Washington D.C. with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

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Washington with Kids: A Family Vacation

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Washington, D.C., is a must-visit destination, and surprisingly, a great place to sight see with little kids. As a fairly recent mom, I have the unique perspective of having seen D.C. sans children and now with a little one younger than 7. Packed with activities and interesting places that can be enjoyed by parents and kids alike, the nation's capital makes for a great family vacation that you will remember for years.

If you have the opportunity to stay in the city, by all means do so as that would be the ideal option. But with costs of hotels so high, families can take advantage of the fabulous Metro system to travel into the city from Metro-connected areas like Northern Virginia or Maryland. The Metro ride itself is a fun activity for kids. Keep in mind though that spring and summer months are peak tourist seasons in D.C. so you might want to make the trip early in the day to avoid crowds. Here is our suggested itinerary for the perfect family vacation day in Washington, D.C., with young kids:

Morning


As parents, we all know that worn-out kids are cranky kids. So plan a simple itinerary for your day in Washington D.C. with kids so that you will not have to hop the Metro across town to wander for miles through sites that have little or no interest for the little ones. So, have a hearty breakfast anywhere that's convenient, and then head out for your day.

Insider tip: Carry a couple of bottles of water and some easy snacks, as you will be walking a fair amount, and vending machines or cafeterias are not always at hand.

One of my favorite itineraries is to take the Metro to the Smithsonian (or you can get off at Federal Triangle) and walk to the Museum of Natural History (10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 202-633-1000; free admission). After being greeted by the gigantic African elephant in the rotunda, you will spend the morning looking at the wide variety of exhibits on the first floor. The exhibits include fossils, ocean creatures and a huge hall of life-like stuffed animals that are sure to generate oohs and aahs. (Watch 'Night at the Museum' the night before and your kids will really relate to the exhibits). At this point, dad can take the kids to the restroom while mom heads up to the Gems & Minerals exhibit to drool over the beautiful collection of jewelry. The museum tour is capped off with a look for everyone at the famous Hope diamond.

Alternative choice: Start your day off early with a walk around the White House (closest Metro stop is McPherson Square). The go across Constitution Avenue to take a ride up the Washington Monument (900 Ohio Drive SW; 202-426-6841). Admission is free, but you will need to get tickets from the Washington Monument Lodge building a short walk away. The long line is completely worth the view from the top: the Lincoln Memorial, the Ellipse backed by the White House beyond, the Mall with the Capitol in the background and finally the Potomac complete the panorama.


Afternoon


This usually brings us to the perfect point in the family vacation day with kids in Washington D.C., for a lunch break. If the weather is pleasant enough, we will pick up something from one of the museum's several cafeterias and sit in the shade of a tree on the National Mall to people-watch and be amazed again at the stately majesty of the buildings around us. Or, take a cab to eclectic Dupont Circle for lunch at one of the wide variety of restaurants and walk your meal off with a stroll through the shops.

This might be followed by a brief siesta and then a stop for some ice-cream and/or a carousel ride, before we head to the National Air and Space Museum (Independence Ave at 6th Street SW; 202-633-2214) for the afternoon. Along with the thrill of touching an actual moonstone and seeing the inside of a space shuttle, the museum offers IMAX movies and cool flight simulators for the more adventurous kids. The Early Flight exhibit is an interesting look at the beginnings of what we today take for granted.

After two museums, everyone is feeling pretty tired. So depending on the kids' moods, we either head back to home/hotel or take the Metro to the historic King Street in Alexandria, Va. Just across the river from D.C., this quaint historic street has shops and restaurants for every budget and taste. Post-baby, we usually avoid the high-end restaurants and choose easy places like Panera; but one of my favorite restaurants in Old Town is Joe Theismann's (1800 Diagonal Road, Alexandria, Va.; 703-739-0777) right at the start of King Street and a block away from the Metro station. The casual atmosphere and comprehensive menu makes it easy to feed a fussy family. My personal favorite is grilled salmon salad with dried cranberries, pecans and a champagne vinaigrette.


Evening


If you have a car, drive to the National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-537-6200) in the late afternoon. The view from the seventh floor is not to be missed; the old photos on the walls compared to the actual view from the windows provides a wonderful contrast.

Then head over to your pre-booked tour of the United States Naval Observatory (3450 Massachusetts Ave., NW; 202-762-1467) for some star-gazing. Even if the night is a cloudy one, you will still walk away with a memorable experience as you tour the historic refractor telescope where the entire floor is a giant elevator that rises up and down to the operator-level of the telescope.


After that, head back to your hotel for a well-earned night's sleep. Even if you have to cut short your family vacation day of fun, just being in the city will surely leave you with a sense of awe for the political power-center of this amazing nation.

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