[Note: This post was originally published during the January 2018 government shutdown, but has been updated to reflect the status of local attractions during the December 2018/January 2019 shutdown.]
The government is still shut down, which means many go-to spots to hang with kiddos in the DC area are, too. Specifically, the National Archives and Ford’s Theatre (tours, not performances) are closed. Locales within the National Park Service system are not necessarily closed, but they are not staffed and many are difficult to access. Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will be closed after January 1. The National Gallery of Art will close January 3. The U.S. National Arboretum is closed. As of now, the Library of Congress, Capitol Visitors Center, and U.S. Botanic Garden remain open.
But not to worry! There are plenty of fantastic alternatives to enjoy in the meantime, however long that may be. You might even discover a new favorite once you step off the beaten path. Here are some of them to keep in mind — click on links for details.
National Building Museum – This is already a go-to for many, but it will be especially appreciated now. And federal employees can receive free admission during the shutdown by showing their federal badges!
College Park Aviation Museum – Learn about the history of flight at the museum located on the grounds of the world’s oldest continuously operating airport.
Newseum – The venue dedicated to news and journalism is welcoming guests, and while it’s better for older kids and adults, there are a few exhibits that children can enjoy. They are offering free admission for federal employees who show badges!
Phillips Collection – The Gallery in Dupont Circle always has interesting special exhibits as well as a great collection of permanent works, plus a Family Gallery with specially-selected artworks displayed at children’s eye-level with conversation prompts. They are also offering free admission to federal employees!
Calvert Marine Museum – A wonderful museum about an hour’s drive from DC, full of exhibits and hands-on activities that appeal to kids.
Textile Museum – Also the George Washington University Museum, the gallery in Foggy Bottom houses a beautiful collection of textiles from around the world. Be aware that this museum might appeal to adults and older kids more than young children, but there are works that all ages can appreciate.
National Geographic Museum – The two big exhibitions just closed, but they always have amazing photography on display.
U.S. Navy Museum – Located on the Navy base at the Navy Yard in southeast DC, this museum is a trove of fascinating exhibits with an amazing collection of model ships, a real periscope, old fighter planes, and naval artifacts hundreds of years old. Admission is free for all.
National Museum for Women in the Arts – Highlighting women artists all over the world, works span the centuries, from the 16th to the present in a variety of mediums. And the next monthly Community Day will be on February 3, offering free admission for all!
Charm City – Baltimore’s museums are not government funded, so Port Discovery, Maryland Science Center, American Visionary Arts Museum, Baltimore Museum of Industry, and the National Aquarium are all open. (Note that part of Port Discovery will be closed due to construction for several months, and closed entirely until January 12.)
Parks… & other places for some fresh air
Dumbarton Oaks Gardens – The grounds of the historic house in Georgetown have a magical feel and are lovely to explore. Even better, admission to them is free during winter. Note the days/hours are Wednesday – Sunday, 2-6pm.
Franciscan Monastery – A DC “secret” to many, visitors are welcome explore the lovely gardens (and the church, too) in Brookland.
River Farm – Explore the grounds of the American Horticultural Society headquarters. Kids will love playing in the Children’s Gardens and taking in sweeping views of the Potomac. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
Huntley Meadows Park – Explore woods and wetlands at this Alexandria gem.
Green Spring Gardens – Wander around the grounds of this pretty spot in Northern Virginia.
Watkins Regional Park – County parks are still open, so go play on the Wizard of Oz-themed playground, visit animals at Old Maryland Farm, hike the trails, and stop in the Nature Center.
Clemyjonti – The sprawling, vibrantly colored playground in McLean is a great place to let kids burn some energy under the sky.
Yards Park – The beautiful recreational space in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood is open to the public and has nice grassy spaces for running around, a boardwalk along the river to stroll, and lots of nearby eateries to get lunch.
Walk the Mall – You can still walk among the monuments and memorials along the National Mall and Tidal Basin — less crowds may actually make it more pleasant — but there won’t be Park Rangers on duty or access to Visitors Centers and bathrooms, so plan accordingly.
Brookside Gardens – Wander around the beautiful grounds, play in the Children’s Garden, look for turtles swimming in the pond, and see if there are any special programs going on in the Visitor Center or nearby Nature Center.
* This is just a selection of recommendations. For even more ideas, visit the Everyday Play page, just make sure the places are not government funded and, hence, closed.