Note: This list of recommendations was created in pre-Covid days, though a few places have been added since then. Some of the listed places are temporarily closed, and offerings and programming have changed at many, which I’ve noted as best I can.
When the rain forced our family to make a Plan B this past weekend, I turned to my own (old) list of Rainy Day Recreation. Looking it over, I realized it needed revamping — some elaboration on listed suggestions and the addition of many new ones. It’s now all here in this bigger, hopefully better, list. So, when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor recreation or you simply just feel like being inside, check out these ideas of where to take shelter, just about all of them tried and tested by yours truly and crew.
1. Visit a Smithsonian museum on the National Mall and elsewhere in the city. They are free, fantastic places to stay dry, cool, or warm, depending on the weather.
2. Hold giant insects, eyeball all kinds of mammals, learn about human origins, and, of course, explore the recently reopened Fossil Hall at the National Museum of Natural History. And there are tons more fascinating exhibits to tour while you’re there, including Q?rius, the impressive interactive and experimental learning space. 2022 Update: Q?rius is currently closed.
3. Explore the history of flight and outer limits at the National Air & Space Museum, one of the most popular of the Smithsonians with exhibits that awe all ages. For hands-on activities, the “How Things Fly” gallery is full of neat, interactive displays that explain the basics of flight and pique kids’ curiosity. 2022 Update: The Air & Space Museum is currently closed for renovations.
4. Navigate to the National Museum of American History, where kids can see “America on the Move,” a history of transportation; toys and games from your childhood; the Star Spangled Banner; and much, much more. The Innovation Wing boasts several great exhibits, plus the Wegmans Wonderland play area for little ones and The Spark!Lab, where guests can get hands-on and inventive. 2022 Update: Wegmans Wonderplace and The Spark!Lab are currently closed.
5. Deliver on fun at the National Postal Museum, where lots of interactive exhibits and an easy-to-explore space make it a nice outing for little ones. And every Monday, they host story time sessions with readings and an activity at 10:30am and 11am. [Note: Story time is not happening right now.]
7. Drop in for special free programs at the National Portrait Gallery. Open Studio Fridays (1-4pm) welcome visitors for creative fun, and Portrait Story Days invites kids to hear a story about a person who has influenced American history and culture and to create a special piece of art (runs most Saturdays & Sundays 1-4pm). On any day, tour the collections — the athlete portraits tend to be popular with kids! — and be sure to stop by the lovely Kogod Courtyard. Hours are 11:30am – 7pm. 2022 Update: Open Studio Fridays are no being offered right now.
6. Roam around the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The modern art exhibits on the top level are often most appealing to young art buffs, but there is wonderful art throughout for all ages to explore. Check the calendar for special family days that occur about once a month on weekends. And note the museum’s hours are 11:30am – 7pm, which offers a late afternoon/evening activity.
8. Discover imagiNATIONS, the family activity center at that National Museum of the American Indian. Be sure to check the schedule for open hours and any special activities. 2022 Update: The museum is open but imagiNATIONS is closed.
9. Jet out to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Dulles arm of the National Air & Space Museum, to see a giant hangar full of aviation and space artifacts. Admission is free, but parking in the lot is $15/vehicle.
11. Experience Asian culture through art at the Nationl Museum of Asian Art (aka Freer & Sackler Galleries). Art Cart and Imaginasia activities are available most weekends and sometimes during the week for families to enjoy.
12. Contemplate the exhibits at the Hirshhorn Museum. While some of the collection and installations may initially seem a bit sophisticated for children — many pieces have deeper meaning that is over their heads — they can still appreciate much of it on a visual level. Past exhibits like Pulse , Suprasensorial, Ai Weiwei: According to What, and Yayoi Kusamaa: Infinity Mirrors are good examples, as well as the current One with Eternity . They also offer programs especially for kids or that all ages will enjoy — see the events calendar for dates and details.
13. Educate your crew on African American History & Culture at one of DC’s newest museums and most remarkable attractions. This KFDC guide will help you navigate it all with kiddos. Advance timed passes are required for entry.
At other local museums…
14. Foster an interest in art at the National Gallery. The East Building underwent a big renovation a few years ago and is better than ever. The “sparkly” moving sidewalk between the East and West Buildings is always a hit. And don’t forget to check to see if any family programs are on the schedule.
15. Head to the National Building Museum for playtime in the PLAY WORK BUILD and activities in the Great Hall. Check to see what other current exhibits might appeal to young guests, too. The Summer Block Party exhibit is always a seasonal must-do. Admission is regularly $7-12 for the exhibits. (Tip: There is no admission fee for museum members, and a family membership is just $90/year. For those who visit often, this is well worth it!)
16. See an exhibition or a few at the National Geographic Museum. Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience is the current big exhibit on display. And they always have stunning photography, often featuring wildlife and nature, on view.
17. Cruise on over to the U.S. Navy Museum.One of the coolest museums in DC that many people don’t seem to know about is located on the Navy base in Southeast DC, and it’s full of artifacts that illustrate the history and impact of the Navy.
18. Weave some time in your schedule to stroll through the Textile Museum at George Washington University, which houses a beautiful collection of textiles from around the world. Be aware that this museum might appeal to adults more than kids, but there are works that all ages can appreciate.
19. Wing it at the College Park Aviation Museum. See historic aircraft and direct the kids play in the children’s area with art activities, a dress up station, and more hands-on fun.
20. Talk about the power — and magic! — of language at Planet Word. The museum in Downtown DC is full of interactive and immersive exhibits that engage, educate, entertain, and delight. And it’s free!
21. Nurture the next 007 at the International Spy Museum. The redesigned venue in its new location at L’Enfant Plaza is even cooler and more intriguing than before. Best for about ages 6 and up.
22. Full STEAM ahead at the National Children’s Museum! Loads of modernized, interactive exhibits present learning disguised as amusement park-like fun. Find it all in the Ronald Reagan Building downtown.
23. Examine the human body from a scientific point of view at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. But know what you’re getting into first! While the museum is quite fascinating, it’s not for very young children, nor the faint of heart.
24. See some of the quirkiest, coolest art ever at the American Visionary Art Museum. Located at Baltimore Inner Harbor, its three buildings are full of outrageously creative masterpieces that all ages will not just appreciate, but absolutely adore.
25. Time trip through Charm City’s early business days at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The Inner Harbor attraction highlights the trades and people that helped build the port city through exhibits that showcase relics from the past and recreate various industry environments.
26. Find out how the prehistoric past, natural environment, and maritime heritage come together to tell a unique story of the Chesapeake Bay at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, MD. Full of big installations, hands-on exhibits, and interesting features both indoors and out, it’s worth the hour-long drive to Calvert County.
And for non-museum pursuits…
27. Check out the largest library in the world! The Library of Congress, a local and national treasure, is as interesting as it is beautiful.
28. Get in touch with nature at the U.S. Botanic Garden, where many of the plant collections make you feel like you’re not just outdoors, but in a whole other region altogether. Be sure to pick up a passport at the information desk on your way in and stamp it as you locate different flora on your tour.
30. Bounce, swing, climb, run, balance, and tumble, and let little ones burn some energy at an indoor playground.
31. Take in a show at Adventure Theatre at Glen Echo Park. See what’s on or coming to their stage.
32. And The Puppet Co. presents shows on strings on the Main Stage, plus there are Tiny Tots shows for the youngest audiences most Wednesdays and weekends.
33. Or join the audience at Imagination Stage, where In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson is the next show coming up October 15-22. Visit the website to see what other productions are in the lineup.
34. Entertain the kids (and yourself) at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. The program presents free, no-tickets-required programs Thursday – Saturday at 6pm, and the public is welcome to enjoy them. Check the website to see what’s on the schedule.
36. Marvel at the beauty and magnificence of the Washington National Cathedral, one of DC’s most iconic attractions. Both guided and self-led tours are available, and the stained glass windows and gargoyles are especially interesting for kids. The observation gallery on the seventh floor also showcases interesting architectural designs, stunning bird’s eye views of DC, and an exhibit about the 2011 earthquake in DC.
37. Stay entertained at Discovery Theater, located in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center. Check the schedule to see what productions they’re currently presenting. 2022 Update: The theater is currently closed.
38. Rock out at a Jammin Java kids show. Visit the website to see the line-up of children’s musicians playing at the Vienna venue. 2022 Update: Kids Shows are not being presented right now.
39. Reserve a time slot to get creative at the Moonshot Studio within The REACH at the Kennedy Center. On Saturdays and Sundays, visitors are welcome to enjoy a hands-on activity, and it changes every weekend.
40. Get a glimpse of where DC’s bigwigs work on a tour of the Capitol Building.
41. Pay a visit to Mount Vernon, the former estate of President George Washington. Tour lots of interesting and interactive exhibits in the Education Center as well as the mansion where he lived (and died) after his presidency.
42. Bounce on over to an open jump session at Pump it Up. Go here to find out when they’re offered at a location near you.
43. Journey through space at a planetarium. The Albert Einstein Planetarium at the Air & Space is open every day. The Rock Creek Park Planetarium has free shows on weekends and Wednesdays at 4pm. And the David M. Brown Planetarium in Arlington has special programs at various times. 2022 Update: All of the planetariums are currently closed.
44. Play the day away among the awesome variety of fun exhibits designed especially for kids at Port Discovery in Baltimore. And check the calendar to see if there are any special programs going on when you plan to go.
45. And speaking of Baltimore, the National Aquarium in Charm City gets its own spot on this list.
46. As does the Maryland Science Center, also on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It’s chock full of fascinating hands-on fun for kids!
47. See history in the works at Baltimore Museum of Industry, an interesting time trip through Charm City’s early business days.
48. Chug on over to the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. Along with old trains on display and other exhibits, there is a Kids Zone for ages 2-8, regular children’s programs, and special events. Check the calendar to see what’s happening when.
49. See a movie. It seems there are always flicks for little ones showing at a theater near you. Find out what’s playing now.
50. Enjoy Theatre for the Very Young, the program for little audiences at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Visit the website to see if there’s a show currently running. 2022 Update: This program is not running right now.
51. Jump in at an indoor pool! Wilson Aquatic Center in NW is popular, and Deanwood in NE even has a slide. In Maryland, Rollingcrest in PG County has a special preschool area, and there are several indoor aquatic facilities in Montgomery County. In Northern Virginia, Arlington County has a few indoor public pools, and there’s one in Alexandria, too. Be sure to check schedules for open swim times at all of them, and I recommend calling ahead to confirm there are no random closings.
52. Glide the day away on an ice skating outing. This post has a list of venues for fun on ice, indoors and out, in the area.
54. Get your game on at Labyrinth, the Capitol Hill shop specializing in games and puzzles for all ages. Demo a few at tables set up in back for just that purpose.
55. Romp in the play area and ride the Express Train at Tysons Corner Center.
56. Frolic in the 1,200-square-foot play area at Potomac Mills Mall in Woodbridge, VA. (And while you’re there, do a little outlet shopping, too!)
57. Make a trip out to Luray Caverns in the Shenandoah Valley to experience the spectacular display of stalagmites and stalactites. It really is breathtaking, and most kids will be thrilled by the idea of an underground adventure.
58. Roll on down to the National Capitol Trolley Museum to see old streetcars and even take a ride on one. The museum is open on the weekends all year, and Thursdays and Fridays during select dates, so make sure it’s open before you go.
59. Go to a Storytime session at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain regularly hosts free children’s book readings at locations around the area. Find out when there is one near you. Make time before or after to play at the train table (there’s seems to be one in every store) and look at some more books.
60. Paint some pottery at Jimmy Potters Studio & Workshop in Arlington and Fairfax, Color Me Mine (several locations in the area), All Fired Up in DC and Bethesda, or Clay Cafe in Falls Church and Chantilly.
62. Feast on delicious pizza and get in a few games of table tennis, too, at Comet Ping Pong in Chevy Chase. The eatery is open Monday – Thursday 5-9:30pm, Friday 4-10:45pm, Saturdays & Sundays 11:30am – 9:30pm.
63. Day trip or plan an overnight to Pennsylvania’s Amish Country for the Turkey Hill Experience to get the scoop on the ice cream-making process through a series of interactive exhibits.
64. Glimpse written history at the National Archives, home of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Stop in the Boeing Learning Center for hands-on activities and more historical discoveries. Hours are 10am – 7pm during spring and summer, 10am – 5:30 during fall and winter. Admission is free.
65. Show them the money at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Free 40-minute tours run every 15 minutes 9-10:45am and 12:30-2pm from September to February, 9am-2pm March 1-23, and 9am-7pm from March 26 – August 24. The experience includes an introductory film and gallery tour of the production process. 2022 Update: Tours are not being offered right now.
66. Get a bird’s eye view of DC along with an interesting tour at the Washington Monument. One of the city’s most famous structures has reopened, allowing visitors to go up to the observation deck 500 feet up and check out the museum 10 feet below. Get free first-come, first-served tickets day-of pr pay a small fee to reserve them in advance.
67. Or survey the city from one of the best — and highest — vantage points in the District at the Old Post Office Tower. Even though the historic building has been converted into a hotel, the clock tower is still operated by the National Park Service and is open for free, self-guided tours 9am – 4pm daily.
68. Immerse in art and technology at ARTECHOUSE, which specializes in digital art exhibits — and they are always interesting with elements for all ages.
69. Put a little extra spring in your…jump at Flight Trampoline Park in Springfield.
70. Investigate the death (and life) of Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. The location of the 16th POTUS’s final hours is a museum as well as an entertainment venue and open for both guided and self-guided tours. Tickets are free at the box office or $3 if you reserve in advance.
71. Scale a rock wall and do some rappelling at SportRock Climbing Center. Facilities are located in Alexandria and Sterling, VA, and they offer programs just for kids.
72. Take advantage of Tots Playtime at Pinstripes in Georgetown. From 10am – 12pm most weekdays, kids can bowl for just $4 each (plus $5 shoe rental), and parents are free (limit 4 kids per adult)! Stay after for lunch — they have a kids menu and a pretty extensive main menu, too.
73. Locate secret doors, see outrageously fabulous themed rooms, and browse a trove of secondhand treasures on a tour of The Mansion on O Street. The Dupont Circle landmark is a mansion, museum, restaurant, vintage store, and hotel all in one — and visitors are welcome to explore it all. Open daily 11am – 4pm. Self-guided tours start at $25.
74. Full steam ahead at the Gaithersburg Community Museum. Located in the B&O Railroad complex in Olde Towne, the indoor/outdoor interpretive spaces provide hands-on learning centers for children that spark the imagination, and permanent and changing exhibits explore Gaithersburg’s rich history. Open Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 3pm. Admission is free.
75. Reach new heights of fun at Climbzone. The indoor rock climbing center is filled literally floor to ceiling with with colorful themed climbing walls that kids and adults will have a blast conquering.
76. Practice your swing and have a ball at a batting cage, a great recent recommendation by a KFDC reader. On-Deck PG in Capitol Heights, MD, is a local facility where you can get in some indoor hits.
77. Spark the kids’ interest in STEM in a lab full of fun and exciting hands-on activities at the Children’s Science Center in Fair Oaks Mall.
78. Browse the stalls and have a bite at Union Market in northeast DC. Enjoy a variety of food options for lunch, get a delicious scoop of ice cream from Trickling Spring Creamery, and show the kids some “interesting” sights that are sometimes there, like a pig’s head at Harvey’s or octopus at The District Fish Wife.
79. Score a strike or a spare or just have fun knocking down some pins when you go bowling. Lucky Strike in Penn Quarter sets up ramps and bumpers for little bowlers, as does Bowl America, which has several locations in Virginia. Or try duck pin bowling at White Oaks Lane in Silver Spring.
80. Let imaginations run wild with pretend play at the Playseum in Bethesda.
81. Screen a Crybaby Matinee on Wednesdays at 12pm at the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. The program is meant for moviegoers with little babies, so they can relax and enjoy a flick with their babe in tow.
82. Serve up some active fun at one of several indoor tennis courts. The East Potomac Tennis Center by Hains Point, Pauline Betz Addie Tennis Center in Cabin John, or Wheaton Indoor Tennis all offer lessons for kids or court time if you just want to hit around on your own.
83. Delight the kids with an outing to the Torpedo Factory. The public is welcome to visit the galleries in the Art Center located in Old Town Alexandria, and creative works that all ages will enjoy abound!
84. Challenge your gang with ninja courses, ropes courses, trampolines, climbing apparatuses, zip lines, and more active fun at ZavaZone, the Indoor Adventure Park with locations in Rockville, MD, and Sterling, VA.
85. Soar with the wind at iFLY Loudoun. Their wind tunnel flights are about the closest you’ll get to skydiving without stepping foot in (then out of) an airplane.
86. Combine creativity and critical thinking on a fun outing to KID Museum in Bethesda, where they provide impactful hands-on learning that incorporates STEM, art, and culture into their offerings. Open weekdays for reserved/private visits. Open to the public on weekends 9am – 5pm.
87. Engage little ones ages 0-4 in calm ways to play at The Wonder in Arlington (formerly nook), an indoor play space where they’ve “removed overstimulating, chaotic elements of the typical crowded play place to create more room for your child’s imagination.”
88. Volunteer at the DC Diaper Bank, where all ages are welcome to help bundle diapers and do other tasks that contribute to their mission to help babies and families thrive. (And if your kiddo is too little to help, there’s a sweet play area where they can hang out while do.)
89. Contribute your time to another organization with family-friendly volunteering opportunities. Several area non-profits invite kids and parents to help out — read more about them here.
90. Savor a DC “Secret” at Panda Gourmet, an off-the-beaten-path restaurant on a Thrillist list of places that many people aren’t even aware exist. The food is authentic, with dishes that go well beyond your standard American-Chinese fare. Even better, it’s all delicious and fun for the whole fam to share.
91. Visit a Community Rec Center. Many have play areas for children and/or gyms where you can shoot hoops and enjoy some active time. See locations in DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Montgomery County, and PG County.
92. Get a great art fix at an off-the-beaten path place at the Kreeger Museum. Located in the Foxhall/Palisades neighborhood, it showcases works by Monet, Picasso, Miro, Calder, and many more celebrated artists. (And the sculpture garden outdoors is fantastic, with beautiful, interesting, even fun pieces.)
93. Visit another art museum not on the National Mall, the Phillips Collection. The Dupont Circle gallery houses some fantastic famous works including Renoir’s Luncheon oft he Boating Party along with modern art pieces that appeal to all ages. See their tips for families before you go.
94. Conquer obstacle courses, scale climbing walls, bounce around, and enjoy 30,000 square feet of the Super, Awesome, and Amazing active entertainment center at The St. James.
95. Splash, slide, and relish in the sprays of the super fun indoor waterpark, also at The St. James.
96. Learn about the Chesapeake Bay through hands-on exhibits and static displays at the Glen Echo Park Aquarium. Be sure to check the schedule for open hours this time of year.
97. Attend a Tudor Tots session with little ones on select dates at Tudor Place in Georgetown. Or go another day with all ages to tour the historic estate and learn about the house built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter and the generations of families who lived there.
98. Exercise with FIT4MOM Capitol Hill, a local franchise of the nation’s largest wellness company with programs exclusively and thoughtfully designed for moms. During the winter months, classes are held indoors — and they provide a great opportunity for moms to get a workout and kids to interact with one another during and after class.
99. Stop in the Navy Heritage Center to learn about the history and heritage of the men and women of the United States Navy. Inconspicuously located just off the Navy Memorial Plaza, the small center houses exhibits, some of them interactive, screens several films daily, including Discovery Channel’s “At Sea.” More info here.
100. Introduce kids to The Bard at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where hands-on activities, children’s books, art, and family programs make his world accessible to all ages. Admission is free. 2022 Update: Currently closed for renovations.
101. Fly like a circus star with Trapeze School New York (TSNY) – DC. The facility in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood offers trapeze, trampoline, and aerial classes for ages 6 and up.
102. Behold the capital region from 30+ stories high at the Observation Deck at CEB Tower, where 360-degree panoramic views are stunning from that vantage point and there are interactive displays and immersive experiences to help you enjoy them even more. UPDATE: This is now only open to Arlington residents and for private events.
103. Invent, create, experiment, discover, and have fun with all kinds of hands-on projects at the KID Museum in Downtown Bethesda.