Like most people, when I go on vacation with my family, I like to take a break from work. Hence, why there aren’t in-depth posts here on the blog about most of our travels. When we’re away, I don’t want the pressure of recording all the details or feeling like I need to check out certain things to report back; on vacation, I generally like to go with the flow and relax. I’ve written about some of our shorter closer-to-home trips, but the bigger ones I usually just share through Instagram posts (if interested, check out Idaho, Asheville, Mexico, Croatia, Barcelona, Maine, Vermont, California,Nicaragua).
This is my rambling way of explaining why this post about our Spring Break trip to South Carolina — specifically Folly Beach and Charleston — is mostly scenes and quick tips, less of a thorough guide. But sometimes, that’s all you need — inspo for a destination, a starting point for planning, and a few ideas for activities.
Hanging on a street corner in Charleston
So, the quick gist of our trip: We spent three nights in Folly Beach, three nights in Charleston (and one in NC on the way down to break up the eight-hour drive). At the last minute, my friend Margaret and her family decided to meet us there, so we spent a lot of time with them (though stayed in separate places since we’d already booked when they decided to join). Our crews always have a great time together and similar traveling sensibilities (very important when traveling with others). She also posted about the trip in her Designer’s Guide to Charleston SC (she’s an architect and interior design extraordinaire), which includes details that this post doesn’t, so be sure to check it out for even more travel inspiration!
Center Street, the main strip in Folly
This actually wasn’t our first Spring Break getaway to the area, though last time we stayed in Charleston and Isle of Palms. During that trip, we took a drive south to Folly and decided that next time we would stay there. Both are great in their own ways, but Folly has a more laid-back surf vibe and more of a town, plus there is excellent fossil hunting! We found a rental through Airbnb that was perfect — just the right size for our family, an easy walk to the beach, and surrounded by leafy trees.
We loved our Airbnb
Two-minute walk to the lovely beach
Just one of many Folly fossil finds
An evening (dog)walk on the beach
Part of the reason we went to SC for Spring Break was better chances for warmer temps than more northern beaches, and that was a good call, because the weather was fantastic. Sunny and high 70s made for very pleasant days on the beach, and the water wasn’t too cold for swimming.
Plenty of space for everyone
Kadima on the beach, always
Dogs can enjoy the sand & surf, too — if they’re leashed
We ate most of our meals out, but had breakfast and snacks at the house. There are a bunch of good restaurants and places to get a bite in town, most of them casual and fun. Our favorite easily Chico Feo, with delicious tacos, sandwiches, bowls, and drinks. For snacks and stuff at the house, Bert’s Market had everything we needed and then some. It’s not a huge grocery store, but they also have take out sandwiches and other freshly made fare, plus it’s open 24 hours. And non-food related, but I must mention the great massage I had at Folly Beach Medispa.
Yummy food and awesome outdoor seating area made Chico Feo our fave
A view of the town at sunset from the Snapper Jack’s rooftop
The garden area of the tucked away spa
Before we headed to Charleston after we left our digs in Folly, we went to see Morris Island Lighthouse. You can’t actually go in or even get up close to it, but we walked to a small beach to get a view. However, the path leading to the beach may have been the highlight, the stretch of asphalt covered with colorful graffiti. The walk should have been quick, but we kept stopping to check out the art beneath our feet.
It’s about a half-mile walk down the painted path to the beach
All kinds of drawing and scrawlings
A view of Morris Island Lighthouse from the beach
Taking in a Charleston street view
Okay, I’ll be straight up: This part of our trip was really a lot of eating and drinking and walking around. We’d been to the city before and had done a lot of touristy stuff — Fort Sumter and tours of historic places, etc. — and we didn’t feel the need to repeat them. So, besides the guys taking a water taxi to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum (while Margaret, Sasha, and I shopped on King Street), we really mostly ate, drank, strolled, and just enjoyed hanging out with everyone. Here’s a recap of that in pictures. 🙂
Yorktown aircraft carrier from the guys’ visit to the museum
The Vendue Hotel has a fun, artsy lobby (and great rooftop for bites and drinks)
Had to take advantage of the photo ops 😉
Dinner at Church and Union + Fun tidbit: Margaret and I were friendly in college, but hadn’t seen each other for years until we randomly re-met at a playgroup on Capitol Hill when our now 16-year-olds were tiny babies! We’ve been hanging out on the regular since.
One last shot of (most of) our crew
Have you been to Folly Beach or Charleston? What are some of your favorite things to do and places to go there?
Skate under the stars (and over the Potomac) at The Wharf
If you’re going to be in town over the Winter Break from school, you’ll likely be looking for activities to keep the whole gang happy (and that includes us parents)! Hence, I’m bringing back this guide once again, but with updated info and some new inspiration.
Many of these ideas are already on the blog, but sometimes a little guidance for what’s best at certain times helps. Among the recommendations are holiday activities that keep the spirit going a little longer, exhibits and shows that are hot tickets right now, outings that take advantage of the season, adventures to keep your gang active no matter what the weather, and places and experiences that kids who are in school all day can’t get to easily, and movies (an obvious one, but I’ve included quick links).
Of course, the rest of the blog is packed with suggestions if you want even more options. So, whether you’re enjoying a staycation or visiting from out of town, you should have no problem keeping the kids (and yourself!) entertained during the time off — or on, depending how you look at it. 😉 Happy Winter Break!
Where: Nationals Park | Capitol Riverfront, DC
When: Through December 29
Admission: Varies by Date, time, and age
There’s been a lot of buzz about the new holiday attraction at Nationals Park — and I think it’s deserving. The world’s largest Christmas light maze and market is dazzling and delightful and really captures the spirit of the holidays. Purchase tickets here, and read a KFDC review of it, including tips for visiting, if you haven’t already.
Chanukah, Oh Chanukah
Where: Around the DMV
When: Several Dates
Admission: Varies by activity
Chanukah begins during Winter Break this year all of its eight days occur within it, too. There are several activity going on to celebrate the Festival of Lights, many of them menorah lightings — including the National Menorah Lighting on the first night — as well as family programs. View details on all of them in the Holiday Guide here.
Where: U.S. Botanic Garden | National Mall area, DC
When: Throughout the weekend
If you haven’t yet made it to Season’s Greenings, the annual holiday exhibit at the U.S Botanic Garden, you still have time to go — and it’s one that all ages will love. The Main Garden features Washington landmarks constructed from plant materials, including a new botanical inspired Union Station. But the highlight is in the East Gallery: The garden railway model train display never fails to impress and enchant with intricate, imaginative designs. This year’s Gardens of America-themed exhibit features structures from botanic gardens around the U.S. — all made from plant materials, of course. Be sure to tour the rest of the plant collections while you’re there — all are lovely to view, and walking among the flora indoors kind of feels like you pulled a fast one on the weather gods.
Christmas at Mount Vernon
Where: Mount Vernon Estate | Mount Vernon, VA
When: Through December 31
Admission: Online – $18/adults, $9/ages 6-11, free/ 5 & under
They do it up for the holidays at George Washington’s old digs. During the day, tour the Mansion, watch historic chocolate-making demos, and meet Aladdin the Camel. FYI: Mount Vernon is open every day of the year, including Christmas and New Year’s Day!
Magical Holiday Express
Where: B&O Railroad Museum | Baltimore, MD
When: Through December 31
Admission: $18/adult, $17/senior, $12/age 2-12, free/B&O members
At a venue dedicated to locomotives, you know the holiday model train exhibit is going to be special. Trains are magical during the holidays, and the museum invites all aboard the B&O’s Magical Holiday Express, a spectacular celebration in the B&O Roundhouse devoted to trains of all sizes and shapes, holiday festivities, and a winter wonderland of family fun and activities. There is something to see and do every day at this annual holiday event!
Christmas on the Potomac
Where: National Harbor | Oxon Hill, MD
When: Through January 1
Admission: Free, though some activities cost extra
National Harbor goes all out during the holidays. ICE! might be the big attraction, but there’s also plenty to do there to warrant a visit without the frozen entertainment. Most of it takes place in the Gaylord National Resort, which is transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with a spectacular glass Christmas tree, nightly tree lightings, the Potomac Express train offering rides for guests, photo ops with Santa, indoor snowfalls, fountain shows, and more. (Read about a KFDC experience there during a Christmas season past.)
Visit the Newseum before it closes its doors for good
Newsflash: Museum on Deadline
Where: Newseum | Near Navy Memorial, DC
When: Daily, 10am – 5pm
Admission: $24.95/adult, $14.95/ages 7-19, free for 6 and under
The deadline is nearing! The museum dedicated to all things news and journalism (and one of my personal favorites in DC) is closing its doors on December 31, so get there while you can — I highly recommend it! Much of the collection is better appreciated and understood by older children, so while they have off from school is a good time to take advantage of an outing there. Read more about the Newseum in this KFDC post. And (look for a deal) on admission!
AURORA: The Spirit of Northern Lights
Where: ARTECHOUSE | Southwest DC
When: Through January 5
Admission: $16-20/adult, $13-15/senior, $8-10/child
The winter exhibit at ARTECHOUSE celebrates the season with digital art installations inspired by the aurora borealis, all of them interactive and beautiful, the icy blue, purple, green, and occasionally soft yellow colors giving everything an ethereal feel. Guests walk through arctic scenes, including an ice cavern, frosted forest, and dancing lights. They can grow leafless winter trees, guide snowballs, and make snowflakes with their own movements detected by sensors. As Sasha aid, “It makes me feel like I have powers!” Get 20% off 2 adults + 2 children Sundays through Thursdays within bar hours (it includes hot chocolate).
Where: National Geographic Museum | Downtown DC
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: $15/adult, $12/seniors & students, free/5 & under
In this hands-on, transportive multimedia exhibition celebrating Jane Goodall’s extraordinary life and work, you’ll explore her early years through iconic images and a multiscreen experience and venture on a 3D exploration of Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, where she did her famous behavioral research on chimps. You’ll also see a life-size hologram of Dr. Goodall, enter a replica of her research tent, and learn about her current role as a leader in community-centered conservation and youth empowerment. And before you leave, you will find out what you can do today to make a positive impact in the world.
African American History & Culture
Where: National Museum of African American History & Culture
When: Daily, 10am – 5:30pm
This phenomenal museum is a must-see on the National Mall. And right now during off-peak season, you can walk right in without tickets. Timed entry passes are still required on weekend, though, and there are none available for awhile. (If that’s when you want to go, you can try for same-day online passes –they are released at 6:30am, Saturday and Sunday.) Before you go to the museum, read this KFDC guide for visiting with kids.
Where: National Museum of Natural History | National Mall, DC
When: Daily, 10am – 5pm
The interactive and experiential learning space is designed for kids ages 11 and up (though some younger ages could enjoy it, too). During winter break, it opens earlier at 10am (instead of 2pm). Visitors can view up close — and in many cases handle — real artifacts and specimens from the museum’s collections. For really little ones, there is Q?rius Jr: A Discovery Room for more age-appropriate exploring. And, of course, there’s the whole rest of the museum for everyone. Read the KFDC take on Q?rius.
Where: International Spy Museum | Penn Quarter, DC
When: Daily, 10am – 6pm
Admission: $24.95/age 13+, $14.95/7-12, free/6 & under
If you haven’t been to the Spy Museum at its new L’Enfant Plaza location, this is a great time to check it out!
Go undercover to explore the intriguing world of espionage. Discover tricks of the trade, view gadgets used to keep secrets and disguises to hide identities, and learn about some of the most famous spies and their missions.
A lovely, cool-weather hike at Scotts Run Nature Preserve
Where: Around the DMV
Admission: Varies by locale
If you agree with the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” like I do, there are no excuses for not getting outdoors during winter. And a great, easy way to do so is on a hike. Hit the trail in places with scenic views, tramp and explore history at interesting locales, and enjoy a day of active fun. This post has a a bunch of recommendations for good walks in the woods and other places with the kids.
Let There Be Lights
Where: Around the DMV
When: Evenings through
Admission: Varies by locale
Twinkling lights forming enchanting displays are are a staple of the season and some continue to shine into January. Visit one of several parks or gardens (or the Zoo!) in the area that has transformed into a sparkling wonderland. While some you tour by car, others you can walk through for a truly enchanting experience. See where you can see the lights around the area.
Ice It Up
Where: Around the DMV
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by rink
Enjoy a quintessential winter activity: Ice skating under the sky! Take in art as you skate at the Sculpture Garden; glide over the Potomac on The Wharf’s cool rink; circle around Washington Harbour as you enjoy river views; meander along the Figure 8 path at Canal Park; or do some shopping then skate at Pentagon Row, Veteran’s Plaza, Rockville Town Square, or Reston Town Center. This post has details on alfresco (and indoor) ice skating options in the area.
Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Peter Pan and Wendy will dazzle the whole fam
Peter Pan and Wendy
Where: Sidney Harman Hall | Penn Quarter, DC
When: Through January 11
Tickets: $35-120/adult, $35/14 & under (find discounts)
Bold, budding scientist Wendy Darling dreams of earning a Nobel Prize. When Peter Pan arrives at her bedroom window, she takes a leap and leaves finishing school behind, chasing adventure among the stars. Facing down fairies, mermaids, and the dastardly Captain Hook, Wendy, Peter, and their friends discover the power of standing up together for what’s right. J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan is reimagined for a new generation of theatregoers. This beloved tale of adventure and wonder is sure to delight adults and children alike this holiday season. Recommended for ages 5+.
The Velveteen Rabbit
Where: Adventure Theatre | Glen Echo Park
When: Through January 1
Margery Williams’s classic toy story gets a vibrant retelling in this brand new adaptation. When the Child gets the Rabbit for Christmas, she is at first disappointed in her gift. But as the two quest and adventure through her storybooks, both Rabbit and Child grow and care for each other. And they discover that love is the greatest force in the Universe and can make impossible things Real. Recommended for all ages.
The Snow Queen
Where: Synetic Theatre | Crystal City, VA
When: Through December 29
Just in time for the holidays, Synetic presents a whimsical, family-friendly adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s beloved fairy tale, The Snow Queen. Join Gerda, a little girl with gumption, a magic mirror, and a quest to save her best friend, as she sets out on a life-changing journey that takes her over mountains and across distant lands to the Snow Kingdom. Once there, she harnesses her inner-strength and wit to defeat the coldest threat of all.
Singin’ in the Rain
Where: Olney Theatre | Olney, MD
When: Through January 5
Tickets: $54-$99 (find discounts)
The greatest movie musical of all time comes to life on the Mainstage and for once, rain during the holidays is guaranteed to make you smile. Comden and Green’s ingenious tale of Hollywood’s transition from the silent era is buoyed by the thrill of live singing and dancing to some of the greatest songs in the American canon including “Good Mornin’,” “Make ‘em Laugh,” and “Moses Supposes.” Olney’s biggest production of the year is certain to impress Broadway regulars and enchant kids meeting this musical for the first time. If this were a film it would be rated G.
Step Afrika’s Magical, Musical Holiday Step Show
Where: Atlas Performing Arts Center | H Street NE, DC
When: Through December 30
Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show is a KFDC fave! This fun, family-friendly performance will have you stomping your feet and clapping your hands to energetic beats from Step Afrika! and special guest, DJ Frosty the Snowman. The show features friendly, furry characters, plus there is pre-show instrument-making workshops, photo ops, and even a dance party. It is so much fun for both kids and adults and great entertainment even after the holiday has past!
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Where: Imagination Stage | Bethesda, MD
When: Through January 5
Leap through the wardrobe and into a winter wonderland in this dance-based adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s treasured novel from the Chronicles of Narnia. A remount of Imagination Stage’s Helen Hayes award-winning 2012 production, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells the story of four siblings who journey from war-torn England to a magical land frozen in eternal winter, where the powerful lion Aslan leads them on a journey to discover their destiny. Music, modern dance, and breathtaking puppetry tell a story of love, sacrifice, and redemption. Recommended for ages 5+.
Where: National Theatre | Downtown DC
When: December 17 – January 5
Tickets: $39-99 (find discounts)
They were just four guys from Jersey, until they sang their very first note. They had a sound nobody had ever heard… and the radio just couldn’t get enough of. But while their harmonies were perfect on stage, off stage it was a very different story — a story that has made them an international sensation all over again. Go behind the music and inside the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in the Tony and Grammy Award®-winning true-life musical phenomenon, Jersey Boys. From the streets of New Jersey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this is the musical that’s just too good to be true. Recommended for ages 12+.
My Fair Lady
Where: Kennedy Center | Foggy Bottom, DC
When: December 17 – January 19
Tickets: $39-159 (find discounts)
From Lincoln Center Theater comes “a sumptuous new production of the most perfect musical of all time” (Entertainment Weekly), Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady. Director Bartlett Sher’s glowing production is “thrilling, glorious and better than it ever was” (The New York Times). Boasting such classic songs as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” My Fair Lady tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a young Cockney flower seller, and Henry Higgins, a linguistics professor who is determined to transform her into his idea of a “proper lady.” But who is really being transformed?
Squeakers & Mr. Gumdrop
Where: Atlas Performing Arts Center
When: December 27-31
Arts on the Horizon’s show will be at the Atlas at the end of December and is a perfect activity with littles ones, recommended for ages 2-5… One snowy winter morning, Mr. Gumdrop prepares for his annual holiday party! When an unexpected and curious mouse appears, Mr. Gumdrop’s routine is thrown for a loop. Can these two wildly different characters work together to get the holiday preparations done in time? This nonverbal, imaginative production captures the magic of making new friends and sharing ideas to accomplish big goals.
Climb the day away at The St. James
Super, Awesome, and Amazing Fun
Where: The St. James | Springfield, VA
Admission: $15-$23 (find discount)
The Super, Awesome, and Amazing (that’s what it’s called) 30,000 square foot activity center in the St. Jame sports complex is filled with all kinds of climbing structures, trampolines, and obstacle courses. Kids can don harnesses and clip onto wires to climb, rappel, and navigate walkways 20 feet above the ground. They can bounce, flip, and execute acrobatic moves. They can swing from bars and on large platforms and crawl through tunnels. Essentially, every element in the space is conducive to active fun, and there is something for kids from toddler to tween ages to enjoy. Admission is $15 Monday – Thursday before 3pm. After 3pm and on Friday & Saturday, they are $23/hour.
Mountains of Fun
Where: Badlands | Rockville, MD
When: Tuesday – Sunday, 9am – 6pm
Admission: $20/child, $12.50/toddler, $5/adult
Enjoy all kinds of indoor adventures at Badlands Play Space. From active fun to creative explorations to learning experiences to relaxation options, the facility has it all. They also have a cafe to get a bite to eat while you’re there and where adults can hang out while they watch their kids play (if kids are old enough to playon their own). Best for children about preschool age to 10.
Reach New Heights
Where: ClimbZone | Laurel, MD
When: Daily, 10am – 8pm
Admission: $25/child, $12/toddler (find discount)
The enormous facility is filled literally floor to ceiling with colorful themed climbing walls and moon bounces. Climbers can ascend Mt. Rushmore, reach the Jolly Roger on a pirate ship, conquer a game of Tetris, shimmy up a giant guitar, scale Jack’s bean stalk, negotiate a rope wall, and experience peak fun on a variety of other climbing areas.
Play in the Zone
Where: ZavaZone | Rockville, MD & Sterling, VA
When: Daily, 10am – 6pm
Admission: Starts at $19.50
Guests have their pick of fun at this indoor adventure park for ages 5-105. There are ninja courses, ropes courses, trampolines, climbing challenges, zip lines, and more under one soaring roof. Usually just open in the afternoons during the week, morning time slots will also be available during Winter Break week.
Where: Flight Trampoline Park | Springfield, VA
Admission: Starts at $12
Kids of all ages can jump, play, even flip for joy at Flight Trampoline Park. The huge space resembles a skate park, with an industrial look of exposed pipes and cinder block walls sprayed with graffiti. But where you’d find ramps, rails, and concrete to facilitate skills and tricks, there are trampolines instead. Be sure to check the schedule for any special jumping times, and buy tickets/sign waivers in advance online to avoid a line there.
* Find even more places for active indoor play here!
See Some Sports
Cheer on our local (or visiting) teams!
Where: Capital One Arena | Penn Quarter, DC
When: December 28 & 30, January 1 & 3
Admission: Ticket prices vary
The Wizards have a few home games over the break, so catch some exciting action on the court. They host the New York Knicks on December 28, Miami Heat on December 30, Orlando Magic on January 1, and Portland Trailblazers on January 3.
Where: Capital One Arena | Penn Quarter, DC
When: December 21, 27 & 31
Admission: Ticket prices vary
Hockey fans can see the Caps play a couple games. The Tampa Bay Lightening will be here on December 21, the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 27, and the New York Islanders on December 31.
Take in views of DC from the top of the Washington Monument
A Monumental Experience
Where: Washington Monument | National Mall, DC
When: Daily, 9am – 5pm
The Washington Monument recently reopened after being closed for repairs, so you can once again go inside for a tour and to take in DC views. You can order advance reservation tickets online for a nominal processing fee. Same-day, free tickets are also be available on a first-come, first-served basis daily starting at 8:30am at the Washington Monument Lodge, located on 15th Street NW, between Madison Drive NW and Jefferson Drive SW.
A Local & National Treasure
Where: Library of Congress | Capitol Hill, DC
When: Monday – Saturday
Explore the largest library in the world and one of DC’s most iconic attractions. Not only does the Library of Congress have a whole great space dedicated to kids, it is a trove of knowledge, art, history, and culture — and the public is welcome to enjoy it all, and for free! Open Monday through Saturday, 9am – 4:30pm.
Tour the Capitol
Where: U.S. Capitol Building | Capitol Hill, DC
When: Daily, 8:30am – 4:30pm
Take a tour of the U.S. Capitol! You can usually get on a guided tour day of, but even if you can’t there are still plenty of interesting exhibits and statues to see in the Visitor’s Center. A tour lasts about an hour, and includes a short film, walks through the The Rotunda and National Statuary Hall, and a peek into the Old Congress Chamber. Before you go, be sure to read these guidelines on what you can and can’t bring with you. KFDC Tip: You can walk through an underground tunnel to get to the Library of Congress and make it a bigger outing on the Hill.
Abe’s Last Days
Where: Ford’s Theatre | Penn Quarter, DC
When: Daily, 9am – 4:30pm
Admission: Free – $3
Ford’s isn’t just a place to catch live entertainment. The site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination highlights its historic significance through exhibits about the president, the circumstances surrounding his assassination, and that fateful night at the theatre. The National Historic Site features a museum, theatre walk-throughs and a presentation, and guests are welcome to explore it all. Best for about ages 8 and up. Reserve tickets online in advance for $3 or get them at the Box Office for free.
Tour the Memorials
Where: National Mall & Tidal Basin, DC
Be a tourist in your hometown (unless you’re visiting, then just be a tourist). Take the opportunity to visit the many memorials on the Mall and around the Tidal Basin. Not only are the structures themselves marvel-worthy, there’s a lot to be gleaned from them, too. Learn about some of our country’s presidents and leaders — George, Abe, Tom, FDR, & MLK — from displays, park rangers, and in the Visitors Centers. And walk or bike among them all to add some exercise (and extra fun) to the venture!
Go big at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore
Charm City, Hon!
Where: Baltimore, MD
Admission: Varies by locale
Zip up I-95 for some fun in our sister city, where there are lots of great places to spend a day off. Play the day away at Port Discovery. Explore the exhibits and loads of hands-on activities at the Maryland Science Center. See some of the quirkiest, coolest art around at the American Visionary Art Museum. Get an eyeful of the underwater world at the National Aquarium. Tour the historic ships moored at the Inner Harbor. Or learn about Baltimore’s early business days at the Museum of Industry.
Hit the Slopes
Where: Around the region
When: Through winter
A fun, active way to take advantage of winter: Skiing! There are a bunch of ski resorts within a few hours’ drive that are great for young, newbie skiers (and veteran swooshers, too). SkiPA is a good resource for finding slopes to suit your crew, and if you have a 4th or 5th grader, be sure to sign up for the SnowPass that offers free skiing opportunities. Some resorts to check out, both with or without the pass: Liberty, Whitetail, Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, Bryce, Snowshoe, and Wisp.
Where: Luray Caverns | Luray, VA
When: Daily, 9am – 7pm
Admission: $27/adults, $23/seniors, $14/ages 6-12, 5 and under free
Behold the spectacular underground world of stalagmites, stalactites, and other amazing limestone formations in the massive cave system at Luray. Afterward, make your way through the Garden Maze or check out vintage rides in the Carriage and Caravan Museum. Admission does not include attractions beyond the cavern. KFDC Tip: Be sure to make a pit stop before going into the caverns, because it can be a long walk out to a restroom, and once you’re out, you may not be able to go back in.
Art & Maritime Explorations
Where: Calvert County, MD
When: Daily, except Christmas
Admission: Varies by locale
Make a day of it in Calvert County, where you can visit a couple of places for fun, fascinating, hands-on adventures. Annmarie Sculpture Garden is full of artistic delights. Tour beautiful works, both indoors and out, play in the Fairy Lolly, and create some of your own art with inspiration from all you see there. Hours are 9am – 5pm in the gardens, and admission is $5/adult, $3/ages 6-17, free/5 & under. Also out that way is the Calvert Marine Museum, where you can see interesting exhibits, including display cases full of fossils and artifacts, plus live fish and other creatures. There’s also a play area and a real lighthouse to tour. Hours are 10am – 5pm, and admission is $9/adult, $4/ages 5-12, free/4 & under.
Catch cool, often educational films (and wear some rad glasses) at an IMAX movie
Jim Thorpe is a vibrant, picturesque, and oh-so-charming town
I’ve had the best intentions to write a post about a getaway to Jim Thorpe, PA, practically since I returned from a trip there with a friend back in October. But since it’s taken so long to get to it, and I really want to share info about this awesome destination, I’m doing a more abbreviated version than I’d originally planned. However, the gist is this: Jim Thorpe, PA, is a fantastic place for a weekend (or longer) escape. And even though I experienced it on a girls’ weekend away, it would be ideal for families, too. In fact, I’m making plans to return with mine this summer.
Lots of whimsy to be found
Jim Thorpe is located in northeastern Pennsylvania, about a four-hour drive from DC. It’s apparently often called the “Switzerland of America,” and one look at the pretty town with its colorful buildings and stone clocktower against the backdrop of the Poconos Mountains you understand why. Two main streets, Broadway and Race, are lined with a mix of shops, restaurants, and cafes. There’s a whimsical, almost magical vibe about the town — it seems like several stores have an Alice in Wonderland thing going on, and many of them sell lots of fun, clever, artistic items. My friend and I were there during the Fall Foliage Festival that runs almost every weekend in October, with all kinds of free live music both indoors and out, a big outdoor market, a scarecrow contest, and ghost tours.
Music outdoors during the fall fest
Rolling along the 25-mile trail
Before our trip, I had heard of JT as a popular mountain biking destination, but didn’t know much about the town beyond that. Looking into it further, we discovered even more to enjoy all year round. One of the town’s main attractions is the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, which offers excursions along the Lehigh River north into Lehigh Gorge State Park. The small station — and train, if it’s there — is one of the first sights when you drive into town. We actually didn’t ride the train on our visit, since we opted to navigate the route on two wheels instead. We rented bikes and rode the 25-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail through the state park back into town. It’s slightly downhill, so not really strenuous, a ride that experienced young bikers could probably tackle, too.
Take an excursion on the Lehigh Valley Scenic Railway
Or make your way on bike instead
Leaf peeping from the saddle
There’s even more active recreation to enjoy in Jim Thorpe, depending on the season. During summer, whitewater rafting on the Lehigh River is a popular pursuit and lakes in the area are great for boating and swimming. Skiing is the big winter sport with resorts all around the Poconos. And there’s plenty of good hiking most of the year — trails meander through woods, lead to waterfalls, and offer scenic views of the pretty area. Even more, there are festivals that bring all kinds of fun and entertainment (the next one being the Jim Thorpe Hometown Festival on July 6, and the Fall Foliage Festival is a great one to plan ahead for).
During the festival, a scarecrow contest among the businesses brings some hilarity to the sidewalks
Music on the steps of the Mauch Chunk Opera House
We found an Airbnb just across the river within walking distance of town, which was great since we didn’t have to worry about driving and finding parking. There are rentals available in town, too, along with a few inns. Larger homes and cabins can be found a bit further out, where you can spread out more then make excursions into town for fun and food. There are plenty of good restaurants to enjoy a meal and lots of live entertainment — the Mauch Chunk Opera House and Broadway Grille are great places to hear good music. And for some KidFree fun, I highly recommend the totally awesome Back to the 80’s Bar, where it might be possible to convince a bar-ful of tipsy people to sing along to Borderline with you (not that I’d know from experience or anything 😉).
View from the Harry Packer Mansion Inn, where you can stay or just enjoy a drink and nibble
With summer right around the corner when families might be looking for fun weekend escapes, this seemed like a good time to finally post about Jim Thorpe. Learn more about the wonderful destination here and get more of a glimpse in the photos below.
One of the lovely sites on the bike ride
You might get to see a steam engine roll into town, too
Given the proximity, my penchant for adventures that recall the past, and the small fact that I publish a blog all about family activities, you’d think we would have visited Colonial Williamsburg ages ago. But, no. It wasn’t until the recent Spring Break that the kids and I finally took a little time trip south to explore 18th-century life at the living history museum (the largest in the world!). And I would say it was worth the wait, but we had such a great time, I’m actually a little mad at myself for not getting there sooner.
In front of the Governor’s Palace
Colonial Williamsburg isn’t just a museum, but a living history experience — essentially, a whole town that recreates life almost exactly the way it was 300 years ago. Structures from that time have been preserved and restored, people work in trades and engage in activities they did back then, products and food from the era are available to view and purchase, and visitors are welcome to enjoy, observe, and be a part of it all.
Horses and buggies are the main mode of transport
The kids and I spent two days there (Levi had to stay back for work), though our whole trip to Williamsburg was longer. I booked a package that included a stay at one of several official CW properties and seven-consecutive-day passes to both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens (even though we only used them for three days, it was still a good deal). We stayed at the Woodlands Hotel & Suites, which offered the lowest rate, breakfast daily, and came recommended as a good resort for families.
A stroll through the streets of the historic zone
We arrived late afternoon on Monday, just in time to pick up our passes at the Visitors Center, which took about 30 minutes even though I reserved in advance. Most of the buildings in the historic zone close at 5pm, but the area is open 24/7, so after a dip in the hotel pool, we took the free shuttle over to get the lay of the land and book a Haunted Williamsburg tour for the next evening. (We lucked out and got the last three spots, so I recommend doing this in advance of your trip!) There are other evening programs available, including the Official Ghost Walk Junior geared toward families with kids ages 4-7. From there we walked to Berret’s Seafood Restaurant & Taphouse Grill for dinner, which was quite good. We were able to get a table outside easily since it was a chilly night, but indoor seating there and most other places was a long wait, so I recommend making reservations.
Walk a path of historical facts
The next day (as well as the third; we went to Busch Gardens in between) was all about exploring Colonial Williamsburg. The weather was great, so we opted for the 10-minute walk there over the shuttle — a good choice, as some interesting sights along the way included in-ground plaques with dates and historical facts, an old windmill; and a reconstructed 18th-century farm.
In the lovely manicured gardens around the Palace
Catching some entertainment at the Playbooth Theatre
Once we arrived at the historic zone, it was almost hard to choose where to begin — looking at the map, there were interesting sights and activities everywhere. But that’s also what I loved about it. You can go at your pace, just wander around, and see what you happen upon. It’s free-flowing and relaxed, no fast passes or structured agendas (essentially, it’s totally up my alley). We explored the grounds of the Governor’s Palace, then stopped in shops to watch demonstrations by cabinetmakers, printers, tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, bookbinders, and so many more trades people.
Guess what this guy does?
An early Dior?
The best part of this is that the folks who do this work are as authentically colonial as you can get in this modern time. They are skilled in the labor and create products in the colonial environment, using the same tools and techniques as they did three centuries ago, even sourcing many materials the same ways. Even more, the people you meet in these roles aren’t just employees; they’re enthusiasts and historians who are very knowledgable and zealous about their work — and about colonial times in Williamsburg. And they are more than happy to talk about their trades and life during the 1700’s. We found that most didn’t act like they were from the past (think, Ren Fest), rather they described that time from a modern POV.
A “Wood” sweatshirt in the cabinet making demonstration – what are the chances?
Making lanterns in the Tin Shop
Other historic sights included the Capitol, Courthouse, Burton Parish Church, several taverns, and homes of notable people. Tours are offered at just about all of them and some also have special programs like talks, concerts, and tours for children — daily schedules are available with details. We really enjoyed tours of Wetherburn’s Tavern and Randolph House (especially the latter after spending part of our Haunted Williamsburg tour there). The enthusiasm of our guides was evident as we got more than a look at the places, but also a glimpse into society and domestic life of that time, too.
Guests at Wetherburn Tavern could rent space in a bed (with a stranger)
A colonial kitchen
Let there be light… candles were pretty important during pre-electricity times
The kids also had an opportunity to be part of the festivities as they joined the ranks of soldiers enlisting in the army and got into formation with other young visitors. We also spent time at the Market Square checking out colonial-style games and products for sale.
“Soldiers” getting into formation
Playing a ring toss game at Market Square
Baby in a bonnet 😂
Colonial inspired dining is available, too. We had one meal at Shields Tavern, though I think we all enjoyed the “reconstructed 18th-century tavern” part more than the fare. There are several other family-friendly eateries right next to the historic zone — we really enjoyed Berret’s (noted above), Mellow Mushroom, and The Hound’s Tale. I recommend making reservations, especially during busy travel seasons when there could be long waits for walk-ins.
Sharing stories over a meal at Shields Tavern
For a close-to-home getaway for DC families, Colonial Williamsburg is kind of perfect. Not only is it an easy 2.5-hour drive away, it’s fun, educational (in a fun way), and thoroughly enjoyable for all ages. Two full days wasn’t enough to experience it all, and we’ll definitely be going back. (Plus, Levi needs to check it out, too.)
Hearing stories about hauntings at Randolph House
Of course we had to go see it during the day
Ready for a time trip to Colonial Williamsburg? Here are some KFDC tips: * Look for special packages and promos * Book special tours, such as Haunted Williamsburg, in advance as they fill up * Pick up a schedule of daily programs to help plan your days * Consider pairing it with a Great Wolf Lodge getaway (a couple of days at each) * Throw in a day at Busch Gardens like we did (another post on that soon) * Extend your historic explorations with a visit to Jamestown
One of the best parts of the getaway: sibling bonding 😊
Going away with a bunch of families can either be a brilliant idea or a big disaster. The more people, the greater the chance of personality clashes and chaos. But there’s also potential for way more fun if you’re with the right crowd. Luckily, our four-family getaway to Deep Creek Lake over Memorial Day Weekend easily went that route, and I’m sure I speak for all 16 of us when I say it was an absolute blast.
It wasn’t just the company that made the trip such a success. Located in Garret County, MD, about a three-hour drive from DC, the Deep Creek Lake area abounds with excellent options for recreation. With several state parks and forests around, there are numerous trails for hiking and biking. And, of course, the lake itself is a boon for water-inspired fun — swimming, boating, tubing, paddling, and more. (It’s also a popular winter destination with Wisp Resort offering all the snow sports, and some people rank the snow quality among the best in the area.)
My friend, Torey, came up with the idea to go there. All of the families who would be joining enjoy outdoor activities, and she easily found a fantastic, reasonably priced house that accommodated our whole crew very comfortably. On top of that, the space around the house was sublime, wide and open with lots of room for the kids to run around and roam. We actually booked it only about three weeks ahead, so either there are plenty of good lodging options for large groups, or there weren’t many others looking for a house that size.
We spent our first full day at Deep Creek on land, first visiting Swallow Falls State Park where Muddy Creek Falls, Maryland’s highest free falling waterfall, is a scenic highlight. We also hiked around, clamored over rocks, watched kayakers, and enjoyed the beautiful dose of nature. Later we went to Deep Creek Lake State Park, where there is a beach and swimming area, plus nice stretches of grass by the lake for lawn sports and relaxing. The park is also known for its great mountain biking — some of the dads took advantage and gave it a big thumbs up (well, except for one who broke his hand during a fall).
Speaking of bikes, just about everyone brought them, and even though we all didn’t hit the trails in the woods, they were great for riding around the area near our house. The roads weren’t heavily trafficked, and the vast stretches of fields alongside provided pretty backdrops, especially in the morning light. Wooded lanes made for nice cycling (and walking and running) routes, too.
Our second day was all about the water. We rented a 19-person pontoon boat and enjoyed a good eight hours on Deep Creek Lake, cruising all 5.6 miles, tubing, and swimming. An inner tube connected by rope was included with the rental, and the kids (and a few of us parents) clung on for thrilling spins along the water. We packed a couple of huge coolers with food and drinks for an onboard picnic plus plenty of snacks. There are also public docking areas near snack stands and shops, and we stopped at one for treats later in the day. If you can swing it, I highly recommend splurging a bit on a boat rental — it really lets you take advantage of the area’s main attraction.
Our final day there before heading back home, we stopped at Funland for go-karting, bumper boats, and more games. It may not have been the highlight of the trip, but it was some of the best scenery for those activities we’ve seen.
This is a trip we’ll definitely be taking again. And if we can get our friends who are moving across the country to come back for a long weekend, we’ll get the whole gang back together for it.
Find more information about Deep Creek Lake here and here.
Some other good things to know:
* We found our house on VRBO, but there are places available on Airbnb and through rental companies — just do a quick Google search to find them.
* While we cooked most of our meals at home, there are restaurants around for eating out. There is a Shop ‘n Save grocery store in McHenry, about 15 minutes away from where we stayed, and a couple of smaller stores. However, we had some good cooks in the mix and planned meals in advance, so we brought groceries to ensure we had everything we needed.
* There’s even more great recreation than what we did in Deep Creek Lake, and you can read about it all here.