A Capital Idea: Weekend in DC
From a weekend escape to a full-fledged vacation, Washington DC’s family fun awaits.
Vacations are different things to different people. You may be seeking culture, your significant other, history. The kids? They just want somewhere “cool.” Thankfully, a short drive is all it takes to provide all three, and a little more, for every member of the family.’
Washington DC seems to be on every family’s must-see list, and with good reason. As the national’s capitol it’s teeming with opportunities to educate and enlighten. As a cultural hub it’s home to amazing museums and arts programming. DC is alive and vibrant these days – a far cry from the city you may recall from your youth.
Yet for a city you think you know and that is right around the corner, you may have no clue where to start. May we offer some advice?
A place to rest your head
Choosing a hotel can be tricky business when you don’t know the lay of the land. The good thing is DC’s well-designed Metrorail subway system means no matter where you end up, you can get to where you want to go. That said, staying close to the most popular attractions will save you time and money. Washington Plaza Hotel is just around the corner from the White House, and walkable (or a short Metro ride) to the National Mall and most museums, plus it sports a pool for summer splashing. If you prefer something outside the city center, the Omni Shoreham is just blocks from the National Zoo, numerous parks, and funky residential neighborhoods, and is surprisingly kid-friendly for an upscale chain. To glam up your stay a bit more, check into the Mandarin Oriental. National Mall and Tidal Basin views are paired with kids welcome bags and free milk and cookies available on demand via room service.
It’s hard to come to DC with first-timers and not expose them to some of the historic grandeur that makes the capital our nation’s centerpiece. After years of refurbishment thanks to earthquake damage, the Washington Monument is again open and a great first stop to get a real feel for the city’s layout. Once you come down, head east to the Lincoln Memorial for classic photo ops, then loop south to take in the views by the Tidal Basin, where the city’s signature cherry trees bloom April through May (if the weather is good, grab a paddle boat for a zen view and mini workout).
Continue your loop around the Washington monument and head west down the National Mall, lined with most of the Smithsonian museums. The most popular for families are the Air & Space Museum, where you can climb inside a space capsule and see the Wright Brother’s early models, and the Museum of Natural History. Be forewarned: National Fossil Hall is closed through 2019 as the space is renovated to welcome a new T-Rex; until then head upstairs to see some of the dinos on display in the new “The Last American Dinosaurs” exhibit. The Mall also is home to the National Carousel, a great break from the museums.
Last, head back toward the Washington Monument, and head north up 15th Street NW for your look at The White House. Planning to go inside? All public tours are reserved through your member of Congress – send in your request up to 6 months in advance for your best shot.
Off the Mall fun
The touristy area of the south can fill up days, but there’s a lot more to see. Just a few blocks north in the Chinatown neighborhood check out the National Building Museum, where architectural marvels mingle with a massive LEGO room for budding builders, the Newseum, where journalists can relish in famous front pages, can take photos of a new scene, or try their hand at delivering the weather forecast in front of a green screen, and the International Spy Museum, where teens will have a blast solving the mystery with the hands-on Operation Spy.
If you had hoped for a trip more tropical, duck into the U.S. Botanical Garden, where 26,000 colorful plants fill 10 climate-controlled rooms of beauty.
You’ll also want to make time for a stroll through the casual and charming National Zoo, home of the area’s favorite residents, Mei Xiang, Tian Tian, and baby Bao Bao (aka the pandas). There is also a great elephant exhibit for those missing the Philly pachyderms, and a Kid’s Farm designed to teach children about the importance of the agricultural world.
Those with older kids or utilizing a local babysitting service may want to spend some time simply wandering some of the city’s neighborhoods as well. Like those in Philly, DC ‘hoods sport great main streets, niche shopping, unusual food options, and more. Our favorites: Georgetown for the river views and people watching (spend some time on Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac if you have it!), Friendship Heights for the stunning mansions and high-end shopping, and Adams Morgan for kitschy boutiques and amazing global cuisine.
Food for the crew
The good news: you’ll find plenty of familiar names as you stroll the streets. But if you want to enjoy some local establishments, there are plenty that welcome kids.
Jose Andres is DC’s equivalent to Philadelphia’s Jose Garces, and his restaurants range from casual to high-end. With the kids, try Jaleo, which offers up Spanish tapas and allows everyone to try new things without committing to a full platter. For something you know they’ll eat, find the closest Matchbox, an area brick-oven pizza spot (there’s one just blocks from the National Mall on H Street NW). Tonic in Foggy Bottom is a quirky take on an old soda shop with delish tater tots you’ll be stealing off the kids’ plates. Or make your way to Barrack’s Row and Ted’s Bulletin for a tasty meal of comfort favorites and much-raved-about homemade Pop-Tarts.
The National Mall is also the perfect spot for a picnic lunch. Head over early to the Union Market, Breadline, or Taylor Gourmet (one spot in DC where you’ll feel like you’re home in Philly) for a DIY bag of decadent goodies to enjoy in your pit-stop of choice.