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

Washington with Tweens: A Family Vacation

Getty Images

Planning a trip to Washington, D.C. with tweens? Here are some tips from an educator who frequently visited D.C. as a tween.


If you're going to visit Washington, D.C. with tweens, you better start with a delicious and healthy breakfast. If your hotel's continental spread isn't doing it for you, go by Breadline for a special treat. Everything's made fresh daily, and it's delicious and very reasonably priced. I'm a big fan of their scones, but I've also enjoyed a breakfast sandwich when I wanted something more substantial. I'll add that their lunches are equally delicious, but the place gets packed.

1751 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20006
Monday-Friday: 7:30AM – 3:30PM

You've absolutely got to hit up a museum during your family vacation with tweens. Washington, D.C. boasts some of the best museums in the country-and many of them are free. Here are my top three choices for families with tweens:

The Air and Space Museum is always a favorite among the museums at the Smithsonian. It's got hands-on "discovery stations" throughout the museum, as well as ride simulators (like a space walk simulation for $7) and flight simulators (like an F-4 Phantom II jet fighter simulation for $8), and a planetarium and an IMAX theater that put commercial IMAX theaters to shame (it costs about $7-9 for the Smithsonian shows; more if they happen to have a feature film). But not to worry, the museum itself is plenty exciting if you don't want to pay for all the extras, and like all the Smithsonian museums, admission is free. I don't think I could visit without picking up some freeze-dried astronaut ice cream from the gift shop though – it's childhood in a vacuum sealed pouch.

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
Independence Avenue at 6th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20560
Open Daily: 10:00AM – 5:30PM

The National Portrait Gallery, another Smithsonian museum, is also free. When traveling with tweens, art museums may not come to mind as one of the best things to do in Washington, D.C., but these two (housed in the same building) are so well done, they cater to just about every age demographic. In the portrait gallery, there's plenty of fodder for conversation and discussion as you explore portraits of every sort of American icon, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Marilyn Monroe and Lance Armstrong. My personal favorite is a portrait of Toni Morrison. Her eyes pierce right through you. Check it out while you're there. Once you're done with the portrait section, head on up to the American Art Museum. There's a lot to look at, but I guarantee the whole family will be blown away by the Electronic Superhighway, an awe-inspiring installation piece of neon lights and TVs.

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum
8th and F Streets
Washington, D.C. 20002
Open Daily 11:30AM-7PM, closed Christmas Day


I don't suggest touring the numerous monuments located in Washington, D.C. with tweens, but it would be verging on sacrilegious to visit D.C. without at least acknowledging them and some of the other important structures (like, say, the White House). So, I recommend eating lunch on the National Mall. You can pick up soda and a hot dog from one of the venders or refreshment stands, and picnic on the grassy area while you point out the Capitol, Washington Monument, and Smithsonian Castle. Then you can take a short walk to see the Reflecting Pool, Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, and White House. Of course, you don't have to eat outside. All three museums I recommend have cafes, but be forewarned that they're pricey and usually pretty crowded.

National Mall
Washington, D.C.
Open 24 hours a day. Rangers on duty 9:30AM-11:30PM daily.

The International Spy Museum is a great place to go during your family vacation with tweens. Washington, D.C. spoils us with all its top-notch museums available free of charge, so sometimes it's hard to cough up the hefty admission fee ($15 for children ages 5 to11 and $18 for children and adults 12+), but the Spy Museum is worth it. Actually, I always list D.C.'s Spy Museum as one of the top three museums I've been to anywhere, and I'm a museum junkie. If you're a first-timer at this mecca of all things espionage, I say go with the general admission. They've got some cool alternatives, but my experience, at least with Operation Spy, is that it's like the game Apples to Apples: incredibly fun if you're playing with the right people, but incredibly boring if you're not. The general admission, on the other hand, is a sure hit.

International Spy Museum

800 F Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
Open Daily: 10AM – 6PM, opens earlier and closes later on select days

Honestly, touring many of the government buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. with tweens would probably be excruciating for them. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, however, is a different story. Its tour is only 40 minutes, and you actually witness millions of dollars being printed as you walk through. This too is free, but it books up quickly. You have to get in line for tickets in the morning, and they're usually all distributed by 9AM.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing
14th and C Streets, SW
Washington, D.C. 20228
Monday – Friday: 8:30AM – 3:30PM


If you have any pizza aficionados in your family, it's worth the Metro trip and short walk to visit 2Amys. Their Margherita Extra pizza is the epitome of perfection, so I can't speak about much else. Why try other items when you've already discovered the jackpot, right?

2Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria
3715 Macomb Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20016
Sunday noon-10PM, Monday 5PM-10PM, Tuesday-Thursday 11AM-10PM, Friday-Saturday 11AM-11PM

If you and your family travel to Washington, D.C. on a Tuesday or Friday evening, consider attending either the Sunset Parade on Tuesdays or the Evening Parade on Fridays featuring the Marine Corps Band (only at the Evening Parade), the Drum and Bugle Corps, and Silent Drill Platoon. The music is wonderful, but it's the Silent Drill Platoon (silent in that there are no orders spoken) that you're there to see. Their precision is mesmerizing and unforgettable. The Friday show starts at 8:45PM at the Marine Barracks in D.C., but you've got to be there by 8PM, and reservations are highly recommended. The Tuesday show is held at the Iwo Jima Memorial from 7PM to 8PM, and does not require reservations

Obviously live theater isn't everyone's thing, but I was obsessed with it by the time I was 10 years old, and I guarantee that I wasn't the only tween with a not-so-secret love for live acting, singing, and choreographed dancing. My parents generously fueled my passion with plenty of trips to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Among the best family vacation ideas, the Kennedy Center always has cool things going on within their walls, including one free show every night. But it could be worth splurging for a ticketed performance. They host some of the best productions south of Manhattan.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20566
Visit website for show times and prices.

Ultimately, you have to go with what's best for your family when you travel to Washington, D.C. If you've got an 8-year-old who happens to be obsessed with Native Americans, then of course you should visit the National Museum of the American Indian. Why wouldn't you? If you've got a baseball fan in your midst (or a family full of them), then try to attend a Nationals game. There's no one perfect schedule because every family is different. So go ahead and make your trip to Washington D.C. with tweens the best family vacation it can possibly be.

National Museum of the American Indian
4th Street and Independence Ave, SW
Washington, D.C. 20560
Open Daily: 10:00AM – 5:30PM

More Washington, DC Articles From Our Partners
Read Full Story

From Our Partners