Washington, D.C. Area Family Attractions
Visiting our nation’s capital is a rite of passage for every American. As a result, the Washington, D.C. area offers family attractions that are unique, interesting, and educational for everyone.
Families with kids learning about the United States of America and democracy will eat up visiting these Washington, D.C. area family attractions.
That is to say, my kids are HUGE American history buffs and Washington, D.C. was their dream destination.
While we missed the famed cherry blossoms (except for ONE tree) we did see museums, monuments, buildings, and all historic sites our eyes could absorb in five days.
Balancing Washington, D.C. Area Family Attractions And City Visit
We picked a centrally located hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. (at the midpoint of The Mall). This allowed us easy access to all city attractions. With this in mind, plus the goal of not moving our car, we planned the outside area visits on our way there and back.
George & Martha Washington’s Home: Mount Vernon
Our first stop was Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of George & Martha Washington. This beautiful, huge property (once 8,000 acres!) is nestled right on the Potomac. In addition, it is the most popular historic estate in America. Also, if you like historical movies, you’ll recognize Mount Vernon from the movie “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.”
Our mansion tour taught us George Washington was an innovative farmer who changed his crops to control the narrative. Also – he liked green and loved wallpaper – the high-tech rage of his time. We also learned some behind the scenes movie secrets and that the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (a private, non-profit organization) swooped in and saved Mount Vernon from ruin in 1858.
Gaylord National Resort & The National Harbor
With a car full of hungry bellies, we headed over to the National Harbor for some amazing waterfront dining, spectacular aerial views, and retro desserts.
We enjoyed a fantastic meal (including Maryland’s mascot the crab cake) at McCormick & Schmick’s overlooking John Seward Johnson II’s famous sculpture “The Awakening” as the sun set.
Followed by our first glimpse of Washington, D.C. from the top of the 180-foot-tall Capital Wheel.
Finally, we capped off our perfect night at Gaylord National’s 80s-themed rooftop lounge: Replay at Pose Lounge for insane milkshakes and retro arcade games.
Gaylord National Resort is not only stunning but also offers seasonal family-friendly activities all year long.
With full bellies and drooping eyelids, we headed into Washington, D. C.
We began our family exploration of Washington, D.C. family attractions with Ford’s Theater. Here, on April 14th, 1865, during a performance of the show “Our American Cousin,” Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. The course of history was changed by a six inch single shot Derringer pistol.
This excellent museum chronicles the highlights and legacies of Lincoln’s presidency, the events leading up to that fateful evening, and what came next – both immediately – and for the next 157 years.
History buffs can enjoy a self-led tour through the museum and theatre, then walk across the street to the Petersen House (where Lincoln died the next morning) and aftermath exhibits. The pocket-sized murder weapon – found on the floor of the President’s box that night – is on display at the museum as well.
My kids loved the interactive chronicling of Booth’s manhunt, which ended with his capture two weeks later at Garrett’s Farm. I loved the 35 foot tower of books highlighting how Lincoln’s popularity continues today.
Ford’s Theatre is still a cornerstone of live theatre with many upcoming performances.
We continued our Lincoln theme that night with a visit to his memorial.
Our next stop was The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. This museum was amazing.
The museum tour began three floors below street level in pre-slavery Africa, in the year 1400. Next, it outlined the sickening and shocking ways Africa became the hub of slave trading for hundreds of years.
The ascending exhibit continues up 609 years of history – highlighting African Americans’ vital contributions through all of America’s wars, the Civil Rights movement, and cultural contributions, culminating in a huge 2009 image of President Barack Obama’s inauguration as the first African American President of the United States of America.
Upstairs, you’ll find contemporary African American contributions to TV shows, art, movies, music, and more. Every corner of this museum greeted us with important artifacts – including one of Rosa Park’s dresses and a Greensboro lunch counter stool.
The International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum was the most requested stop on our Washington, D.C. area family attractions list. This interactive museum grabbed our attention immediately by immersing us into spy culture upon arrival.
Around every corner you’ll find a kiosk to register your intel, chart your course, and complete your mission. There are places to climb for optimum surveillance and places to assess your agility and strength determining your spy ability.
My kids did not want to leave this museum thanks to the interesting history and super cool spy artifacts. I loved learning about the importance of women’s contributions to spying throughout the decades, how important simple observation is, and how spies have impacted wars by secretly moving information across borders.
White House Tour
As avid presidential trivia buffs one of the highlights of our trip was our White House tour. The moment tours reopened, my husband contacted our Congressman for tickets.
Not only was this self-guided tour super cool, but my kids loved getting sworn in across the street as Junior Park Rangers.
More Washington, D.C. Area Family Attractions
Since we strived to do it all, we also visited the National Museum of American History (for the First Ladies inaugural gown exhibit and Dorothy’s ruby slippers), the Library of Congress (for the Gutenberg Bible), the Supreme Court, the Capitol, our Congressman’s office, the National Archives, and all the monuments.
Washington, D.C. Area Family Attractions Includes Foodies!
We ate so well in Washington, D.C. and enjoyed outdoor dining everywhere thanks to the perfect April weather. We loved Zaytinya and Farmers Fishers Bakers for dinner and LOVED Poki DC for lunch.
Washington, D.C. Area Family Attractions After Dark
While the historical and Presidential monuments are special any time you visit, I especially liked them lit up at night. Our post-dinner walks around the Tidal Basin made our trip super special.
Arlington National Cemetery
Since my history buff kids love cemeteries as much as museums, our final stop (pun intended) before heading home was Arlington National Cemetery across the bridge in Virginia to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Washington, D.C. Area Family Attractions: Bring Good Walking Shoes!
In conclusion, chock full of so much of everything, the endless Washington, D.C. area family attractions list offers something for everyone – no matter the age.
Most importantly, my best piece of advice is bring good shoes. We walked over forty miles! In addition, if you’re looking for a tour company – I loved the choices Historic America Tours offered including their Soul Food Saturdays.
*Above all, be sure to check museum and attraction websites in advance. Many are free and open to the public, but some require advanced ticketing.
Don’t forget to check out all the family friendly destinations we’ve researched!
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