Tag Archives: Free Activities in DC

You’re Never Too Old (or Cool) for a Visit to the National Zoo

 

Too old (or cool) for the zoo? Never!  We proved this a few weeks ago when our family — yes, even the two teens — went to the National Zoo.  It started off as Sasha and I deciding what to do on a nice day. She didn’t have soccer or other plans with friends, so I snagged the opportunity while I could.   I suggested a hike, but she said, “Nah.”   So, I asked somewhat randomly, “How about the zoo?” thinking I’d probably get a thumbs down and a response that it’s for little kids.  But she instead surprised me with an enthusiastic, “Okay!”

When we mentioned our plan to Owen and Levi, they unexpectedly wanted to join, too.  Though looking back,  it was silly of me to assume they wouldn’t want to go.  The zoo isn’t just for young children… I mean, Levi and I used to go before we even had kids.

The National Zoo is a great place for anyone to enjoy a day out.  Besides just visiting the residents — and there are so many different species! — you can catch animal demos, like elephant feedings and reptile meetings.  When the kids were younger, they’d enjoy spins on the carousel. It’s also really nice to just stroll the grounds and even enjoy a picnic (BYO or buy food from concession stands there).

A surprise visitor in the elephant habitat

It had been since pre-Covid that most of us had been to the Zoo. (Owen had been on a photography field trip with school, but that was it.) Some things are a bit different now, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to share current logistics, upcoming events, and a few tips for visiting.

And, by the way, we saw loads of people there without young children, from couples of all ages to adult friends on an outing…  and even groups of teens.

* * * 

 

Passes
Timed-entry passes have been required for entry to the National Zoo since it reopened after Covid. They can be reserved in advance online. And don’t fret if you like to pop in to places if you’re in the area… passes don’t seem to sell out, and there are signs with QR code displays at the entrances, so you can get online with your phone and register for passes right there (but you can’t just walk in without passes). And admission to the Zoo is still free.

Parking
While admission to the Zoo is free, parking in the lot on site is $30 per car. Parking passes can be purchased in advance online. Note that cars can no longer access the parking lot from Beach Drive. The only vehicle entrance is at 3100 Connecticut Ave. NW.

KFDC Tip: If you don’t need to park that close and want to save the $30, you can look for street parking nearby. We found a spot on Adams Mill Road NW and walked to the back entrance at Harvard Street Bridge just off Beach Drive. Of course, you can avoid parking altogether by taking Metro (Woodley Park is the closest stop) and walking a few blocks down Connecticut to the Zoo.

Hours
The Zoo is open daily, with the exception of Christmas Day, though hours vary by time of year. Summer hours (July 1 – September 30) are 8am – 6pm with last admittance at 5pm. Winter hours (October 1 – June 30) are 8am – 4pm with last admittance at 3pm.

KFDC Tip: Go early during warmer months if you can for more animals sightings, as some retreat to their indoor areas on hot days.

Events
The National Zoo hosts several annual events that are fun to attend. It’s worth keeping an eye on their Events page to see what’s coming up.
* Boo at the Zoo, the annual Halloween fest, is back in person this year on October 28, 29, and 30 — and it’s super fun for young kids (we went several time when the kids were little).
* ZooLights is the annual animal-themed holiday light display. It’s free and always very popular.
* Easter Monday always takes place the day after Easter welcoming the public for an egg hunt, live entertainment, and special activities (2023 info TBA).
* Adult events like Brew at the Zoo are occasionally hosted at the zoo.
* Events to celebrate animal birthdays, zoo anniversaries, and more come up throughout the year and are always fun times to visit.

Planning
The Zoo is a big place, and it can take a long time to walk the whole thing, especially if you like to spend a decent amount of time watching the animals and/or you’re with little ones with little legs. It’s not a bad idea to look at the map before you go and strategize on animal visits based on location. Also check the Daily Animal Demos schedule so you can factor that in to your timing.

Concessions
For lunch or snacks, concession stands and a few food trucks are located throughout the Zoo selling burgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, popcorn, etc. plus sweet treats. As mentioned above, you can also BYO — there are tables where you can sit down to eat as well as some grassy spots.

More to know
* Paved paths are very stroller friendly.
* Some fun beyond the animals: Speedwell Conservation Carousel ($4), Me and the Bee Playground, The Good of the Hive Mural, and the Squirt Zone (in summer).
* There is a limit on the number of people allowed inside the animal houses, so there could be a short wait to go in.
* The Visitor Center near the Connecticut Ave entrance usually has an exhibit on display and a gift shop with lots of cute items.
* There are two more gift shops near the pandas and lions, plus a few kiosks around the park.
* If you’re so inclined, the Vintage Views food (drink) truck offers cocktails and beer along with coffee and lemonade.

Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Where: Woodley Park, DC
When: Daily, except for December 25
Admission: Free with timed-entry passes

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Filed under 2022, DC, Outdoor, Weekdays, Weekend

Scenes from a Visit to the Old Post Office Tower

 

We first went up in the Old Post Office Clock Tower almost 10 years ago.  As mentioned in this post about that visit, I learned about it from a now-defunct deal site, but I didn’t know anyone who had yet been, so it was kind of a great discovery then.  We’ve visited many times since — not only did the Tower become a back pocket place to take out-of-town guests for impressive views of the city, it’s also an easy stroll from the National Mall and the downtown area.

However, until this week, it had been a few years since we visited, as the Tower was closed during Covid and just reopened to the public again in early June. Sasha and I had to run an errand nearby downtown, so we decided to pop in (or should I say up?) and enjoy those city vistas and add a little fun to our outing.

Look for this sign on 12th Street NW to find the entrance

Some things have changed since that first visit I wrote about, so I thought a new post would be a good idea.  It is still operated by the National Park Service, but the building it’s within is now a hotel.  It was the Trump Hotel, but it recently changed hands (sigh of relief!), and is now a Waldorf Astoria.  And you used to access the Clock Tower through the front entrance, but it now has its own entrance at the back of the hotel.

Once inside past security, there’s a long walkway with displays about DC history, the building, and the area where it’s located (did you know it was called “Murder Bay” in the 19th century?).  That leads to the National Park Service area, where a ranger greets and guides guests to the elevator that leads up to the Tower.  It was from the ranger that I learned the NPS was ready to welcome visitors back to the Clock Tower last year, but the Trump organization wouldn’t renew the contact for security at the entrance.  It wasn’t until the Waldorf Astoria took over that security was hired again, and the Tower could officially reopen.

The elevator takes you to the 9th floor, where you can peer down to see the hotel lobby far below and get a good view of the gorgeous glass-paned roof.  From there, you take another elevator to the observation deck.  In the middle is a glass case with all the gears and inner workings of the clock.  [Side note: We once happened to be there when it was time to set the clock to fall back, and they let the kids help turn it — how cool is that?!]

Of course, the main features of the observation deck are the sweeping views of the city from every direction.  You can see so many major structures, and there are displays to help you locate them if you’re not familiar with layout of DC.  Get a glimpse of it all in the photos finishing out this post, but I can assure you these scenes are way better in person.

Old Post Office Clock Tower
Where: Within the Waldorf Astoria Hotel | Downtown DC
Access: Enter at 12th & C Streets NW (on 12th between Pennsylvania & Constitution NW).
When: Daily, 9am – 4pm
Admission: Free

 

A view of the Clock Tower on our way downtown (PS: love the Ukrainian flags lining Pennsylvania Ave along with the US & DC flags)

 

The front of the Waldorf Astoria (but not the entrance to the Clock Tower)

 

North view… so neat to see the rooftop patios

 

South view through plexiglass…museums and more

 

East view, with the Capitol in the distance

 

West view (well, slightly southwest) and the Washington Monument

 

Northwest view… the National Cathedral in the distance

 

Snapping city vistas

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Filed under All ages, DC

Where to Play on the Weekdays: August 10-14

Skipping through the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks

Skipping through the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks



Monday – Discover a DC “secret” in Upper Northwest. Amid a small wooded area at Palisades Park is The Glass Forest, a stunning collection of sculptures made from natural and scrap materials — it’s truly a must-see! Be sure to make time to romp on the park’s playground while you’re there. Admission is free.

Tuesday – Reach new heights of fun at ClimbZone in Laurel, Md. Kids and adults will have a blast scaling the many colorful, whimsically-themed walls at the new indoor climbing center. Hours are 10am – 9pm (10am – 8pm other weekdays). Admission is $25/ages 6 and up, $12/5 and under for a three-hour session.

Wednesday – Roam the exquisite gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. The grounds don’t open to the public until 2pm (closing at 6pm), but you can play at nearby Montrose Park, grab a bite to eat on M Street beforehand, or have some spray fun at Georgetown Waterfront Park. It’s worth waiting for the afternoon visit. Admission to Dumbarton is $8/adults, $5/children, and there’s never an entry fee at Montrose or the Waterfront Park.

Thursday – Explore the high Potomac “seas” on a Boomerang Family Treasure Hunt Cruise. During the pirate adventure, you’ll help recover stolen treasure from scallywags who pilfered the ship’s booty. A couple of times are available several days a week. Cost is $20/passenger, but Goldstar and Certifikid often have ticket deals available.

Friday – Take a hike at Great Falls. Whether you opt for the Maryland or Virginia side, you can’t go wrong. Enjoy spectacular views of the falls and rapids from several overlooks, hike easy trails along the river or through the woods, and stop in the Visitor Center (there’s one on each side) to learn more about the area’s history and wildlife. The park is open 7am – dark, the Visitors Centers 10am – 4pm. Admission is $5/car.


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Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Free, Maryland, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays

Where to Play on the Weekdays: August 3-7

History - and goats! - at Congressional Cemetery

History – and goats! – at Congressional Cemetery



Monday – Spend what’s expected to be a scorcher of a day in a super cool place: The U.S. Navy Museum. Located on the Navy base in southeast DC, it’s a trove of fascinating exhibits. See an amazing collection of model ships, peer into a real periscope, sit in the gun seats of old fighter planes, view naval artifacts hundreds of years old, and much more. Hours are 9am – 5pm. Admission is free. Be sure to note requirements for access to the base and museum.

Tuesday – Take the money tour at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It’s a perfect outing while kids are on summer break, since programs are only offered on weekdays. Tours are free and run every 15 minutes, but be sure to read more about timing to plan. In the afternoon (4-4:45pm), join a free Kinderdance demo class for ages 3-6 at lil omm.

Wednesday – Wander, play, and relax at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria. Be sure to stop in the Horticultural Center and pick up instructions for a kids’ scavenger hunt to add some extra fun to the outing. Hours are 9am – 4:30pm. Admission is free.

Thursday – Take a little time trip through Baltimore’s early business days at the Museum of Industry. The Inner Harbor attraction highlights the trades and people that helped build the port city through exhibits that showcase relics from the past and recreate various industry environments. Hours are 10am – 4pm (Tuesday – Sunday). Admission is $12/adult, $7/ages 7-12, free for 6 and under.

Friday – Go see goats grazing in the graveyard. That’s right, a herd of 30 goats will be hanging out at Congressional Cemetery August 6-20 to help with grounds maintenance by eating vines, poison ivy, ground cover, and even fallen debris, while also “depositing” fertilizer. But the goats aren’t the only reason to go; Congressional Cemetery is a beautiful and historic spot in the District, the final resting place of many famous folks, including J. Edgar Hoover, John Philip Sousa, and Choctaw Chief Push-ma-ta-ha. The cemetery is open dawn to dusk. Admission is free.


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Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Maryland, Museums, Outdoor, Park, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays

Where to Play on the Weekdays: July 27-31

It's a jungle in there at the U.S. Botanic Garden

It’s a jungle in there at the U.S. Botanic Garden



Monday – Visit the U.S. Botanic Garden — one of our very favorite places in the city — where there’s plenty to enjoy both outdoors and in. Little ones kids can flex their green thumbs in the newly renovated outdoor Children’s Garden. Get to the root of things in the Exposed exhibit. Tour the plant collections, and be sure to stop in the “Plants in Culture” exhibit where you can sniff the aromas of various plants and learn about their everyday uses. Outside in the National Garden, stroll among the roses and other plants, run through the grass, sit in the small amphitheater, and relax by the fountain. Pack lunch to eat at one of several tables there. Hours are 10am – 5pm. Admission is free. Read more about the USBG here and here.

Tuesday – Glimpse the past on the Potomac at Fort Washington Park. Kids will love seeing the cannons and other historic sights there. Grounds are open are 8am – sunset, buildings 9am – 4pm. Admission is $5/vehicle.

Wednesday – Beat the heat in the cool comfort of a movie, a heavily discounted one! The Regal Summer Movie Express presents family films for just $1 every Tuesday and Wednesday at participating theaters during the summer. See what’s playing at a theater near you — there are two movie choices every week.

Thursday – Devise a plan to visit the International Spy Museum, where you and the kids can go undercover to explore the intriguing world of espionage. Hours are 9am – 7pm. Regular admission is $21.95/adult, $14.95/ages 7-11, free for 6 and under, but you can find a discount on adult tickets here.

Friday – Head on down to the 4-H fair! Running July 30 – August 2, the first couple of days of the 67th 4-H Fairfax Fair & Carnival will feature rides, amusements, farm fun, and treats. Held at Frying Pan Farm Park, hours are 10am – 3pm both days and 5-10pm on Friday as well. (There are even more activities through the weekend!) Carnival ride tickets are $1 or 24 for $20 (most ride take 3-5). Unlimited carnival ride tickets are $18 if you buy online by July 28, and $25 day-of, and you can get a $5 off unlimited rides coupon here.


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Filed under All ages, Annual, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Farm, Free, Indoor Play, Maryland, Movies, Museums, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays