Life in Laos through the lens of a diplomatic wife raising twin toddlers.

Exploring Washington, DC with Kids – Part 1

Before we leave Washington, DC for Colorado and then Laos in a few short weeks I want to share how wonderful it’s been to be here with young children. I have really enjoyed the sights more this time around (we come back to DC after each posting abroad) through the eyes and experiences of my children. It is a wonderful city to explore with kids, especially the Smithsonian Institution and it’s free access to museums.

For an easy half-day tour with toddlers, I would suggest the following: Heading out early is the best way to find easy parking* near the museums and beating the crowds. The Natural History Museum opens at 10am, but you’ll be up and ready to get out of the house with the little one(s) anyway so why not get to the area by 9.30am to park and sit on the steps and have a snack/change diaper(s) before the doors open. This way you can enter right away and be more likely to have an uninterrupted tour of the museum (food and drinks are not allowed), and finish before the crowds really start to pile in, usually around 11am. For 2-year olds, our favorite sections of the Natural History Museum are the Hall of Mammals, Insect Zoo, and Ocean Hall. Volunteers at the Insect Zoo usually brings out live insects by 10.30am for the little ones to look at up close or even hold. There is also a Butterfly Pavilion where you can pay ($6/adult, $5/child) to enter a room full of live butterflies. We’ve never gone inside and just looked through a glass window at all the butterflies landing on people’s heads!

Up close with a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.

Touching a Lubber Grasshopper.

Holding a Tobacco Worm.

Next, you can go right next door to the National Museum of American History where kids can enjoy checking out the Transportation Collection with the humongous steam engine and trolly car ride simulation. Or, two blocks the other way is the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. There is a beautiful water fountain there (and what kid doesn’t like fountains?) which turns into an ice skating rink during the winter.

Look at how tiny the kids look next to that sculpture.

Water splashing is a nice outdoor break for the little ones.

“What is it mommy?”
“Art honey, it’s art.

By now it’s probably time for lunch. Food inside the museums and from outdoor kiosks along the National Mall is expensive, so we try to pack a simple lunch to have a picnic on the mall. There are grassy areas and lots of park benches to choose from. It is always an awesome feeling to have the Washington Monument looming over you and a view of the Capital Buildingon the other side.

M is focused on putting all the gravel onto the grass.

And if you don’t have to rush back to put the little one(s) down for a nap, then why not enjoy a little carousel ride ($3.50/person). It’s right across the mall from the Natural History Museum.

Our first carousel ride.

Well I think by this point on the itinerary everyone has had a fun and educational day, and all of it practically for free. There is certainly much much more to see in DC, but this particular 1/2 day itinerary before nap has worked really well for our two kids and I hope that you and yours will enjoy it, too!

*For a little insider secret to parking, if you can find a spot along Constitution Avenue, great, although it’s paid parking and typically fills up fast. If not, try taking a right off of Constitution onto 12th St. or 9th St. to Madison Dr., which runs right in front of the Natural History Museum, for free parking. We find that unless there is a festival or other massive gathering organized on a Saturday or Sunday morning that this inner loop along Madison doesn’t usually fill up right away.

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5 comments on “Exploring Washington, DC with Kids – Part 1

  1. thirdeyemom
    June 17, 2012

    Funny Dee as we went to the exact same museum as you did last time we were in DC! My in-laws live in Virginia thus we go often but have found the city hard to do with kids usually since the traffic can take us forever. I loved this museum though. More tips on DC with kids are welcome!

    • Wanderlustress
      June 17, 2012

      Hi Nicole! The trick (for us) is to get out early and head off the traffic and the crowds, or use public transportation (which can still get crowded when there is a baseball game in town or some other large event). There’s also heading out in the opposite direction of town to the Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport which I’ll post about soon. At least now that your kids are older, you don’t have to rush back home for nap time and can do an even longer itinerary than the one I suggested. I like to cluster our outings so there’s not much travel time in between each sight. Hope you had a great father’s day weekend!

  2. Ana Gaby
    June 17, 2012

    Very cool. I loved taking my 18 month old for a tour of the museums. He particularly enjoyed the american history museum and the air and space. I can’t wait to go back and take him to the museums we didn’t see.

    • Wanderlustress
      June 17, 2012

      The air and space is great. Have you taken him to the new one out near Dulles Airport? It is humongous and impressive. I’ll post about it soon. Definitely worth a visit next time you are here.

      • Ana Gaby
        June 17, 2012

        I haven’t been there but I’ve heard great things about it! I can’t wait to go back and see it.

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