100 Things To Do in DC with Kids Before They Grow Up
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Enjoy thrill rides at Six Flags or a swim at its water park, Hurricane Harbor! Photo courtesy the theme park
48. Six Flags America
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
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
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
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
80. President Lincoln's Cottage
Visit the home Abraham Lincoln lived in for more than a quarter of his presidency.
81. National Aquarium
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.