How lucky are we to have a large, beautiful national park right here in our city? Rock Creek Park sprawls gloriously through Northwest DC, its 1,700+ acres encompassing an amazing mix of recreation. There are nice hiking trails that traverse the tree-filled woods; historic sites like Peirce Mill and Old Stone House; a wonderful Nature Center that contains a planetarium (the only national park in the country to have one, though sadly, the whole center is currently closed); tennis courts open for public play and the Rock Creek Tennis Center that also hosts a major annual tournament; the Carter Barron amphitheater that presents annual music series and more entertainment; the Horse Center, and of course, the beloved National Zoo.
Our family has enjoyed all of the above mentioned sites and activities over the years, most of them many times. But the ones we’ve taken advantage of most are the Zoo and hiking, the latter most recently over Thanksgiving weekend on Black Friday, when we always make a point to #optoutside instead of getting sucked in by the sales. Rock Creek is a go-to for many locals for a good hike in the District — the varying trail options and feeling of escaping the urban bustle (while still being in the city) are major appeals.
It was a pretty fall day, albeit it a cold one due to the wind. But that never stops us from getting out… as the saying goes, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” (Not to mention my kids never seem to get cold!) We often begin our Rock Creek hikes at Peirce Mill. There is a small parking lot right across the street that always has open spots in our experience, and the paved path that runs along the creek next to it leads right to the green-blazed Western Ridge Trail.
There is a short uphill walk on the first section of the trail where we catch it near the Tilden Street Bridge, but it’s fairly mellow with just some gentle hills beyond that (the shorter section we often hike, anyway). The foliage was still in full effect this past weekend with plenty of leaves still on the trees, and we all remarked that it seemed especially brilliant this year — and so pretty with sunlight spilling through it all.
The full Western Ridge Trail winds a good 10-ish miles through Rock Creek Park, but we usually just hike to the Nature Center or a bit beyond and back, about three to four miles total. This visit we did less, turning around about a mile in, but hanging out in different areas longer to let Teddy the pup sniff around and find sticks.
During pre-Covid times, a lot of great ranger led programs were available at Rock Creek, from guided hikes to planetarium shows to kids activities. The Horse Center also offered trail and pony rides and welcomed people to tour the stables. All of those activities are suspended right now, but hopefully will be offered again soon.
I should mention that the Nature Center is another good starting point for a hike on the Western Trail, especially right now. There is a larger parking lot that tends not to fill up quickly while the facility is closed. And you can find even more great Rock Creek Park hikes here. Whatever route you choose, you’re in for a great walk in the woods.
Rock Creek Park is located mostly in Northwest DC (parts are in Maryland). Peirce Mill is located at the corner of Tilden Road and Beach Drive NW, and the parking lot is right next to it. The Rock Creek Nature Center is located at 5200 Glover Road NW. It’s open daily during daylight hours.
Of the many re-openings happening over the next month, the Dumbarton Oaks Garden may just be the one I am happiest about, mostly because it’s the first time visitors can return since it closed last spring. While many places welcomed the public for a brief period last summer and fall, the Garden’s gates remained closed — and I, for one, really missed being able to visit.
Dumbarton is one of my go-to places for peace and calm, when I just want to stroll around and relax in a beautiful setting. (So, it’s probably understandable why I missed it so much over the last year.) The Garden’s 16 acres are a horticultural haven, with countless varieties of flowers, plants, and trees throughout the many plats of the terraced grounds. It’s breathtaking year-round, but especially vibrant right now with spring blooms and bright, fresh foliage. Pre-Covid, Dumbarton was a regular recommendation from me, and I’ve written about it several times — you can read more here, here, and here.
The hardscapes are just as lovely as the landscapes. There are several fountains (that look freshly cleaned!), benches and other lovely spots to sit, and many garden sculptures. And the Pebble Garden, probably my favorite area, is a patterned pebble mosaic with a fountain at one end and encircling walls covered in wisteria. It’s absolutely enchanting… though, really, the whole garden feels like it’s out of a fairytale,.
Dumbarton isn’t just a place I love; our whole family enjoys visiting together. We’ve been there many times over the last decade. When the kids were younger, we’d take them to play next door at Montrose Park or go for a short hike on the Dumbarton Oaks Park trail (located behind the estate), maybe have a little picnic, then head to the garden for its afternoon open time (note that picnics are not allowed at Dumbarton). They always loved walking around, exploring, and seeing what delights awaited around every corner.
As the kids have gotten older, we usually pair a visit to the Garden with a meal in Georgetown. If we want something quick, we walk down to Jaco Juice and Taco Bar a few blocks away on Wisconsin Avenue and sit outside. We might also walk a little farther to Martin’s Tavern (a DC institution), Peacock Cafe, or Cafe Milano.
Right now, the Garden is only open to those with season passes, which are available for purchase and start at $75 for one person (and you still need to get timed-entry tickets). Beginning May 15, it will be open to all with $7 timed-entry tickets to control capacity. Masks are also required as a safety precaution, and the bathrooms are not open, so prepare for that.
Dumbarton Oaks Garden is located at 31st and R Streets NW in Georgetown. You can usually find two-hour street parking very close to the entrance. Hours right now are 3-6pm on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Beginning May 15, 2021 it will be open Tuesday – Sunday, 3-6pm. You must reserve a timed-entry ticket in advance. Admission is $7. 2022 Update: THe gardens are open to all Tuesday – Sunday, 2-6pm.
Get more of a glimpse in these snaps from my recent visit…
Part of the reason we hadn’t been there in so long was because the garden was closed all last spring and half of summer while it was undergoing renovations. The other parts were the weather, which seemed to be either too hot or too rainy for what felt like forever, and the hours (2-6pm Tuesday – Sunday), which are hard to fit into our schedule.
Every path leads somewhere lovely
But last weekend we found ourselves with a wide open afternoon on a gorgeous early fall day, so Sasha and I headed across town to enjoy the botanical oasis and some quality time together. As with all our visits there, we just wandered and picked our paths as we went. A couple of new sightings this time: 1) A bunny! 2) A woman picking a pear off a tree and eating it right there. (For the record, I don’t think that’s actually allowed, so don’t go picking and eating fruit and saying you heard it was cool from KFDC!)
I’ve written about the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks a couple of times before, so you can click here and here for more insight. You can also get an idea of just how lovely it is in the images below.
Dumbarton Oaks Gardens
Where: Georgetown, DC
When: Tuesday – Sunday, 2-6pm (2-5pm November 1 – March 14)
Admission: $10/adult, $5/child | FREE November thru mid-March
(Click on images to see them them larger.)
Checking out a “natural” sculpture on the south lawn
A lovely place to wander
Pears are ripe (but not for the picking!)
A peek in the Arbor Terrace
Who else hearts elephant ears?
Light & shadows in a vine covered walkway
Cherry Hill glows with pink blossoms come spring
Teepee-like sculptures decorate this expanse
The Catalogue House contains images that depict recent renovations
Cartwheels on the Ellipse
Lots of monarch sightings — it’s time for their migration to Mexico
My favorite, the Pebble Garden
A view from above
Pomegranates (again, no picking!)
An extra pop of color
Check out this bonehead 😉
The north lawn is a great spot for slo-mo videos of kids running (if you get those requests, too)
Quod Severis Metes – As you sow, so shall you reap
Get an up-close look at a re-creation of the first presidential inauguration at Mount Vernon
After this difficult week, I think we’re all looking forward to some good quality time with our children this long weekend. As always, our city provides plenty of opportunities for that. Celebrate President’s Day, Black History Month, and the Chinese New Year. Be an engineer for a day. See a live show. Enjoy an artsy adventure. And keep the Great Indoors list and round-up of best outdoor places handy because the weather will be conducive to both. And hug your kiddos extra, extra tight. Happy Weekend!
Party at George’s Place
Where: Mount Vernon Estate | Mount Vernon, VA
When: Throughout the Weekend
Admission: $20/adult, $11/age 6-11, free/5 & under (discount below)
Every Presidents Day weekend, George Washington’s former estate hosts special festivities in celebration of the first POTUS’ big day. Sample his favorite breakfast, mingle with costumed characters from the old days, create a birthday card for George, and enjoy some dancing with the 18th-century. Of course, take time to explore the grounds, mansion, and Education Center exhibits, including the just debuted Be Washington, a great interactive experience that lets you step into his boots and make the tough decisions he faced. On Monday, there will be a special marching drill and dance demos along with ceremonial wreathlayings to honor Washington. Bonus: Admission is free on Monday, but I can tell you from experience that a lot of folks show up to take advantage of the complimentary entry. But, good news: KFDC readers can get 20% off admission using the code BWASHKFDC. This can be used for up to 4 adults or youth through May 31, 2018.
Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Birthday
Where: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site | Anascostia, DC
When: Saturday 10am – 5pm & Sunday, 12-4pm
Celebrate 200 years of the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass! February 2018 makes it 200 years since Frederick Douglass was born into this world. Born as a slave, he escaped to his freedom and against all odds, rose to a life of honor by becoming a statesman, journalist, activist, hero and so much more. Join the National Park Service for a yearlong commemoration as we honor the history of Douglass’s life, his connection to the community and his commitment to social justice. There will be all kids of activities for all ages at the historic site and nearby venues (see the puppet show below) to celebrate the occasion.
Discover Engineering Family Day
Where: National Building Museum | Judiciary Square, DC
When: Saturday, 10am – 4:30pm
Celebrate National Engineers Week with a fun-filled day designed to introduce students ages 4-12 to the wonder of engineering and the importance of technological literacy. Guests can try out exciting, hands-on engineering experiences and talk with professional engineers of all kinds. Nearly 30 Family Day exhibitors present basic engineering principles through hands-on and mind-challenging activities and special demonstrations will be sprinkled throughout the day. We know from experience that it’s a fun, engaging time for all!
Black History Month Celebrations
Where: Around the DMV
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by activity
February is Black History Month, and there are events and activities throughout the DC area to celebrate it. Museum programs (including an entire museum!), special tours and exhibits, story time sessions, and more will be enlightening and fun for all ages. See where they’re all happening here.
Chinese New Year Family Day
Where: Kennedy Center | Foggy Bottom, DC
When: Saturday, 9am
All ages are welcome to the Kennedy Center’s annual Lunar New Year festivities, this year celebrating the Year of the Dog with three days of special events, including this fun-filled day of activities and entertainment. Video footage of and letters to Bao Bao the panda, traditional Chinese dress-up and crafts, folk dancing, acrobatic, and shadow puppetry performances, and much more will be part of the festivities. See the website for more details.
Presidential Family Fun Day
Where: National Portrait Gallery | Penn Quarter, DC
When: Saturday, 11:30am – 3pm
Celebrate President’s Day and fifty years of the Portrait Gallery’s hallmark exhibition America’s Presidents with live music, art activities, tours with historians, and a special appearance by the Washington Nationals’ Running Presidents. And be sure to stop and see the just unveiled portraits of President and Mrs. Obama while you’re there! Read more about the museum in this recent post and this one from a past experience there.
Frederick Douglass Puppet Show
Where: Anacostia Arts Center | Anacostia, DC
When: Saturday & Sunday, 1pm & 3pm
The Frederick Douglass bicentennial birthday celebration will include entertainment at the Anacostia Arts Center, too. Double Nickels Theatre Company is presenting a Frederick Douglass puppet show on both Saturday & Sunday. All performances are free!
Legends & Legacies Jubilee 2018
Where: Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Park | Baltimore, MD
When: Saturday, 12-4pm
In honor of Black History Month and the 200th celebration of Frederick Douglass’ birth, join many of Baltimore’s most exciting attractions for an afternoon of FREE performances and interactive family-friendly activities. Experience exhibits from world-class institutions like the National Great Blacks In Wax Museum, the National Aquarium, the Maryland Zoo, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, and more.
Adventures in Exploration: Birds of a Feather
Where: National Geographic Museum | Downtown DC
When: Saturday, 11am – 1pm
Admission: $15/adult, $7/age 7-12, free/6 & under
Take the family on an epic adventure to discover why birds matter. Hear amazing stories from National Geographic Explorers Washington Wachira and Anusha Shankar, experience the wild beats of explorer and wildlife sound artist Ben Mirin, watch National Geographic WILD’s new film Planet of the Birds, and play an interactive game called Beastbox. This is part of the new Adventures in Exploration series from Nat Geo that takes place on the third Saturday of every month.
Stop by Abe’s
Where: President Lincoln’s Cottage | Petworth, DC
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: $15/adult, $6/ages 6-12, free for 5 and under
There’s no special event, but this seems like a good way to honor our 16th POTUS for President’s Day. Located on the Armed Forces Retirement Home campus in northwest DC, the cottage was Abraham Lincoln’s country home and workplace, where he spent one quarter of his presidency. Admission includes the Cottage tour, an innovative small group tour in which a professional guide uses “historical voices” and images through multimedia technology to bring the stories of Abraham Lincoln and his family to life. It’s recommended for ages 6 and up.
Washington Dollar Days
Where: Tudor Place | Georgetown, DC
When: Friday/Saturday/Sunday, 10am – 3pm
Don’t miss your chance to practice the frugality our founding father approved of: George Washington was born in February, and Tudor Place is celebrating him all month through artifacts, furnishings, and stories, all for just one “Washington dollar!” Tours begin hourly, and it’s recommended you book ahead.
Hamiltunes: An American Singalong
Where: Arlington Public Library | Arlington, VA
When: Saturday, 12-4pm
Do not throw away your shot and miss this one-of-a-kind event! Kids in grades 6 and up and adults are invited to sing along to the story of Alexander Hamilton! They’ll play the full instrumental album from “Hamilton: An American Musical” as you sing along at our officially licensed Hamiltunes event. Wear your best revolutionary get-up for a costume contest during intermission. Register here.
Bonsai or a Big Tree
Where: National Arboretum | Northeast DC
When: Saturday, 11am – 1pm
Admission: $25 per child/adult pair
Every tree seedling has its fate, and in this workshop, you can learn how that fate is determined. One adult and one child will have a special day together as they work as lab partners, using “scientist eyes” to observe details and make comparisons. Learn about plant physiology, ecosystems, and bonsai history. At the close of class, each research team will receive a seedling and decide its fate — will the tree go through the rigorous training to become a bonsai, or will you plant it outdoors in spring to grow up wild, big, and free? Dress for weather — you’ll be in an open exhibit area for part of the workshop. This activity is recommended for ages 8+, geared to kids in 3rd and 4th grades. Due to limited classroom space, strollers can’t be accommodated. Registration is required – sign up here.
Where: National Gallery of Art | National Mall
When: Saturday, Sunday, & Monday
Drop in for the museum’s wonderful program for children ages 4-7. Art Investigators introduces kids to art and encourages them to make observations and use their imaginations as they discover different works. During this weekend’s sessions, they’ll explore the Quilts of Gee’s Bend. Read a KFDC review of the program from the early KFDC years (it’s old, but still relevant, as the program is very much the same, although the name has changed). Sessions are at 10:30, 11:30, and 12:30 on Saturday and Monday, and at 11:30, 12:30, 1:30 on Sunday. Sign-in takes place in the East Building Atrium, starting at 10am on Saturday and Monday and 11am on Sunday.
Room for Children
Where: House of Sweden | Georgetown, DC
When: Saturday & Sunday, 12-5pm
Visit the space for family fun at the Swedish Embassy on Georgetown’s waterfront. This library and arts studio for the young is designed to stimulate children’s interest in books, music, storytelling, and self-expression. Room for Children pushes the boundaries of what a library can be. Parents are encouraged to engage in it all with kids and share the experience! It’s open on weekends through December, and every Saturday, there is a storytime session at 2pm.
Celebrate the Year of the Dog (& Shop!)
Where: Leesburg Premium Outlets | Leesburg, VA
When: Saturday, 1-3pm
Welcome the Year of the Dog with a traditional dragon dance, fashion show, music, calligraphy demonstrations and more! Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets is ringing in the Lunar New Year with a variety of free, family-friendly activities. Lunar New Year is honored in many countries and celebrates the beginning of the lunisolar calendar. On Saturday, shoppers can expect a traditional dragon dance, Chinese Hanfu fashion show, customary music and dancing from a variety of cultures, calligraphy demonstrations, crafts and more, Families can also look forward to exclusive savings at select retailers.
Model Train Open House
Where: Historic Vienna Depot | Vienna, VA
When: Saturday, 1-5pm
Visit the historical Vienna Stain station to watch model train and trolley activities that realistically depict an actual railroad that existed in North Carolina in the 1950′s, the Western North Carolina (WNC). Locomotive, rail car, and towns industry in this layout is modeled after those places and things as they looked in that era. Thomas the Tank Engine (and a few of his friends) are chugging around among the bigger steam and diesel locomotives. The Vienna Depot is located at 231 Dominion Road NE in Vienna, Virginia just down the street from the red caboose. Check out the virtual tour here.
Chinese New Year Parade
Where: Throughout Chinatown, DC
When: Sunday, 2pm
Welcome, Year of the Dog! On Sunday, the annual Chinese New Year Parade brings vibrant tradition to downtown DC. Festivities kick off at 6th & I Streets NW at 2pm and will wind through the streets of Chinatown celebrating Chinese culture in a brilliant procession that includes traditional dance, music, and, of course, the iconic dragons. Kids always love seeing the show and having trinkets and treats given to them by parade participants passing by (mine really dig this!). The parade lasts about two hours, and spectating is free. Get there a little early to stake out your curbside spot — folks come out for this one, especially if it’s a nice day.
Frozen Day of Play
Where: Annmarie Sculpture Garden | Solomons, MD
When: Sunday, 12-4pm
Admission: $5/adult, $3/age 6-17, free/5 & under
Drop in for a family day of play and creativity and explore the wonders of winter and ice through a variety of art projects, pretend play, investigations, and more! From frosty face painting, to a frozen treasure hunt, to guided winter walks, kids of all ages will delight in this sensory seasonal experience. They can even play in the snow flurries outside! Read more about Annmarie here and here.
George Washington Birthday Parade
Where: Throughout Old Town Alexandria, VA
When: Monday, 1-3pm
Alexandria hosts the largest parade in the country celebrating George Washington’s birthday with marching bands, historic re-enactment troops, and more. Bundle up to watch the procession as it travels through Old Town. See the website for more info and route details.
President’s Day Tour
Where: National Museum of Health & Medicine | Silver Spring, MD
When: Monday, 1pm
This free, docent-led introductory tour highlights the remarkable changes in American medicine over the past 150 years, with a special focus on military medicine. FYI: I recommend this for older kids! This KFDC post explains why.