Washington DC with kids. Kate Gallery owns Recess Outings, a company that coordinates family friendly bicycle rides around the capital city. As a mother of an 18 month old daughter, she understands how to move around her hometown with kids and knows all the city secrets for the best activites for kids in Washington DC. She shares her insights into the best museums, neighbourhoods and (most importantly) venues to coffee and ice cream around town with suitcases&strollers.
Why plan a family holiday to Washington with kids?
DC is an exceedingly family friendly city full of eclectic neighbourhoods and smart, creative people. It’s much more than a government town. In the decade I’ve lived here, I’ve watched DC evolve in the most uplifting ways and it’s refreshing to see young families sticking around to embrace urban living.
Unlike New York, downtown DC has a striking amount of breathing room; the city is full of green space and buildings are low due to an old/controversial law on the books imposing a height limit throughout much of the city that, like it or not, results in lots of sunlight.
Despite not being too much farther south, DC winters are also significantly warmer than those in New York and Boston; we enjoy outdoor activities about 9 to 12 months of the year.
Where is your favourite place to take kids in Washington DC?
“Capitol Hill is my happy place.” I have that saying framed in my house displaying my fierce loyalty to the neighbourhood I call home. Most weekends my family is fully entertained here, wandering Eastern Market and its outdoor vendors, playing in its parks and enjoying great food entirely within walking/biking distance.
Where are your kid’s favourite places in Washington DC to hang out?
My little gal is not yet two but enjoys some incredible city playgrounds. On Capitol Hill: Lincoln Park (12th and East Capitol SE) provides lots of room to run and includes two tiny playgrounds on its east side; the picnic tables at the Marion Park playground (4th and E St. SE) are often overtaken by neighbourhood birthday parties and Garfield Park (2nd and South Carolina SE) has bucket swings that accommodate especially tiny players.
On the northwest side of the city, the playground at Beauvoir, the National Cathedral Elementary School, is open to the public on weekends and it’s unlike any playground in the world.
What is the best free activity to do in Washington DC with kids?
My favourite free activities with kids are accessible only in warmer weather and they’re located in the neighbourhood known as the Navy Yard. The Navy Yard splash pool by Nationals Ballpark on the southeast waterfront of Anacostia River is a true party! On hot days, it’s full of children and grown-ups cooling down in the large wading pool, exploring behind the waterfall and splashing in the fountains above.
And on Friday nights from mid-May through mid-September, Yards Park just adjacent to the splash pool hosts a free concert series on the lawn overlooking the river. Families stretch out on picnic blankets, food trucks pull up to offer dinner, parents enjoy their wine and beer al fresco and kids dance the night away during waterfront sunsets.
The National Zoo, accessible from the Woodley Park Metro Station, is also always worth a visit. If you are planning a winter holiday visit, check out ZooLights, a festive annual tradition that runs from late November through early January. If you are traveling with kids in the New Year, the baby panda Bei Bei, born in August, will make his public debut in mid-January 2016.
Where is the best place to take kids in Washington DC when the weather is bad?
The Building Museum is a wonderful spot on rainy days not only because it offers tactile, kid-friendly exhibits, but because the impressive balconies within the space itself overlook an enormous, carpeted open space where kids have room to run.
We also enjoy the U.S. Botanic Garden on cold days during the winter because it feels like the tropics inside! The highlight around Christmas time is a large and gorgeous model train display.
Which is the best museum for kids in Washington DC?
You can’t go wrong at the Air and Space Museum. The planes suspended above and spacecraft impress every time.
What are some of the city secrets that tourists might not know about but shouldn’t miss on a family holiday in Washington DC with kids?
Explore by bike! My business, Recess Outings, provides child seats and helmets for all customers to make it easy for families to have a true DC adventure and see the city like a local. We often venture as a group along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, not yet fully taken advantage of even by people who live here. The plan is for 26 miles of paved trail to line both sides of the river and the first 12 miles completed sure are looking good.
Other ways to get an authentic feel for the city:
· Rent kayaks at Key Bridge Boathouse or Ballpark Boathouse and see the city from the Potomac or Anacostia Rivers.
· Eat out.
· Go to a ball game.
· Take the metro.
· Wander beyond the National Mall and embrace the local side of the city too in neighbourhoods such as Capitol Hill, Navy Yard, Dupont Circle and Logan Circle.
Where are your top places for family-friendly restaurants for kids in Washington DC?
Whoever said New Yorkers make the best pizza hasn’t tried Matchbox, a spot with multiple locations throughout the city, including one on Capitol Hill on a stretch of 8th St. SE known as Barracks Row and another on 14th St. NW. Matchbox always welcomes families and provides pizza dough for the little ones to play with while waiting.
Another favourite, also with locations on 8th St. SE and 14th St. NW (two great stretches for foodies!), is Ted’s Bulletin, an upscale diner with a retro feel and homemade poptarts.
What are your tips for kids' shops in Washington DC?
We live just outside of Eastern Market where a weekend flea market closes down a couple of blocks of 7th St. SE between Pennsylvania Ave. and North Carolina Ave. every Saturday and Sunday. Some vendors there sell kids items that are hard to pass up, including Mirasa Designs’ gorgeous baby clothes (giraffe and monkey hoodies are popular items) and a vendor who sells lovely wooden trucks and cars. My daughter drags her little red truck on a string behind her on all of our neighbourhood walks.
Which is the best place to find family friendly accommodation in Washington DC with kids?
Staying in a neighbourhood apartment seems like the ideal, family-friendly way to experience the real DC, and the city’s attractions and resources from both Dupont and Capitol Hill are easily accessible. There are more than 300 Airbnb rentals listed in the 20003 zip code of Capitol Hill alone and another 150 in the 20036 zip code of Dupont Circle.
When is the best time of year to visit Washington with kids?
My vote is May or September. I always revel in the temporary peace of Memorial Day (late May) and Labor Day (late August/early September), weekends when the city slows down and clears out a bit.
Summers in DC (June to August) are excruciatingly hot and it can be painful slogging through off-the-charts humidity with kids, but if you can stand the heat, the 4th of July here is celebratory.
The peak cherry blossom bloom of mid-March through mid-April is stunning but also a mob scene of visitors that makes it difficult to get around.
What is the best way to move around Washington DC with kids?
By bike of course! Other solid options include riding the Metro or downloading the Uber app, as Uber gives the option to request a car with kids car seat.
What are your top family travel tips for families travelling to Washington DC with kids?
With a child under two, I am a big fan of wearing my little one throughout the city, sometimes in an Ergo baby carrier and sometimes in our hiking backpack.
Other travel tips stem from the reality that my family is infinitely happier when we know where to get good ice cream and good coffee. Check out Ice Cream Jubilee, Pitango Gelato, Peregrine Espresso, Open City at the National Cathedral and Dolcezza Coffee and Gelato.
Images: Destination DC, Kate Gallery of Recess Outings, Eric May, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution