Lately, it’s been a little harder for us to plan weekend outings as a family. Saturdays and Sundays are often busy with sports, and as the kids have gotten older, they (well, mostly Owen) want to hang out with their friends more than they want to with Levi and me (why? we’re so cool!).
So, it was really nice recently when we had a long stretch of time between a morning soccer practice and an evening soccer game, and no one had anything else going on. Well, I had one small errand to run in Alexandria, so we decided to plan around that. We wanted to take advantage of the beautiful fall day and opted for a hike at Huntley Meadows Park, easily one of the best places, in my opinion, to enjoy the outdoors in that area.
Huntley Meadows Park makes for a great outing any time of year, but it’s especially lovely now as the leaves start to turn, and the weather is pleasant for walking the boardwalk that spans the beautiful wetlands.
I first learned about the park from my friend Darcy nearly a decade ago, and we have been many times since. And even in the kids’ tween and teen years, they (we) still really enjoy a visit there — hiking the trail, looking for frogs and other creatures, and taking in the beautiful scenery. Better now, though, is that we don’t have to worry about them falling in the marsh! 😉
Huntley Meadows Park is located at 3701 Lockheed Blvd in Alexandria. It’s open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free. You can read more about it in this post. And here are more scenes from our recent visit.
I’m a big proponent for getting outdoors no matter the time of year, and when it’s a sunny, 60+ degree day during the winter, well, that’s a no-brainer. The recent spate of warmish weather around Christmas was a perfect case-in-point, and we headed to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria to enjoy it one afternoon.
Huntley Meadows is not a new KFDC destination or recommendation; in fact, it’s included in the big outdoors list. It’s another one of those parks that exist in an unexpected place. It seems that one minute you’re driving through a typical suburban area, the next you’re in the middle of a natural haven.
There are trails, wildlife sightings, and plenty of nature to explore on the 1,425 acres of woods and wetlands throughout this park in Alexandria. Dirt trails wind through the clusters of tall trees, while a boardwalk takes you over the marshy areas, with cattail and cord grass sprouting up around it. During the warmer months, you’re practically guaranteed to spot turtles of all sizes, frogs, great blue herons, cardinals, and a variety of other birds. Keep following the boardwalk, and you’ll eventually come to a lookout, where you can take in the vistas.
The entire hike is just over a mile, and there are lookouts and benches where you can stop for breaks and snacks along the way to make it a few hours’ outing. Be sure to stop in the Visitors Center for interactive exhibits and photos of the area.
Huntley Meadows Park is located at 3701 Lockheed Blvd in Alexandria. It’s open daily from dawn to dusk, and the Visitors Center is open every day but Tuesday 11am – 4pm from December 1 – February 28, and 9am – 5pm weekdays the rest of the year (weekend hours vary so be sure to check the schedule). Admission is free.
Critiquing First Ladies’ dresses at the American History Museum
Monday – Show the kiddos relics from your childhood at the National Museum of American History, where collections include some of the best toys and games of our days of yore. While you’re there, check out some of the other exhibits, like the First Ladies’ ball gowns and America on the Move, a history of transportation in the U.S. featuring some of the earliest automobiles, a train car, and an old street car that guests can actually climb aboard. The museum is open from 10am – 5:30pm.
Tuesday – Go play at Clemyjontri, the brilliantly colored, sprawling playground in McLean that accommodates kids of all abilities. Hours are 7am to dusk, and admission is free.
Wednesday – Venture up to Baltimore for a Wonderful Wednesday at Port Discovery. Dedicated to children from age birth to 6, the day includes special art, music, and literacy programs for little ones (see the website for the full schedule of activities). While you’re there, be sure to check out the new Wizard of Oz exhibit. Hours are 9:30am – 4:30pm. Admission is $13.95/ages 2 and up, free for under 2 and members.
Thursday –Celebrate Valentine’s Day with the Boogie Babes and The Singing Lizard at Union Market! It’s the first time the music show for little ones will take place at the new, hip venue in northeast DC. Showtime is 10:30am, and admission is $5/child (free for siblings 6 months and under). Get there early for coffee — Peregrine opens at 8am. Stay after for a bite from one of many eateries and food stalls that will be open by lunchtime.
Friday – Catch a performance of Brother Bear at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Imagination Stage is bringing their popular show across town, so more audiences can watch as Brother and Sister Bear experience a full year of glorious seasons. Showtimes are 10am and 11:30am, and tickets are $8. The show will be at the Atlas February 13-18.
One day a few weeks ago, Sasha asked if we could visit some animals. It was one of those 100-degree days, so the obvious places — the Zoo and area farms — were out. I thought about where else we might see some wildlife sans sweltering conditions and decided to take her to a nature center. And I figured it would be a good opportunity to check out one we hadn’t been to yet, so we headed to the Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. (After that intro, you’re probably wondering why the feature photo is outdoors. I’ll get to that!)
The indoor part of the center isn’t very big, but there are at least 10 terrariums where you can get a close look at snakes, turtles, frogs and toads.
Wall of Wildlife
Eye to eye with a turtle
Just off the main room is a small area with an indoor pond. An outdoors scene on the wall wraps around it, fish swim in the waters, and turtles hang out on the rocks along the sides. There is also a Discovery Room where kids can find nature-related toys and games, books, and activities.
Bringing the outdoors in
Busy in the Discovery Room
That was about it…in the indoors part, anyway. We saw everything in less than an hour, so I told Sasha we could take the “scenic route” on the way out and see the outdoor sights, despite feeling like we were in swampland. After having a look at a rescued owl out back, we followed a path to a small pond, where we could see turtles, small fish, and lots of dragon flies buzzing around. We skipped a hike on a longer path that winds through the woods — something to save for another day.
Off to explore
Captivated by pond activity
Ironically, we probably spent more time outdoors than we did inside (so much for staying cool!), but I guess the real thing is always better.
Long Branch Nature Center is located at 625 S. Carlin Springs Road in Arlington. Hours are Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday 1-5pm, closed Monday. Admission is free. They also host birthday parties for children ages 4 and up — see the website for more.