Washington, D.C.: Top Attractions

The Smithsonian Castle, Washington, D.C.  (PhotoDisc)

The national attractions—the White House, Capitol Building, National Archives, the Supreme Court, and the many monuments and memorials in and around D.C.—impress children of all ages and foster a greater understanding of our country and its history. So too does the Smithsonian Institution, composed of 16 museums and the National Zoo. Along with the Smithsonian's most popular facilities listed below, consider visiting the National Museum of African Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Two noteworthy, non-Smithsonian facilities are the National Gallery of Art and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Baseball fans can even catch a game in D.C. as the Washington Nationals begin their first season playing at R.F.K. Stadium in 2005.

Consider a daytrip to Baltimore or Annapolis when planning your visit to the District of Columbia. Baltimore's aquarium is world renowned, as is Oriole Park at Camden Yards—the home of the Baltimore Orioles and a model for baseball parks across the country. Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy, is awash with fine seafood restaurants and sights with a colonial feel. It also is a great sailing and fishing town with plenty of boats for rent.

Smithsonian Institution: Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum chronicles the history of flight and allows visitors to experience its evolution through sights, sounds, and even touch. See what started it all—the original 1903 Wright Flyer—and allow space suits, lunar vehicles, and the 1,650-pound back-up mirror to the Hubble Space telescope explain the challenges and triumphs of technology. Don't miss the moon rock or the IMAX films; watching To Fly makes you feel as if you're zooming above the earth.
Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum: 202.357.2700, www.nasm.edu

Smithsonian Institution: American History Museum
Housing some of the best-loved icons of our culture, this museum showcases the flag memorialized in "The Star-Spangled Banner," a Model-T Ford, Dorothy's ruby red slippers from the Wizard of Oz, Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet, and a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth. The "Price of Freedom: Americans at War" exhibit traces the way war, from colonial times to the Iraqi conflict, has shaped American history. Allow time for the Hands-On Science Center, where families can do experiments.
Smithsonian Institution:v National Museum of American History: 202.357.2700, www.americanhistory.si.edu

Smithsonian Institution: Natural History Museum
Find out about bugs, bones, blue whales, jewels, and lots more at this Smithsonian. The 45.5-carat Hope diamond stars in the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. The freeze-action dioramas in the renovated Behring Family Hall of Mammals tell the story of how transformed habitats caused animals to adapt and evolve. African Voices uses personal accounts, proverbs, folk tales, and hundreds of objects to convey how people in Africa live their daily lives. Top off your visit at the O. Orkin Insect Zoo where, if you check the schedule and arrive in time, your kids can feed the tarantula her meal of crickets.
Smithsonian Institution: National Museum of Natural History: 202.357.2700, www.mmnh.si.edu

Smithsonian Institution: American Indian Museum
The newest Smithsonian facility serves as a place to honor and to understand the culture of Native Americans from the arctic circle to Tierra del Fuego. In each main gallery various nations tell their stories through dazzling gold shields, feathered regalia, woven baskets, beaded saddlebags, pottery, and other objects. To encourage questions, cultural interpreters present discovery carts with arrowheads, moccasins, and other items. At the café, sample Native American tacos, fry bread, squash, grilled salmon, and other traditional foods. Free tickets are available for timed entry (and on its website for a $1 charge)—a great way to avoid the long lines.
Smithsonian Institution: National Museum of the American Indian: 202.633.1000, www.nmai.si.edu. 866.400.6624 for timed tickets.

Smithsonian Institution: National Zoo
The free-entry National Zoo displays numerous animals such as lions, tigers, and the new cheetah cubs. Kids and their parents can meet the zoo's stars, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, the giant pandas. At the Bald Eagle Refuge, kids can meet our country's symbol and find out how orangutans solve problems at the Think Tank.
The National Zoo: 202.357.1300, nationalzoo.si.edu

National Archives
As the repository for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other historic documents, the National Archives generates a solemn and reverent walk-through. The Public Vaults, opened in November 2004, adds an interactive "experience" that highlights the facility's vast holdings. You can search for documents telling the tales of the Titanic and Challenger disasters, and even the Watergate burglary. You can read angry letters from college students protesting the Vietnam War, view declassified war plans, and can even create your own Oval Office seal.
National Archives: 202.501.5000, www.archives.gov

More Official Washington
Groups of ten may request a White House tour by contacting their Congressperson one to six months in advance. Line up the same day for entry to the Supreme Court, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the Capitol. At your leisure, visit the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Korean War Veteran's Memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, World War II Memorial, and the Washington Monument. Also, don't miss Arlington National Cemetery, which sits on the Virginia side of the Memorial Bridge, which makes for a gorgeous walk on spring day.
Additional Info: Washington, D.C. Convention & Tourism Corporation, 800.422.8644, www.washiongton.org

The Children's Concierge
This company creates custom itineraries for families to ease and enhance their D.C. vacations. In summer they also offer child-friendly tours in conjunction with Washington Walks. On the White House Un-tour, stroll Lafayette Park and learn who installed electricity and which president added a bowling alley to the mansion. Fala's Footsteps shows you the FDR Memorial and Roosevelt's life from his faithful dog's perspective. With Goodnight, Mr. Lincoln, kids listen to stories and play games to find out about President Abe as a child.
The Children's Concierge: 877.888.5462, www.childrensconcierge.com

Bike the Sites, City Segway Tours, and Atlantic Kayak
Bike, Segway, and kayak through history. These guided tours make getting there fun. With Bike the Sites, pedal past the memorials and monuments or rent tandem bikes and child trailers for cycling on your own. City Segway Tours make it even easier. Ages 12 and older just stand and steer. For a water view of Georgetown, paddle under bridges and around Roosevelt Island with Atlantic Kayak. Want something special for July 4th? Book an evening paddle to see the fireworks.
Bike the Sites: 202.842.BIKE, www.bikethesites.com
City Segway Tours: 877.SEG.TOUR, www.citysegwaytours.com
Atlantic Kayak: 800.297.0066, www.atlantickayak.com

The International Spy Museum
Real life who-done-its are the subject of this espionage museum. Learn about such fictional cloak-and-dagger characters as James Bond, and get the low-down on unlikely American spy heroes like Julia Child, a cook who parlayed fame into occasional fact-finding for the government. Test your mettle by fingering disguised felons and discovering audio "bugs" as innocuous looking as a stray strand of hair. Check the schedule for KidSpy Overnights, suited for kids aged 9 to 15 accompanied by an adult.
The International Spy Museum: 202.EYE.SPY.U, www.spymuseums.org

Published: 7 Apr 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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