Whether you live in the Washington, D.C. area or are visiting from out of town, the nation's capital has dozens of family-friendly attractions to spark everyone's interests.
Plan ahead and select from a wide range of museums, monuments, historic sites, live entertainment and outdoor recreation including those in nearby towns in the adjacent states of Maryland and Virginia.
One of the most kid-friendly places to visit in Washington, D.C. is the National Zoo where you can see more than 400 different species of animals. The National Zoo is set within the beautiful Rock Creek Park and is a part of the Smithsonian Institution. Admission is free.
Favorite animals include giant pandas, elephants, Komodo dragons, lions, giraffes, bears, and orangutans. Daily programs include animal training, feeding demonstrations, and keeper talks. The zoo tends to be most crowded on weekends during the warmer seasons of the year.
Natural History Museum
At this favorite Smithsonian museum, kids enjoy examining a wide variety of artifacts including an 80-foot dinosaur skeleton, an enormous prehistoric white shark, and a 45-and-a-half carat jewel a known as the Hope Diamond.
The Discovery Room is a great hands-on display for young children. Feel the skin of a crocodile, examine the jaws and teeth of different animals, or try on clothes from around the globe.
Spend some time at the insect zoo, see live insects on display and check out the daily tarantula feedings. The museum is building a new National Fossil Hall (to open in 2019).
In the meantime, visit the fascinating Bone Hall which displays many of the prized specimens such as the great apes and swordfish that were housed there when the Smithsonian opened in 1881but with a modern twist—you can use the augmented reality of the Skin & Bones App while viewing the exhibits.
Air and Space Museum
This Washington, D.C. museum displays the largest collection of air and spacecraft in the world. Visit with the whole family and learn about the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight.
For an additional fee, there are IMAX films, planetarium shows, and simulators you can climb inside to experience the thrill of flight. Children will marvel at the life-size exhibits such as the 1903 Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia.
The museum hosts regular Family Days that offer a wide variety of hands-on activities, presentations, and opportunities to meet pilots, astronauts, and scientists. Storytimes are available for kids ages 2 to 8. Museum staff and volunteers read stories about famous aviators, hot-air balloon flights, trips to Mars, characters visible in the night sky, or creatures that have their own wings.
For an excursion outside of the city, visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Air and Space Museum's location in Northern Virginia.
The Smithsonian's Discovery Theater, located in the Ripley Center on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is a live theater geared towards school-age children. Classic stories and folktales are told through puppet shows, storytellers, dancers, actors, musicians, and mimes.
Special events have included hands-on lego robotics, a rousing hip-hop dance troupe and field trips during the annual summer camp.
Most shows are Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. The theater accommodates groups as well as families.
American History Museum
The American History Museum is a great place for kids of all ages to use their imaginations and learn about our nation's history. Head to the Spark! Lab, a hands-on science and invention center and The American Revolution: A World War where you'll view the American Revolution through a global lens.
Kids will find interactive activities as part of several exhibitions, including America on the Move, The American Presidency, The Price of Freedom: Americans at War, and Within These Walls.
The museum hosts a wide range of family-friendly programs ranging from demonstrations and lectures to storytelling and festivals.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is always a favorite. Everyone loves to watch real money being printed. See how U.S. paper currency is printed, stacked, cut, and examined for defects.
You can tour the building and see millions of dollars being printed. The tour lasts just 40 minutes so it is appropriate for kids of all ages. Tickets are required for the tour through August 31 and are distributed at a ticket booth on a first come, first served basis. The ticket booth, located at Raoul Wallenberg Place SW (formerly 15th Street), opens at 8:00 a.m. Monday through Friday and closes when they run out of tour tickets for the day. You'll begin your tour at the entrance on 14th Street, SW, near C Street. Go a bit early to get in line.
The Washington Monument is closed until Spring of 2019 for elevator modernization. When open, you can take the elevator to the top of the memorial to George Washington, our nation's first president, and see a wonderful view of Washington, D.C. Kids love to see the city from a bird’s eye view.
The Washington Monument is one of the region's most popular attractions. The public may visit the sites of National Mall and Memorial Parks 24 hours a day. Rangers are on duty at the sites to answer questions from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily.
The Tidal Basin is a man-made inlet adjacent to the Potomac River. Visitors are drawn to the area because of its beauty, especially during cherry blossom season in late March and early April.
Glen Echo Park
This wonderful park near Bethesda, Maryland, offers year-round activities in dance, theater, and the arts for all ages. There are concerts, demonstrations, workshops, and festivals.
The 1921 Dentzel Carousel delights children May through September. Enjoy a puppet show at the Puppet Co. or a children’s theatrical performance at Adventure Theatre MTC.
At the Living Classrooms Children's Museum, explore nature, history, and the arts through innovative educational programs and exhibits. The museum, open weekends only, is located at the old stables building near the park entrance.
Six Flags America
Six Flags America offers a full day of fun just 30 minutes from downtown Washington, D.C.
This theme park features more than 100 rides, shows, and the area's largest water park. The park is open April through October and features live entertainment and hosts special events for Spring Break, Mothers Day, July 4th, Fathers Day, Halloween, and more.
Pro Sporting Events
Kids love to attend live sporting events. Washington sports teams compete in a variety of national leagues including baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, soccer, and tennis.
Attending a game as a family is a great way to get kids excited about being involved in their favorite sports and activities. See the Redskins, the Nationals, the Capitals, the Wizards and more.
Imagination Stage, located in Bethesda, Maryland, offers year-round productions of modern and classic plays and classes in drama, acting, dance musical theatre, and filmmaking for children of all ages.
The organization also offers summer theatre camps that give campers the opportunity to take part in a full production of a musical or play.
Wolf Trap National Park
Wolf Trap Foundation and the National Park Service present 70 performances from late June through early August at the Children's Theatre-in-the-Woods in Vienna, Virginia. Family-friendly performances, including music, dance, storytelling, puppetry, and theater are held at 10 am and 11:15 am, Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Wolf Trap provides year-round concerts for all ages as well as a variety of education programs, artist master classes, special events, and a Holiday Sing-A-Long. The park is in a natural area with marked trails.
Nature Centers provide kids with lots of hands-on opportunities to explore our environment. From Rock Creek Park to Montgomery County, MD, to Arlington, VA, year-round naturalist guided programs will give you insight into the natural habitat of the Washington, D.C. area.
Storytime programs introduce young children to subjects such as bird nests, bumble bees, turtles, frogs, butterflies or bats. On a guided hike, you can learn to identify common trees and plants or discover tracks, trails and other evidence of creatures that live in the forest.
The 30-acre zoo in Reston, Virginia, is great for small children. Skip a hectic excursion into the city and visit this suburban gem with the whole family. Get up close and personal with the animals and feed them too!
See alligators, camels, reptiles, zebras, antelope, bison, ostrich, and lots more. The zoo offers special events at Halloween and Easter.