A new exhibit at the Hirshhorn will capture your heart — literally, you might say. Pulse, created by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, combines science and art in the museum’s largest interactive technology exhibition ever. It’s beautiful, unique, thought provoking, and so interesting. And it offers an experience that all ages can appreciate in some way.
Requiring visitor engagement, Pulse is comprised of three large-scale installations that use heart rate sensors to produce audiovisual experiences from visitors’ own biometric data. That’s right, your heartbeat — along with those of other museum-goers — helps generate many of the scenes and sounds throughout the exhibition. Visitors’ fingerprints play a big part in it, too.
The works were inspired by the heartbeats of Lozano-Hemmer’s own fraternal twins when they were still in the womb. He asked for two ultrasounds to listen to both at once and was moved by their distinct pulses that “began phasing in and out, creating new complex sounds.” He wanted to make the differences visible with his art and turn them into immersive experiences that don’t just illustrate the metrics of the heart, but also, as Lozano-Hemmer put it during the media preview, “remind us of the fundamental metrics of humanity.”
Taking up the entire second floor of the Hirshhorn, the exhibition begins with Pulse Index, which records participants’ fingerprints (along with their heart rates) and projects them along one wall. There are 10,000 of them, beginning with one giant image of the last print recorded, then more smaller images of previous prints that reduce in size as they move along the wall. Every time a new print is recorded, one is deleted from the other end, a metaphor for the human life cycle. It’s arresting to see all of the individual identities in one sweeping projection. Lozano-Hemmer also noted that creating this landscape of fingerprints — which are usually used to track and identify — and making them into art, symbolically breaks up the control of our current identification systems.
In the next room, Pulse Tank presents several illuminated water tanks throughout the room with heart rate sensors connected to them. Visitors interact with the sensors by inserting a finger or placing palms on a surface. Computers then detect their pulse and tap ripples into the water, and the patterns are reflected onto the wall. Essentially, you can see your heartbeat as shadows and light and watch it move along the wall, sometimes intersecting with those of other visitors, but each of them unique.
The final installation, Pulse Room, kind of has a disco feel to it with 200 flickering incandescent light bulbs hanging from the ceiling in the dark gallery with a reddish-orange hue. There’s a low rumbling that almost sounds like the build-up of something larger that never comes to fruition. You (or at least I did, anyway) realize later that each light bulb represents a heartbeat, and that rumbling sound is 200 of them playing at once. A sensor on the far side of the room lets you add your heartbeat to the mix. It starts with the first bulb, which blinks with your heart rate. Like the fingerprints, as a new heartbeat is added, the rest move to the next bulb, the last one dropping off — again, signifying the cycle of life. It’s at once moving and enchanting, uplifting but also a little bit grim as we’re reminded that we’re all in this together, though — in the broad spectrum of the universe — our time here is fleeting.
Pulse is likely going to be a popular exhibition, and there may be lines to interact with it and use the sensors. But unlike previous exhibits with waiting times, in this one you can still immerse in and enjoy the art created by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer — and everyone interacting with his work — while you wait, since the results are all around you. That seems fitting for an exhibit that, in many ways, illustrates our collective experience as human beings.
Kids are very welcome to Pulse — Lozano-Hemmer has three himself and says that children often change the environment of the room, making it more lively and playful than the somber feel of just adults. And while young children may not understand the underlying meaning of the works, they will enjoy interacting them and, hopefully, experience a sense of wonder.
Pulse will be at the Hirshhorn through April 28, 2019. Museum hours are 10am – 5:30pm. Admission is free.
There is so much hype surrounding Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn. And the big question: “Does the exhibit live up to it?” The answer — my answer, anyway — is that depends on how you look at it. I know… not so helpful, but read on for some insight.
You know how sometimes you want to love something, and you think that under the right circumstances you would be utterly dazzled and blown away, but those circumstances are just completely unattainable? That’s pretty much how I feel about this exhibit.
The art itself is absolutely stellar. The whole experience of going to see it, not quite so much. That’s because it was difficult to really experience and enjoy the art, at least in those “right circumstances” I would have preferred. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to feel that way, because this art is so enchanting. You want to immerse in it and hang out for awhile, but there isn’t opportunity to do that.
* * * * *
So, let me back up and offer a bit more information about Infinity Mirrors. The main features of the exhibition are five installations — small rooms transformed into boundless wonderlands with Kusama’s brilliant, imaginative sculptures and mirror-lined walls that make the spaces feel like they go on for, well, infinity.
It’s so incredible to see you want to stand (and sit and even lie down) there forever and relish in it from every angle. But that feeling ends abruptly when your 30 seconds to see it — which go by so fast — are up, the door opens, and you have to exit.
Part of what makes that short span of time fly by so fast is the comparison to the wait in line to go in, which was up to about 25 minutes when I visited. Also, you might share some of the spaces with others, making it a little awkward to move around and stand in different spots to absorb it all. I was able to go in two installations on my own, but I’ve heard they are not allowing individual sessions anymore to help the lines move faster.
There is art on display besides the Infinity Mirror Rooms. Colorful paintings and sculptures, plus small infinity rooms that you peer into through little windows are beautiful and fun to view. At the end is the Obliteration Room, a completely white space — the walls, floor, furniture, decor, everything — where you can stick colorful dots wherever you want. The people watching is an interesting part of the experience, too. Quite a few visitors dress for the exhibits in dots (a common pattern in Kusama’s work), bold colors, and outfits that will convey well on Instagram.
And that brings up a whole other aspect of this show. Its Instagram-iness seems to be a big part of its appeal, and it looked like many people were there more for a perfect selfie than to enjoy the art itself. On one hand, I think it’s fantastic that people are engaging with the art, and it’s being celebrated and shared. On the other hand, when there are long lines and limited time to enjoy it, I kind of wish that wasn’t adding to the crowds.
Is it worth it to take the kids?
This is what you’re probably now wondering, and here are my thoughts: This is art that definitely will delight kids, even young children. However, there is a good chance lines and wait times will be long. (See this Washington Post article about wait times this past weekend.) You know best what your kids can handle, how patiently they can wait, and how much you think they’ll get out of being there. A couple of things about viewing the art to keep in mind, too: 1) Space is limited in the rooms, and it could be hard keeping little hands off the art 2) Young kiddos might not be happy about having to exit the rooms before they are ready. (I’m an old kiddo and I wasn’t happy!)
If you do bring the kids…
– Let children know beforehand that there will be waiting and limited time inside the rooms to manage expectations.
– Bring along something to keep them occupied while you wait in lines.
– Try to go with another adult and take turns waiting in line and walking around with your children (this means lucking out and getting multiple tickets, or you can buy the membership – see below).
– Strollers are not permitted in the exhibit, though there is stroller parking outside.
– Have a back-up plan in case you get to the museum and determine the lines are too long for your kids (and you) to wait — you have your pick of other museums on the Mall.
Other general tips & info
– Free Timed Passes are available every Monday at 12pm for the following week. They sell out quickly, so be ready to reserve yours online as soon as it turns noon.
– If you have timed passes, all guests with you need them, even infants.
– A limited number of free same-day Walk-Up Timed Passes will be available at the Museum, with a line starting at 9:30am, and the passes distributed first-come, first-served at 10am. You can get real-time updates on availability on Twitter.
– You can purchase a special Kusama Circle Membership for $50, which lets you and a guest bypass the general admission line one time. Children under 18 are not considered guests and get in free with you.
– Other membership options are available at higher rates.
– Get tickets for a weekday if you can.
– Try to put your camera away as much as possible. You may spend so much time trying to get the perfect shot that you miss out on enjoying the art. Really, that 30 seconds flies!
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors will be on view at the Hirshhorn through May 14. Museum hours are 10am – 5:30pm, and word has it they are staying open until 7:30pm to accommodate guests with later passes.
Ai Weiwei’s words and works will be projected onto the 74-foot-tall marble First Amendment tablet
I posted about this on the KFDC Facebook page yesterday, but in case you don’t follow there, I wanted to make mention here, too. Because not only is this unique, it sounds kind of awesome. (And, btw, I do recommend following on Facebook, since I often mention events, deals, and more there that I don’t have time to put on the blog.)
Every evening from January 17-19, the Newseum, in partnership with the Hirshhorn Museum, will present a projection featuring images and quotes by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. Ai is an outspoken critic of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy whose advocacy of universal human rights complements the Newseum’s mission to champion freedom of speech and expression for all people.
I posted about his current exhibit at the Hirshhorn, Ai Weiwei: According to What?, not too long ago. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend going. His work is fascinating, and even if the kids don’t understand the meaning behind it, they likely will enjoy just looking at his many remarkable pieces.
Visible from Pennsylvania Avenue and parts of the National Mall, the projection will appear on the 74-foot-tall marble First Amendment tablet on the exterior of the Newseum. It will feature the trio of images from one of Ai’s most recognizable works, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” 1995/2009, as well as quotes from the artist about freedom of expression and the importance of individual engagement and action within society. Projected over the 45 words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the powerful images and quotes are intended to draw attention to the important freedoms all Americans enjoy. The projections will begin at 7pm each evening.
This sounds worthy of, not just a drive-by (or walk- or bike-by), but a park-and-check-it-out-for-awhile, too. Enjoy!
A starburst of Qing Dynasty stools at "Ai Weiwei: According to What?"
My kids and I have been admiring the Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads sculptures on display in the Hirshhorn’s central plaza since they were installed there last spring. They love finding our Chinese calendar characters, and we’ve spent several outings circling and discussing them all — the cool dragon, the happy dog, the mean tiger, the creepy bunny, etc. (That last one is my Donnie Darko-obsessed take.)
So, I was pretty excited to learn that the museum would be showcasing a new exhibit by Ai Weiwei, the artist behind the bestial works. “Ai Weiwei: According to What?” opened this past Sunday, and we stopped by for a first look.
The exhibit begins with “Forever” in the lobby
On the surface, the exhibit is actually quite whimsical, with many substantial installations that use everyday objects as art mediums. Bicycle frames are welded together to create a quirky circular sculpture displayed in the museum lobby. A snake fashioned from green school backpacks meanders along the second-floor ceiling. More than 3,000 porcelain crabs are piled up on the floor. Ancient Chinese vases are splashed with brilliant paint colors. A large expanse of steel rods laid out in a long expanse resemble a boardwalk or rolling terrain.
A backpack snake slithers through the second floor
In case you were wondering what a pile of 3,000+ crabs looks like
But reading about the works — the meaning behind them and, in some cases, the origins of the materials — provides a completely different, more serious, and sometimes somber perspective of the exhibit. The bicycle sculpture, entitled “Forever,” is an updated version of Weiwei’s “Forever Bicycles” piece that symbolizes cultural changes in China. “Snake Ceiling” honors the victims, many of them young students, of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The crab heap called “He Xie” is a statement about censorship. The vases doused with paint represent the clash between traditional and contemporary culture. The steel rods, nearly 40 tons worth, were salvaged from the earthquake rubble and straightened to make “Straight.”
Desecration of ancient relics or bold progression?
Nearly 40 tons of salvaged rebar from the Sichuan earthquake comprise “Straight”
There are many more large installations, about 25 total, along with photographs displayed on walls and smaller works that are equally profound and thought provoking — when you delve into them. On aesthetic alone, the art doesn’t necessarily convey its weighty intentions, and most of the works are quite extraordinary and fun to view. This is why I’d recommend it for adults and kids alike; regardless of whether children will “get” it, there is a good chance they will enjoy it. Though I should warn: This isn’t an interactive exhibit like Suprasensorial was, and we heard alarms going off everywhere as curious visitors got too close to the works.
A close look at the noggin
Don’t miss “Cube Light” on the third floor, above the main area of the exhibit
I’ll definitely be checking out “According to What?” again (and again) while it’s here. And I need to make at least one visit sans kids… those alarms that were going off, a couple of them were due to my overzealous babes. 🙂
“Ai Weiwei: According to What?” will be on exhibit as the Hirshhorn through February 24, 2013. Museum hours are 10am – 5:30pm. Admission is free.
Today’s superb weather inspired me to put together a list of places that are made for beautiful days like this. Most of these locales have been recommended before, but never in one easy go-to list. Certainly, there are many more, so I’ll continually add new recommendations. In the meantime, may there be many great days ahead to try them out.
The old Capitol columns at the National Arboretum
U.S. National Arboretum
Hands down one of the best places in the city to chill out with the kids outdoors — which is why I recommend it so often. Its nearly 450 acres contain an amazing variety of plant, tree, and flower collections. Even if little ones aren’t into the flora, there still is plenty they will enjoy. The old National Capitol columns standing smack in middle of the Ellipse Meadow are a big draw – kids can play amid the pillars and check out the fountain, which flows down from the middle to a pool below. In other areas you can hike through woods, cross footbridges over small creeks, and seek out “magic” sitting areas like gazebos and spaces beneath tree canopies. The wonderful Washington Youth Garden invites visitors to watch the cultivation process, and the natural playground lets them engage in fun activities. The koi pond at the visitor center is great fun – the fish will swim right up to the edge and even pop their faces above the surface in hopes of a feeding. Little ones will also delight in the little trees at the bonsai exhibits. And the Grove of State Trees, a collection of trees from all 50 states, is a designated eating area with wooden tables and nice flat spots to spread out a blanket for a picnic. Read and see more about the Arboretum here, here, here and here. 2021 Update: The Bonsai exhibit is closed.
An urban oasis at The Yards
One of the other best places to chill out with the kids, this relatively new recreational space is not a new recommendation from me, and for good reason. The centerpiece of the still-developing Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has many elements that make it a gem — open grassy spaces, lots of artistically designed benches and seating areas, a boardwalk along the Anacostia, the sculptural Pedestrian Bridge, and a fantastic view of the river. But the real bonus for kids is the fountains. Located on the park’s two levels, the water features aren’t just there for people to look at; those who want to get wet can play in the sprays above and wade in the shallow pool below. Just be sure to bring a change of clothes for the kids – getting soaked is guaranteed. (<strongUpdate: There is even more to enjoy now, as The Yards has developed quite a bit since this was originally posted — more eateries, kayaks for rent (see Ballpark Boathouse below), a fantastic summer concert series, and lots of fun events hosted there. However, the fountains and boat rentals are not on during the cold months.)
The Lincoln Memorial
The National Mall
This is an obvious suggestion, but sometimes those are the very ones we need to be reminded of, especially when it’s easy to get lured into the many museums surrounding the Mall that beckon with wonderful collections and free admission. But there’s plenty of art and history along with active recreation to enjoy outside of the galleries, too. Walk or bike among the monuments and memorials, but be sure to stop and take in the magnificent architecture and design. View art al fresco — kids will love the whimsical creations at the National Gallery of Art and Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Gardens. Stop and smell the roses and other pretty flowers at the Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. Take a spin on The Carousel for $3.50 a ride. Rent a pedal boat and cruise the Tidal Basin ($18-34/hour).
Visiting peacocks at Old Maryland Farm
Watkins Regional Park
Plan on several trips to this PG County park — there is so much to do here, that you need a few outings to thoroughly enjoy it all. Visit bunnies, chickens, peacocks, ducks, llamas, cows, ponies and sheep at Old Maryland Farm. Bring quarters for the food dispensers to feed the birds, and the Watkins Nature Center will have even more critters for guests to see. From there, head over to the sprawling colorful Wizard of Oz-themed playground. As if all that isn’t enough, Watkins gets even better in the spring, when the antique carousel, train, and mini golf open for the season — be sure to check the schedule for days and times. 2021 Update: The playground and hiking trails are open and accessible. You can visit Old Maryland Farm but capacity is limited, so there may be a wait. Visit the Nature Center by reservation. The carousel and train are open weekends, but mini golf is closed.
On the Cunningham Falls trail
Walks in the Woods
One of my favorite ways to relish in a great day is on the trail, immersed in nature. Last spring I discussed how having kids changed the way my husband and I approach outdoor recreation, particularly hiking. We have to be mindful of our babes’ capabilities when hitting the trail, from how far their little legs can take them to how long they have before boredom kicks in. So, we try to find hikes that are short, not too strenuous, and include sights that we know they will appreciate. This post contains a list of some of the best places we’ve found to tramp with the kids.
A pony ride at the Rock Creek Horse Center
Rock Creek Park
The sprawling urban park regularly offers all kinds of ranger-led programs and activities for children, many for free. There are hikes, horseback rides, nature tours, and more. On any given weekend and select dates during the week, there’s something going on to bring kids closer to nature. One of our favorite stops is the Horse Center, where guests can visit equine residents at the stables and sign up for a pony ride through the woods ($20 – check the schedule for days and times). 2021 Update: Rock Creek hiking trails are accessible, but the Nature Center and Horse Center are closed.
Great views abound at Great Falls
Great Falls Park
The park that straddles the Potomac River in Maryland and Virginia is also mentioned among the best local hikes with kids. But it’s more than just a great place for walks in the woods. Along with numerous trails, Great Falls is a showcase of some of the area’s best natural scenery and a harbor of historical sights. The falls, gushing furiously over jagged rocks in the Mather Gorge, are a magnificent must-see. You can view them from a few different overlooks that are easily accessible via wooden footbridges or hike down (or up) dirt trails where it’s less crowded. Remnants of 18th-century locks are still on the Maryland side along the C&O canal, and if you look closely, you can find stone mason marks created to identify their work. Ranger-led programs and tours are available – info about both can be found on the National Park Service website.
Hanging by the river
This is where we go when we arrive at Great Falls to find a long line of cars at the entrance, which is not uncommon on a beautiful day. Riverbend is just a few miles away from its more popular neighbor on the Virginia side of the Potomac in Fairfax County. There are no awe-inspiring falls, and at 400 acres it’s about half the size, but it’s low-key, peaceful, and a lovely riverfront retreat. Hike through the woods along the water or stick to paved paths near the Visitor Center. Picnic tables are available, so pack a lunch to enjoy a bite by the water.
Strolling the boardwalk
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. Hike along the paved, dirt, and boardwalk trails, and you’re practically guaranteed to spot turtles of all sizes, frogs, great blue herons, cardinals, and a variety of other birds. 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. Don’t forget sunscreen, hats, and water, as there’s no shade through the wetlands section of the park. Directions to Huntley Meadows are available on the website.
What up, Teddy!
I always think of this national memorial honoring President Theodore Roosevelt and his contributions to the environment as very “DC.” Its 91 acres are located amidst a natural woodsy setting accessible by long wooden footbridge crossing the Potomac. Vegetation grows thickly along two and a half miles of paved paths looping through the preserve. And smack in the middle of it all – the “DC” part — is a stone tribute to Roosevelt, a 17-foot bronze statue of Teddy himself, two big fountains (though they have been dry for a long time), and large granite slabs inscribed with Roosevelt’s tenets on conservation. It’s all quite impressive to both children and adults. And the island itself is perfect for an outing with kids with short, easy hikes; wildlife sightings (we’ve seen deer and other small animals there); and a little history lesson while you’re there.
George’s riverfront lawn
George Washington’s old digs, sprawling along the banks of the Potomac across the river from DC, offer a history lesson, some of the best views around, and a good time all in one. Get a glimpse into the life of the first POTUS by touring the Mansion and other buildings, several gardens, and a four-acre working farm on the estate. Staff dressed in costume roam the estate and tell stories about the old days. That’s often a favorite for kids along with the stables, seeing the farm animals, and generally getting an idea of what life was like over 200 years ago. Don’t miss a stroll on the Mansion’s east lawn — the stretch of green grass right along the water offers a beautiful lookout over the Potomac. Admission is $20/adult, $12/ages 6-11, free for children 5 and under.
Exploring Brookside’s Children’s Garden
This public display garden in Wheaton is beautiful any time of year with spectacular blooms in the spring, the Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit in the summer, brilliant foliage during fall, and holiday lights in the winter. Along with many incredible plant and flower collections there’s a turtle pond, a children’s garden complete with gnome hut and tree house, and plenty of open space for roaming and enjoying the scenery. Admission is free, though there is a fee for Wings of Fancy.
The Hains Point playground
East Potomac Park | Hains Point
Many people, including me, call the whole 300+acre peninsula Hains Point, but that particular locale is actually only the southern part of the entire park. Situated between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River just south of the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park contains a nice variety of recreation, and it all comes with great views of the water as well as the boats and airplanes that cruise and fly alongside it. Within the park there’s a golf course (with FootGolf!), a mini-golf course, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a playground, and plenty of space to run, play, and picnic. Ohio Drive, the road that runs the perimeter of the park is a popular training course for competitive cyclers and runners, but the flat, scenic loop is good for family bike rides, too.
Plane view at Gravelly Point
The small, scenic park just off the GW Parkway next to Ronald Reagan Airport is an ideal spot to picnic, people watch, play ball, and walk along the river — if you really like airplanes. I have to warn: it’s hit or miss with kids (and adults, for that matter). The park is adjacent to the airport runway, so planes take off or land (depending on which way they are going that day) literally right overhead. That’s the hit or miss part. It’s loud and potentially scary for those who don’t like the looks of a plane coming right at them. But for kids who don’t mind and love airplanes, it’s quite a thrill.
PYO apples at Homestead
During fruit and veggie harvests, this is one of our family’s favorite farms to visit. It’s not open to guests until strawberry season begins in May, but when it does open, it’s a great place to pick your own produce and enjoy some time on the farm. Homestead scores just as high on aesthetics as it does on its crops—the lovely pastoral setting in Montgomery County makes you feel like you’re way more than 20 miles from the city. Before you go, be sure to check the website for hours and to see what’s ripe for picking.
Strolling and browsing the market
Weekends at Eastern Market
This one is quite special to me, as it’s just blocks from our house and one of my favorite things about living on Capitol Hill. Something about spending time there feels like a vacation in my own neighborhood. The market is both a community touchstone and a big draw for folks who don’t live here, especially on the weekends when the flea market, stretching along 7th Street SE, is in full swing. Local farmers sell fresh produce, and other vendors sell art, jewelry, housewares, clothes and accessories, food, and a variety of other goods. Live music and food trucks parked nearby are additional treats. Of course, you can’t miss the centerpiece of it all, Eastern Market itself. Inside, food stalls offer all kinds of fresh fare, from meats and cheese to produce and baked goods to fish and flowers. The Market Lunch is an institution, serving some of best pancakes around (don’t let the name fool ya… the breakfast is legendary.) But if the line is too long for little ones to wait, there are plenty of other places both in the market and the immediate area to grab a bite to eat.
The bridge from WV to MD
Just over an hour’s drive from DC, where the Potomac meets the Shenandoah River, this West Virginia locale is a great day trip destination and an easy escape from the Metro-area bustle. Outdoor recreation, historic landmarks, and small-town strolling give visitors plenty to see and do. Located along the famous Appalachian Trail, there are ample tramping options, many that lead to overlooks offering incredible views (these tend to be steep and strenuous so be prepared with little ones). Civil War remnants provide a glimpse into the past. The charming town with quaint shops and cobblestone streets is a fun area to roam and explore. And if the kids are older and confident on the water, take them tubing on the river for a glorious way to enjoy a warm-weather day.
Cabin John Regional Park Adventure Playland
The beautiful natural setting and abundance of play options put Cabin John among the top area playgrounds. A variety of primary-colored play structures are scattered throughout a sublime wooded section of the park. Tall trees surround the area, and their long shadows streak across sunlit surfaces. Kids can climb up, slide down, scramble over, swing from, even pretend to drive the apparatuses. And while there are many structures of all kinds of configurations for varying ages, there’s also a lot of open space in which to run around. As if that’s not enough, there is also a Miniature Train that offers rides through the woods ($2.50/age 3+, free/2 & under with adult). For a complete review of this playground nirvana, see this post.
Catching a taxi ride
Potomac by Water Taxi
The Potomac Riverboat Company operates daily between the National Harbor and Old Town Alexandria (as well as Georgetown and The Wharf). It’s about a 30-minute ride on the river, plenty of time to thrill young mariners. Catch the taxi from either point, cruise to the other side, then stay awhile to eat and explore. Round-trip rides are $21/adults and $15/kids ages 5-11 (timing and rates vary between other points on the river). Be sure to check the website for the schedule.
Rosedale pool in NE DC
Stay Cool at an Outdoor Pool
Nothing says summer like swimming under the sun. Starting Memorial Day weekend, DC outdoor public pools are open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 – 6pm. They open daily a few weeks later, though all pools are closed one day a week for maintenance, so be sure to check the schedules before you go. For swimming outside of the city, Montgomery County outdoor public pools are open Memorial Day through Labor Day — the Department of Recreation website has locations and hours. In Northern Virginia, Arlington’s Upton Hill has a whole waterpark for guests to enjoy, and Alexandria has several places where the public is welcome to swim — be sure to check the website for hours, as they vary from pool to pool.
Heading for home plate
When baseball season is in full swing, a day at the ballpark can be a great family activity. (I think so, anyway. As mentioned in an early KFDC post, not all folks agree). It’s an experience that extends beyond just the game — there are the Racing Presidents during the fourth inning; the Family Fun Area outfitted with corporate-sponsored interactive games and activities; the Jungle Gym, full of twisty climbs, tunnels, and slides; and plenty of JumboTron entertainment. Go on Sundays for Kids Run the Bases—after the game children ages 4 and up are invited to loop the infield, high-fiving Nationals mascot Screech and the Racing Presidents along the way. And as you’re planning as ballpark outing, be sure to check these KFDC tips for how to save on a Nats game.
Spray play at The Yards
Play in the Sprays
Kids can run through fountains and splash around at many area spraygrounds. Several are within the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, and you can find out where on their website. DPR Spray Parks open Memorial Day weekend on a Saturday-only basis, and a few weeks later, they open daily (check the website for hours). For spray fun with a riverfront view, Yards Park has fountains and a great location on the Anacostia. Georgetown Waterfront Park and The Wharf have refreshing water features that welcome play. More popular spray parks—Lyon Village Park, Hayes Park, and Drew Park–can be found in Arlington.
King of the jungle in the city zoo
Lions and tigers and bears…and elephants and pandas and gorillas…oh, yeah! What kid doesn’t love to see the beasts they usually only read about in books or see on TV — all in one place? Our zoo has it all, and it seems to get better all the time with new habitats for many animals and more exhibits for visitors (though updates also require construction, which also seems to be ongoing). Ambitious zoo-goers can tour all of it in a day, but I find it easier to pick a few exhibits in one area and take our time. Cafes and food stands offer a small selection of food, or you can also pack lunch and picnic in the grassy area by the Kids’ Farm (or just find an empty bench). The Elephant Trails exhibit is quite popular as is the Giant Panda Habitat. And there are always daily programs and special events, so be sure to check the calendar before you go to help plan your visit. Woodley Park on the Red Line is the closest Metro stop, or you can pay $25 to park in the Zoo lot (or hope to get lucky and find street parking along Connecticut Avenue or nearby side street).
There was an old woman…
Clark’s Elioak Farm
From a kid’s eye view, this farm must be magical. And from a parent’s perspective, it’s the kind of place that makes me wish I were a kid again. The grounds are straight out of a fairytale, charmingly adorned with recovered installations from an old storybook park. Kids can peek in the windows of the Three Bears’ house, zip down a slide of the Old Woman Who Lived in A Shoe, tumble down a hill with Jack & Jill, climb aboard Cinderella’s pumpkin, sit on Humpty Dumpty’s wall. If that’s not enough, there are also hayrides, cow train rides, pony rides, a playground area (not that the whole thing isn’t a giant playground), and farm animals – goats, ponies, sheep, and chickens—including a petting area that kids can actually enter to feed and pet baby goats. Be sure to check for special seasonal events. Clark Elioak’s Farm is located in Ellicott City, Maryland, about a 45-minute drive from DC. Admission is $8/person (free for children under 1), and $2-4 extra each for pony rides, cow train rides, and hayrides.
Time trip at Claude Moore
Claude Moore Colonial FarmSadly, this has closed permanently
This living history farm in McLean is straight out of the 18th-century. Everything at Claude Moore has been recreated to look just as it did in 1771, with a tobacco barn, farm house, garden, orchard, animals, even a family (portrayed by actors) who live and work on the farm and go about their daily life as visitors pass through. The farm isn’t huge — the whole walk is about 3/4 of a mile, and there is a dirt path that winds through it — but it’s a wonderful earning experience for all ages as well as a great way to spend a nice day outside. Admission is $3/adult, $2/children 3 and up. The farm is closed during the winter, but will reopens in early April.
All ages and abilities can play at Clemyjontri
The park’s tag line, “Where every child can play…”, really says it all. Unique among DC area playgrounds, Clemyjontri was designed with children of all abilities in mind and accommodates those who use wheelchairs, braces, and walkers, or who have sensory or developmental disabilities. Swings have high backs and added safety features, ramps and rubber surfacing allow wheelchairs to navigate the entire area, wider openings offer better access to play structures, and monkey bars are lowered for easier climbing. And the beautiful American Classic Carousel is at ground level for wheelchair accessibility. Just looking at the sprawling expanse of brightly colored play structures with a fairytale-esque carousel at its center is an instant boost to any kid’s excitement meter. Parents are often equally captivated by the park, and not just because they know their kids will have a blast there, but also because of the idea that just about any kid can enjoy it. Clemyjontri Park is located at 6317 Georgetown Pike in McLean. Hours are 7am – Dusk, admission is free, and carousel rides are $2/ weekdays, $3/weekend when it’s in operation (check the calendar).
Giant lily pads at the Gardens
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
It’s hard to believe something like this exists right in the city. Yet there it is in northeast Washington, right on the other side of the Anacostia River from the Arboretum. However, you have to go around to 295 to access the entrance. Numerous ponds are filled with giant lily pads, lotus flowers, water lilies, and a variety of interesting aquatic plants. Paths winding among them make for excellent nature walks, letting visitors get a close look at the flora and fauna that thrives there. Along with the vegetation, it’s quite possible to see any number of marshland residents — frogs, turtles, geese, great blue herons, and more. The best times to go are when the weather is warmer and the flowers are in bloom. But a stroll through the Kenilworth any time of year is a wonderful way to get a nature fix without even leaving the city. Hours are 8am – 4pm. Find directions to the Gardens here.
The Children’s Garden at River Farm
The American Horticultural Society’s headquarters located right off the GW Parkway on the way to Mount Vernon are, in a word, lovely. Over looking the Potomac River, the grounds welcome visitors to explore, relax, and play. That’s right, the Children’s Gardens on the north side of the house include all kinds of mini gardens designed to stimulate children’s interest in plants and nature. There’s a little fort that kids can crawl under or over; the Boat Garden with a real row boat to climb aboard; a Little House on the Prairie Garden with – yup! – a little house to play in; and many more charming areas for kids to enjoy. And right next to it all are more gardens with beautiful flowers, plants, brick paths, and nice seating areas that would make great picnic spots. The large house on premises is also open to tour and contains the office, art to view, and bathrooms. Rocking chairs on the back porch practically beckon you to sit and enjoy the tranquil surroundings and beautiful riverside view. River Farm is located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive in Alexandria. It’s open from 9am – 5pm Monday through Friday all year, and 9am – 1pm on Saturday from April through September.
Peek-a-boo pig at Oxon Hill
Oxon Hill Farm
This park in Prince George’s county, just minutes from the National Harbor, makes for a wonderful outing with the kids. Not only is it super fun for little ones, with animals to visit and lots of space to run around, it’s also scenic and serene, a nice escape from the city bustle. And it never seems to be crowded, so parking isn’t a problem and seeing the sights is easy. Along with the animals, there are historical exhibits, including old farm equipment, a display about grain uses, and an area demonstrating the agriculture (tobacco and wheat) of the farm’s past. Be sure to stop in the Visitor Center, where there is a small play area for kids, and to find out about any special programs taking place when you’re there. Oxon Hill Farm is open daily from 8am – 4:30pm. Admission is free.
One of the activities I anticipate most every spring is strawberry picking. I love heading out to the farm and gathering produce with the kids. The slow pace and open space are a nice change from the hubbub and confines of the city. It’s a fun, active way for little ones to see where their food comes from. And then there’s the obvious: the enjoyment continues with a basketful of delicious hand-picked berries at home. Lucky for us, there are many farms within an easy drive from DC that offer pick-your-own opportunities. And some of them host festivals to celebrate the fruit, to boot. For a list of them, see this post about PYO places in the area.
Roses are red (and yellow and pink) outside at the USBG
U.S. Botanic Garden
A great destination no matter what the weather, but even better on a nice day when you can enjoy the wonderful outdoor areas too. Little ones always love the Children’s Garden where they can flex their green thumbs with shovels, water cans, and planters and ground space to dig in. There’s also a working water pump and fountains, a bamboo “forest,” and a little garden house (with a real green roof!) where kids can play. Outside of the building is the National Garden, which is terrific for all ages to tour and explore. The roses are gorgeous, there are little foot bridges spanning a small stream (where Sasha would claim the Grumpy Old Troll lived), a mini amphitheater, and the First Ladies Water Garden, a lovely fountain where you can cool your feet, relax among the beautiful plants and flowers, and take in iconic DC views all at once. 2021 Update: The US Botanic Garden is closed, but you can visit the outdoor areas in front and Bartholdi Park across Independence Avenue from the main conservatory.
Lots to explore at Burke Lake Park
Burke Lake Park
Whether you’re up for an outdoorsy experience or just seeking kiddie amusement in a nice setting, this is an ideal place to go. Encompassing nearly 900 acres, the park offers alfresco adventures to suit every age and interest. You can hike, bike, fish, run, rent rowboats, spot wildlife, play sports. Back in the pre-kids day, we loved flinging discs through the Frisbee golf course, and there’s also an 18-hole golf course and driving range, volleyball courts, and playing fields for other games. Especially for little ones are the mini train and carousel (open seasonally) , and playgrounds. Choose your pursuit (or two) and make a day of it, or pick a few and overnight it — campgrounds are open to visitors late April through most of October. Admission to Burke Lake is $10/vehicle for non-county residents, and some of the activities cost extra. For more info and specific costs, visit the website here.
Put a skip in your step at Dumbarton Oaks
Dumbarton Oaks Gardens
The grounds of this historic estate tucked away in a relatively non-bustling area of Georgetown are absolutely enchanting. Its sprawling acres are graced with beautifully landscaped plats, artfully designed terraces, and glorious stretches of green grass. Stone and brick passageways meander in every direction to many different areas, each one seeming more lovely than the last. Some of them you arrive at directly, the path leading to the next obvious place. Others you feel like you encounter by chance, as if you’ve discovered a secret oasis within the larger, wonderful haven. You can easily spend a good few hours strolling the grounds and relaxing in the many seating areas. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 2-6pm. Admission is $10/adults, $5/children ages 3 and up, free for 2 and under. There are a lot of stairs and bumpy stone paths, so if you’re bringing a little one, I recommend a wearable carrier over a stroller. (Note: From November to mid-March, admission to the gardens is FREE.)
Hurray for the sprays!
Georgetown Waterfront Park
This recently opened park is like a Joni Mitchell song in reverse: They unpaved a parking lot and put up paradise. A 10-acre sliver of local paradise, anyway. Where there once was a big fenced-in blacktop area where you could overpay to leave your car for a few hours, is now a wonderful stretch of recreational space right along the Potomac River. And with elements that make it great for play and relaxation, plus a location that’s both scenic and convenient, it’s quickly becoming one of the city’s best go-to spots to hang outdoors. Along with a wonderful in-ground fountain that visitors can play in, there’s lots of open green space for relaxing, paths to stroll, artistic elements, and, of course, the gorgeous setting along the Potomac River. Open from dawn to dusk, and free to the public.
Ready to walk among the trees
The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring
The locale’s five acres of Maryland woods are like a natural amusement park, outfitted with 13 ropes courses with 250 challenges — all amid the trees. Guests navigate from tree to tree via “bridges” made from ropes, wooden boards and slats, nets, and wires (connected by carabiners to wires, of course). You might walk up a thick tree branch, duck through large metal hoops, and whiz gleefully down zip lines to get to the next platform. It’s all self-guided, and they give first-timers a lesson on handling the ropes before starting. In a nutshell: It’s So. Much. Fun. Park hours vary by season, so be sure to check the schedule before you go. Participants must be at least 5 years old, and there is a package for ages 5-6: accompanied by an adult (and it must be a one-to-one ratio). Admission also varies by age. 2021 Update: The Adventure Park is open with limited capacity. Advanced reservations are required.
Meadowlark’s Korean Bell Garden
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
This park in Vienna is, in two words, absolutely glorious. Large open expanses of soft grass are traversed by paved paths with plant and flowers collections on view all around. A couple of ponds are great places to see some wildlife — turtles, fish, ducks, and geese can be easily spotted in and around the water. A new Korean Bell Garden is a pretty and peaceful area with Korean inspired structures and art. A woodsy area contains a small creek and bridges to cross it. There is also a little Butterfly Garden, whimsical botanic-themed sculptures, and some live animals to view in the Visitors Center. Meadowlark open 10am – 8pm in August, but it closes an hour earlier every month until November (then stays open later again beginning in March). Admission is $6/adults, $3/age 7-17 and 55+, free/6 & under.
Trail guide in training
Turkey Run Park
A great option for hiking with kids. Located right off the GW Parkway near 495, Turkey Run contains nearly 700 acres of woods, trails that ramble along the Potomac, streams that flow down from the woods to the river, great views from the shoreline, and a variety of wildlife. Hikes are fairly easy, and you can opt for trails anywhere from about one to four miles long. There are clusters of big rocks on the riverbanks where it’s nice to stop and take in the views — or have a picnic if you’re so inclined. Fallen trees are fun to scramble over or walk upon, and a few small footbridges let you cross over streams. Birds and squirrels are easy to spy, and keep your eyes peeled for deer. A few picnic areas with tables are perfect for lunch al fresco, and open spaces are great areas to toss a Frisbee or kick a ball around. Access the park via the GW Parkway, right before the Beltway. Hours are 6am -10pm, and there is no admission fee.
Row, row, row…
While the grounds at Fletcher’s are a nice place to hang out, it’s actually more of a starting point for even more fun: Paddling on the Potomac. Canoes, kayaks, and row boats are available for rent for an hour or the whole day for some fun on the river. The Boathouse is open from 7am – 7pm daily mid-March through October. Canoe rentals are $25/hour, kayaks are $16/hour for a single and $22/hour for a double. Rowboats are $16/hour or $30/day. Standup Paddleboards are $22/hour. And if you’re not up for water time, Fletcher’s is still a nice place to enjoy a picnic and Potomac views — an open grassy area includes grills, tables, and space to toss a Frisbee. 2021 Update: This is now a Boating in DC location.
Soaking up the fun
The park in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood offers both active and relaxing recreation year-round. During the warm seasons, there are two interactive fountains for the public to enjoy: A 135-foot long, 20-foot wide fountain with a gentle, shallow cascade flowing down its scrim surface is a perfect place for really little ones to play. Then there’s the fountain with jets embedded into the concrete over about a 40-foot diameter area that splash water several feet in the air. And the space is not wasted with the changing seasons. Where there’s the big spray fountain during the warm months, is the ice skating rink in late fall and winter, a unique at that with meandering paths on either end. There are green, grassy areas where children are welcome to play, and big, twisting metal sculptures adorning them. And Wiseguy, the eatery next to the fountain/ice rink, has tasty pizza and outdoor seating when weather permits. Good Guys and Subway are also right across the street, plus more restaurants and food trucks are nearby.
Play the day away in Wheaton
Wheaton Regional Park Playground
A variety of primary-colored equipment sprawls over a fairly large area over two levels that you can access by ramped paths or climbable walls. Kids of all ages can slide through several tunnels, climb netted apparatuses, play on swings, and more. There’s an area especially for babies and toddlers, facilities to accommodate children with special needs, and a climbable mound keeps children of all ages entertained for awhile (who knew?). And the park setting with tall, leafy trees and grassy spaces dotted with picnic tables needs to be noted, too. It’s a pretty place to spend a few hours while the kids romp. And bathrooms are nearby the playground for added convenience. Open sunrise to sunset, free admission.
Paddling the Anacostia
Yards Park is continually adding new awesome features, and Ballpark Boathouse is among them. Single and double kayaks and canoes are available for rent for some recreation on the Anacostia River. This paddling excursion is more about the views from the water than the nature around it, since the area is very developed. You can get fresh perspectives of Nationals Park, Yards Park, and the Navy Yard, places most of us usually just see on land. One of the coolest sites is the USS Barry, the display ship moored at the Navy Yard, that you can paddle up close to (2015 Update: The ship is no longer berthed there). Canoe rentals are $25/hour, kayaks are $16/hour for a single and $22/hour for a double. You pay upon return, so there’s no limit to how much time you spend on the water. Really small kids need to be in a boat with parents, but older children can paddle on their own. After a jaunt on the water, hang out at the park, where you can picnic, play, and watch the boats go by. August 2020 Update: This location is closed.
The Potomac at the end of the trail
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
Another fantastic alternative when Great Falls is crowded (or even when it’s not) Scott’s Run offers a nice local dose of nature in a short drive from the city. Trails that meander through lush woods lead to lovely hang out spots and great views of the Potomac. The spot may not boast the spectacular vistas that its larger, better known neighbor does, but it’s peaceful and pretty and makes for a nice hiking experience with kids. Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is located in McLean just off Georgetown Pike. It’s open from just before sunrise to just after sunset. Admission is free.
Green Spring Gardens
You’re driving along a main road in Northern Virginia past shopping centers and town house communities, then you make a turn into a parking lot behind a strip mall, and voila!, there’s this gorgeous park with a large green space surrounded by gardens full of plants, flowers, art, whimsical structures, play spots for children, gazebos, and fountains. A fun way to explore it all with the kids is on a scavenger hunt — stop in the Horticultural Center to pick up instructions. Cute tasks for children include finding a plant as tall as them, greeting a tree, and telling the time based on a sun dial. Of course, wandering the grounds aimlessly or even finding a pretty spot to just sit and relax is a perfect way to enjoy Green Springs, too. Find it at 4603 Green Spring Road in Alexandria. Hours are 9am – 4:30pm Monday – Saturday, and 12-4:30pm on Sunday. Admission is free.
The Franciscan Monastery in Brookland
The “Oasis of Peace” in northeast DC was one of several “secret” spots on a round-up of places that many people (myself included until I read the list) don’t even know exist here. The locale includes the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the centerpiece of the Monastery, beautifully manicured grounds immediately surrounding it, and a gorgeous, peaceful garden area adjacent to that. Christian sculptures and shrines adorn the site and are interesting to explore, regardless of religious views. Of course, you can just go for a stroll and enjoy the gardens — the flowers are spectacular in the spring. It’s all open for visitors to enjoy for free, but be sure to check times as they vary by day.
The Glass Forest
This hidden gem really is just that — if I hadn’t known to look for it, I never would have known it was there. Another DC “secret,” the collection of sculptures made from natural and scrap materials, is located in a small patch of woods next to the Palisades Playground. There are tree branches artistically stacked and bound together. Pieces of broken mirrors and glass on strands hang from trees looking like an oversized wind chime. Metal and plastic pipes, parts of bike frames, thick pieces of bamboo, and other odds and ends like small pans dangle from strings, some creating actual chimes that you can play. There’s a colorful, glittering mosaic piece and a wood and glass design that resembles a large sun catcher. And something about it being tucked away unobtrusively among the trees adds to the enchantment of it all. Exercise caution visiting the Glass Forest.
Play with extra zip!
Easily one of the best playgrounds in the District. The National Cathedral Elementary School’s outdoor area clearly reflects the school’s philosophy on the importance of outdoor play in children’s development. There are structures and spaces for all ages to enjoy. Kids can climb interesting treehouses then walk among them along wobbly wooden bridges and take a twisty underground slide from one level of the playground to a lower one. There are more cool climbing structures, swings, a kid-size basketball court, a small soccer pitch, and…wait for it…a zipline! And it’s not just Beauvoir students who benefit. The public is welcome to enjoy it all when school or camp is not in session — after school, weekends, and days off. View the school schedule for details.
Searching for shark teeth
Flag Ponds Nature Park
This day trip destination in Calvert County about an hour out of DC is nirvana for beach-going budding paleontologists. You can enjoy the sand and surf and hunt for shark teeth and other fossils that are said to be millions of years old! With a wide expanse of sand, sea grass blowing along the dunes, and pond-like inlets formed by sand washing in, it’s a lovely relaxing setting. And the calm, shallow water makes it a nice swim spot for children. Perhaps the only negative is the half-mile hike from the parking lot to the beach, then another short trek through the sand to the water. But bring along a wagon, good stroller, and rolling cooler for stacking your beach gear, and you’ll be all set. From Labor Day to Memorial Day, hours are 9am – 4pm Friday and Monday, 9am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, hours are 9am – 6pm weekdays, 9am – 8pm weekends. Admission is $8/car.
Whimsy abounds at Annmarie
Annmarie Sculpture Garden
Plan to spend many, many hours at this enchanting park and arts center in Solomons, MD. Annmarie is full of creative works and whimsy that is both wonderful to view and glorious to experience. From eye-popping exhibits indoors to sculptures (and summer fairy houses) scattered about the grounds outside, the works appeal to all ages. Special hands-on activities, including an artLAB full of crafty possibilities invite guests to create. And the Fairy Lolly, perhaps the most charming playground you’ll ever encounter, is a fantastic delight in itself. If there’s any place worth an hour-plus drive to visit, Annmarie is it.
Combing the sand for fossils
Purse State Park
Just over an hour’s drive away from DC along a part of the river called Wades Bay, where woods meet water, you’ll find this pretty and peaceful beach area. A narrow strip of sand stretches along the shoreline, tree branches from the woods overhanging in a few spots. But the best parts of this locale are hidden among the piles of shells and small rocks at the water’s edge; that’s where you’ll easily find fossils from sharks, fish, shells, even crocodiles, many of them over 30 million and some up to 60 million years old. Be sure to go at low tide, as the already narrow strip of sand thins out even more at high tide (check the tide table here). Bring along a container to store your finds, because you’re guaranteed to go home with a good-sized stash. 2021 Update: The Purse Area is open, however, it’s drawing more crowds than usual, so be aware that parking may be tough, and you will have to avoid more people on the very narrow beach area.
Anacostia Parrrrk’s pirate playground
Stretching along the river for which it’s named in southeast DC, Anacostia Park offers recreation galore for visitors. You can bike, run, or walk on a riverside trails. Big grassy fields host all kinds of rec league sports and are also great for pick-up games, kicking a ball, or just running around. Kids love the three playgrounds, especially one with a pirate theme. There are also tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool, and a skating pavilion for even more active fun. The Anacostia Community Boathouse is located on the west shore of the river, and includes a marina with a public boat launch and canoe rentals during the summer (free Paddle Nights are also offered through the Anacostia Watershed Society). You can bring along food on your visit — there are lots of tables and lovely spots to picnic. Is that enough activity for you? And it’s all going to get even better when Anacostia Crossing, the 11th Street Bridge Park coming to southeast DC, is developed over the next several years. 2021 Update: The park is open, playgrounds and skating pavilion are accessible, indoor facilities are closed.
These boots were made for walkin’
Woodend Nature Sanctuary
The 40-acre property in Chevy Chase, MD, is home to the Audubon Naturalist Society, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservation and education. The grounds are open to the public and free to roam daily. It’s perfect for hiking excursions with little ones, with easy trails that wind through the woods and through open, meadow-y spaces. Wildlife sightings are plentiful — deer, frogs, chipmunks, small fish, and, of course, lots of birds reside in the woods. There is a look-out to climb for better viewing and a small pond where you’ll find some creatures, too. A few exhibits like a bird feeding area, bees nests, and a composting station are worth checking out. And when tired little legs need a break, there are plenty of benches and nice, peaceful seating areas around. The grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free.
Paddling options complement the on-land activities
Quiet Waters Park
This beautiful locale in Annapolis boasts 340-acres of recreational bliss. There are hiking and biking trails that wind through the woods and paved paths that stretch along large grassy fields and other areas of the park. There’s plenty of room for picnics and pick-up games, a garden adorned with sculptures, a Visitor Center with art galleries, scenic views of the water, and perhaps best of all, paddling opportunities on the South River. A hike could take you by old farm farm equipment and a composting demo, and there’s a chance of spotting deer, small animals, and some cool birds (we saw a woodpecker merely a few feet away). Bring along a picnic lunch — there are plenty of beautiful spots to eat al fresco. Or plan to go for crabs after, as one often does when in Annapolis. Quiet Waters Park is open 7am – dusk every day but Tuesday, when the park is closed. Admission is $6/car.
O say, can you see…
The site of the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812 and birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner, Fort McHenry makes for a very interesting, informative, and enjoyable outing for all ages. There are all kinds of engaging exhibits in the Visitors Center and throughout the grounds, from historical objects and structures to multimedia displays and interactives. And it’s all located along a tranquil part of the Chesapeake. You can walk along the bastion and take in the same view soldiers did over two hundred years ago. What was once a battle scene is now a lovely Baltimore vista. Open daily 9m – 5pm. Admission is $15/adult, free for children 15 and under.
Prince William Forest Park
A perfect place for a nature break, you can really immerse and escape the bustle of the city at this 15,000-acre park in Triangle, VA. The largest protected green space in the DC-Metro area, there are over 37 miles of trails to hike, plus many miles of paved and gravel paths to cycle, rivers for fishing, and cabins and tent sites for camping. Variety in trails makes it a great place to hike with young children, as there are plenty of short, flat routes. And if you’re with older kids who want more of a challenge, there are longer and more difficult ones, too. If you want to make it a weekend trip, cabins are available May – October, and tent sites May – November. Admission is $20/car or $10/walk- or bike-in.
An autumn walk
Pohick Bay Regional Park
Along with eight and half miles of hiking trails that traverse the wooded area and offer lovely views of the Bay, other year-round features include a disc golf course, a nearby regular golf course, fishing (license required in VA), equestrian trails, and a playground. During warmer seasons, there is mini golf, camping & cabins, paddling opportunities, and outdoor programs. And in the summer, Pirate’s Cove Waterpark looks like a super fun way to stay cool on hot days. Hours are dawn to dusk. Admission is $8/car mid-March – mid-October, and free the rest of the year.
Tee up for FootGolf!
FootGolf at East Potomac Park
If you like soccer or golf (or both) or just enjoy family games and challenges, this adventure near Hains Point along the Potomac River makes for a great outing. FootGolf is basically like regular golf, but instead of using clubs to drive a golf ball down a course and into a small hole, you kick a soccer ball and aim for a 21″ hole. And the “tee” is about a five-foot space between two orange markers in the grass. The age rec is 10 and up, but we brought an 8-year-old, who did fine. The East Potomac Park location is the only place to play in the District, and with the Washington Monument looming in the background as you make your way around the 18 holes, it’s a pretty great one.
Disc golf is off the chain
Disc Golf in College Park
Not far from the University of Maryland and the College Park Aviation Museum, there is a small park with a stand out feature: A disc golf course. Disc golf, or Frisbee golf as it’s often called, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a combo of Frisbee and golf. There are 18 “holes” on a course that you try to get your disc into in as few moves as possible. In this case, though, the holes are chain baskets that stand a couple of feet off the ground and instead of hitting a golf ball with a club, you fling a disc that is like a Frisbee but smaller and more rigid. Most courses are set up in really pretty places, in the woods or in parks, where the trees and other natural obstacles add some challenges to the game. The course at Calvert Road Park fits that bill, and all of it lends to a fun and relaxing outdoor experience, a great way to spend a nice day.
Sunflowers taller than my tall kid
Sunflowers at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area
This only occurs for a few weeks out of the year, but that’s part of what makes this spectacular bloom extra special. Starting in mid to late July, 30 acres of fields at McKee-Beshers turn into a sea of yellow as sunflowers rise toward the sky and stretch across the landscape. It’s such a happy, sublime scene. The only downside is that it occurs at what is typically the hottest, buggiest time in the area — hat, sunscreen, and bug spray recommended — but it is still worth braving those conditions to take it all in. And afterwards, you can head right down the street for some berry picking (and eating) at Homestead Farms.
Getting into the swing of waterfront fun
The District Wharf
The recently opened area along the Southwest Waterfront is getting a lot of hype for its fancy restaurants and amazing music venue, but there is so much more to enjoy there — and for all ages! You can easily bring the kids and spend a day hanging out. There is a spray pad to run through, giant swings to climb upon, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for rent, life-size board games to play, fire pits, artistic seating, great people watching, not-so-fancy eateries, ducks and geese, water taxis, and even more! And a lot of it is free! This all comes with the beautiful backdrop of the marina and Potomac River views. KFDC Tip: Park at East Potomac Park and ride the free jitney over for a quick-but-fun boating jaunt.
Perfect for a peaceful stroll
A cemetery might not be the most obvious place for an outing with kids. But when one is full of history, graves of notable people, lovely grounds, and even geocaching opportunities, it’s a pretty cool place to go. Congressional Cemetery in southeast Capitol Hill has all of that and then some. Burials began at the 35-acre location over 200 years ago, and more than 67,000 have taken place there since, including some for famous DC residents. Tours are offered on Saturdays from April through October, and special events are hosted there throughout the year, from Day of the Dog to an annual birthday celebration for John Phillip Sousa to Soul Strolls and the Dead Man’s Run 5k leading up to Halloween. But it’s also nice to go anytime and roam around, look at the interesting tombstones, and think about the thousands and thousands of lives lived before. Open dawn to dusk, and admission is free.
Group hike at Sky Meadows
Sky Meadows State Park
Just over an hour from DC in Delaplane, VA, this park is perfect for family hikes, with several routes to take, most of them easy and short. You can wind your way through woods, alongside pretty pastures, and on trails with scenic views. You can even hike the AT — a three-mile stretch of it runs through the park. And some trails are open to biking and horseback riding (BYO horse) as well. Kids will enjoy a sensory trail with small interactive exhibits along the way. There is also a Children’s Discovery Area (limited accessibility during COVID), plus cabins and camping are available for overnights. Hours are 8am – dusk. Parking is $7/weekdays, $10/weekends.
Walk the Underground Railroad
Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park
At this park in Montgomery County, you can take a hike with historical significance on the Underground Railroad Experience Trail. Part of a network of routes that enslaved people used to escape to freedom, the walk through the woods and along edges of fields is an interesting, enlightening, and active way to spend time outdoors. It’s about a two-mile each way(there and back, no the trail doesn’t loop) walk along edges of fields and through woods generally flat and easy for little legs to tramp. All hikes are currently self-guided, but you can print out the map and an explanation of the trail to bring along for context. Guided tours will be available after park programming begins again. The trail and park are open dawn to dusk.
Hike to the river at Wye Island
Wye Island Natural Resources Management Area
Beyond the Bay Bridge and just over an hour away from DC, this area is lovely to explore. It’s 2400+ acres are located in the tidal recesses of the Chesapeake Bay between the Wye River and the Wye East River. There are about 12 miles of trails that edge fields of tall grass and ponds, wind through the woods, and run along the Wye River. All of it is flat and easy for little ones to walk. It’s fun to look out for wildlife, mostly birds, and notice the variety of vegetation, from large open expanses to verdant wooded areas with large trees green marsh plants blanketing and brightening the ground to sandy shores with scenic views. There is a restroom near the small parking lot as well as a picnic table, but you can bring your lunch along the hike and enjoying an alfresco meal by the river.
Fall hike at Patapsco
Patapsco Valley State Park
About 45 minutes from DC in Howard and Baltimore Counties, Patapsco covers over 14,000 acres of terrain with at least 70 identified, hike-able trails and many great routes for biking, too. Several are around three miles or less, and many lead to falls or follow a stream. During warm months, it’s a great place to swim — the Avalon and Hilton entrances offer best access to swimming areas in the Patapsco River. The Cascade Falls loop trail is a popular one to hike, though there is some uphill hiking on rooty areas, something to keep in mind with little ones. The park is large enough that it’s not too crowded, and there are picnic areas for lunch al fresco, plus playground for children to burn some extra energy. Entrance fee is $3/person, open during daylight hours.
Sand & surf at Calvert Cliffs
Calvert Cliffs State Park
One might hear Calvert Cliffs State Park and immediately think awesome shark tooth hunting. After all, the features for which the locale is named are well known as the source of millions-of-years-old fossils along Chesapeake shores. However, in our experience, fossil finds are not what make the park an excellent day trip destination. What is more appealing about Calvert Cliffs State Park are its other main recreational activities: Hiking, beaching, and swimming. The park is an hour’s drive from DC, but worth the trip for some active fun and relaxing byt he water. Entry to the park is $8/vehicle, and it’s open sunrise to sunset. (Be sure to read the linked post for tips!)