12 Great Summer Day Trips From DC for Families

Longwood Gardens is worth a stop during any trip to Philly. Photo  by J. Fusco
Longwood Gardens is worth a stop during any trip to Philly. Photo by J. Fusco

With all of its world-class museums, great parks and playgrounds, historic sites, and other kid-friendly tourist attractions, Washington, DC is a travel destination unto itself. Still, there are times—especially during the sweltering summer—when families want to get out and explore something other than the nation’s capital. Fortunately, there are so many great summer day trips from DC that will help families escape the heat and make memories together.

We've rounded up 12 great summer day trips from DC that are less than a three-hour drive. Pack up your bags, get those car games and podcasts ready, and get ready for a fun road trip with the family.

Summer Day Trips from DC for Kids and Families

Clifton is small, but loaded with fun. Photo courtesy of Katie Sivinski

1. Clifton, VA

The DC suburb of Clifton, Virginia in Fairfax County is small, but it's brimming with charm and some fantastic restaurants. One of our favorite family-friendly wineries, Paradise Springs Winery, is nearby. There are also beautiful places to hike and explore nature. And in summer, Peterson's Ice Cream Depot is a must-visit for delicious homemade ice cream. Bonus: It's located next to a fun playground where little ones can burn off all that sugar!

2. Annapolis, MD

Summer is the perfect time to visit Maryland's capitol (located about an hour from DC) because of all of the opportunities to have fun on the water. Families can go kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and boating on the Chesapeake Bay. They can swim and build sandcastles at Sandy Point State Park, one of our favorite family-friendly beaches near DC. They can learn about the environment and the bay at the Chesapeake Children's Museum. And they can explore the US Naval Academy, which has a museum open to the public.

3. Baltimore, MD

Only about an hour away, Baltimore is one of the best options for quick summer day trips from DC. From the city’s walkable Inner Harbor (home of the famed National Aquarium, delicious restaurants, and museums including the amazing Port Discovery Children's Museum) to an insect zoo, Baltimore has so many fun things to do with kids. You can even catch a Baltimore Orioles baseball game at historic Camden Yards.

Related: 10 Parks with Beaches near DC for a Day Trip with Kids

Colonial Beach is Virginia's second-largest beach. Photo by C.W. Clarke, courtesy of the CBVA Facebook page

4. Colonial Beach, VA

Colonial Beach's sandy beach, located on the shores of the Potomac River less than two hours from DC, is the second-largest beach in Virginia. Families can frolic in the sand and surf, then explore the historic town (the birthplace of President James Monroe), stroll along the boardwalk, dine al fresco, and lots more. For history lovers, George Washington Birthplace National Monument is only minutes away.

5. Lancaster, PA

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 for toddlers and younger kids. 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. Lancaster is about a two-hour drive from DC.

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

6. Shenandoah National Park

Roughly a 2.5-hour drive from DC, Shenandoah National Park is a fascinating and beautiful way to explore the natural world. 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. 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.

7. Wilmington, DE

A straight shot up 1-95, Wilmington is an easy two-hour drive from DC and offers plenty to do for families. Enjoy the culture that the city has to offer at several museums, including the great Delaware Children's Museum. 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.

8. Philadelphia, PA

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 won't disappoint—just factor in about 2.5 hours each way for driving time. Families can explore the Franklin Institute (which features Harry Potter: The Exhibition through September 18, 2022), tour Independence Hall, visit the Liberty Bell, and take a victory lap like Rocky at the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's steps. Kids will also love the Please Touch Museum, which made our list of the best children's museum in every state. And if you have time, check out Longwood Gardens, about an hour outside Philadelphia.

Related: 10 Car Games for Kids on Road Trips

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello is a Charlottesville must-visit. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

9. Charlottesville, VA

If you're looking for educational summer day trips from DC, you can't get much better than historic Charlottesville. There, families can visit three nearby presidential homes: Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, James Madison's Montpelier, James Monroe's Highland. The Downtown Mall has lots of shops and family-friendly restaurants, and the Virginia Discovery Museum offers hands-on exhibits young kids will enjoy. For parents, there are many kid-friendly wineries and breweries just outside Charlottesville.

10. Amusement Parks

Ranging from a short half-hour drive to Six Flags in Bowie, Maryland to a nearly three-hour drive to Busch Gardens near Williamsburg, there are several amusement parks that make for easy summer day trips from DC. Two other great options are King’s Dominion just north of Richmond, Virginia, and Hersheypark in Pennsylvania. For the younger set, Hersheypark and nearby Chocolate World might be the most enticing, and several of the amusement parks include seasonally open outdoor water parks.

Related: 9 Family-Friendly Beaches Near DC

Fenwick Island is perfect for families. Photo courtesy of Bethany Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce

11. The Delaware Beaches

With wide, sandy beaches, fun boardwalks featuring rides and games, tax-free outlet shopping, mini golf galore, and loads of ice cream shops, the Delaware beach towns are full of family fun. Each of the towns has its own distinct personality, but our favorites for families are Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach, and Fenwick Island. At about 2.5 hours from DC, you can make a day of it if you don't mind getting home late, or you can stay for a full weekend or more. If you stay longer and need something different to do, try the Bethany Beach Nature Center or the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum on Fenwick Island.

12. Parks with Beaches

If your kids are craving sand, sun, and water but you don't want to take one of the longer summer day trips from DC, visit one of the great parks with beaches near DC. These parks in Northern Virginia and Maryland also offer other fun activities such as hiking trails, playgrounds, kayaking, canoeing, and more. Go early, though, as many of these parks start turning families away when their parking lots fill up.

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