By Eva Leonard
Washington, D.C., is tailor-made for families, packed with attractions to suit every interest, many easily accessible via the Metro. Most D.C. museums are free and have programs to capture the attention and imagination of adults, kids, tweens and teens. Here are some of D.C.’s top attractions and activities for the whole family.
1. Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum encourages imaginations young and old to soar, featuring groundbreaking airplanes and spacecraft, flight simulators and artifacts, an observation tower, an IMAX Theater, and hands-on activities for kids.
National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C., 20560. 202-633-2214
Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center, 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, Virginia, 20151, 703-572-4118, https://airandspace.si.edu/
2. National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History houses more than 126 million natural science specimens and cultural artifacts, from rare gemstones to unusual insects. Q?rius is the museum’s interactive and experimental learning space designed to inspire teens’ and tweens’ curiosity about science and the natural world. While the museum’s National Fossil Hall is closed for renovations, the ever-popular dinosaurs are on view in The Last American Dinosaurs: Discovering a Lost World exhibit on the second floor.
National Museum of Natural History, 10th St. and Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20560, 202-633-1000, www.mnh.si.edu/
3. International Spy Museum
This intriguing museum features international espionage stories and artifacts, including the famous Enigma cipher machine, a letter written by George Washington to enlist a spymaster, and disguised weapons like a lipstick pistol. Visitors can take part in interactive spy experiences, and activities for kids include a gadget lab to teach them to create their own spy gadgets, using everyday objects.
International Spy Museum, 800 F St., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20004, 202-393-7798, www.spymuseum.org
4. National Geographic Museum
Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants, running through October 11, 2015, is just one of the exciting exhibits families can enjoy this summer at the National Geographic Museum.
National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, 202-857-7700, http://events.nationalgeographic.com/national-geographic-museum/
5. National Museum of the American Indian
The National Museum of the American Indian’s options for kids include films, the imagiNATIONS Activity Center, with kid-friendly replicas of traditional Native homes and interactive quiz shows, a hands-on teaching cart, a children’s workshop, and a Native Beats music room.
National Museum of the American Indian, 4th St., and Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20560, 202-633-1000, http://nmai.si.edu/visit/washington/imaginations/
6. The Yards Park
One of the highlights of this award-winning park is an 11-inch deep canal, complete with a waterfall, where the kids can cool off on sticky summer days. It also has grassy areas, a waterfront boardwalk, Friday night summer concerts in the terraced performance venue, and views of the Anacostia River.
The Yards Park, 355 Water St., S.E., Washington, D.C., 20003
7. The National Building Museum
This museum dedicated to building architecture, engineering, and design houses a Building Zone for children ages two to six, with books, building blocks, toy bulldozers and trucks, and play hard hats, tool belts, and goggles. July 4, 2015 is the opening date of The Beach, an “ocean” of nearly one million recyclable plastic balls that will cover 10,000 square feet, along with beach chairs, umbrellas, and a mirrored wall, promising fun for the whole family.
National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Don’t miss this historic, walkable neighborhood, packed with charming houses, shops, cafes, and restaurants, including local favorites like ice cream parlor Thomas Sweet, and Old Glory All-American Bar-B-Que. Georgetown’s historic C&O canal and towpath run parallel with M Street and offer a fascinating glimpse into Georgetown’s history as a tobacco port.
Thomas Sweet, 3214 P St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20007, 202-337-0616
American Bar-B-Que, 3139 M St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007, 202-337-3406
9. Freer and Sackler Galleries
These two impressive museums of Asian art offer family programming for kids ages eight to fourteen and their adult companions through activities including puppetry, poetry writing, storybook making, music, and dance.
Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave., S.W., Freer Gallery, Jefferson Drive at 12th St.,S.W.,
This museum of media and journalism features a 7000-square-foot interactive newsroom with Be A Reporter stations, where budding newscasters can see themselves in action, a Pulitzer Prize photographs gallery, a daily gallery of 80 front pages from newspapers around the world, an FBI exhibit, a Berlin Wall Gallery, and 15 theaters showing award-winning videos.
Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., 20001, 202-292-6100,
11. Hard Rock Cafe, 999 E St., NW, 20004, 202-737-7625
The D.C. outpost of Hard Rock Cafe is packed with rock and roll memorabilia from stars like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Supremes, and Mick Jagger, and features kid-friendly fare like burgers, sandwiches, nachos, and chicken tenders.
12. The Smithsonian National Zoo
Known for its 1,800 animals from all over the world, including giant pandas, American bison, Asian elephants, Andean bears, Western lowland gorillas, and Mongolian gazelles, the Smithsonian National Zoo attracts more than two million visitors a year. Designed for children ages three to eight, the zoo’s Kid’s Farm exhibit, open through 2016, is home to farm animals, including rare breeds of goats and hogs. Children can groom some of the animals, supervised by keepers, and touch the animals in locations throughout the exhibit.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20008, 202-633-4888
13. Fourth of July Fireworks Over the National Mall
The spectacular annual fireworks celebration begins at 9:10 p.m. EST and lasts for 17 minutes on July 4, 2015. See the National Parks Service website for viewing areas in D.C. and Virginia.
14. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
The first modern art museum opened on the National Mall, the Hirshhorn is known for its extensive collection of cutting-edge artwork and its striking contemporary design by architect Gordon Bunshaft. The Hirshhorn’s ARTLAB+ is a great place for teens to hang out after school hours and explore their creativity, using digital media and tools.
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue Southwest, 202-633-1218, http://hirshhorn.si.edu/collection/artlab/#collection=artlab
15. The Carousel on the National Mall
Take a trip back in time on this vintage carousel that features dozens of brightly colored horses, a sea dragon and two chariots. Old-fashioned popcorn wagons parked nearby enhance the carnival atmosphere. Rides cost $3.50 each. Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Carousel on the National Mall, Jefferson Drive, across from Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, www.nationalcarousel.com