Washington D.C. is all about big – big monuments, big museums, and big open spaces like the National Mall. Good thing you don’t have to have a big budget to knock it out of the park when you take the family to D.C. Most museums are free, with plenty to excite everyone, and the Metro is a cheap, clean, and easy way to get around. You can take the whole clan on an amazing trip to the nation’s capital without wiping out your checking account. Here’s how:
Monuments, Memorials, and the National Mall
D.C.’s monuments and memorials have some serious “wow” factor, and most of them are right smack dab on the National Mall. Check out the Washington Monument, the Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials; and the Reflecting Pool. The larger-than-life options on the National Mall are all free, with lots of nearby wide-open spaces for the kids to run and play. There’s even a carousel with colorful horses and a sea dragon for kids to take a spin.
(Note: The carousel isn’t free.)
Time to feed the hungry hordes? Just scoot on over to one of the dozens of food trucks lining the sidewalks and serving up a range of eats, from shrimp and grits to pizza and tacos. You should be able to find something to satisfy even the pickiest little eaters. Food stands also set up around the museums and monuments and offer everything from fried chicken to black bean burgers.
The National Air and Space Museum
Need a little space? The National Air and Space Museum‘s two locations — on the National Mall in D.C. and in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia — have a combined total of almost a million square feet. Now that’s the kind of space you need to house the world’s largest collection of jetliners, space capsules, satellites, and missiles.
You can eyeball the big boys of the sky in the Udvar-Hazy Center’s two jumbo-sized hangars, jam-packed with thousands of aviation and space artifacts. The aircraft include the supersonic Concorde, the space shuttle Discovery, and outrageous contraptions like flying cars and single-person collapsible helicopters.
At the museum in D.C., check out everything from the Wright Brothers’ 1903 flyer to the Apollo 11 command module, and feel like you’re blasting through the universe at the ultra-high-def show in the Albert Einstein Planetarium. The kids can do 360-degree barrel rolls in flight simulators — maybe not right after lunch — take a spacewalk with virtual reality goggles, and see craters on the moon from the public observatory.
The National Museum of Natural History
The Rex Room at the National Museum of Natural History, also on the National Mall, has massive dinosaur bones and cool displays that make you feel like you stumbled right into “Jurassic Park.” Kids who live for creepy-crawly stuff can watch tarantula feedings in the museum’s insect zoo. Yuck!
Yes, the 52-carat, $350-million Hope Diamond is on view at the museum, but don’t get any funny ideas about making off with it. It’s locked up tight in a custom-built, bullet-proof display that automatically lowers into a marble vault at night.
You can eat in amazing places in D.C. without paying through the nose — believe it or not — and Union Station is one of those spots. Grab pizza, tacos, burgers, and more in the food hall downstairs at Union Station, and then take your chow upstairs, park your gang on a bench, and check out the station’s awesome main hall while you munch. If you’re driving into D.C. for the day, Union Station is a great base. You can park at the attached garage and take the Metro to and from most of D.C.’s big attractions.
What are your go-to spots in D.C. for big family fun? Share them with us on Facebook page.