Learning made fun by D.C. museums, parks and activities
By Gina Gallucci White
Washington Local Expert
With a treasure trove of historical artifacts and sites located practically everywhere you turn, many adults love Washington, D.C. and can spend hours at a single museum gobbling up the history. But, let's face it. Kids just want to have fun. 10Best has found the top places where kids will stare in wonder, find joy in neat surroundings and -- dare we say -- learn something too.
We start our list at the National Zoological Park because you get to see an amazing array of mammals, reptiles and amphibians yet the visit is all free of charge. Have your children participate in hands on activities at the National Building Museum including building arches and working on different tool kits to solve projects. One museum that is a must for every kid is the National Air and Space Museum which hosts the 1903 Wright Flyer and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis plane.
If your child needs to be able to run freely and burn a little energy, the green on the National Mall is the place to go. On a sunny, warm day, a number of folks will picnic or play soccer or football games there.
Whatever your child's interests, you are sure to find an attraction in the nation's capital to please them.
10 Discovery Theater
Dedicated to providing educational performances to the masses since 1964, Discovery Theater presents shows designed to educate and inform young patrons in the subjects of heritage, science and culture. Kids sit on the floor while adults take a seat on chairs on the sides of the theater. Kids and parents can sit together if they wish on risers. Performances, which are based on subjects presented in Smithsonian museums, last between 40 to 50 minutes and seating varies depending on whether large groups are in attendance. No shows are held in August and a portion of September so plan accordingly if you would like to visit. METRO: Smithsonian (202-633-8700, 202-633-3030)
9 Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center Christmas on the Potomac
The hotel and convention center annually presents this festive event featuring a bevy of activities. ICE! offers participants the opportunity to careen down slides over two stories tall made entirely of the solid liquid. Each year has a different theme which they incorporate into over a million pounds of - you guessed it -- ice. You can also watch as artisans hand carve life-sized ice sculptures. Patrons can also partake in the Christmassy Dreamworks experience to meet their favorite animated movie studio characters. For a more traditional experience, check out the brightest star fountain show featuring choreographed water and light dances to modern and classic Christmas songs. It's no wonder that participants are made up of both hotel guests and locals. METRO: Branch Avenue (301-965-4000)
8 The National Mall
Kids love to run around and most of the indoor attractions in the area frown on that so turn them loose on the lawn portion of the National Mall. On warm days, you will find a number of people setting up picnics or playing pick up games of soccer and football. Be sure to take a silly photo with the Washington Monument where it looks like you are a giant. Some people pretend like they are touching the top of it while others are leaning against it. You can't leave without taking a whirl on the Carousel. Try to grab the lone sea dragon seat -- it is the most popular. METRO: Metro Center or Federal Triangle (202-426-6841)
7 United States Botanic Garden
For those of us lacking a green thumb or ones who can grown anything, the U.S. Botanic Garden is the spot to see an amazing array of living plants from many different areas. Dating back to the 19th century, the museum is divided into three separate sections: the Conservatory showcasing displays and exhibits including jungle, Hawaii and endangered plants, the National Garden highlighting a regional and butterfly garden and Bartholdi Park housing the historic, cast iron fountain. Kids can check out the seasonally open Children's Garden to get a better view of plants and play with garden tools. METRO: Federal Center (202-225-8333, 202-226-4082)
6 National Museum of Natural History
The best and most popular exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History is the Fossil Hall. Unfortunately, it is closed for renovations until 2019. (Yikes!) This museum is still a must-visit though thanks to a variety of different artifacts. The gems and minerals exhibit is a favorite and includes the 45.52 carat Hope Diamond and the Dom Pedro Aquamarine, the world's largest aquamarine gem. One of the oldest pieces is a mummified cat in the Ancient Egypt display. When you tire of displays, take a walk to the second floor butterfly pavilion to see a huge variety of live butterflies on display. METRO: Smithsonian (202-633-1000)
5 Capital Wheel
Mix a fun ride with a bird's-eye view of the Washington Monument and you will get The Capitol Wheel at National Harbor. Offering breathtaking views of the Metro area and Potomac River, the ride lasts around 12 to 15 minute and each gondola has heating or air conditioning so you will be comfortable no matter what time of year you are visiting. Up to eight people may fit in one gondola while only four are allowed in the VIP carriage. Bringing food and drinks onboard is a big no-no so eat before or after your ride. Open year-round, the hours of operation change depending on the time of year.
4 International Spy Museum
Think no one is watching? Think again. The International Spy Museum pays tribute to the all-but invisible profession that has helped to shape history and impact world events. Opened in 2002, the museum is the only one of its kind in the world and features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts on display. Fans of the James Bond movies will get to see movie props such as the Aston Martin DBS from "Goldfinger" and Jaws' teeth from "Moonraker." Young kids will also have fun by testing their spy skills on several computer games and climb through duct work while on a secret mission. While spies are told to deny everything, you will want to tell others you have been here. METRO: Gallery Place/Chinatown (202-393-7798, 866-779-6873)
3 Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum — Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
This spot on the list is actually dedicated to two companion museums. The National Air and Space Museum is easily the most popular building along the National Mall and features the 1903 Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and a lunar rock that visitors may touch. Many take in shows at the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater or sight see in the Albert Einstein Planetarium. Take a short drive to Chantilly, Va. to check out the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which features two huge hangers and houses the space shuttle Discovery. Many go to the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower to get a 360-degree view of Washington Dulles International Airport. METRO: Smithsonian and Wiehle-Reston East (703-572-4118)
2 National Building Museum
This museum, dedicated to telling the stories of architecture, engineering and design, may not at first glance seem geared toward children but it's actually one of the best attractions you will find for kids of varying ages in the nation's capital. For smaller children, be sure to check out the Building Zone where kids can drive play bulldozers and trucks, build a brick wall or explore a custom built green house. Older children may enjoy checking out different tool kits and working on projects such as building a house, playing I spy and creating architectural design patterns. METRO: Judiciary Square (202-272-2448)
1 National Zoological Park
Lions, monkeys and elephants. Oh my! Located in Northwest Washington, D.C., The National Zoological Park features a variety of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The stars of the show are the pandas especially Bao Bao who was born in 2013. Fans will line the fences at their exhibit with large telephoto lenses to capture every panda movement. The best part is visitors get to see all of these unique animals from around the world for free. Make sure you wear good walking shoes because the 163-acre park has hills. Also, don't stand under the ropes when the orangutans are on the move. You will thank me later. METRO: Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan or Cleveland Park (202-673-4800, 202-633-3055)
About Gina Gallucci White
Gina Gallucci White is an award winning freelance writer with articles appearing in such regional publications as Frederick Magazine, The Daily Record, Montgomery Magazine and The Gazette. She writes about a wide variety of subjects and holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from West Virginia University. Gina has two kids, can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi in a blind taste test and admits to knowing all the songs from Frozen.
Read more about Gina Gallucci White here.