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You are here: Home Parenting Washington D.C. with Young Kids: You Can Do It!
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Washington D.C. with Young Kids: You Can Do It!

washdc1When we decided to take a trip to Washington, D.C. this past April, the general response from people was that our kids, 7 and 9, were the perfect age for it. "But it's a ton of walking so they'll be complaining about that the entire time," said, well, everyone. So, when planning our DC trip, the constant stressor in my head was how to maximize enjoyment and minimize walking for our crew. I threw the kids' bikes in the car with a couple of bike locks at the last second (why else do I drive a minivan?) and THAT is what ended up being the best decision we made.

Here's the rest of how we "did DC" with a minimal amount of whining, along with some tips from other Scarsdale families that made the trek to the Capitol as well.

Accomodations
We ended up staying at great little Airbnb in the Capitol Hill area. We liked having a street parking permit, unlimited Keurig pods and a laundry machine. My family enjoyed being in a neighborhood with parks and the kids rode their bikes to dinner each night while we walked. Tina Lin, a Fox Meadow mom, has three boys ages 4, 7 and 9. She and her family stayed at the JW Marriott and loved the location on the National Mall as well as the hotel pool. "The kids may have been more interested in the pool than the sights," she quipped. Lynn Marvin, a Greenacres mom, has three kids also 4, 7, and 9. They stayed at the JW Marriott as well and described it as "The perfect location with a great indoor pool and hot tub which we used every day. There was a big courtyard for running around and we walked to the sites and lots of great restaurants. Breakfast included."

Sustenance
Access to a kitchen and kids that need 35 reminders to brush their teeth in the morning meant that we ate cereal for breakfast every day. We packed lunch for ourselves thinking that there wouldn't be many food options right on the mall but we were glad to be proven wrong. "The American Indian museum has a really cool food court with Native American delicacies," said Lynn, "We loved the organic burgers across from the National Zoo entrance as well as a really cool German restaurant called Cafe Mozart that has piano and accordion music at night- our kids loved it!" Kid-friendly restaurants nearby included Fogo de Chao for Tina's carnivores and the popular Founding Farmer for Lynn's dessert lovers.

Out and About
About 25 million people a year visit the 11 Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. You can visit some government buildings like the Capitol, but you need to secure tickets in the morning. The White House tour requires an advanced request through state representatives. There are private museums, fun areas to explore like Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle and Georgetown, and the monuments and memorials are a must for any visitor.

My kids rode their bikes every day to and around the Mall area. They loved the National MuseumWashdc2 of Natural History and so did Tina's kids. Volunteers in the insect area introduced them to Madagascar hissing cockroaches (see photo) and they got to watch the house tarantula capture and eat a cricket. The mummies, the dinosaur bones, and the Hope Diamond were also hits for my bunch. Tina's kids liked the 3-D IMAX show and thought it was a good break from all of the walking. All of our kids loved the Air and Space museum. Tina said, "The 'How Things Fly' exhibit was very interactive and the boys just liked seeing all the planes and spacecraft hanging in the museum."

My family spent three hours one morning at the U.S. Botanical Garden. It's well organized and has fascinating flora as well as detailed field guides for children that send them on a scavenger hunt. Any child between 6-12 should enjoy that. Adults will enjoy the garden as well. My kids loved the sculpture garden along the mall.

Lynn's family checked out the Spy Museum, "Cool but crowded and better suited for an older bunch. My husband loved it." She also stopped by Madame Toussad's Wax Museum, "The kids loved posing with wax presidents, definitely a highlight", the Native American Museum, which had fun hands-on exhibits, Ford's Theatre, which was fascinating for the older two but boring for the 4-year-old, the White House Visitor Center, "Our tour request was denied but the kids still liked the visitor center- they have an exhibit of presidents' pets and favorite foods" and they all enjoyed their own night tour of the monuments. "Seeing the monuments at night at our own pace was cool."

My family loved the National Zoo and we ended up going two days in a row. The first day I went with my daughter while my husband and son walked from our Airbnb to a Washington Nationals baseball game, which they loved. It was empty and we spent three hours feeling like we were on a private zoo tour. We spent so much time with the pandas and in the ape house. The following day it took us over an hour just to park at the zoo because of the number of people. It was horrifically crowded and we had to wait 45 minutes to see the pandas so it was quite a different experience.

Tina's kids loved the huge inflated chickens modeled like the President that protesters had up in the Mall and by the Capitol. "The highlight one day for the kids was when a police dog pounced on an unattended bag in front of us near the White House fence and the police evacuated everyone off the street."

The best way to see the monuments, memorials and tidal basin for my family was having the kids ride their bikes. We started early in the morning with a Lyft ride to the Lincoln Memorial with the bikes. They never got tired of riding, though they tired of walking. When they got to each monument they seemed much happier to be there than the kids around us who were telling their parents how much they hated them for making them walk so much. Our kids loved the FDR, Jefferson, Lincoln and MLK memorials. Martin Luther king is the historical figure my kids are most familiar with so they were very excited to see the monument dedicated to him. They didn't get much out of the Korean and Vietnam memorials and we skipped Arlington Cemetery. We planned for our route to end at the tidal basin pedal boat rentals. The kids enjoyed this a lot and it was nice break from monuments and memorials.

Getting Around


Washdc4Washington D.C. has very wide sidewalks and even though you're technically not allowed to ride bikes on them, no one ever said anything to the kids. We had one near-head-on collision with a German tourist; he wasn't aware of the sidewalk laws and thankfully found my daughter's apology cute. The tidal basin and the Mall are bike friendly. There are plenty of bike racks and it's also acceptable to lock bikes around utility poles and fences. You must walk your bike through the memorials and past the Holocaust Museum but other than that you rarely have to disembark from your seat. My kids can ride without training wheels and stopped at every street corner to wait for us before crossing the street. I don't trust that my 7-year-old would have done that a year ago, so be wary of that for younger children. Training wheels may make it difficult to ride on the National Mall because of the dirt/gravel trails.

Getting around D.C. is generally very easy. The Metro is a little confusing to a New Yorker at first because you pay based on the distance you're traveling, but it's clean and efficient and a fun experience for kids. Ubers and Lyfts came in very handy for all of us. We even threw the bikes in the back once or twice. Sadly, D.C traffic is horrible.

Advice
The Hop on Hop off Bus was a waste of time and money according the Lynn. "It was slow and my kids were bored just seeing the sites." She also reiterated that the Spy Museum would be better for older kids and adult James Bond aficionados. Her main piece of advice is "Pace yourselves. My kids definitely got 'museum fatigue' so mixing in things like the zoo and interactive exhibits was a necessity."

My family found the National Museum of American History boring and dark inside. The "highlights" according to the guides were Bert and Ernie and Dorothy's ruby red slippers but we found both to be quite underwhelming.

Tina wouldn't skip anything they did but she did feel a bit rushed by spending only two days in DC. "In retrospect, we should have done the zoo instead of the memorials/monuments tour as the zoo is more age appropriate."

All three of us agreed that you need to be prepared for a lot of walking and that the bribe of gelato/ice cream goes a long way!Washdc3

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