This summer we explored Washington DC with our two sons ages 3 and 5. It was my husband’s first time to our nation’s capital and we had a blast. Even young children can have fun and learn on a trip to DC without getting into all the details of our country’s government. They loved connecting the monuments they found to what they see on our money. Exploring the National Air and Space Museum was another favorite. Keep reading to get some insider tips on how to navigate Washington with young children.
There are several easy options for navigating DC with a family. We opted to drive and use cabs and hop-on-hop-off buses. Driving was the easiest because we could store everything the kids would need in the car. Car seats were ready to go and a snack was close at hand after we’d exhausted the kids with sight-seeing and other DC fun. The biggest issue with driving was finding parking. Plus you’ll have to be ready for the parking fees which would range from $10-25 for the day depending on where you parked.
Cabs were super simple to use and legally you don’t have to use a car seat in the cab. Safety wise, though, they should be used as your still just traveling in a car. The hop-on-hop-off busy were easy to use to get to the monuments and museums and the boys loved sitting on top and watching the capital drift by. You still need to get to one of the hop-on-hop-off stops from your hotel so then you’re left with the original options of walking, taking the metro or a cab or driving and finding parking.
Choose your monuments wisely as the kiddos will probably tire of them before seeing every monument in Washington (mom and dad will too!). The top sights include the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, White House and Capitol building. You can start at the Lincoln Memorial and walk to the Washington Monument along the reflecting pool. It’s a bit of a hike at about a mile. You can continue on to the Capitol building but that’s a total of 2 miles from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol building. 2 miles might not be that much for an active family but remember to take the stroller in case the kids get worn out.
One great thing about DC is that most of the sights are free and that includes many of the museums. The Smithsonian Museums have many interactive exhibits for kids especially at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum for Natural History.
A fun way to explore DC and the surrounding area is to take a cruise down the Potomac. Sight-seeing cruises or brunch cruises are great ways to relax and see the sights with the family. If you’re looking to see more than just DC, take the Spirit of Mount Vernon and explore George Washington’s mansion and estate. The family will appreciate a day of relaxing after so much excitement in DC.
Finding family-friendly dining is a must for any family vacation. Keeping it simple is your best bet in DC. Food trucks are a great idea for a picnic at the national mall. Find something that sounds good to the whole family and picnic on the lawn around the reflecting pool. It’s a picture-perfect and memorable way to enjoy a meal.
Most of the museums offer a cafeteria of some sort if you’re looking for a convenient option. This allows the family to take a quick break for lunch without having to wander around DC looking for a place to eat. When finished you can get back to exploring the museum. The downside is that they can be quite costly. You might regret the $10 cold meat sandwich but it might be worth it to stay in one location.
Ordering in is our go-to when we’re too exhausted from the day’s adventures. We love to pick somewhere new that delivers to the hotel and just hang out for the evening. The kids love the free time this allows and then we hit the pool after dinner.
Lebanese Taverna is a great place when you’re ready to hit the town. Enjoy camel wings (don’t worry its actually chicken) kabobs, hummus, watermelon and feta salad and more. The food is excellent and the staff is friendly. It's located in a great neighborhood that is the perfect place for an after dinner stroll.
There are many lodging options in DC but not all are kid-friendly. Our top choice was the Kimpton Hotel Palomar in Dupont Circle. It was located just over a mile from the national mall and had spacious, kid-friendly rooms. Mom and dad could enjoy a nightly wine hour in the lobby or coffee and tea in the morning. The pool made it really family friendly as the kids were ready to splash about after a day of sight-seeing in the hot summer sun.
Full Disclosure: Some of the stops on our tour of DC were hosted by the venue we visited. As always, all opinions are my own.