100 Things To Do in DC with Kids Before They Grow Up

Take out a pedal boat during cherry blossom season. Photo courtesy of  The National Cherry Blossom Festival
Take out a pedal boat during cherry blossom season. Photo courtesy of The National Cherry Blossom Festival

The days are long but the years are short when it comes to raising kids. And with so many things to do in DC (and near DC) with kids, it can be hard for families to decide exactly how to spend their time in and near the nation's capital.

To help you make the most of your precious family time, we've compiled a list of the top 100 things to do in DC with kids before they grow up. In a city bursting with museums (many of them free), parks and playgrounds, play spaces, and cultural events and festivals, you'll certainly never get bored. Get out, explore, and see just how many activities you can cross off our bucket list before childhood whizzes by.

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Here are some of the best places to visit and things to do in DC and the surrounding areas (in no particular order):

1. Monuments and Memorials

Get up close to all of the monuments and memorials, then visit them again at night for a whole different experience! FREE

2. National Mall

Take a bike ride around the National Mall, then stop to fly a kite. FREE

3. National Air and Space Museum

See historic airplanes, including one Amelia Earhart flew, at Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. FREE

4. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Head to the Air and Space Museum's outpost in Chantilly to see the Space Shuttle Discovery or a Star Wars X-wing Starfighter. FREE

5. The White House

Write your member of Congress to score tickets for a self-guided tour of the White House. FREE

6. Mount Vernon

Go back in time to experience what life was like at George Washington's beloved home.

7. National Zoo

Get up close to giant pandas, lions, and many other animals at DC's Zoo: the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. FREE ($30 for parking)

8. Arlington National Cemetery

Visit presidents' graves, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Military Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Volunteer to lay wreaths in December. FREE

9. Cherry Blossoms

Head to the Tidal Basin in the spring for an explosion of pink during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. FREE

10. National Museum of African American History & Culture

Explore the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History & Culture. FREE

11. International Spy Museum

Let loose your inner James Bond at the International Spy Museum.

12. Rock Creek Park

Explore Rock Creek Park, an oasis in the middle of the city. Be sure to visit the nature center, one of several free nature centers near DC. FREE

13. Fourth of July Fireworks

"Oooh" and "aaah" over the annual Fourth of July fireworks at the National Mall. FREE

14. United States Botanic Garden

Immerse yourself in nature at the United States Botanic Garden. FREE

15. Washington Monument

Ride an elevator to the top of the Washington Monument—which reopened to the public on July 14, 2021—for a bird's eye view of DC. 

Catch a Washington Nationals ball game! Photo by the author

16. Nationals Park

Root, root, root for the Washington Nationals at this family-friendly baseball stadium. Be sure to sign your kids up for the Jr. Nationals Kids Club.

17. National Portrait Gallery

See the country's only full collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. FREE

18. US Capitol

Make a reservation online to take a tour of the Capitol building. FREE

19. National Museum of the American Indian

Explore an Amazonian stilt house, build a giant igloo, and do other hands-on activities at the imagiNATIONS Activity Center at Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. FREE

20. National Museum of American History

See gowns worn by First Ladies, the American flag that inspired the national anthem, and so much more at Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. FREE

21. Bureau of Engraving and Printing

See how money is made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. FREE

Having fun at Clemyjontri Park. Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Virginia

22. Clemyjontri Park

Spend the afternoon at this fully accessible playground in McLean, Virginia, one of many amazing destination playgrounds near DC. FREE

23. Gravelly Point Park

Lie on a blanket at this Arlington, Virginia park to see planes flying right above your head as they land at and take off from Reagan National Airport. FREE

24. National Postal Museum

Climb aboard a historic railway mail train and a modern mail truck at Smithsonian's National Postal Museum. FREE

25. Fruit Picking

Pick apples, peachesberries, and other fruit at one of many Maryland and Virginia farms.

26. Ted's Bulletin

Enjoy a homemade pop tart, called a Ted's Tart, at one of six area locations of Ted's Bulletin

27. The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center hosts many shows geared toward young audiences, as well as rotating exhibits.

28. White House Easter Egg Roll

Enter the online lottery to try to score tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll. It's not an easy feat! FREE

29. Great Falls Park

Watch the Potomac River build up speed and plummet down Great Falls, a breathtaking waterfall in this national park in McLean, Virginia.

30. District Wharf

Play bocce, search for historical markers, and watch boats drift by at District Wharf. FREE

31. National Museum of Natural History

Marvel at the massive dinosaur fossils at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. FREE

32. Peterson's Ice Cream Depot

Indulge in delicious homemade ice cream and play outdoor games at Peterson's Ice Cream Depot in historic Clifton, Virginia. Then visit one of the other 12 must-try ice cream shops near DC.

33. National Children's Museum

Play, learn, and explore at the National Children's Museum.

34. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Bring teens to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for a sobering look at the Holocaust. FREE

35. MedStar Capitals Iceplex

Go ice skating at the Washington Capitals' practice facility in Arlington, Virginia. On most days, you can even watch the team practice!

36. Chessie's BIG Backyard

Play on a fully accessible Chesapeake Bay-themed playground, ride a carousel, and explore a 2,160-square-foot children's trail—complete with a sound garden and spinning rocks—at Chessie's BIG Backyard in Franconia, Virginia. FREE

37. Our Special Harbor Spray Park

Enjoy spray features, bubblers, water tables, and more at Our Special Harbor Spray Park, or another of the local splash pads and sprinkler parks. FREE

38. Embassy Tour

Participate in the Around the World Embassy Tour to visit international embassy buildings and experience the music, dancing, food, and culture of other countries. FREE

39. Petting Zoos

Pet and feed all sorts of animals at Leesburg Animal Park in Virginia, Clark's Elioak Farm in Maryland, or one of several other animal farms and petting zoos near DC

40. National Menorah

Take part in the lighting of the National Menorah on the White House Ellipse. FREE

41. National Archives

See the founding documents, including the Constitution, at the National Archives Museum. FREE

Swim for free at the outdoor Langdon Park Pool. Photo courtesy of DC Department of Parks and Recreation

42. Swim for Free

Learn to swim or just cool off at the many free public swimming pools in DC. FREE

43. Burke Lake Park

Ride a train and carousel, play a round of mini golf, and do countless other activities at this nearly 900-acre park in Fairfax Station, Virginia.

44. Ford's Theatre

Visit the theatre where Abraham Lincoln was shot, a national historic site. You can also see a live show!

45. Watkins Regional Park

Follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Wizard of Oz-themed playground at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. FREE

46. National Harbor

Soar 180 feet above the Potomac River on the Capital Wheel, ride a carousel, and do other fun activities at this waterfront area in Maryland.

47. Wolf Trap

Catch an open-air performance at Wolf Trap's Children's-Theatre-in-the-Woods in Vienna, Virginia.

Enjoy thrill rides at Six Flags or a swim at its water park, Hurricane Harbor! Photo courtesy the theme park

48. Six Flags America

Satisfy your inner thrill seeker at this theme park in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Or, splash your way through Hurricane Harbor's many slides and pools.

49. Supreme Court

Explore portions of the Supreme Court building, and attend a 30-minute Courtroom Lecture to learn the functions of the Supreme Court, the building's history, and the Courtroom's architecture. You can even attend court sessions, though it's recommended that you don't bring young children. 

50. George Washington Memorial Parkway

Take a scenic drive, bike ride, or walk along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. FREE

51. National Gallery of Art

Develop your kids' appreciation of art, from classical to postmodern, at the National Gallery of Art. FREE

52. Huntley Meadows Park

Stroll along the half-mile boardwalk through rich wetlands at Alexandria, Virginia's Huntley Meadows Park. You may spot turtles, frogs, blue herons, beavers, and more! FREE

53. Planet Word

Explore the world of words at the Planet Word museum, which opened in October 2020.

54. National Building Museum

Get creative at PLAY WORK BUILD at the National Building Museum.

55. The Nutcracker

Seeing the Washington Ballet perform The Nutcracker at the Warner Theatre is an unforgettable experience in itself. Meeting the dancers at Family Day, or having tea with the Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy at the Willard InterContinental Hotel's Nutcracker Tea Party, is downright magical.

56. Super, Awesome & Amazing

Climb structures, conquer a ninja obstacle course, splash at a water park, and more at this 30,000-square-foot indoor play place at the St. James Sports Complex in Springfield, Virginia.

57. Water Parks

Glide along a lazy river, sail down water slides, swim in a wave pool, or simply splash around at one of a dozen cool outdoor water parks near DC.

58. Ben's Chili Bowl

Since opening in its original location on U Street in 1958, Ben's Chili Bowl has become a DC institution beloved by countless celebrities. Ben's is famous for its half-smoke hot dogs, burgers, fries, and—of course—chili.

Ride the antique Glen Echo Park's Dentzel Carousel! Photo by David Stuck

59. Dentzel Carousel

Go for a whirl on this 1921 carousel in Glen Echo Park, one of only 135 functioning antique carousels in the country.

60. National Museum of the United States Army

See Army vehicles, weapons, and more at the National Museum of the United States Army in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which opened November 2020. FREE

61. Theodore Roosevelt Island

Hike, see wildlife, and picnic at this more than 90-acre park. FREE

62. Old Ebbitt Grill

Old Ebbitt Grill is one of the most famous restaurants in DC, in part because of its location across the street from the White House. Founded in 1856, it is also one of the city's most historic venues—it's DC's oldest saloon, frequented by several presidents including Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt.

63. National Portrait Gallery

See the country's only full collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. FREE

64. Scramble

Discover secret passageways, tunnels, slides, and more at the two Virginia locations of Scramble, a European-style indoor play space. The Falls Church location opened July 2021; the other is in Alexandria. It's one of our favorite indoor play spaces near DC.

65. Discovery Theater

Catch a kid-friendly performance at Smithsonian's Discovery Theater.

Swim or hike at Leesylvania State Park. Photo courtesy of the author

66. Parks with Beaches

DC may not be near the ocean, but at one of the area's many parks with beaches along lakes or rivers, you'll certainly feel like you are. 

67. Experience Christmas at Gaylord National

Build gingerbread houses, see ice sculptures, meet Santa, and lots more at this Christmas wonderland at National Harbor's Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

68. Boomerang Pirate Cruise

Ahoy! Sail the Potomac on a pirate ship.

69. Canal Park

Splash in the dancing fountains in summer, ice skate in winter, and enjoy performances and events at this park along the Capitol Riverfront.

70. Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Immerse yourself in various cultures at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival each July. FREE

71. KID Museum

Transform your kids into builders and creators at Bethesda, Maryland's KID Museum.

72. Fishing Lakes

Reel in a good catch at one of several kid-friendly fishing spots near DC

73. National Law Enforcement Museum

Experience the life of a law-enforcement officer at the National Law Enforcement Museum.

74. Children's Science Center

Perform science experiments at the Children's Science Center in Fairfax, Virginia.

75. Library of Congress

Visit the largest library in the world. FREE

76. National Book Festival

Celebrate books at the Library of Congress's annual National Book Festival. FREE

77. Brookside Gardens

Delight in nature at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland.

78. Corn Mazes

The various corn mazes around the DC area—many of which have fun themes—make for a perfect fall activity. 

79. ZavaZone Trampoline Park

With trampolines, obstacle courses, climbing structures, and more, ZavaZone is the perfect indoor place for kids to burn off energy. Or, try one of the other awesome trampoline parks near DC

80. President Lincoln's Cottage

Visit the home Abraham Lincoln lived in for more than a quarter of his presidency.

81. National Aquarium

Get up close with more than 20,000 aquatic animals at Baltimore's National Aquarium. Stay the day to explore the rest of the Inner Harbor.

Pick a pumpkin and enjoy more falltime activities at DC-area farms, such as Clark's Elioak Farm. Photo courtesy the farm

82. Pumpkin Picking

Pick the perfect pumpkin at one of the many great pumpkin patches near DC in October.

83. Play a Round of Mini Golf

Try for a hole-in-one on the oldest continually operating miniature golf course in the country, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Then head to one of the DC area's many other fun mini golf courses!

84. FedEx Field

Head to this stadium just north of DC to cheer on the city's NFL team, which was renamed the Washington Commanders in February 2022. 

85. Gunston Hall

Tour the Lorton, Virginia home of Founding Father George Mason.

86. Museum of the Bible

Enjoy tons of interactive features at the Museum of the Bible.

87. Go Camping

Pitch your tent under the stars at one of these nearby campgrounds.

88. Dumbarton House

Get a feel for 19th-century Colonial America at Dumbarton House in Georgetown. 

89. Kayaking, Canoeing, or Paddleboarding

There are plenty of places near to hit the lake or river on a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard

90. Port Discovery Children's Museum

Let your imagination run wild at this Baltimore children's museum.

91. Enjoy a Dazzling Christmas Lights Display

If you love Christmas, DC is the place to be. There are so many holiday lights drive-thrus and Christmas light shows, you'll have trouble fitting them all in! Try to cross a couple off your list each year. 

92. Cox Farms

Hit up the Cox Farms Fall Festival in Centreville, Virginia for a corn maze, giant slides, a hayride, and tons of other fall fun.

93. Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden

Meander through Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. FREE

94. Dulles Golf Center

Play a round of mini golf or take a swing in the batting cages at Dulles Golf Center & Sports Park in Virginia.

95. Torpedo Factory Art Center

Take a stroll through the nation's biggest collection of working artists' open studios under one roof in Alexandria, Virginia. FREE

96. Yards Park

Enjoy dancing water fountains, free family-friendly performances, outdoor movies, and more at Capital Riverfront's Yards Park

97. Manassas National Battlefield Park

Visit a Civil War battlefield in Manassas, Virginia. FREE

Learn and play the day away at the Maryland Science Center. Photo courtesy the museum

98. Maryland Science Center

Get hands on at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore.

99. Snow Tubing

Take a day trip to go snow tubing at a resort near DC. 

100. The Family Drive-In Theatre

Watch a movie from the comfort of your car at this classic drive-in in Stephens City, Virginia, about 90 minutes from DC.

And if this isn't enough fun things to do in DC, and its surrounding metro areas, don't miss our always packed daily events calendar.

An earlier version of this article first published in 2018 with reporting by Christine Mooney.

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