Family Fun in D.C.

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Family Fun in D.C.
For families, visiting D.C. is an excellent learning experience. But all that sightseeing can be overwhelming, especially for kids. Here are activities that will break up history lessons with pure fun.
By Christian Mirasol, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Bernhard Classen/age fotostock
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    Family Time at the Museum
    D.C. is filled with attractions for families, and the Smithsonian Museums and National Zoo top the list of places to see. Kid-friendly demonstrations, hands-on learning opportunities, interactive kiosks, and IMAX theaters bring larger-than-life images to the screen. For older kids, a trip to the International Spy Museum is worth every penny of the price of admission for the fun they’ll have. Located just a short distance outside the city is the National Children’s Museum, which has exhibits and activities targeted to children eight and younger.
    Photo by Bernhard Classen/age fotostock
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    Tours for Families
    Guided tours are an excellent way to become familiar with D.C., and many are designed just for families. Climb aboard Old Town Trolley or an open-top double-decker bus from Big Bus Tours; both operate year-round, hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tours. D.C. Ducks takes you on a cruise around the city and the Potomac River on a fully restored authentic World War II Amphibious Duck vehicle. For ages 16 and up, explore D.C. by Segway with Segs in the City, City Segway Tours, or Capital Segway. D.C. by Foot takes visitors on free, tip-based walking tours of the Mall, select neighborhoods, and Arlington Cemetery. Learn unique facts and debunk urban legends, tall-tales, and half-truths.
    Photo courtesy of Destination DC
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    See D.C. from the Water
    Visitors to D.C. find themselves walking a lot. For a change of pace, take to the water. Renting a boat and peddling around the Tidal Basin is a fun, family-friendly activity. It’s a great way burn off pent-up energy, take in fresh air, and catch terrific views of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. Paddle-loving families can also rent kayaks or canoes and cruise on their own on the Potomac River. Key Bridge Boathouse (formerly known as Jack’s Boathouse) and Thompson Boathouse are great rental facilities, both conveniently close to downtown. For families who prefer someone else as captain, plenty of boat tour options offer cruises around the Potomac.
    Photo by Julee K.
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    Two-Wheeling around the City
    D.C. is a bike-friendly town, with bike lanes and plenty of trails to keep all levels of cyclists happy. If fact, D.C. is home to the largest bike sharing program in all of the United States. Rent a bike from Capital Bikeshare, which has 180+ locations within the city and surrounding suburbs. Just look for the red bikes all parked in a row. If you’re looking for something different, say a child's bike or a tandem, Bike and Roll has you covered. They also offer guided bike tours of the city. If you’re in Georgetown, the Capital Crescent Trail will be calling you. Head to Big Wheel Bikes, rent some wheels for a few hours, and join locals for a scenic ride on a lovely wooded trail.
    Photo by Julee K.
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    Fun Family Sleepovers
    Who says fun has to end at bedtime? How much fun would your kids have falling asleep under the watchful gaze of a life-sized dinosaur or waking up to the sound of a lion roaring? If you want to find out, reserve spots for the highly popular sleepovers at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum or National Zoo. Both sleepovers begin with special guided tours and end with participants spending the night—in sleeping bags in one of the halls of the museum or in tents on the grounds of the zoo. Breakfast snacks are served in the morning before everyone goes their separate ways. Space is limited and tickets sell out quickly, so plan ahead.
    Photo courtesy of Steve Hajjar/Smithsonian Institution
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    Stargazing at the Naval Observatory
    D.C. is home to the Naval Observatory, the official source of time for the U.S. military and, by extension, the country. Computers, cell phones, and cable TV boxes all have their clocks set to the time kept here. The observatory offers tours that take place after sunset so you can peer into the large telescope and see the stars hanging high up in the sky, and you can ask all the questions you want of the astronomers guiding you around. Hands down, this is one of the best free tours in town. It is also one of the most difficult tours to sign up for as spots fill up weeks in advance. The tours are only offered on select Mondays from 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and they may be canceled at any time. Reserve as early as you can.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    At the Theater
    D.C. is chock full of theaters, staging world-class performances every day. Kids aren’t left out, though. One of the most popular children’s theater venues is the National Theatre. Saturday Mornings at the National Theatre is a weekly program for kids; a variety of free performances are offered at 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Actors, dancers, musicians, and puppets present an ever-changing repertoire. Admission is free but tickets are required; they are distributed to those standing in line starting half an hour prior to the performance. Two other popular children’s theater venues are Smithsonian Discovery Theatre and Family Theater at the Kennedy Center; both stage live performances of classic stories and folk tales.
    Photo by Julee K.
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    March of the Marines
    Daily parades presented proudly and flawlessly by members of the U.S. Marine Corps, elegantly dressed in full uniform, impress kids and adults alike. Every Tuesday and Friday from May through August, visitors can watch Marines march in military formation, twirling and throwing rifles as the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps plays in the background. There are two parades—the Evening Parade at the Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill, which takes place on Fridays, and the Sunset Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial, which takes place on Tuesdays. The parades, each an hour long, are a perfect way to cap off a day in D.C. Reservations for both parades are required but there is no charge. This is an extremely popular event so book your spots early.
    Photo courtesy of Destination DC
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    The Family-Friendly Glen Echo Park
    Among all the family-friendly parks located in and near D.C., a particular standout is Glen Echo Park. Run by the National Park Service, Glen Echo Park offers a wide array of interesting, fun, and educational classes and programs for both children and adults. For kids, there are playgroups and summer camps as well. The Park also has a puppet theater with performances for the entire family as well as a ballroom where adults can practice their best dance moves. There are art galleries, pottery studios, and even a glass blowing studio; all are open to visitors. The grand centerpiece of the park is the historic Dentzel Carousel, which offers a bit of old-fashioned fun for riders of all ages.
    Photo courtesy of Daniel Schreiber/Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts & Culture
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