One of my favorite things about winding down the year are all the wrap-ups and recaps of the best of the previous 12 months. It’s been a few years since I did one of my own, but I thought it’d be fun to bring it back. So here’s my Top 15 of 2015 (with input from my kids, too!). What were some of your family’s faves of the past year? Let us know in the comments below!
1. The BEACH at the Building Museum
The National Building Museum literally went balls out this summer with its unique and outrageously fun interactive installation consisting of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic spheres that welcomed guests to jump in for a swim. This was easily a highlight of the year for us — and for just about all of DC, it seemed. I can’t tell you how many photos I saw posted of people playing there, all with huge smiles on faces emerging from the pearly white sea of plastic balls. Well done, Snarkitecture and NBM!
2. Dear Evan Hansen
This brilliant musical that premiered at Arena Stage in August may not be for the whole family — it’s probably best for tweens and up — but it struck such a huge chord with me as a parent and, really, just as a person, that it gets a high spot on the list. The show is so incredibly moving, with mesmerizing performances by the cast, stirring music, and a story line that weaves some of the rawest human emotions into our modern world of social media — and it’s all executed perfectly. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this may just be the best musical I’ve ever experienced. If you ever have a chance to see it — there will be a spring run in NYC — I very strongly recommend you do so. Bring tissues.
3. Fairies, Gnomes, & Art Adventures at Annmarie Sculpture Garden
How it took me so long to find out about Annmarie, I have no idea, but I’m so happy we finally did back in June. The art center and gardens in Solomons, MD, are a delight for all ages with whimsical works to tour, hands-on art experiences, and the most magical playground ever. During the summer, you can view an adorable collection of fairy and gnome houses, all of them selected from many submissions in an annual fairy house building contest. And it is fantastic — a fun and enchanting showcase of imagination and craftiness. Just like the rest of Annmarie.
4. Fossil Hunting
Searching for shark teeth and other ancient fossils wasn’t new to us in 2015, but we took it up a notch this year as we started exploring new places, including Flag Ponds Nature Park and Purse State Park, and joined a great guided tour with Ruddy Duck Adventures. Not only is the pursuit fun, educational, and a great way to spend time outdoors with the kids, there’s something so satisfying about finding a perfectly preserved shark or croc tooth among a pile of rocks and shells along a stretch of sandy beach. It was even more gratifying to hear how many of you tried — and enjoyed — it on my recommendation.
5. WONDER at the Renwick Gallery
After being closed for two years while undergoing renovations, the Renwick Gallery celebrated its reopening in a big way. Literally. The debut exhibition, perfectly named WONDER, features larger-than-life works by nine leading contemporary artists, all inspired by the Renwick. The installations aren’t just beautiful, they’re breathtaking. One of my favorite things about experiencing the exhibit during the grand opening was hearing the reactions of others as they walked into the galleries and viewed the works for the first time. There were gasps, squeals of delight, lots of “WOW!”s, and sometimes just silence as they gazed in awe. It’s only on view through May, so put it on your must-see list.
7. Spring Break in Nicaragua
So, I didn’t blog about our travels to Nicaragua, but I shared some photos on social media and received several inquires about it. Plus, it was a huge highlight of our year and such a great trip. Not only was it full of fun activities — surfing, horse back riding, kayaking, hiking, hot springs — I also loved that my children got a glimpse of culture in a developing country. We’d been to Central America before, but Nicaragua isn’t nearly as heavily touristed as Costa Rica and Mexico, and we got to see more of everyday life there. If you’re thinking about a trip to that part of the world, definitely consider Nica.
8. The Wizard of Oz Playground at Watkins Regional Park
Watkins Regional Park has been a constant in our rotation of go-to outings for years, but the new Wizard of Oz-themed playground is what lands it on this list. When I first heard about the new play area, I thought it could either be terribly cheesy or super cute. Luckily, it turned out to be the latter, full of vibrantly colored apparatuses that embrace the story of Dorothy and friends, a great addition to all of the other wonderful features of the park.
9. Sledding and Singing on Capitol Hill
What could have been a dreary snow day stuck inside the house in early March turned out to be one of the most memorable and fun times had last winter. Yes, we joined the much publicized sled-in at the Capitol. Then over the summer, there was the Sing-along for Statehood, inspired by John Oliver’s glorious Last Week Tonight segment, to bring awareness to DC’s cause. It was a thrill to join friends and neighbors for those stand-up-(and slide-down)-for-what-we-believe-in moments, both perfect, lighthearted ways to show our kids that, in some instances, it’s okay to question the rules and make their voices heard.
10. Washington Ballet Performance at the Kogod Courtyard
How often do you get the opportunity to see an elite ballet company perform five feet away from you? The Washington Ballet’s free preview of Sleepy Hollow completely captivated the audience as they performed excerpts from the show with the backdrop of the American Art Museum‘s lovely Kogod Courtyard. We snagged space on the floor right next to the small stage and could hear the light thumps and swooshes as their feet landed and bodies twirled. To boot, Septime Weber was there to introduce both the dances and the dancers. Bravi!
11. The Glass Forest
This gem of a place is one of 13 DC Secrets You Had No Idea Existed that I learned about from Thrillist and Prince of Petworth awhile back. Amid a small wooded area at Palisades Park, The Glass Forest is a remarkable collection of sculptures created from natural and scrap materials, apparently by a nearby resident (a friend of mine got the scoop from a neighbor). The unexpected location along with the interesting assembly of random pieces makes the ad hoc outdoor gallery one of the neatest places we viewed art this year.
12. Iron Girl Columbia Triathlon
Another one that wasn’t on the blog (just a couple of Instagram pics), but definitely a highlight for me. This year was the second time I completed this race and had a total blast. But I’m not just sharing it here as a 2015 fave. It’s also a recommendation for any mommas looking for an active goal in 2016. The Iron Girl Columbia is a sprint tri (.62 mile swim, 16 mile bike, 3.4 mile run), plus all-female and, while challenging, it’s also so much fun. Registration for this year’s race recently opened — go check it out!
13. Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard
As I said in the post about our day at Sugarloaf, sometimes the stars align and make for a perfect day. But I suspect it’s not uncommon to have a great family outing at the vineyard in Dickerson, MD. First of all, wine. Also, they make it fun and easy to be there with kids — a play area, live music, and lots of open, scenic space. And did I mention wine?
The climbing center in Laurel, MD, may have opened in 2014, but we didn’t make there until early 2015. It’s a fantastic addition to the selection of “indoor playgrounds” in the area. The enormous facility is filled floor to ceiling with colorful themed climbing walls that add some extra fun to the ascent. Keep this one in your back pocket for a foul-weather day. Heck, go on a nice day, too.
15. Laser Cat
A giant inflatable cat that shoots lasers from its eyes? Yes, please! Bizarre and random are understatements when it comes to describing the art installation/event that took place at The Yards back in February — and I say that in the best way possible. I love the opportunity to experience something unique, even better when my children can get in on it. While Laser Cat was essentially a rave in the evenings, there was a family-friendly event during the day that gave kids the chance to see that imagination has no boundaries. Plus, they really liked making big bubbles, getting cool balloon art, and having their faces painted — all with a mammoth cat beaming lasers at them from its eyes.