Guest Post by Sarah from Camera Suitcase Go
Family & Budget-Friendly DC
While I have no children of my own, my years as a teacher and summer nanny as well as being aunt to some pretty amazing nieces and nephews have served me well in understanding what is important to children and their parents. Cheap. But fun.
Fortunately, Washington D.C. is a great destination to accomplish both of those goals! You can scale up or down depending on your budget and still come away feeling that you truly experienced the beauty and importance of the nation’s capital.
The obvious tourist attractions are all of the monuments, memorials and museums that line the Mall. These can all be done regardless of budget as they are all FREE!
Some of these include:
- Lincoln Memorial
- Jefferson Memorial
- Washington Monument – closed for repairs until August 2019
- Vietnam Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- WWII Memorial
- National Museum of African American History & Culture
- American History Museum
- Air & Space Museum
- Old Smithsonian
- Natural History Museum
- National Archives
- National Gallery of Art
- National Museum of the American Indian
- Botanic Gardens
- U.S. Capitol Building
Visiting each of the monuments and memorials could easily take a day. Add in the museums and Capitol Building and you can fill out the rest of your week and call it a day! And this is not even a comprehensive list of museums in DC – these are just the ones lining the Mall.
PLEASE NOTE: Before visiting, please check the websites of each location as they may require timed tickets (but free) as peak tourist times have to be regulated to accommodate the crowds.
If you are like me and want to get off the beaten path though to see some sights other than the usual tourist stuff, keep reading for five additional hidden gems you might not know about.
This area recently came onto my radar and it is worth spending some time. It is a recent developing area in the southwest of DC and is still being developed into a mile long waterfront destination for dining, entertainment and shopping. It is a unique area one would not normally associate with Washington D.C. but the tip of the Washington Monument reminds you of where you really are.
You could easily spend a morning or afternoon with your children doing the following:
Grabbing a meal and eating it along the many seating areas near the water
Swinging on a large wooden swing watching a sunset
Sliding down the wooden slopes near the swings
Running in the splashpad
- Cooking and eating Smores from the Smores camper
Checking out all the raw seafood offered by the numerous seafood places
Taking a water taxi from here to another destination on the Potomac
This area has always been a go-to for us as it has something for everyone but is similar to The Wharf in its offerings.
Check out Georgetown Cupcakes – featured on several reality TV shows – and grab a cupcake for the waterfront
The Labyrinth on the waterfront – a maze the kids will love winding through
A bigger (than the one at The Wharf) arched splash pad
- Plenty of seating along the water to take in the kayaks and boats passing by
Take in the sights of the Key Bridge and the Kennedy Center
Great people watching area while the kids run off energy
Picnic near the waterfront and feed the ducks on the water steps
Take a water taxi from here to another destination on the Potomac
Away from the waterfront area are two other Georgetown destinations worth checking out.
Tudor Place was built by a granddaughter of Martha Washington and features beautiful gardens and stone paths that children would enjoy exploring. There is a minimal cost for entry.
Additionally, the Georgetown University campus is absolutely gorgeous and there is plenty of room for the kids to run around while you take in the beauty of the nation’s oldest Catholic university.
The National Building Museum
While the name of this museum does not excite most people, what is inside will excite children of all ages! It truly is a hidden gem with so much history contained within it’s walls
There is an entry fee for adults and children alike but the unique experience offered within is worth the effort made to visit. There is a building zone area for kids and other special exhibits offered throughout the year.
If you do not want to pay, you can grab the museum brochure for a self-guided tour which tells you the highlights of the building and what to look for as you walk around. The architecture and history alone makes for a great visit if you did not want to pay entry to the exhibits.
Rock Creek Park Nature Center
This park was created in 1890 and spans almost 1,800 acres. It is a true oasis for those living in the city and is a hidden gem for tourists to discover. The Nature Center itself is a great destination for those with children as it features live fish, snakes, turtles and a bee hive.
There are other daily activities and exhibits to enjoy as well as a half mile hike on a trail behind the Nature Center. Be sure to ask for the treasure hunt paper from the front desk before heading out on the hike.
Best of all – it’s all free!!!
If you take the water taxi from one of the other locations such as Georgetown or The Wharf over to Alexandria you can easily spend a day here exploring its offerings.
It is almost overwhelming what one can do in this hidden gem but here are a few that I would recommend starting with:
Old Town walk around – there is so much history in each building you pass, it’s worth walking a few streets just taking it all in. You can also ride the Trolley for free
The National Inventors Hall of Fame – it is not centrally located, so you will need to drive there; however, entry is free and you get an inside peek into the minds of inventors and see cool inventions!
Torpedo Factory Art Center is home to many amazing artists and you can actually go around watch them at work. Fascinating for kids and you may find yourself bringing a treasure home with you!
Waterfront Parks – they seem to be everywhere but Alexandria has the most and the best ones to explore! The main one in Old Alexandria currently (til November 2019) has a cool art exhibit that kids will love called Mirror Mirror.
Providence Ship will soon be making its permanent appearance (summer of 2019) in the docks of Alexandria. It was the ship used in Pirates of the Caribbean and is a replica of one of the first ships created for the U.S. Continental Navy. It will feature tours and John Paul Jones himself! There is an entry fee; however, it’s worth every penny in the education your child will receive about another crucial part of our U.S. history.
Wherever your budget and plans take you in the DC region, one thing is for sure – your child(ren) will unwittingly still be getting educated! There is no way around it when visiting the nation’s capital as our history is rooted so deeply in this part of the country.
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It was great to put all these memories together in one post of various family members spending quality time in our nation’s capital. Everyone should take the opportunity!
Karla Harmer says
Hi Sarah! Thank you for this lovely article. I agree, the capital doesn’t get enough written about it. It should be on everyone’s bucket list for family travel.