Delight in the sand and surf of Delaware's Fenwick Island Beach. Photo courtesy of Bethany Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce
Delight in the sand and surf of Delaware's Fenwick Island Beach. Photo courtesy of Bethany Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce

Best Summer Day Trips for DC Families

While Washington, DC is usually a travel destination unto itself, awash with museums, zoos, parks, and restaurants that are perfect for the entire family, there are times when DC kids and their parents want to get out and explore something other than the nation’s capital. And, to be frank, after a year-plus of sheltering in place, we're ready to get out of town and explore.

DC's prime location on the mid-Atlantic seaboard means there are plenty of options when families are itching for a day away, and we’ve put together our favorite spots that are less than a three-hour drive from downtown DC. So whether you fill up some summer vacation time or want to plan ahead for July Fourth or Labor Day weekends, read on for our favorite summer day trips.

Great Day Trips from Washington DC for Kids and Families

Baltimore, MD

1 hour from Washington, DC
Baltimore is an excellent choice for a family summer day trip. From the city’s walkable Inner Harbor, home of the famed National Aquarium, restaurants, and museums, to an insect zoo (currently offering outdoor programs while the nature center remains closed), Baltimore makes a perfect quick trip from the DC area. Not sure exactly what to do or where to start? Check out our list of 50 family-friendly things to do in Baltimore.

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Enjoy a ranger-led tour of  Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Kaitlyn Kunce/NPS

2. Shenandoah National Park

2.5 hours from Washington, DC
Shenandoah National Park is a fascinating and beautiful way to explore the natural world close to DC. Hike the trails, including the easy Stoney Man Trail. Check out a family-friendly museum or two, or head underground to explore stalactites and stalagmites at Luray or Shenandoah Caverns (purchase tickets online in advance). There’s also Dinosaur Land, where you can get up close to 50 larger-than-life re-creations of dinosaurs, as well as a family movie drive-in. While you can certainly spend just a day in the Shenandoah Valley, you might find yourself wishing you could extend your stay by a day or two.

3. Wilmington, DE

2 hours from Washington, DC
A straight shot up 1-95, Wilmington is an easy drive from DC and offers plenty to do for families. Enjoy the culture that the city has to offer at several museums, including a children's museum that's reopening June 18. Nature lovers can tour the river by boat, take a hike at Brandywine Creek State Park, or get in some low-level rock climbing. Whatever your family is looking for in a quick day trip, Wilmington is sure to please.

RELATED: Great Water Parks near DC for Kids 

Enjoy the pageantry of Philadelphia's Longwood Gardens. Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

4. Philadelphia, PA

2.5 hours from Washington, DC
The City of Brotherly Love offers so much for families that spending just one day here can be overwhelming. But if a day is all you have, then Philly is one place that won't disappoint. While the Franklin Mint is still closed, families can tour Independence Hall (purchase timed tickets in advance) and take a peek at the Liberty Bell, or grab a bite in Chinatown, or take a victory lap like Rocky at the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's steps (and take a peek at the New American Galleries, while you're at it). 

5. Lancaster, PA

2 hours from Washington, DC
Best known as the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, Lancaster has more to it than Amish culture. Dutch Wonderland is a great family-friendly amusement park with rides that even toddlers can enjoy. Make a plan to stay at the Cartoon Network Hotel if you can fit it into your budget and schedule. For train lovers in the family, the Strasburg Railroad, the Railroad Museum, and the National Toy Train Museum are all within a short distance of each other. Foodies will have fun at the Turkey Hill Experience and can devour some homestyle cooking at Miller's Smorgasbord. 

6. The Delaware Beaches 

2.5 hours from Washington, DC
Our favorite beaches in Delaware for a day of family fun are Rehobeth, Bethany, and Fenwick Island. From boardwalks to mini-golf, wide sandy beaches to tax-free outlet shopping, each of these beach towns has its distinct personality. In addition to the beach and the boardwalk, plan to make a stop at Kohr's frozen custard and Funland in Rehobeth. Note that as of early June 2021, masks and advance booking are required for Funland. Bethany Beach has a smaller boardwalk, a bike rental shop, and nature center. Once you're ready to dust the sand off your feet, visit the boardwalk, the Fenwick Island Lighthouse, and the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum on Fenwick Island. 

7. Amusement Parks

Varies from 30 minutes to  about 3 hours from Washington, DC
Ranging from a short half-hour drive to Six Flags in Bowie, MD (masks are required for those not yet vaccinated) to a 2 hour and 50 minute drive to Busch Gardens near Williamsburg, there are several amusement parks within an easy day's drive from Washington, DC. Besides Six Flags and Busch Gardens, two other amusement parks are close by: King’s Dominion, which is just north of Richmond, and Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. For the younger set, Hershey Park, and nearby Chocolate World, might be the most enticing, and several of the parks include seasonally open outdoor water parks.

Library of Congress National Book Festival
Library of Congress and Virtual - 9:00 AM Pick
Georgetown French Market
Wisconsin Avenue - 10:00 AM Pick
World Heritage Festival
Manassas Museum Lawn - 10:30 AM Pick
Franklin Park Block Party
Franklin Park - 12:00 PM Pick
DC Bike Ride 2021
West Potomac Park - 8:00 AM
Neighborhood Guides
Activity Guides