Tips and Tricks for Washington DC with (Conference-Going) Kids
- Kids 5 and under do not need their own Metro card
- Bring a swimsuit or change of clothes for your kid! In warm weather, esp. after Memorial Day, splash pads/sprinklers abound in public places
- Expect that your bag will be searched before you go inside any major public building.
- Many car-share services do not have child safety seats. You will have to select this option from the app and there are limited cars available with them. We do not tend to rely on them. In the US, car seats are generally required in private cars to age 8.
Immediately Near the Hotel/Conference:
Dupont Circle and the adjoining neighborhood of Adams Morgan and Logan Circle are better known for their adult offerings than for their child-friendly invocations.
Some suggestions, however, include the following:
- Mitchell Park (small) – 23 rd & S NW)
- Ross Elementary Playground (17 & R NW) – only open to the public outside school hours
- One of DC’s top playgrounds on 16th & P ST NW (there is a tot playground, a 5-12 playground, as well as a running track and playing field
There are many fast-casual places that are fine, but if you want to be waited on by a real wait staff:
- Bareburger (20 th and R)
- Stoney’s (14&P) – brunch on weekends only
- Buca di Peppo (however, there can be waits!)
*The Phillips Collection is NOT child-friendly. It is NOT baby-friendly. Go w/o kid.
*if you’re using a stroller, please keep a path free for walkers/runners/dogs/insane scooters on the sidewalk.
Close-ish to the hotel:
The National Zoo! Free, wonderful, and huge. Feat. pandas. Grounds are also open during day
beyond zoo hours for walks/running. Strollers can be rented.
Rock Creek Park Playground equipment appears at random (and can be easily confused for
work out stations), however lovely for strolling and fresh air. The Parkway is closed to cars on
Sat and Sun.
It has taken your local host five years to distill this list, so keep these secrets close!
Note that the elevators at the Smithsonian metro stop can be hard to find, but people are always willing to help you with strollers etc. Check online for info about concerts, free movies, or extended hours.
Smithsonian American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery (not on Mall, but in Chinatown) Singlehandedly Nikki Ushers’s favorite child-taking place. The guards are kind and there are free places with *working* lockers to chuck your stuff. Backpacks must be carried on your side. Note: this does not open till 11:30am but is open till 7pm.
- The atrium of the building is an interior-exterior space with climate control, food, and wine.
Kids love to play in the fountains (you can bring a change of clothes).
- The SAAM side esp. floor 3 has fantastic sculptures kiddos love
- There is a “kids room” that is best for 0-2 years with soft blocks, some books, and tracing things for the older kids. It’s not the best one of the Smithsonian’s kids’ rooms, though.
- Adjacent to the kids’ room is an art studio (check hours) often open on weekends and on Friday afternoons
Check out the Carousel!
American History Museum
- Great for kids 0-12
- Kids’ room called “Wegmans Play Space” – small area for 0-12, great for 1-7, Julia Child’s model kitchen there; adjacent “Spark” room appropriate for 5-12.
- Just tons of fun stuff including American transport, life-size trains, w/ a trolley you can sit in
- Good food, but basement cafeteria is best
Museum of the American Indian
Nikki’s second favorite Smithsonian space
- Top floor features tons of kid-friendly activities including a “passport” they can make and a life-size igloo puzzle, a sit-in kayak, plus reading nook, crafts, and space to run around.
- Fun 3-D movie
Best food across the Mall locations, but it is pricey! (Try the fry bread!)
Natural History Museum
- a wonderful museum but gets quite crowded, try to arrive before 11 am and consider bringing lunch/snack or buying from a food truck outside (check “constitution” side of building)
- stroller-friendly side of building is Constitution
- there are lots of add-ons to the free entrance, but butterflies are not worth it, iMax usually is.
- Older kids will love the Quiros near the entrance
- There is a Qurios Jr. space with soft puppets and 1-7 appropriate toys/games, but hours vary
Not kid-friendly, not kid-unfriendly, but nothing special to recommend it for little kids except great couches and good vistas. Better for the kid-you-still-wear set than toddlers. Excellent for 6-12 who “hate” museums as art is contemporary and accessible.
Air and Space Museum
Nikki’s least favorite Smithsonian.
Note, only McDonalds is a food vendor.
- If you go, the lines are shorter on the Independence Avenue side (e.g not facing the mall).
- check out Wright Bro’s “original” airplane on Floor 2
West Wing is far more child-appropriate with space to run around inside on a hot day. The cafeteria that links the buildings has a great fountain, gelato, and a moving sidewalk art instillation.
Sculpture Garden is no-touch.
Library of Congress:
Terrific for 8+, not so great for those younger
Off the mall:
National Postal Museum
If you find yourself near Union Station or needing to kill a few hours after the Newseum, you might want to check this out. Good for kids 1+ (really), but the area immediately around the museum is not kept up well.
Monuments and Memorials
Wonderful and fairly self-explanatory.
- hidden splash pads: between 15 th and 17 th Ave on Constitution, there are two splash pads adjacent to Washington Monument with fun but small fountains to play in
- Lincoln has an elevator! (and a small museum)
- WWII memorial is excellent for proximity to a fountain
Highlights: Private Museums
To be honest, if you’re going to many of these, you’re doing it wrong.
- Despite what may be your own misgivings, you can easily spend at least a half day here with
kids from 2-12. Little kids will love the emergency vehicles and microphone “be an anchor” –
older kids will enjoy the interactive games. Good but expensive cafeteria.
- We haven’t been but have heard great things for reading age and above
- Have heard not to bring children under five. But go.
Federal buildings and such
White House Visitor’s Center
You cannot visit the White House without prior arrangement, but you can visit the White House’s visitor center. Good for 8+, ask for free buttons. Nikki’s friend spent three years curating the exhibits and it shows.
Good for older kids. There’s only a small museum and the rules about tours can be very inconsistent (most are pre-arranged). That said, federal buildings are mostly open to the public, so if you’re curious, just take a look at one of the area’s more detailed building maps and walk into one of the Congressional office buildings. This is much the same scenario as with the Supreme Court.
We’ve kept it simple here, but don’t hesitate to ask us for more specific suggestions.
Nationals Baseball – tickets (often no more than $12) can be bought last minute online from your favorite ticket re-saler. The park is child-friendly and you can bring in your own food. The Navy Yard area is great for walking around, too.
Georgetown – there’s no metro here, but it is transportable by the Circulator bus or just by a nice long walk (or Uber). There is an Excellent Splash Pad on the Waterfront frequented and loved by children city wide that is worth your visit (we will try to tweet to confirm it has been turned on for the season). Feed the ducks by the docks, run around (including on a small maze), consider taking a pirate cruise on the Potomac, or picnicking. We’ve spent many lovely afternoons here. On your way to Georgetown proper, you might also visit Rose Park, one of the city’s nicest playgrounds, but you might also get stuck there!
Comet Ping Pong + upper NW - Comet Ping Pong is a beloved neighborhood establishment with ping pong and pizza. It is sadly now famous for having been the target of the Pizzagate shooter, but it’s also a lot of fun. Just nearby is the wonderful independent book store, Politics and Prose, one of Obama’s favorites. Excellent selection and good café with a super kids’ selection (and a secret reading nook).
Washington’s Mt. Vernon - A city bus will take a while to get you here, but it is accessible from downtown Alexandria by metro and car-share. See the first US President’s slave plantation. The highly sanitized “Ye Olde Days” marketing also offers kid-friendly activities.
Anacostia - Museum of the City of DC - Amazing history of Washington, DC that has kid-friendly activities, but hard to get to w/o a car.
Two locations for rentals – Fletcher’s Cove near Georgetown (take an Uber) or in Anacostia near the ballpark. Nikki prefers Fletcher’s. Fletchers has a small snack bar and outdoor grills.
C&;O Canal, Capital Crescent Trail, or Mt. Vernon Trail (*look up how to get to the trailhead of Mt. Vernon trail by bike before you go!). We do not recommend biking with kids by the Mall as it is very, very busy with pedestrians and vehicles.
Further afield or with a car:
Great Falls National Park (excellent hiking)
Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum at Dulles (can also be done with long layover & shuttle from airport)
Sugarloaf Vineyard and Winery – Near Sugarloaf Mountain in MD, this winery is super kid-friendly and has almost decent wine to boot!
Baltimore Aquarium (really, it’s worth the trip, about 45 min by train from Union Station).