Washington DC is one of the most family friendly major cities in the United States. Not only can you accomplish a stay in Washington DC for little cost, you can see so many of the nation’s most valuable and important artifacts. We have visited Washington DC several times throughout the years, but there is still so much to see and do. No matter what age your family is, toddlers or teens, there is something for everyone. As you plan your family vacation to Washington DC, use this guide to help you find the perfect stops. I will tell you about every single thing we have visited with our kids in tow. I have highlighted some additional stops at the bottom in case you have more time!
We normally don’t need a hotel since we have family that lives all around the city. However, we have stayed in an amazing 2 Bedroom, 1 Bath renovated row house. It was in a perfect location with very easy check in and out. The apartment owner even let us us her street parking pass, so we could park our car near the apartment. The apartment had laundry and a fully kitchen; it was absolutely perfect for us.
Founding Farmers: If you’re ready for some DELICIOUS USA grown food, you have found the right spot. This restaurant is co-owned by 47,000 US Farmers. That’s right. 47,000! The North Dakota Farmer’s Union banded together to bring the U.S. a real farm to table experience. I had the chance to try FF with some other travel blogger friends and I was IMPRESSED. Not only was the food absolutely amazing, the house made sodas were incredible. As if it couldn’t get any better, this restaurant is located only 3 blocks from the White House, so while you’re out experiencing Washington DC, you can easily hop over to enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner. We all enjoyed a delicious appetizer with fig and brie cheese, then for my lunch I ordered the Fried Chicken and Donut — DROOL WORTHY. As a desert the table ordered Cappuccinos and macaroons which are made fresh in the on-site bakery. You can’t miss Founding Fathers!
Old Ebbitt Grill: Another Washington D.C. classic is Old Ebbit Grill. When you visit, you are visiting a true piece of American History. OEG was opened in 1856 and was a favorite of many Presidents to included: President Grant, Cleveland, Harding, & Teddy Roosevelt. The restaurant serves upscale American saloon food. From Oysters to decedent pasta to an amazing children’s menu — NOTHING on the menu disappoints. In addition to the extensive food menu, OEG is known for is vast wine selection. I have visited this restaurant many times and I always leave feeling full & happy.
Natural History Museum: I always love a good Natural History Museum and Washington DC has proven to be one of the best. As you walk into the museum you are greeted by a grand rotunda featuring an 11 ton, 13 ft. tall African Elephant named Henry who has graced the hall since 1959. Every room of this museum is as exciting and educating as the last. I felt like we ran from room to room to be sure we saw it all. The museum is host to a plethora of exhibits including: African Voices, Bone Hall, Butterfly Pavilion, Fossils, Hall of Human Origin, Ancient Egypt, Gems, Hall of Mammals, a Narwhal exhibit and several more. Considering this museum is completely free, it’s definitely at the top of our list as a must-visit. Plan to spend several hours here.
National Building Museum: If you’ve been following us for a while, you know I loved this museum. As you enter the building you walking into an unbelievably beautiful atrium with floor to ceiling columns and sculptures lining the ceiling. The admission desk is located in the center. When you get your tickets, they will assign you a time for the “Building Zone” which is an interactive play room for kids 2-6. You get 45 minutes of play included with your admission! If you’re time is later in the day, head to one of the other incredible exhibits. We started our trip with the “Work Play Build” room where they have life size foam tinker toys. Let your imagination go wild as you try to build a house! From there seek out one of the other exhibits: Houses & Homes, Secret Cities, Evicted, and Flickering Treasures. The one I want to go back and explore is Secret Cities which is all about the secret cities of the Manhattan project! Getting into the Building Museum’s atrium is completely free, so impress your friends by bringing them to the atrium’s coffee shop or bringing your parent friends to one of the free Story Times or Family Time events offered by the museum! Check their calendar for details and times!
Cost: 2 & Under are FREE, 3-17 are $7, adults are $10
National Botanical Gardens: My first time visiting the Botanical Gardens was this past December. Even in the dead of winter, it’s impressive. We walked the outside garden first, then made our way in through the main entry. The lobby was FULL of ornate Christmas decorations including the two tallest indoor Christmas trees in DC! This year the Gardens were home to an amazing plant-made mini train station collection; from Grand Central Station to a Dinosaur station – everyone was represented. The Botanical Gardens host three plant collections: the conservatory, the National Garden, and Bartholdi Park. Inside the conservatory you will find tropical, subtropical and arid regions represented with a showcase of orchids, medicinal, economic, endangered and Jurassic plants. Visiting the National Botanical Gardens is completely free.
Old Post Office Tower: This was on my list for a long time, so when I had to catch a late afternoon flight from DCA, I took the kids for a trip into the city to see what it’s all about. While the museum is located inside the newly renovated Trump Hotel, it’s actually separated inside. This museum is very unique. It’s very small and a visit only takes about 30 minutes unless you spend a ton of time looking at DC from the top. Did you know that this is the second tallest building in DC? Second only to the Washington Monument? (and since the WM is closed indefinitely, this is going to be your best view of the city) Once you enter you will go through a long hall with the history of the building and tower. You’ll reach an elevator – take that up! Get off the elevator and take a second one up! This will put you out at the top of the tower – the views are pretty spectacular. You will get *almost* 360* views. Be warned; it’s windy up there! One of the elevators has a glass back wall too, so as you ride up you will see into the renovated hotel. Admission to the tower is FREE **bonus, there is a Starbucks right at the entrance, so if mama needs coffee, this could be a good break for the family!
National Air and Space Museum: There are actually two of these! One is located near the Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, VA (Steven F. Udvar – Hazy Center) and one is right along the National Mall. I recommend visiting both if you have the time. If you’re already on the National Mall, head inside to be blown away by the vast number of airplanes spanning from the begging of flight to today. In addition to real airplanes hanging over your head, you’ll find an I-MAX museum, a planetarium, the interactive exhibit “How Things Fly”, and room after room of historically significant aircraft to include; the 1903 Wright Flyer, Spirit of St. Louis, Bell X-1 and the North American X-15.
A visit to Chantilly will also be FREE to go inside. The museum also boasts a huge assortment of aircraft to include; a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (the world’s fastest aircraft), a Concorde, the Enola Gay and the Space Shuttle Discovery (my personal fave). You will also find Airbus IMAX Theater and an air traffic control tower that you can go up into to see how they organize aircraft in flight. This museum is three levels, so plan to spend ample time walking around soaking it in.
Memorials/Monuments: Since we have had the opportunity to visit Washington DC several times, we’ve ticked off quite a few of the National Monuments. However, because many of the monuments are along the national mall, you don’t need days and days to see most of them. In one afternoon (with two toddlers) we were able to see The White House, Constitution Gardens, The Vietnam Memorial, Abraham Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, The World War 2 Memorial, the National Monument grounds (it was closed).
One memorial that I want to tell you about is the Jefferson Memorial. It’s not as easily accessed from the National Mall. You CAN walk to it, but you’ll be walking quite a ways….and if you’re cool with that – DO IT. If you drive there, drive to this address: 971 Ohio Dr SW, Washington, DC 20024 – this will bring you to a parking lot that has a walkway over to the Jefferson Memorial. At this parking lot you can see the Cuban Friendship Urn. Keep walking along the path and you will pass the George Mason Memorial. If you keep walking you will find the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. **While you are over there, be sure to make the short walk over to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.
***Pro Tip: Bring Your National Park Passport with you! There are park rangers at every memorial to give you a stamp! I believe if you go to the NPS HQ they have them all there in one place!
National Mall: I made this its own attraction because, well, it is. The National Mall is home to so many Smithsonian museums, national memorials, the Capitol Building and you’ll see many of the locals playing sports, riding bikes or lounging in the grass. It is home to more than 26 miles of walking trails and 8 miles of bike trails. This area of green space has held a plethora of jobs over the years. It’s been home to a railroad, a large market, during the American Civil War it hosted buildings, there have even been slaughterhouses directly on the NM. The National Mall is now home to over 9,000 trees included the many Cherry Blossoms given to the USA by Japan in 1912. Annually the National Mall gets 10 tons of grass seed and 3,000 yards of sod. It is a piece of US history just the same as the many many museums and buildings that line it. As you walk along it, imagine what it looked like 75, 100, 200 years ago!
The White House: I saved this one for last. While I did once go inside the White House, it was when I was in High School (maybe Middle School) and I don’t remember much. These days you can’t just jump in line for a tour, it has to be scheduled. It is still free to visit, but you must write a letter your congressman asking for a visit. If you are an international visitor, you must write to your embassy. All tours are first come, first serve and can be requested up to 3 months in advance, no earlier than 21 days in advance.
You are allowed to see and take photos with the White House from the front and back, outside the building’s secured gates. We’ve taken our kids several times and this is always what we do. It’s a fun way to expose them since I can never plan that far in advance! When they are older I will tell them we went inside of course! J
Arlington National Cemetery: I have taken my kids twice to Arlington. Their great grandfather and a few of my friends from college are buried there. Before your visit, I suggest you map out where you want to go. Arlington is HUGE. They have a nice air conditioned museum right at the entrance. From there, it’s up to you to walk to whichever grave you want to visit. I highly recommend watching a Changing of the Guard. Before you go, read about what it takes to be selected as a sentential for this program. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a sight in itself to bear witness to. Don’t forget to pay your respects to President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie to see their eternal flame. Be sure to download the ANC app on your phone before you visit – you can locate specific graves and find walking directions to it.
Also, while you are at Arlington National Cemetery, please pay a visit to the Women in Military Service For America Memorial. It is an AMAZING museum curated by female veterans. I had the chance to speak at a conference there when I was in college. If you are a female veteran, be sure to register yourself on their website!
Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima): We took the kids here on our way to Arlington, but it was under an extensive year long renovation. HOWEVER, this is a must see. (I went as a kid) It is now re-opened to the public and looks absolutely fantastic. Please take the time to visit. You will need to drive to the monument, but you will find parking nearby.
**ProTip: Do Arlington National Cemetary, The Women in Military Service For America Memorial AND the Marine Corps Memorial all together. They are all right near each other. Don’t waste time driving back and forth across the city.
Other things to do in Washington DC:
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden
Air Force Memorial
The Martin Luther King Jr National Memorial
Visit the Tidal Basin
The Arts and Industries Building
The International Spy Museum**
The Holocaust Museum**
The National Museum of African American History and Culture
The Freer Gallery of Art
The Smithsonian Institution HQ
The National Museum of American History**
The National Archives**
The Sylvan Theater
** Indicates I have visited, but without kids. If you want to know my thoughts on those, shoot me an email!
Metro: The DC Metro is a great way to get around the city without a car! We have taken the Metro many times on our passing’s through. The Metro, also known as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority or WMATA, connects all of DC to outlying areas such as Fairfax, Alexandria and parts of Maryland. The fares will vary based on the time of day. There are Peak Fares and Off-Peak fares. Most stations have an attendant who can help you purchase tickets or there are several kiosks. All entrances and exits have a handicap access which you can push a stroller through. Almost all stations have elevators down to platforms.
Your Feet: Be prepared to do a TON of walking in Washington DC. Pack super comfy shoes, sunscreen, an umbrell and tons of water.
Uber: We have used Uber many times in DC. Sometimes, it’s just easier than getting on the metro, faster than walking or faster than driving/parking.
“Uber Car Seat provides uberX vehicles equipped with a car seat. To request Uber Car Seat, tap the 'car seat' option after selecting the uberX vehicle type. A $10 surcharge is added to uberX pricing for Uber Car Seat trips.
Uber Car Seat provides one forward-facing car seat for a child who is at least:
(a) 12 months old AND
(b) 22 lbs. AND
(c) 31 inches.
A child is too big at 48 lbs. or 52 inches.” - Info taken from Uber’s website
Overall, you will find Washington D.C. to be one of the most family friendly and budget friendly big cities in the USA. You can experience so much culture and history for free. I hope that each of you visits the U.S.’s capitol at some point in your travels. Whether you are a baby, toddler, teen or adult, you will not be disappointed in Washington DC. I also want to add that if you are considering a mult-generational trip, DC should be at the top of your list!!
Have you ever been to Washington DC? What was your favorite place to visit? Tell us in the comments!
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