After being closed for more than two years, the U.S. Botanic Garden’s Conservatory is once again open to visitors! The outdoor areas have been accessible for awhile, but it wasn’t until the start of this month that we could go back inside, too. The USBG, both indoors and out, is one of those places that I’d include among DC’s must-go sites. In fact, of all the attractions along the stretch between the U.S. Capitol and Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Botanic Garden probably is the one our family has visited most. That’s partly because it’s the closest in to where we live and an easy walk or bike ride from our house. But also because it’s a really beautiful, interesting, and fun place to explore for all ages, kids and adults.
“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” 😉
[Note: The Folger Shakespeare Library is currently closed to the public as it undergoes renovations.]
You don’t have to be a huge Shakespeare enthusiast to enjoy the Folger Shakespeare Library, but if you are a fan of The Bard, you will love it. The attraction on Capitol Hill contains the world’s largest collection of materials relating to the poet and playwright. It also houses the Folger Theatre, which presents a variety of performances and events, from plays (Shakespeare and others) to concerts to talks to fun for families.
It’s not too far from where we live, and it’s free and open to the public, so we occasionally pop in to wander around the beautiful Great Hall, which is filled with exhibits all about, you guessed it, William Shakespeare. While most of the art, books, and other displays are probably most appealing to adult visitors more familiar with Shakespeare, every now and then there has been something for younger guests to enjoy, like a fun hands-on activity to accompany an exhibit.
When we were there a few weeks ago, however, Owen and Sasha were excited to see even more features for kids. There’s a book rack with reads for all ages. A replica of a Shakespeare bust welcomes photos ops, and there’s even a frame to snap fun portraits.
A Prop Drop is filled with clothes and accessories and encourages kids to “Make a scene!” There are cloaks and crowns, swords and shields, and other pieces that they can use to “create your own version of what you read and see.” (Sasha loved it, but tweenage Owen was too cool for school to dress up.)
“And though she be but little, she is fierce.”
Booklets with art prompts are scattered about on benches, and we all spent time creating pictures with inspiration from something in the Hall. Afterwards, we hung them up with other drawings on display.
Free docent-led, walk-in tours are offered Monday through Saturday at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm, and on Sundays at 12pm and 3pm (no reservation required). There are also reading rooms to tour, but advanced reservations are required. They are free and available on Saturdays 12-1pm and Sundays 1–2pm.
* On the first Saturday of every month, the Folger offers Shake Up Your Saturdays, workshops especially for kids and families to experience Shakespeare’s language together. They can learn about the plays, how to be a Shakespearean actor, on-stage combat techniques, and more. The 10am class is for ages 5-7, and an 11am class for ages 8-14. (The next one, Printers School, where students learn the art of book printing, is this Saturday, March 3 – register here.)
* Every April, the Folger celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with a day full of festivities that is free and open to the public. It’s a beloved annual tradition that includes performances, sword fighting demos, sonnet readings, an appearance by Queen Elizabeth I, and birthday cake! This year it will take place on Sunday, April 22, 2018.
* Some of the Folger Theatre productions can be enjoyed by older children, so consider a show for a family outing. (Next up is The Winter’s Tale running March 13 – April 22, 2018). Of course, keep it in mind for KidFree time, too.
Be sure to explore outside on your visit. There is a small Elizabethan garden on the side of the building along 3rd Street SE with sculptures, hedges, an herb garden. It’s a lovely place to sit and let the kids toddle around on a nice day (I used to that often when mine were smaller).
The Folger Shakespeare Library is located at 201 East Capitol Street SE. It’s open Monday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm, and Sunday 12-5pm. Admission is free. (KFDC Tip: Just one block away from the Library of Congress and U.S. Capitol, you can plan to visit a couple of places in one outing.)
The box where Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth as he watch a performance of ‘My American Cousin’
Most of us parents — and many of our kids, for that matter — know the basic story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre. On April 14, 1865, the 16th President of the United States was shot by John Wilkes Booth as he was watching a play at what would become a National Historic Site as a result of the tragedy that took place there that evening.
It’s all of the fascinating details of that fateful night, the circumstances leading up to it, and the course of events to follow, that aren’t as well known by the masses. Unless, perhaps, you have a keen interest in presidential assassinations, have seen the film Lincoln, watched the (hilarious) Drunk History episode about it, or have read Sarah Vowel’s Assassination Vacation. I can claim the latter two, most recently having finally read the book, which was what inspired an outing with the kids and friends a few weeks ago to Ford’s Theatre.
I had actually been there several times before to see shows, but had never taken a proper tour or visited the museum portion. That probably worked out well, since Owen (11) and Sasha (8) are now at good ages to take it all in. Younger children certainly could go, but I think older kids would understand and get more out of the experience.
We visited this past Columbus Day when both kids were off from school. Timed entry tickets are free at the Box Office, or you can reserve them in advance online for $3. This gets you admission to: the museum, the theatre for a walk-through and presentation, Petersen House across the street where Lincoln died, and exhibits about the aftermath of the assassination.
I checked online in the morning and saw that tickets were still available throughout the day, so we opted to get them at the Box Office, figuring we’d get the next available time slot and hang out around the area if there was a wait. It turned out our entry time was just 15 minutes after picking up tickets, so we lined up with other guests, then began our self-guided tour almost right away.
Learning about Lincoln’s cabinet in a cabinet (so clever!)
This is where the visit begins. The Museum essentially is one large room divided into many sections. It’s filled with a variety of displays, videos, and interactive installations that provide background on Abraham Lincoln’s political career and presidency, describe the social and political climate during that time, offer a profile of John Wilkes Booth, and illustrate the story of the assassination.
It was pretty crowded and a bit chaotic when we were there — I’m guessing the holiday brought more people than usual on a Monday — so it was difficult to spend a lot of time reading everything. The kids enjoyed viewing the larger installations, such as a sculpture of political figures, one about Lincoln’s cabinet (which was an actual cabinet), and real items associated with the assassination on view in glass cases. The most intriguing was the Deringer pistol Booth used to shoot Lincoln. Oddly, it’s practically hidden in the museum, located in small corner area, where we had to wait to get a good look; I would have thought it would be more prominently displayed. Nearby, there is a replica of the gun that you can touch to get a feel for what it would be like to hold. And more of Booth’s possessions, like his journal and medical kit, are also on view.
Walk-throughs of the theatre and a presentation by a reenactor playing a man who was there on the night of President Lincoln’s death are often part of the self-guided tour. (Be sure to check that it is happening if you want to see it, which I do recommend, as the theatre portion is occasionally unavailable.) You can see the Presidential Box where Lincoln sat with his wife, Mary, as they watched An American Cousin, and Park Rangers are on hand to answer questions. The performance is great, as the reenactor talks about the fateful evening from his point of view, describing events of that day, the Lincolns’ late arrival to the theatre, the production on stage, and John Wilkes Booth’s movements as he executed his assassination plan. All of us, kids and adults, found this part of the tour very interesting and entertaining.
Chatting with a park ranger about the history of the theatre
Also a National Historic Site, the House Where Lincoln Died is located right across the street from Ford’s Theatre, and is included in the tour (hold on to your ticket!). After he was shot, Lincoln was carried across the street to what was then a boarding house, and he passed away the next morning. Now visitors can walk through and see the house recreated to look just as it did in 1865 and even view the bedroom where Lincoln spent his final hours. The bed is a replica — the real one is on display at the Chicago History Museum — but the pillow and pillow cases stained with blood are the real deal.
Just beyond the site of Lincoln’s death is an elevator that takes you to another exhibit area, designed to look like an old street in Washington, DC, that illustrates the course of events after the assassination. You can learn about Lincoln’s multi-stop funeral journey back to Springfield, IL; find out what happened to John Wilkes Booth after he fled as a fugitive; and discover the outcomes of the trials of the co-conspirators. There is a lot of reading here, but also some photos and items on display to keep it visually interesting for younger kids. It all culminates with a three-story tower of books, every single one of them about Abraham Lincoln. It’s seriously impressive, kind of like a second memorial to Abe.
Our entire visit to Ford’s Theatre and Petersen House lasted almost two hours. It easily could be longer if your kids (and/or you) wanted to spend more time reading all of the displays and watching all of the videos. There are also guided tours on select Sundays at 5pm — go here for upcoming dates.
Keep in mind, too, that the actual theatre is still in operation with several productions a year, including One Destiny, a 35-minute play about Lincoln’s assassination that is performed in spring and summer. Next up is the annual holiday show, A Christmas Carol, that will run November 16 – December 31, 2017.
Counting stars on a flag from 1865
Ford’s Theatre is open for self-guided tours of the historic site daily from 9am – 4:30pm. As mentioned, tickets can be reserved online in advance for $3, or they are available for free at the Box Office, which is open 8:30am – 5pm (8pm for performances). It’s located at 511 10th Street NW.
* Along with these recommendations, be sure to check out the Spring Break guide with more ideas for things to do with kids off from school this week!
Monday – Go over the rainbow and beyond at Watkins Regional Park. There is so much for all ages to enjoy. Visit the animals at Old Maryland Farm, then head to the Watkins Nature Center to view some cool creatures and birds. Along with animals inside, look for frogs in the pond right outside and do some bird watching and visit the owls, then hike the short trails nearby. And the adorable Wizard of Oz themed playground will keep little ones frolicking for hours. Park hours are dawn to dusk, 9am – 4pm at the Farm, and 8:30am – 5pm at the Nature Center. Admission is free. (Update: The farm is closed Mondays, but the park is still worth a visit — the Nature Center and playground are fantastic. Or enjoy it all a different day of the week.)
Tuesday – Experience a bit of Holland in Haymarket, VA, at Burnside Farms’ Festival of Spring. The blooming tulips are absolutely stunning, stretching along acres of fields in a striking array of colors and varieties. Even better, you can pick your own to bring the beauty home ($1 per stem). Admission also includes bouncy fun, a playhouse area, cornhole games, and authentic dutch wooden shoes to “klomp” around in. A cow train and wagon rides are an extra $2. Hours are 10am – 6pm. Admission is $8.
Wednesday – Locate secret doors, see outrageously fabulous themed rooms, and browse a trove of secondhand treasures on a tour of The Mansion on O Street. The Dupont Circle landmark is a mansion, museum, restaurant, vintage store, and hotel all in one. And visitors are welcome to explore (and shop!) it all. Tours offered 11am – 3pm. Self-guided tours start at $15. Purchase tickets in advance online.
Thursday – Meet a variety of reptiles and learn about their habitats around the world at Ecosystems Alive, an educational live animal show visiting Discovery Theater. Recommended for ages 6-11, showtimes are 10:15am and 11:30am (on Friday, too). Tickets are $6/child, $8/adult, $3/ages 2 and under. For live entertainment with littler ones, The Three Billy Goats Gruff is the current show at The Puppet Co. in Glen Echo Park. Showtime is 11am. Tickets are $12.
Friday – Frolic on the playground and sprawling fields and do some light hiking at Montrose and Dumbarton Oaks Parks in Georgetown. Both are fun, easy places to enjoy a nice day with little ones (and big ones, for that matter). Admission at both locales is free. Plan to grab a bite at one of the many nearby eateries on M Street or Wisconsin Ave. If you want to make a longer day of it, visit Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, too. Located right next to Montrose, the grounds will be popping with color this time of year, making an already beautiful place even more exquisite. Hours are 2-6pm Tuesday – Sunday. Admission is $10.
* Along with these recommendations, be sure to check out the Spring Break guide with more ideas for things to do with kids off from school this week!
Monday – Go hang out at Yards Park. The recreational space in the Navy Yard is a perfect place to spend a beautiful spring day. Play in the sprays, hang out in the grassy areas, stroll the boardwalk, take in the views, and have a picnic by the water or go for lunch at one of the many new nearby eateries. Admission to the park is free.
Tuesday – Hit the beach on the 80-degree day! The water may still be too chilly for swimming at Flag Ponds Nature Park, but you can build sandcastles on the shore, have a picnic by the water, spot wildlife in the woods, and do some fossil hunting — the park in Calvert County is a great place to search for shark teeth and other prehistoric remnants. Hours are 9am – 4pm (beach closes at 3:30pm), admission is $6/car. (Update! The park may be closed on Tuesday, so call head to confirm day/hours. If it is, head to Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis for beach fun instead.)
Wednesday – Catch a performance of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp at Adventure Theatre. Showtimes for the all-ages production are 11am and 2pm. Tickets are $19.50. The show runs through May 21.
Thursday – Head to Upton Hill Park for an egg-citing event. Activities will include coloring, games, a moon bounce, and pictures with the Easter Bunny. The fun starts at 11am, and an Egg Hunt begins at 11:30am. Admission is $13 in advance, $14 day of. Add on a mini-golf and food voucher for $7 more and get a great deal on lunch (pizza, chips, and choice of drink) and two hours of mini-golf from 12-2pm.
Friday – Make a day of it at the National Arboretum. Explore the plant collections, go for nature walks through the woods, visit the Washington Youth Garden, and see the old Capitol columns. There are so many ways to enjoy one of the loveliest places in the city. Hours are 8am – 5pm, and admission is free. Read more about the Arboretum in the round-up of the best places to spend a day outdoors — it tops the list!