Family Activities in Washington, DC
Check out the only museum in the United States dedicated to international espionage and spies' role in shaping history. Kids particularly love the special gadgets used by spies, such as invisible ink, hidden cameras, bugs and disguises. Admission is $18 for ages 12-64, with slight discounts for seniors and children 5-11 (under 5 free). The Spy Museum is packed during popular tourist periods; consider purchasing your timed entrance tickets in advance. There's also a casual cafe and a gift shop with cool spy-themed souvenirs and gifts.
The most popular museum in DC, the National Air and Space Museum features the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world. Airplane fans can check out a 1903 Wright Brothers plane and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, while space buffs will be wowed by the Apollo 11 command module and the chance to touch a moon rock. Paid exhibits include a flight simulator, an IMAX theater, and a planetarium. A companion facility near Dulles Airport, known as the Udvar-Hazy Center, displays scores of aircraft that don't fit in the main museum; famous highlights include the Enola Gay and the Space ShuttleEnterprise. Both are free, and open every day except Christmas. Be sure to try the freeze-dried pouch of astronaut's ice cream from the gift shop -- not terribly tasty, but a memorable dining experience!
The National Building Museum is one of DC's lesser-known family-friendly treasures: worth a visit even if you care nothing about architecture or building design. The historic museum building is dominated by a Great Hall modeled after a sixteenth-century Roman palazzo. The length of a football field and three stories tall, with a fountain in the center, the Great Hall is a truly grand place for an indoor picnic. Children ages 2-6 will also love the Building Zone, a hands-on play space full of blocks, puzzles, and construction materials. The museum offers a Firehook Bakery location with coffee, sandwiches and baked goods, and the gift shop wins frequent honors as the best museum shop in DC. Admission to exhibits is $8 for adults; the Building Zone is $3 per person; entry to the Great Hall alone is free.
The National Children's Museum is scheduled to open in 2013 as part of the National Harbor complex along the Potomac River. In the meantime, the museum's Launch Zone serves as a temporary space with interactive exhibits and programs. The Launch Zone is free and open seven days a week. While you're in the area, be sure to explore the waterfront and National Harbor restaurants and shops, including a store devoted entirely to Marshmellow Peeps! The National Harbor Marina serves as a launching point for several Potomac boat tours, including a water taxi across the river to Old Town Alexandria. National Harbor is difficult to reach by public transportation; parking garages are paid but plentiful.
Glen Echo Park was a popular amusement park from 1900 through the 1960s. It now serves as an arts and humanities center with classes and performances for adults and children, a puppet theater, and other activities centered around dance, theater, arts and crafts, and environmental education. Grounds include a playground, picnic grove, cafe, and a colorful antique carousel (open Wednesday through Sunday in summer months, $1.25 per ride) that's sure to be a hit with the entire family. The Spanish Ballroom and Bumper Car Pavilion host regular all-ages dances for everything from swing to blues to tango; tickets ($5-$20) are sold at the door and include a pre-dance lesson. Glen Echo offers free parking; from the lot, follow the foot-bridge over a creek to reach the Park.