[Note: Aside from the intro, this post was written by Owen, a key member of the KFDC team since day one.]
I’m so excited and proud to present the first-ever KFDC post written by one of my kids! That cute, smiley toddler you see in the masthead at the top of the blog? He’s a teenager now — has been for a few years — and he’s here to recommend local activities for teens. I get asked from time to time about the best things to do with teenage kids in DC, by both visiting parents and even locals. And I totally get it. I know from my own experiences traveling with teens and, really, just having and wanting to hang out with them, that it can be tricky to find activities to do together that they’ll truly enjoy.
So, who better to discuss the DC teen scene than an actual DC teen, especially one who has done a lot around the area? While Owen and I talked about some of these ideas, he had carte blanche to write about whatever he wanted. And I love his recommendations. They were originally intended for visiting teens, but locals obviously can enjoy them, too, and some may actually be more convenient for those who live here (ie, you might need a mountain bike and car with a bike rack). But they’re all fantastic suggestions, and they all come from real DC teen experience. [Note: I added links and side notes, but the ideas and write-ups are all his.] Thanks, O!
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A DC activity that is pretty much essential for teens and adults (and younger kids) alike is visiting the museums across the city. This is an obvious one to mention here and such a common thing to do in DC, but for good reason. From the many museums on the National Mall to others in different areas, DC has an amazing range of museums to explore . What is best really depends on personal interest, and I could go on and on about what’s good about each one. But the museum I think should be a priority is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum encompasses the long history of African Americans in a very engaging way, from the start of slavery to Civil Rights to Black cultural icons to Black Lives Matter. With a creatively formatted floor plan, the museum begins with the oldest subject matter on the bottom floor and, as you work your way up, you move forward through time, eventually to our present day. The exhibits are really interesting, there are interactive parts, the architecture of the building is incredible, and the whole experience is thought-provoking and significant. A few other museums that I think are great for teens are the National Air and Space Museum and National Museum of Natural History (I loved these when I was younger and still think they are interesting), Planet Word, National Geographic Museum, National Gallery of Art, and the Hirshhorn has had some of the coolest exhibits [see a few of them here, here, and here].
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If you’re looking for a nice area to explore with a wide range of activities, Georgetown is just the place. I’ve always liked it there, because there’s a lot to do. The neighborhood has a mix of city and nature if you know where to go. With tons of stores along M Street, it’s a good shopping area for teens. There is also the C&O Canal, where you can take a nice walk while avoiding the congestion on the main streets above. Further back from M Street, Dumbarton Oaks Gardens is cool to walk through, and there are hiking trails behind it in Dumbarton Oaks Park [similar names, but two different places]. Finally, if you’re looking to get out on the water and see famous monuments from an angle many don’t experience, kayaking is a great option in Georgetown. One location that offers this is Boating in DC at Key Bridge, which is a short walk from the center of Georgetown. Not only is the service great (full disclosure: as an employee, I may be biased), but you can get amazing views of DC from the Potomac while you paddle. [Find more Boating in DC locations and other places to paddle around the area here.]
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The Arboretum is one of my favorite places in the city to hang out. Our family has been going there for as long as I can remember. If you’re looking for somewhere beautiful to hike around, take photos, or just relax, this is a great place to go. You’ll immediately be impressed by the unique sight of the tall marble columns that used to be part of the Capitol in the middle of the main field. There are a lot of trails winding through the different areas of plants, and it’s all super scenic and a great way to spend a day. There’s a whole area dedicated to Bonsai trees and a separate section at the back with all Asian plants. The best time to go, in my opinion, is in the fall when the leaves change and everything is colorful, but it’s nice to visit all year.
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There are a lot more places to go for nature and something different than the urban environment of museums and memorials, and hiking is a great way to enjoy these options. If you want to hike right in the city, Rock Creek Park is legit with lots of trails in the woods that feels like a different world from what we typically think of DC. If you don’t mind driving a bit outside the city, Great Falls is the best place to go. The views are outstanding with a whole section of rushing falls that you can see from overlooks, and the Billy Goat Trail [on the Maryland side] is more fun and challenging than other hikes in the area. Roosevelt Island is also a nice place to go that’s close. You have to cross the river to get there, and you can easily bike.
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Biking is one of the best ways to get around the city while enjoying the scenery along the way. I’ve biked with my family and on my own (or with friends) for many years, and in DC, it’s never hard to find a good ride. One great area to bike is along the National Mall then to Georgetown. You pass by or stop at all the monuments and ride along the water, then you can stop and grab some food and and hang out when you get there (see the Georgetown section above). I also like riding the Anacostia River Trail from the Navy Yard to Anacostia Park, then northeast DC into Maryland. It’s a great option if you’d like to see a different part of DC. But if you want to stay closer in, riding from Yards Park to The Wharf (and vice vera) is fun because there is a lot going on at both places. [It’s easy to get a bike through Capital BikeShare. There are stations all over the city, and you can pick up a bike at one and leave it at another.]
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Even if you’re not a fan of one of our sports teams, going to a game is a great way to experience a major piece of DC culture. We have teams in all of the major sports leagues. If you’re into baseball, go to a Nats game at Nationals Park in the Navy Yard. If you like soccer, DC United and Washington Spirit matches at Audi Field are awesome. If you’re looking for basketball or hockey, the Capitals and Wizards play at the Capitol One Arena in Penn Quarter. For football fans, the Commanders play in Maryland. If you’re not into any of the sports, it’s still fun to be in the exciting atmosphere of the stadium or arena. [What you see obviously depends on the time of year, but at least one of the teams is always in their season. And a couple more to check out are the DC Breeze Ultimate Frisbee team and Washington Mystics women’s basketball.]
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Mountain biking has become one of my favorite activities over the last few years. I’ve ridden in a few places around the area, and I’m never disappointed. The mountain biking options in DC are very limited, but there are plenty of great ones within an hour of the city, and some are only 20-30 minutes away. If you don’t have much experience, Schaeffer Farms in Maryland is good for beginners. With flatter trails and a range of easy options, it’s good if you want to get a ride in without the intensity that other areas require. Another location that I’ve gone to plenty of times is Fountainhead Regional Park in Northern Virginia. It’s one of the best spots in the area with super fun trails with lots of drops and jumps and fast turns. Patapsco Valley State Park in Maryland also has a lot of really good riding options. For a little mountain biking in DC, Fort Dupont Park in Anacostia has some trails. They are short and easy, and you can bike there from Capitol Hill in about 15 minutes. [If you’re visiting and/or need a mountain bike, rentals are available through Conte’s Bike Shop and Big Wheel Bikes.]
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If you’re looking for a fun venue to see your favorite artists, DC is not lacking when it comes to the music scene. The Anthem is a great place to see a show. It’s right on the waterfront at the Wharf, and a lot of big artists play there, so it’s easy to find an act you’d like to see, and there are also really good places to eat near the venue. The 9:30 Club is awesome and legendary in DC. It’s not too big, so you get a more intimate music experience. There are sometimes big concerts at Capitol One Arena and Nationals Park, so it’s worth checking to see if anyone is playing. [Some other smaller venues to check for all-ages concerts are Lincoln Theatre, The Hamilton, DC9, and Black Cat.]
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You might not think of theatre when you think of DC, but it’s actually really good here, and I’ve been lucky to see some great shows over the years. One of the most memorable was Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage. It debuted there and went on to become a Broadway hit. (I might have been a little young when my mom took me to see it, but I still loved it.) [You can read all about that here!] The Kennedy Center, of course, always has a lot of big shows, and we’ve also seen some really good ones at more places around the city [National Theatre, Warner Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Synetic Theater, and Sidney Harman Hall].
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Even though Glenstone is not right in DC, it’s definitely worth the drive. Not only does the museum have a whole beautiful outdoor part with big sculptures to see as you walk through, it also has indoor galleries with a ton of interesting artwork. The balance of nature and modern art offers a unique experience, very different from the museums in DC, and probably hard to find anywhere else. You have to be at least 12 years old to go, so teens should should take advantage! [Glenstone offers Guaranteed Admission for students age 12+, and one guest can join them, which means you don’t need to reserve tickets in advance.]
If you have a DC teen, what are some of their favorite local activities? Let us know in the comments!