Washington D.C. is not only our nations’ capital, but also one of the most visited vacation destinations for American families. With countless things to do, including a host of free-to-visit attractions, you can fill your days enjoying Washington D.C. with kids in so many different ways. For those of us DC metro area natives who rarely get a chance to visit D.C. with kids, a weekend in the city is the perfect staycation destination to break up the suburban life.
If you’re planning a quick weekend trip to Washington D.C. with kids, here is a list of things you might want to make time for.
Where to Go When You Visit D.C. with Kids
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
No matter how many times we’ve visited The Museum of Natural History it remains top of the list as a must do in D.C. with kids. My Dudes love exploring the halls of fossils and science related exhibits and with the frequent updates the museum is constantly making there is always something new to learn about our world’s natural history within its walls.
This visit we got to enjoy the museum’s updated fossil hall and their new exhibit, Deep Time. Featuring about 700 fossils, this exhibit takes you back billions of years to explore Earth’s history. You’ll see fossils of creatures you know and several of creatures you’ve never even heard of nestled among the dinosaurs that lured you in. The update also includes countless interactive stations that allow visitors to engage more with the content and artifacts of the museum. It’s perfect for kids of all ages.
If you visit on the weekend, especially in the summer, expect it to be crowded. Try being first in line or going just a couple of hours before it closes. That second one is a risk though because you may not have the time you really want to soak it all in.
Pro Tip: Get there when they open and head straight to the O. Orkin Insect Zoo if you have bug lovers. They’ll appreciate being able to spend time experiencing the bugs without battling the crowds.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
It’s the newest addition to the Smithsonian museum family in D.C. and the National Museum of African American History and Culture is packed full of so many amazing educational, inspirational, and wonderful artifacts, histories, and information.
Dude 3 spent the most time in the sports section (of course), but he also enjoyed so many of the interactive exhibits throughout the museum. The segregated rail car, the interactive lunch counter, and the Oprah exhibit (which is no longer on display) were particularly enjoyable to him. We also spent a ton of time in the Explore More! exhibit where we learned to do a step routine and followed the Green Book on a cross country trip. We also had a lot of fun talking about the history of rap and hip hop thanks to Represent: Hip Hop Photography collection that is on display in this section. Probably this was more fun for me than it was for him.
If you’re at the museum and hungry, we both wholeheartedly recommend you dine at the Sweet Home Café located on the lower level of the museum. The down-home soul food inspired dishes included a ton of variety and everything was so good.
As enjoyable as this museum was for both of us, I think it is best suited to elementary age children and up because the type of exhibits and the content are harder for younger guests to truly grasp or interact with. It is also likely one of the most crowded museums so it is more challenging to navigate, particularly if you have a stroller or antsy toddlers in tow.
How to get into the African American Museum in D.C. without a pass.
Like the other Smithsonian museums in the area, the newest addition to the Smithsonian family, the African American Museum, is free to visit. This one, however, does require timed entry passes daily during peak season (March-August) and on weekends during off-peak season (the rest of the year) in order to get in.
You can book a pass months in advance: When I checked at home (it was July) the first available visit was in November. Don’t let the fact that timed entry passes are still booked months in advance discourage you from a visit though, there is still hope for you to get in and experience all of the awesome this museum has to offer even if you decide to go on a whim as we did.
You can try for a daily pass: For those who didn’t plan their trips months in advance, daily passes are released around 6:30 in the morning each day. You can log onto your computer and attempt to get one then.
You can just show up after 1pm: They allow daily walk-in entry after 1 pm.
You can try your luck at opening: We went to the museum about 20 minutes before opening without timed entry passes in hand to see if we could get in. A museum employee instructed me to go online while at the gate and I was able to obtain timed entry tickets for 10:30 am right then. When the doors opened at 10, they let the 10 am ticket holders in and then allowed us to enter just behind them. We were enjoying the exhibits by 10:15!
Pro Tip: The C-levels (downstairs) of the museum are the most crowded throughout the day. I suggest you visit there early, before the walk-in visitors arrive so you can enjoy this part of the museum without hundreds of people in the way of every exhibit. The upper levels are definitely worth a visit but are less crowded during the day so it’s better to save them for later.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo
If you’re visiting in a cool season or outside of a summer heat wave, we highly recommend the National Zoo. Unlike most city zoos, this one is free to enter and open 364 days of the year.
The National Zoo is home to over 1,000 animals including lions, tigers, elephants, and giant pandas. You can explore the grounds solo or go on a free, 2-hour guided tour of the zoo which is a great way to expand your learning about the zoo, its animals, and their care.
Pro tip: Wear good walking shoes because it is basically up hill both ways.
Other Places We Think You’ll Love to See When You Visit D.C. with Kids
The National Air and Space Museum: Awesome for young plane and outer space lovers.
National Museum of American History: School age kids will understand a lot of what they see because they learn about a lot of it in school. Great for younger kids too.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing: They do a great tour of the money making process. Only open weekdays and closed on federal holidays.
Georgetown Waterfront Park: Visit in summer and enjoy splashing about in the huge fountain. Just a couple of blocks from the hustle and bustle of shopping and eateries along M Street.
Bike the National Arboretum: If you have older kids, rent bikes (there is a Capital Bikeshare station just outside) and bike through the arboretum. You can stop to enjoy the sections and visit the museum.
Where to Stay When You Visit D.C. with Kids
We received complimentary accommodations courtesy of the Kimpton George located just a couple blocks from the U.S. Capitol building.
It is a well-appointed hotel with spacious rooms and countless amenities including in-room dining, free bikes for exploring the neighboring areas, an evening wine hour, on-site valet parking, an award winning restaurant, Bistro Bis just in the lobby, and much more. We loved the large showers and bathtub Dude 3 had an evening soak in as well as all of the space available to spread out and relax after a long, hot day of exploring D.C.
And, the location can’t be beat. It took us less than five minutes to walk to Union Station to catch the Metro to the National Mall and dinner in Barracks Row was a short eight-minute Uber trip away.
Where to Eat When You Visit D.C. with Kids
There are countless great places to grub in D.C. with kids (and without!), from world renowned restaurants to hole-in-the-wall gems serving fare of every type so your options are essentially limitless depending upon where you are in the city and what you want to eat.
We enjoyed eating in Barracks Row because it’s super close to the Capitol Hill area where we stayed this visit and filled with a ton of great, kid-friendly places to grab a bite. We enjoyed dinner at Matchbox and dessert at Ted’s Bulletin where the kids munched on delicious homemade pop tart treats.
If a fancier meal is what you’re after, Bistro Bis, located in the lobby of the Kimpton George is a delicious option. Dude 3 didn’t mind donning his khaki shorts to enjoy a meal with them that included a cheese burger from their “secret” kids’ menu (you just have to ask) and some seriously tasty mac and cheese (it’s listed under sides on their menu and they call it gratin of macaroni which Dude 3 thought was soooo fancy).
Want to spend a night in D.C. on us (and by us I mean the Kimpton George)? We’ve partnered with Hotel George to give away an overnight stay at their hotel. One lucky winner will receive a complimentary one night weekend stay gift certificate. Pop over to my Facebook and Instagram pages for a chance to enter!
*Official Giveaway Rules: No purchase necessary to enter. Must be 18 years old or more and a resident of the United States to claim prize. This giveaway is not sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Instagram or Facebook. Entrants may enter a total of two times-one entry per platform (Facebook & Instagram). Giveaway entry period ends 9/19 at 11:59pm EST. Entries from both platforms will be combined and one winner will be selected. Winner will be notified via direct message on the platform they won on. Entrant will have 48 hours to claim their prize and provide a US mailing address to send gift certificate to. Unclaimed prizes will be redistributed in 48 hours.