Category Archives: Ongoing

Serenity Now: 10 Places to Find Peace and Calm in DC

 

Sometimes you’re looking for an out-of-the-house activity that doesn’t actually involve much… activity.   You just want to find a locale that is pretty and quiet, where you can chill out and think (or not) — especially during this strange and uncertain time when there is so much information to digest and new circumstances to comprehend.  Whether with kids, in the company of other adults, or solo, having a place to go to process everything (or not focus on it for awhile), can be good for everyone’s well being.  You might want to wander around beautiful grounds, take a break in nature, meditate in a tranquil place, or just lounge and enjoy the surrounds.  Here are 10 spots that are perfect for that, where you can find some peace and calm.

 

The view from inside a gazebo at the Arboretum

National Arboretum
The 450 acres of gorgeous grounds contain a bunch tucked away spots, where you can hang out and unwind, you just have to explore beyond the popular parts to find them. There are gazebos in the middle of plant collections, benches placed under the prettiest trees, swaths of grass amid blooming flora, and uncrowded trails and paths that wind all around. Skip the old Capitol Columns that tend to draw lots of visitors and head to the Asian Collection, the dogwoods and conifers, the hollies and magnolias, the hill full of azaleas, or Fern Valley (when it’s open again). Whether you roam around or discover a secret place to sit, your surroundings will be beautiful and calm. The National Arboretum is open Mon-Fri 1-5pm, and Sat-Sun 8am – 5pm, and admission is free. Read more about it here and here.

 

The Franciscan Monastery’s pretty, peaceful garden

Franciscan Monastery Garden
The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America is an “Oasis of Peace” in Brookland. It consists of the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, beautifully landscaped grounds immediately surrounding,  and a garden adjacent to that. The Rosary Portico, long concrete open air passageways, run along the perimeter of the inner grounds, the inside walls adorned with Christian symbols and ceramic plaques. In the garden, pretty flowers and plants and tall trees grow among replicas of Holy Land shrines. The public is welcome to enjoy it all. There are paths to stroll and lots of benches if you just want to sit and reflect. Garden hours are 9am – 4:45pm daily (though the church is closed right now), and admission is free. Read more about the Franciscan Monastery here.

 

Wander in the woods at Tregaron

Tregaron Conservancy
This secluded locale in Northwest DC that stretches between the Washington International School and a residential area — you can see the backyards of homes as you walk along some of the paths — offers a nice little nature break. Trails wind through the 13 acres under tall leafy trees, with a lily pond, large meadow, and a couple of stone stairways adding a bit of a fairy tale feel. You could very well have it all to yourself — we’ve wandered through without encountering a single other visitor. And if you wanted to extend your walk, the park trails lead right to the Klingle Valley Trail. Access Tregaron at 3100 Macomb Street NW or 3031 Klingle Road NW.

 

A hidden gem of the Botanic Garden

Bartholdi Park
This outdoor area of the U.S. Botanic Garden is often missed by visitors because of its location across Independence Avenue from the Conservatory. But the lack of people is part of what makes it such a lovely spot. The Bartholdi Fountain is the centerpiece of the park, and it’s surrounded by colorful flowers and paths winding among the plants. A couple of tables with umbrellas, plus several benches are there, so you can sit and relax amid it all. It’s so lovely and serene, you’ll forget there’s a busy thoroughfare just beyond its edges.

 

A little oasis within Yards Park

River Street Gardens at Yards Park
If you can snag one of the wooden lounge chairs in this small section in front of the boardwalk on the east side of Yards Park, it’s a great place to chill out. Overlooking the Anacostia, you can sit back and take in river views, surrounded by birch trees and greenery that make it a relaxing enclave within the bigger, bustling Capitol Riverfront. The park is open from sunrise until two hours after sunset, and admission is free.

 

 

Nature and presidential tribute at Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island
Something about its location within the Potomac River makes the park feel like an isolated escape.  You have to cross a bridge from Virginia to access it even though it’s technically in DC.  A couple of trails traverse the island through woods and along the water, some parts of it on a boardwalk over marshy areas.  And in the center of it all is the Memorial Plaza, a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt, with fountains and stone benches.  Whether you walk the grounds or just sit and relax,  you’ll be immersed in a soothing setting.  Roosevelt Island is open 6am – 10pm, and admission is free.   Read more about it and get a good glimpse in this KFDC post.

 

A grand Cathedral backdrop at the Bishop’s Garden

Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral
While many find calm and comfort inside the Cathedral, this gorgeous area on the south side of the church offers that in its own way. The terraced, walled garden is as tranquil as it is beautiful, featuring an array of colorful flowers, a variety of plants, statues, and medieval and modern structures incorporated into the design. Walk through it all along the stone path or pick a seat on a bench or in the gazebo for a calming break.

 

The Parterre, the main part of the Haupt Garden

Enid A. Haupt Garden
The grounds between the Smithsonian Castle and Independence Avenue (and nearby offshoots) are always well-groomed, vibrant with flowers, and an inviting outdoor space. You can stroll around and get a close look at the plants and flowers or find a bench to sit and savor it all. Neat little side areas, like the Moongate Garden adjacent to the Freer|Sackler and the Fountain Garden next to the National Museum of African Art, have water features and artistic designs that are pretty to view and relaxing to hang out by. The Haupt Garden is open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free.

 

Peaceful grounds at the cemetery

Congressional Cemetery
It doesn’t get much more peaceful than a cemetery. Sure, the thought of hanging out among the dead and buried might be eerie to some, but others find the stillness comforting.  At this Capitol Hill site, the serene environs are also beautiful, their 30 acres studded with all types of gravestones — large and small, simple and intricate — and you can walk among them on several paved paths that stretch across the grounds.  You’ll also find many quiet places to sit, some even at gravesites, where you can contemplate life (and death) or just find calm in the silence. Note: Right now, the cemetery is only open to K-9 members and day passers, but it’s included here for when the public is welcome again — hopefully, soon.

 

Plenty of space to stroll and de-stress at Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks Garden
The beautiful grounds of the historic Dumbarton House in Georgetown is one of the prettiest places in DC, in my opinion. Tucked away in a relatively non-bustling area of the neighborhood, a visit there feels like a little escape right in the city. A variety of sections feature different kinds of flora, and there are numerous paths — brick, stone, grass, stairs — to access them, often with delightful surprises on the way. Roaming around is a great way to de-stress and clear the mind, and scattered throughout are nice small nooks with seating as well as open spaces. Garden hours are 2-6pm Wed-Sun. Admission is $10/adult, $5/age 2-12 from mid-March – mid-November (free the rest of the year). Note: Dumbarton Oaks Gardens are closed right now due to COVID, but it’s included here for hwen the public is welcome again — hopefully, soon.

 

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Filed under All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, DC, Free, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Park, Social Distancing, Weekdays, Weekend

Ride On: Bike Routes for Everyone Around the DC Area

 

Considering how much we love biking (3/4 of our family, anyway), this post should have been written ages ago.  But given the rise in biking popularity during COVID, this is a perfect time to get on it. As more people have been taking to two wheels for outdoor recreation, they are also seeking more routes to rides.  The DC area has plenty of them to cruise along; even more, there is something for every age and rider level.  Here are some of our favorites, plus a few suggested by fellow biking enthusiasts. Whether easily accessible from home or requiring a drive then ride, all of them are very pedal-worthy.  Happy Biking!

 

Riding nearby the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens on the Anacostia River Trail

Anacostia River Trail
Running along the Anacostia River from the Capitol Riverfront in Southeast DC to College Park, MD, this is a great trail for all levels of riders. Not only is it mellow with just a few gentle hills, it’s a route that can be tackled all in one ride or in shorter stretches, depending on what you’re up for. Ride the length of Anacostia Park, along the wetlands of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, by the river to Bladensburg Waterfront Park, and around Lake Artemesia in College Park — all of them offer scenic sights and/or fun stops on the way. Read more about biking part of this trail to Kenilworth and about Anacostia Park and Bladensburg Waterfront Park.

 

Enjoy some of DC’s most iconic sights biking the National Mall

National Mall
In non-COVID times, one of the best things about riding on the Mall is all the great museum stops you can make along the way. That’s currently not as much of an option, as you can only access the National Gallery with passes and enjoy the gardens. But that also makes it an a excellent area to ride with kids right now for another reason: Without the usual tourist crowds to visit the museums, little (and big) riders have plenty of space to navigate the gravel paths and roads; no more winding their way through hordes of people. Biking the Mall is also a convenient way to tour the memorials and generally cover more ground in one outing.

 

Riding a stretch of Ohio Drive at East Potomac Park

Hains Point/East Potomac Park
The road that runs the perimeter of most of the park is popular with both competitive cyclers and recreational riders. It’s a flat, scenic route, making it nice for family bike rides — easy to pedal (when it’s not windy), and there are views of the rivers as well as airplanes taking off and landing at DCA. While cars do drive on it, the speed limit is very slow, and there is plenty of room for both bikers and drivers. Bonus: There are even more activities to enjoy there, including mini golf, FootGolf, regular golf, playground fun, and tennis. Read more about Hains Point in this KFDC post.

 

On the boardwalk at Kingman Island

Kingman Island
Located between the Anacostia River and RFK parking lot, the park is technically part of the Anacostia River Trail.  But the way it’s situated makes it a good place to bike on its own, especially with kids who like a bit of mountain biking that isn’t too rough. You can ride there or park in the lot, then cruise on in — biking is permitted around the island and on the boardwalk trail. Stop to take in river views, look out for birds and turtles, and make time after for the playground located on the new RFK Fields close to the park entrance. Read more about Kingman Island in this KFDC post.

 

On the way to Fletcher’s Boathouse on the Capital Crescent Trail

Capital Crescent Trail
Part of the rails-to-trails system, this route used to be part of the B&O Railroad. It runs between Georgetown and Silver Spring, some of it along the Potomac River with pretty views of the water occasionally seen between the trees from the trail above. A nice stretch to ride with kids is the couple of miles from the start at Water Street in Georgetown to Fletcher’s Boathouse. You can take a break there, have a snack or a picnic, even rent a vessel for some paddling. Read more about this ride (and paddling from Fletcher’s) in this KFDC post.

 

Fantastic scenery comes with a Great Falls bike ride

Great Falls Park
It’s best known for amazing scenic views and hiking, but Great Falls is a fun place to ride as well. The C&O Canal runs on the Maryland side, and is a nice flat gravel path, though you may have to wind through a lot of people as you go, since the park always gets lots of visitors. On the Virginia side, biking is permitted on the Difficult Run Trail, Ridge Trail, and Old Carriage Road. With kids it’s best to stay on Old Carriage, which is flat and closest to the parking lot; the other two are more strenuous rides. Read more about Great Falls in this KFDC post.

 

See airplanes at Gravelly Point on the Mount Vernon Trail

Mount Vernon Trail
If you haven’t yet ridden this trail, you’ve definitely seen it as you’ve been driving on the George Washington Parkway. It’s a paved 18-mile stretch along the Potomac River between Roosevelt Island and Mount Vernon, and with parking lots along the way, it’s easy to pick short parts to ride. Given that it’s all along the water, the whole thing is pretty scenic, and there are some fun places to stop and see even more. Roosevelt Island is great to explore (no biking in the park, though), and the Lady Bird Johnson Memorial is neat to view. Gravelly Point next to DCA is awesome for airplane watching — they take off and come in for landing right overhead. Further down in Alexandria, there are some boardwalk areas to ride over, plus the waterfront, where you can stop for a snack, play time, or to stroll around. Of course, Mount Vernon, George Washington’s former digs are a great attraction, too.

 

A two-wheel tour of the National Arboretum

National Arboretum
One of the loveliest locales in the city is also a great place to bike. All of the riding is on roads, but there’s barely traffic, and low speed limits keep the cars slow. It’s a nice way to see the many plant collections; since the Arb is so large, it’s tough to cover it all on foot in an outing.  Some uphills might be hard for kids, but if you have to walk bikes a bit, at least it’s amid the gorgeous surrounds. Stop and explore plant collections, the Old Capitol Columns, Bonsai exhibit, and Washington Youth Garden (when open).   Current hours are 1-5pm Mon-Fri, and 8am – 5pm Sat-Sun. See more about the National Arboretum here and here.

 

A W&OD bike trail bridge near Falls Church / Photo credit: Antony-22, Wiki Commons

Washington & Old Dominion Trail
The W&OD, as it’s more commonly called, is a rail trail that runs 45 miles in Northern Virginia from Shirlington to Purceville. It’s all paved and fairly flat, plus there are a bunch of trailheads to access, so it’s easy to do short stretches.  A trail from Glencarlyn Park connects to it, where along with a playground, there is a learning loop for newbie cyclists.  There are signs along the route that tell the stories of people and places along the rail line. Depending on the section you ride, there may be parks and places to stop for a snacks.

 

The Sligo Creek Trail in fall / Photo: Wiki Commons

Sligo Creek Trail
We haven’t ridden this one, but it gets lots of raves from others. Over 10 miles long, it spans from Prince George’s to Montgomery County, running from Hyattville through Takoma Park and up to Wheaton. It’s often touted as a great trail for kids because there are lots of parks and playgrounds along the way, including Wheaton Regional Park (follow the link to read about the great playground) and the lovely Brookside Gardens.

 

Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park is closed to traffic on weekends

Rock Creek Park
There is a paved path that runs along the Rock Creek Parkway that I probably wouldn’t recommend for kids, as parts are next to fast moving traffic and could be scary for them. But it’s fun for older (and bolder) riders, surrounded by greenery and the creek flowing nearby. On weekends, Beach Drive is closed to traffic, and cyclers can enjoy the car free roads, though there are some uphill areas that could be tough for some. An area of Rock Creek near Lake Needwood in Maryland is better for young cyclers.

 

Lovely trails in Quiet Waters Park

Local Parks to Bike
These spots don’t have biking routes that span for miles through different areas, but they have paths that make for nice shorter rides in contained areas:
Burke Lake Park | Burke, VA
Lubber Run Park | Arlington, VA
Mason Neck State Park | Lorton, VA
Cabin John Regional Park | Bethesda, MD
Wheaton Regional Park | Wheaton, MD
Quiet Waters Park | Annapolis, MD

 

 

In the woods at Schaffer Farms

Mountain Biking
There are a bunch off-road trails around the area for those seeking rides with more challenges and obstacles. You can bike along rooty paths in the woods, cruise single track that span open fields, navigate twists and turns around trees, and practice tricks in parks made just for that. Levi has been mountain biking a long time, and Owen has gotten into it over the past year (I join on the easier rides), and these are some places they recommend:
Schaeffer Farms | Gaithersburg, MD
Fountainhead Regional Park | Fairfax Station, VA
Patapsco Valley State Park | Ellicott City, MD
Fort Dupont Park | Anacostia, DC
Meadowood Trail | Lorton, VA
Laurel Hill | Lorton, VA
Massanutten Mountain Bike Park | Massanutten, VA

 

Do you have a favorite biking route you don’t see listed here? Please share, if so!

 

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Filed under All ages, Coronavirus, COVID-19, DC, Free, Maryland, Nature, Ongoing, Outdoor, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Anchors Aweigh, Kids, at Baltimore’s Port Discovery

[Note: This post was written by KFDC contributor Emily Moise, who visited Port Discovery with her family, including her 3-year-old daughter and baby son. In all the years our family visited the children’s museum in Baltimore, I never did a proper write-up, and my kids have aged out of a lot of it. But as Port Discovery recently underwent a major renovation, the timing is great for one now.]

As we await the *almost open* children’s museum here in Washington, DC, a half-day trip up to Baltimore’s Port Discovery will certainly tide you over. The Inner Harbor, and its historic seaport, provides the perfect metaphorical backdrop for this children’s museum that has, without exaggeration, something for every child, with every interest, to embark on.

Open since 1998, the museum completed a $10.5 million renovation in 2019, notably with the floor-to-ceiling “SkyClimber” and twisting slide, as well as a life-size ship facade where kids can play captain and load “cargo” on the third-story overlook. The museum has the latest and greatest in hands-on, creative play — though, like all children’s museums, things become “well-loved” so some of the 10+ exhibit spaces aren’t as brand-sparkling new as others.

If you have a preschooler in tow, your first stop will likely be at the “Store & Fill’er Up Station” which is one of the most authentic fake food shopping set-ups I’ve experienced. It’s a convenience store modeled after sponsor Royal Farms, allowing kids to fill up a grocery tote, get a pretend fountain soda, put gas in the car, and “drive.” A few levels up, “Tiny’s Diner” offers even more for the play food lovers with a large space conducive to collaborative play and parent engagement.

Perhaps the most unique exhibit space is “Wonders of Water” where my daughter’s love of squeegeeing grew exponentially with the addition of spray bottles and free-range windows. Also found here are STEM-infused water tables, a giant bubble hoop, and a musical water play (and spray) area. The most thoughtful touches are the amenities: raincoats, crocs, and a drying station for all sizes.

For those with younger toddler-age children, you won’t want to miss “Tot Trails” which is limited to children three and under. This exhibit space is set up with simple yet stimulating activities for all levels—sitters, crawlers, climbers, and walkers. Like most of the museum, STEM and arts are intertwined in a rudimentary, unintimidating way. For example, here you’ll find a classic wind tube with leaves for little ones to insert and catch with a butterfly net.

Lastly, “The Oasis” provided a much-needed wind down from the stimulation. It’s a children’s library-esque space stocked with books, cozy nooks, and exploratory play stations. By chance, we walked in just as story time was about to start—on this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend day, themes of community and connection were shared throughout the three books read. This was the perfect ending to our visit, leading to an instantaneous car nap for both of my children.

From the archives: Tiny Sasha serves up big sandwiches at Tiny’s Diner



Port Discovery is located at 35 Market Place on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. General admission to the museum is $17.95 for visitors ages 1+. If you think your family will go at least couple of times in a year, consider a membership starting at $140.

KFDC Tips:
* There are lockers to store your items (for free) in “The Pier” eating area — use them! The museum is three levels of non-stop movement, particularly for a first-time visitor trying to see and do everything.
* The Pier is also where you can take a snack or lunch break. Bring your own food or carry out from one of the neighboring establishments.
* There are many, many exhibits — more than mentioned here, including a bunch for grade school ages — so be ready for a long day (or plan on more visits!)
* Port Discovery hosts lots of special events and themed weekends — check the calendar for any you might want to experience.
* You could make it a longer trip to Baltimore, overnight or even weekend, and also visit the Maryland Science Center, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore Museum of Industry, or tour the historic ships docked at the Inner Harbor.


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Filed under All ages, Educational, Exhibit, Indoor Play, Maryland, Museums, Ongoing, Play, Weekdays, Weekend

Super, Awesome, & Amazing Fun at The St. James

Conquering the climbs in the Super, Awesome, & Amazing active entertainment center


If you’re on social media at all, by now you’ve likely seen some kind of advertisement for The St. James. I know they’ve been popping up in my feeds since the sports, wellness, and entertainment facility opened in Springfield, VA, last fall. At that time I thought it was just a huge health and fitness center that would be a nice gym option for people who lived nearby it. Had I realized it was an enormous complex with an active entertainment center, indoor waterpark, sports opportunities galore, even a spa, we definitely would have checked it out awhile ago. But it wasn’t until recently that I became aware of all it had to offer, though once I did, I made a plan to go.

Ready for fun!

On a day off from school back in March, I took Sasha and a few friends for a first visit. It was still winter, during a stretch of cold and rainy weather, and from everything I’d read about the Super, Awesome, & Amazing activity center and interactive waterpark, it seemed like a perfect place to take the fun, adventurous crew of girls.

So many options…

Our first glimpse of the The St. James as we arrived was one of awe. I knew it would be big, but didn’t know just how massive. Once we were inside and started to see more of it, we understood why. After being greeted by the front desk and getting directions to our destination, we made our way there, passing by a humongous gymnasium with at least three full-size basketball courts and a full-scale indoor soccer pitch. (These are only open to members and participants of sports leagues and camps. Later on, we also saw squash courts, Olympic sized swimming pools, batting cages, and an ice rink… they cover the sporting gamut.)

A peek at the hoops

A view from above of the active entertainment

But back to the Super, Awesome, & Amazing activity center. When we got to that area, the girls took one look at the 30,000 square foot space below filled with all kinds of climbing structures, trampolines, and obstacle courses, and could barely contain their excitement. We registered for a one-hour session and bought the special socks they were required wear, then headed downstairs to get the fun started.

Taking the high road

American Ninja Warrior training

Bouncing blurs

They donned harnesses and clipped onto wires to climb, rappel, and navigate walkways 20 feet above the ground. They bounced, flipped, and executed acrobatic moves. They swung from bars and on large platforms and crawled in tunnels to maneuver through obstacle courses. Essentially, they had a blast conquering the different elements around the space and enjoying some active fun. We might have overstayed our session a bit, but no one said anything about it.

Scaling the glass wall

Tunnels and more mazes to navigate

All of that activity worked up appetites, so we headed to Vim & Victor, the restaurant/cafe (yes, there’s one in the complex) for some fuel. You can sit down for table service, or opt for something quick from a cafe line and take it to eat at a high top table or comfy seating area.

Grab an easy bite at the cafe

After lunch we made our way to the aquatics area, where there is a whole interactive waterpark that the public is welcome to enjoy. (There are a couple of pools in that area, too, but for members only.) The waterpark isn’t huge, but it’s pretty impressive for the contained space with plenty of features for a really fun time.

Ready to make a splash!

They loved the slides

There are several slides some with tunnels, a big bucket that dumps water, sprays and splash elements all around, and “bridges” to access the different areas, and of course shallow pools that the slides lead into. There’s a locker room right outside, where the kids were able to change, and the St. James provides towels, which is convenient.

Emerging after a spin in the tunnel

Lots of prays and splash features

Benches are right outside the glass doors and walls of the waterpark, so parents can sit and watch (or read a book or bring a laptop and get some work done — the WiFi works well). Of course, adults can enjoy the water fun, too. Oh, a quick mention about ages… we saw kids from toddler age to early teens enjoying both the waterpark and active area. Obviously, the little ones need to be supervised at all times, but there are features that they can enjoy, too. There are height restrictions for a few climbing structures and the tunnel slides in the waterpark, but children of all ages are welcome.

Always a good rule



Needless to say, it was a pretty great day off from school for Sasha and her friends. Because the cost can add up, this isn’t something we’ll make a frequent thing, but it’s definitely an outing to keep in mind for special splurges. And speaking of cost, admission to the active entertainment area and waterpark are $15/hour each (so $30 total) Monday – Thursday before 3pm. After 3pm and on Friday & Saturday, they are $23/hour. Certifikid currently has a deal on passes for $13-17. KFDC Tip: I saw that The St. James is offering a Free Day Pass right now, good for a one-time visit, Mondays-Fridays, from 9am -9pm through May 31, 2019, and it gets you access to a lot of different areas.

VR games are also available (though not included with admission)

Of course, you could also consider membership options to The St. James. A friend of mine had signed her son up for a hockey league there and ended up getting a membership, so her family could use the facilities while he was at practices. She’s had all good things to say so far, which isn’t surprising. It’s a pretty incredible place.

Spa! Something for next time… 🙂

The St. James is located at 6805 Industrial Road in Springfield, VA. Hours for the Active Entertainment Center and Interactive Waterpark are 9am – 9pm Monday – Thursday and 9am – 10pm Friday & Saturday.


This post is NOT sponsored, nor was I invited by The St. James to visit. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own.


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Filed under All ages, DC, Indoor Play, Ongoing, Sports, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend