. From touching moon rocks to seeing iconic spacecraft, it’s an educational adventure that sparks imagination.
Advanced timed-entry tickets are required and are easily reserved online. Families can expect to spend 5-6 hours exploring the exhibits. Year-round exhibits include flying machines ranging from the 1903 Wright Flyer and Apollo 11 command module straight through the Space Shuttle Discovery. Special events and exhibits are being rotated throughout the year, so make sure to check their website for the latest news before your family trip.
Friday through Tuesday between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Discovery Stations are made available that encourage informal learning through active looking, discussion, and hands-on activities related to aviation, space exploration, astronomy, and geology. These carts provide interactive fun for kids of all ages and are exchanged regularly. Currently, the stations making appearances are Spacesuits, Principles of Flight, Life in Space, and Blackholes. Who isn’t excited to dive into these topics?
Make sure to stop in at the planetarium to see what Big Bird and his neighbors are up to today. Younger children can explore the night sky with their friends from Sesame Street in Big Bird’s Adventure: One World, One Sky. Join Big Bird, Elmo, and their friend from China, Hu Hu Zhu, as they take kids on a journey of discovery to learn about the Big Dipper, the North Star, the Sun, and the Moon.
We’ve always found it helpful to break up a long day of museuming with a more relaxing activity. Sometimes fitting that in can be a challenge, but they’ve got you covered here. At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the staff offers up a Story Time program that includes a read-aloud with the museum educator, a chat about an image or other museum resources related to the topic, and a demonstrated craft activity by the museum educator. Each program has associated resources in the SI Learning Lab and an online Story Time (Flights of Fancy or Pilot Pals) that will enhance and expand the theme.
National Museum of Natural History
Visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is a captivating experience for all ages. It offers a fascinating journey through the wonders of the natural world, from dinosaur fossils to precious gemstones (including the Hope Diamond!). The interactive exhibits and stunning displays create an immersive learning environment that leaves a lasting impression on visitors.
Families should leave 2-3 hours for their visit. They do not allow outside food and beverage but do have several offerings for purchasing food on-site and, of course, the ubiquitous gift shop.
National Fossil Day
National Fossil Day is held annually at the National Museum of Natural History. It celebrates the incredible diversity and importance of fossils in understanding our planet’s history. The museum hosts engaging activities such as fossil identification, hands-on workshops, and talks by paleontologists. It’s a perfect opportunity for both kids and adults to delve into the fascinating world of paleontology and appreciate the wonders of ancient life. Families planning a trip this year (2023) can swing by on October 11th to enjoy the festivities. Or check the event page for future dates.
National Pollinator Week
National Pollinators Week at the National Museum of Natural History is an educational celebration of the crucial role pollinators play in our ecosystem. The event helps raise awareness about the importance of bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Visitors get the opportunity participate in educational exhibits, workshops, and guided tours that highlight the intricate relationship between plants and pollinators. What a great opportunity for kids to learn about conservation efforts and how individuals can support and protect these vital species.
Bone Hall Exhibit
The Bone Hall exhibit at the Natural History Museum is a bone-afide adventure that will prove interesting for the whole family. Walk the exhibit and see if the kids can recognize any of the skull-ptures that line the hall.
Other Smithsonian Institution Museums
With an impressive roster of 23 Smithsonian museums and the National Zoon spread across the United States, the nation’s capital hosts 21 of them. Two new museums, American Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino (opening soon!) are its newest additions. Parents in search of best museums for kids in DC should definitely also check out the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
National Children’s Museum
Visiting the National Children’s Museum is like stepping into a wonderland of imagination and play. It’s a place where kids rule the roost and adults become honorary kids. With interactive exhibits and hands-on activities, the National Children’s Museum is the ultimate destination for turning learning into a laughter-filled adventure. Get ready to unleash your inner child and have a day full of giggles, smiles, and memories that will make you wish you never had to grow up.
The Dream Machine
The Dream Machine at the National Children’s Museum is an installation with interactive elements that invites children to embark on a journey of imagination and creativity. This immersive experience combines art, technology, and play to ignite the wildest dreams of young minds. From colorful, larger-than-life sculptures to interactive digital projections, the Dream Machine encourages children to explore, create, and express themselves in unique ways. It’s a magical space where dreams come alive….and the slide at the end is pretty cool too. Just sayin’.
The Little Movers section of the National Children’s Museum is designed specifically for young kids, it offers a safe and engaging environment for them to move, climb, and interact. Featuring soft play structures and loads of sensory activities, it’s a space that encourages physical development and coordination. With a mix of hands-on exhibits and imagination focused play areas, the Little Movers section ensures that young adventurers in the family can unleash their energy along with their curiosity while having a blast.
The Tinkerers Studio at the National Children’s Museum is a bit of a mouthful but it is also paradise for the young inventors and creators in the group. In this hands-on workshop, children are encouraged to unleash their curiosity and problem-solving skills through tinkering and building. Equipped with various tools, materials, and guidance from museum staff, it’s a space where imaginations can run wild, and innovation takes center stage. How proud will you be when your youngest whips out the duct tape and release their inner MacGyver?
International Spy Museum
Embarking on a trip to the National Spy Museum with kids is a full speed swan dive into the thrilling world of secret agents and espionage. Families will be deciphering codes and testing their spy skills, children will feel like they’re on a top-secret mission. The interactive exhibits and immersive experiences provide an educational yet exciting adventure that keeps young minds engaged. With disguises, gadgets, and espionage stories galore, it’s a spy-tacular journey that guarantees hours full of intrigue and memorable moments.
The Briefing Center
The Briefing Center is the ultimate immersive experience for aspiring young spies. Step into the shoes of an intelligence operative as you navigate through simulated intelligence operations and decipher classified information. With state-of-the-art technology and interactive displays, visitors can test their skills in code-breaking, surveillance, and intel analysis. It’s an adrenaline-pumping adventure that offers a glimpse into the secretive world of espionage and leaves visitors feeling like they’re starring in their own Cold War spy thriller.
Explore the history of espionage in the Stealing Secrets exhibit as you learn about famous spies and their daring exploits. From encrypted messages to hidden compartments, the exhibit showcases the ingenious techniques used to steal secrets throughout history. Engaging displays and artifacts provide a fascinating glimpse into the high-stakes world of spies, leaving visitors with a newfound appreciation for the art of espionage.
Spying that Shaped History
The Spying That Shaped the World exhibit at the International Spy Museum offers an inside look at the pivotal moments in history influenced by espionage. From the Cold War to modern-day cyber-attacks, the exhibit delves into the gripping real life stories of spies and their impact on global events. Using multimedia presentations and authentic artifacts, visitors can unravel the intricate web of international intelligence operations. It’s a thought-provoking experience that sheds light on the hidden side of world affairs and reveals the profound effects of espionage in the past and how it will continue to do so into the future.
Other Not To Miss Museums For Kids in DC
- The National Building Museum resides in a great hall that stresses the importance of architecture and shows kids a great time in the immersive Play, Work, Build exhibit.
- For the family art lovers, there’s a great time to be had at the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and BONUS! both have a sculpture garden to get the wiggles out!
- Although the topic requires an abundance of conversation before and after a visit, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a must see for older kids. This tragic piece of world history must be witnessed for future generations to ensure it not happen again.
Visiting Washington DC museums with kids is a fantastic idea. It’s an educational experience that sparks curiosity and broadens their knowledge. The interactive exhibits make learning fun and engaging for children of all ages. The museums offer a diverse range of topics, allowing kids to explore their interests and discover new passions. It’s a great way to create lasting memories and foster a love for art, history, and science. Bonus! Most are free museums so a visit to DC is easier on the family pocketbook!
Washington DC is a great place to see our tax dollars used for a good cause. Educating our best citizens. Here are the top 12 museums for kids.
When You Go
Getting To Washington D.C. From Los Angeles
Washington, D.C., has three airports. Flying into Reagan National (DCA) will give you the best aerial views of the monuments and offer easy MetroRail access to the city. Dulles International (IAD) is further from the city, but its location is near the Udvar-Hazy Center and is convenient for travelers wanting to spend time there. Dulles also has a number of direct flights from international locations. When traveling on a budget, be sure to check Baltimore/Washington International (BWI), which has a dedicated Southwest Airlines terminal that tends to keep fares low.
Regardless of the airport you choose, Delta, Southwest, American, United, Spirit, and Alaska offer nonstop flights. Their flight times are about five hours.
An excellent discount site for flights (and cars, hotels) is Expedia! This is where we start our research for the best deals!
Where to Stay in D.C.
Staying at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., is an experience that epitomizes luxury and historical charm. Nestled just a stone’s throw away from the White House, this iconic hotel has played host to presidents, dignitaries, and celebrities for over a century. The meticulously decorated rooms and suites offer a perfect blend of elegance and modern comforts, ensuring a relaxing stay. With its timeless architecture, exquisite dining options, and impeccable service, the Willard InterContinental Hotel creates an ambiance that exudes sophistication and grandeur.
Beyond its lavish accommodations, the hotel’s rich history is truly captivating. The Willard has witnessed significant historical moments and walking through its corridors can feel like stepping back in time. Whether indulging in the sumptuous afternoon tea or simply soaking in the historic atmosphere, staying at the Willard InterContinental Hotel is a truly memorable experience that transports guests to a bygone era of elegance and prestige.
The Willard Spa
The spa at the Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C., is a sanctuary of relaxation and rejuvenation. Offering a range of luxurious treatments, from massages and facials to hot stones and sunrise yoga, it provides the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The serene ambiance, soothing music, and skilled therapists create an oasis of tranquility where guests can unwind and pamper themselves.
The children’s program at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., is designed to make young guests feel like VIPs. With a variety of engaging activities and amenities, kids are treated to a memorable and fun-filled experience. From special welcome amenities to in-room movies and games, the program ensures that children are entertained and well taken care of during their stay at the hotel. They feature an on-site library with countless books available to be checked out during your stay and the opportunity for kids to earn “Duck Bucks” during their stay that can be redeemed at Le Bar inside Café du Parc for a special treat.
Don’t let the family vacation get in the way of your weekly Cody Rigsby spin session. The fitness center at the Willard cut no corners. This gym is stocked with Peloton bikes, state-of-the-art treadmills, and an assortment of weights. Enjoy a late-night date with a foam roller and work out those kinks you picked up walking the city streets. Or relax in the sauna, steam room, or both. Older children will love it too. With its spacious layout and natural light, the fitness center provides a refreshing and energizing environment to stay active while traveling. Whether you prefer cardio, weightlifting, or yoga, Willard’s fitness center ensures that guests can maintain their fitness routine during their stay.
Other Hotels in Washington DC
If you want to be within walking distance of the National Mall. Another time our family enjoyed the Holiday Inn Washington Capitol – National Mall, but Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott are also family-friendly and offer locations nearby.
Getting Around Washington D.C.
D.C.’s MetroRail is a good way to travel from one part of the city to another. Our family was able to walk or take the train almost everywhere within the city.
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