12 Awesome Things That Opened Near DC in 2021 for Kids and Families
Venues across the DC area gradually opened back up in 2021 after being closed for much of the year prior due to the pandemic. And along with the reopening of many beloved museums, indoor play spaces, and other kid-friendly places, there were several new things that opened near DC for kids and families. They include the National Children's Museum, the newly renovated Franklin Park, and several other new exhibits, playgrounds, play spaces, and more.
Here are our picks for the 12 best things that opened near DC for kids and families in 2021. Be sure to check the websites for updated Covid policies!
New Museums and Exhibits in DC
DC waited 18 years—and then another 18 months due to Covid—for a children's museum to return to the city. In September, it finally happened! The National Children's Museum officially reopened to the public after being open only 18 days at the start of the pandemic. The interactive museum and science center for kids ages 0-12 boasts a three-story slide and climbing structure called the Dream Machine, an Art + Tech exhibit featuring various Nickelodeon characters (and slime!), a science area where kids can do hands-on activities, a cloud- and flight-themed area for infants and toddlers, and several other exhibits. The museum also hosts various virtual and in-person events and birthday parties.
Visit Mo Willems' giant mural and playscape on the floor of the Kennedy Center's REACH Plaza. Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Center
2. We Are All Connected — The Kennedy Center
In October, beloved children's author Mo Willems worked with 240 local community members to create a giant mural and playscape on the floor of the Kennedy Center's REACH Plaza. The mural, inspired by Willems' abstract works of dots and lines, aims to represent how we are all connected in unexpected ways. It will remain open for playing and viewing until March 1, 2022.
3. FUTURES — Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building
The Arts and Industries Building reopened in November after being closed for nearly two decades. The 32,000-square-foot FUTURES exhibit bills itself as "the first building-wide exploration of the future on the National Mall." FUTURES includes a huge variety of art installations, experiments, inventions, and objects that give visitors a peek into the future. Some of the objects, including an AI-driven rover that can transform agriculture and a space sail for deep space travel, are on display to the public for the very first time. Visitors can also participate in interactive experiences like smelling a molecule, meditating with an AI robot, and becoming an emoji. Families have until July 6, 2022, to visit the exhibit.
New Parks and Playgrounds in and Near DC
4. Franklin Park — Washington, DC
Downtown DC's largest green space, Franklin Park, is far from new—it was originally established in 1832. But after a yearlong renovation, the park reopened in September with a new children's garden, enhanced lighting, ADA-accessible sidewalks, an expanded fountain plaza, and more. An outdoor restaurant is set to open in 2022.
Arlington's Henry Clay Park reopened as Zitkala-Ša Park with a new playground. Photo courtesy of arlingtonva.us
5. Zitkala-Ša Park — Arlington, VA
Two years after Henry Clay Park in Arlington's Lyon Park neighborhood closed for renovations, it finally reopened in October with a new name—Zitkala-Ša Park. The park, named after an Indigenous rights activist who lived nearby, has a new basketball court, new playground equipment, a new picnic shelter, and improved fencing and landscaping.
6. Savage Park — Savage, MD
The aging play structure at this park near Ellicott City has been replaced by a new, inclusive playground that opened in November designed for children ages 2-12 of all different abilities. The playground features three shade structures, a nonverbal communication board with Braille, two musical stations, a sensory panel, imagination tables, and a play area with stairs and pod steppers leading to a climbing structure that requires motor planning, critical thinking, and upper body strength. New sidewalks that are flush with the parking lot and playground also allow for increased accessibility.
7. Eastern Market Metro Park — Washington, DC
DC Mayor Muriel Bowser officially cut the ribbon on Capitol Hill's Eastern Market Metro Park in June after nearly a decade of community work to reimagine the space. The first phase, completed in July 2020l, was a new playground area with two playgrounds, a splash pad, and a shaded seating area. The second phase added a lighted pavilion for neighborhood events and performances.
New Indoor Play Places in and Near DC
Scramble opened a second location of its European-style indoor play center in Falls Church. Photo courtesy of Yelp
8. Scramble — Falls Church, VA
A second location of Scramble, Alexandria's wildly popular European-style indoor play center, opened last summer in Falls Church, and it's even bigger! Scramble features multiple play areas for kids of different ages, from babies all the way to age 12. The main draw is the giant, four-level play structure with tunnels, bridges, all sorts of obstacles, and lots of hidden surprises. There's also a bookstore on site, and Scramble hosts camps and birthday parties. Grown-ups can hang out at the on-site cafe and enjoy free WiFi, a variety of locally sourced foods, and coffee, beer, or wine.
9. The Lane Social Club — Washington, DC
Ivy City's massive indoor play space, the Lane, opened just before the pandemic.The two-story space includes multiple play areas for babies and young children with slides, climbing nets and walls, plenty of toys and games, and more. There's also a cafe that serves sandwiches, salads, snacks, coffee, and even beer, wine, and hard seltzer for the grown-ups. If that sounds like heaven, the Lane added an even better offering in September—drop-off play! Parents can now drop off their little ones for two hours of supervised play while they run errands or just take a breather nearby. Drop-off sessions are offered Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 4-6pm and Saturdays from 9-11am or 11am - 1pm.
Other New Kid-Friendly Openings in Northern Virginia
Find retro toys, collectibles, comics, and more at Tosche Station Echo Base. Photo courtesy of the store's Facebook page
10. Tosche Station Echo Base — Centreville, VA
When quirky toy store Tosche Station (named for a Star Wars power station) opened in Springfield, Virginia four years ago, it quickly became a neighborhood gem. Local families flocked to Tosche Station for retro and new toys and action figures, comics, collectibles, and video games, as well as for special events like Pokémon game nights and Free Comic Book Day. This month the store's second location, Tosche Station Echo Base, opened in the Sully Station Shopping Center in Centreville, Virginia. If you can't find what you're looking for, chances are the friendly owners will get it for you!
11. Capital One Hall — Tysons, VA
In September, Fairfax County got a new performing arts center with the opening of Capital One Hall. It includes a 1,600-seat Main Theater for larger events and a 225-seat black-box theater called The Vault for more intimate performances. The Main Theater hosts concerts by big-name artists such as Josh Groban and Dwight Yoakam, touring Broadway musicals like Fiddler on the Roof, and kids' shows such as Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood LIVE!
For one day, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier's plaza was open to the public for the first time in nearly a century. Photo courtesy of arlingtonva.us
12. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 100th anniversary — Arlington, VA
On November 9, for the first time in nearly 100 years, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier plaza in Arlington National Cemetery was open to the public! Anyone who registered in advance could walk on and lay flowers in front of the tomb as part of its centennial commemoration. On November 11, Veteran's Day, the public was also invited to observe a full honors procession (meant to replicate elements of the World War I Unknown Soldier’s 1921 funeral procession) and a flyover with aircraft from all branches of the military. Both events were truly awe-inspiring!