The holidays are always a fabulous time of the year in DC, especially in the evenings when twinkling lights make the cityscape sparkle and there is “illuminated” fun to enjoy. Even better, you can make a night of it and experience those lit activities and enjoy a family dinner out, too. Here are five ideas for doing just that, all of them centered around a main activity with recommendations for places to eat, plus some suggestions for nearby fun to tack on if you want to make a day (or longer night) of it, too. Happy Holiday-ing!
CityCenterDC Winter Wonderland
Where: Around 10th & I NW | Downtown DC
When: Nightly through the holiday season
This isn’t officially called Winter Wonderland, but I’m calling it that, because CityCenterDC’s seasonal decor has the feel of one. Walk under a canopy of large delicate snowflakes, check out festive window displays, maybe stop in some shops, see 25-foot reindeer in the courtyard area, then head to the plaza along 10th & I Streets showcasing a stunning 75-foot tree with smaller colorful tree installation adjacent and many more real trees lit up with lights. It’s such a gorgeous and joyful scene!
Get a glimpse here!
Dinner: Tatte Bakery & Cafe, right across I street from the plaza, is casual and cozy and has excellent treats. Capital City Brewing Company is very family-friendly and right around the corner if you want sit-down service. If you don’t mind walking a bit, there are many more places in the area great for a meal out with kids.
Tack on more fun: The Downtown Holiday Market (FREE!) is just a few blocks away and worth a stroll, though be aware that it can get crowded. The National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum (FREE!) are close by and open until 7pm. MLK Library (FREE!) is also nearby and a great place to go with kids — it has interesting exhibits, a cafe, a lovely rooftop, and an amazing slide! The Museum of Illusions is a unique experience and right there within CityCenterDC ($23.50/13+, $18.95/age 5-12, free/4 & under).
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Where: Commercial District | Georgetown, DC
When: Nightly through January 7, 5-10pm
If your crew doesn’t mind doing some walking, a tour of the installations in this annual outdoor light art exhibition is a must-do during the holiday season. It’s so fun to see the whimsical, beautiful works brighten up different areas of the bustling neighborhood. It makes for great photo ops and is guaranteed to elicit smiles.
Dinner: Reren Lamen n Bar has ramen, dumplings, and more to satisfy the whole family. Martin’s Tavern is a DC institution with a warm, cozy ambience. Pinstripes has a large, kid-pleasing menu, plus bowling (extra cost). There are many more family-friendly places, too.
Tack on more fun: Roam the enchanting garden at Dumbarton Oaks before seeing the lights — admission is FREE this time of year. Skate under the stars at Washington Harbour Ice Rink ($11/adult, $9/child, $7/skate rental). Go bowling at Pinstripes (and get dinner, too).
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Holidays on the Ellipse
Where: President’s Park | National Ellipse, DC
When: Nightly through January 1
The holiday display practically in the White House backyard is a quintessential DC holiday activity. See the National Christmas Tree, the National Menorah (starting December 7), plus smaller trees representing all 50 states as festive music plays. All of it lit up at night with the White House and Washington Monument glowing in the distance makes for a brilliant holiday scene.
Dinner: Old Ebbit Grill is a DC hot spot and just a few blocks away. Or try its sister restaurant, The Hamilton, at 14th & F — it’s huge, with a menu to match, and always has an upbeat vibe. There is also a Cheesecake Factory right across from the White House at 15th & H.
Tack on more fun: Visit the Renwick Gallery, American History Museum, or African American History & Culture Museum before — all are a short walk to the Ellipse and open until 5:30pm (all FREE!). Go up in the Washington Monument for breathtaking views of the city. Walk across 15th Street to the Willard Hotel to see the beautiful seasonal decor (FREE!)…or even go for afternoon tea before the Ellipse.
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Where: The Yards | Capitol Riverfront, DC
When: Nightly through January 7
Every year, The Yards presents a special light exhibition during the holidays, which always features large-scale illuminations that are interactive and fun. During this 8th year, Yards Park is merry and bright with Swinging Bells, five, 13-foot tall bells that play a jingle as you swing beneath them.
Dinner: Lots of options at The Yards! We love Emmy Squared Pizza. Get a good pasta dinner at Osteri Morini. Blue Jacket is a family crowd pleaser. For fast casual, Takorean and sweetgreen are faves. If you don’t mind an extra chill, stop at Ice Cream Jubilee for a scoop. There are even more family-friendly options in the Navy Yard.
Tack on more fun: Glide the night away at Canal ParkIce Rink — get tix in advance online to save ($13/adult, $10/child, $6/rental). Go big and splurge on a visit to Enchant — read about our experience last year ($32+/adult, $24+/age 3-17).
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Where: Franklin Park | Downtown DC
When: Through December 17
This may be one to save for the weekend when there is more going on, though parts are lit for photos on weekdays, too… Franklin Park is transformed into a glistening Frosted wonderland aglow with lights. There will be lots of fun holiday festivities to enjoy — appearances by Santa, The Grinch and Lulu, Ice Sculpture Island, Holiday Lane, the Frosted Maker’s Market, a larger than life Snow Globe Main Stage, and more! See the website for the schedule.
Dinner: Same suggestions as the Ellipse… Cheesecake Factory at 15th & H is closest. Old Ebbit Grill is a DC hot spot and just a few blocks away. The Hamilton, at 14th & F, is a little further — it’s huge, with a menu to match, and always has an upbeat vibe.
Tack on more fun: Visit the wonderful Planet Word museum before you go — it’s right across 13th Street and open until 6pm weekends/5pm weekdays (FREE! with tickets). The National Museum of Women in the Arts is also fairly close, but I’d recommend it more for older kids… open until 5pm ($15/adult, $13/DC residents, FREE for 21 and under).