Disastrous 2018 politics aside, when you drive along the sprawling, manicured lawns of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., you can’t help but feel a sense of awe. And D.C.'s history is just the beginning, since new developments — like The Wharf, which offers sweeping views of the Potomac — seem constant there. And for parents, the city’s 60-plus square miles have innumerable options for letting kids run around and burn off energy. From “spraygrounds” for cooling off on hot days to interactive plays and performances, parents and kids alike will discover new thrills throughout the nation’s capital.
Where to stay
InterContinental Washington, D.C. opened in the fall of 2017 on The Wharf, Washington, D.C.’s new $2.5 billion mixed-use waterfront community stretching over a mile along the Potomac River and home to shops, restaurants and events as well as the oldest continuously operating fish market in the U.S. It has 278 rooms with views of the Potomac River, spa-inspired bathrooms and sprawling public spaces designed after the flowing water of the Potomac. Give the kids an opportunity for pillow fights with conjoining rooms suitable for large families, like the Knot suite, which joins to a king deluxe room, offers plenty of common space and sleeps a family of about six. Making its debut this summer, the hotel will also offer a rooftop pool and rose garden.
The Wharf waterfront development took 22 different architects to create its scenic skyline along the Potomac River. Take part in the many activities available in this 1-mile stretch, including the Recreation Pier, where you can rent kayaks, swing on the relaxing wooden swings that line the pier and enjoy an ice cream cone while watching your kids rock to and fro on the colorful plastic rocking horses. On hot days, you can suit up with the little ones and watch them run around in the “sprayground” water fountain. Conveniently located on the boardwalk is a free five-minute jitney (a boat taxi) to East Potomac Park. Take a break at the Watering Hole, where you can sip beer and wine on the edge of the marina while your kids enjoy the open-air setup.
Where to eat
Kith/Kin, led by all-the-rave D.C. chef Kwame Onwuachi, offers kid-friendly selections like chicken fingers, fries and spaghetti upon request. A few steps away at the end of the block, you can order fresh steamed crabs at the oldest continually operating fish market (200 years old) at the District Wharf. Kids will have fun cracking the freshly steamed shells in the new outdoor public seating.
After spending a bit of time in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, have lunch at the Sweet Home Café — the family menu includes hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs and french fries. Parents can dine on the café’s delicious Southern food with sophisticated offerings from Gullah-style Hoppin' John (a traditional New Year’s Day lunch dish in the American South) and gulf shrimp and stone-ground grits.
Also, Zaytinya, José Andrés’ light-filled Mediterranean restaurant, turns out puffs of hot pita and has loads of kid-friendly dips. Jaleo, another José Andrés restaurant, has two tables that are also foosball tables for people who want to play with their food.
Another way to combine eating and games is to visit Comet Ping Pong, which has amazing pizza and unlimited ping-pong, or Pinstripes in Georgetown, which offers a side of boccie and bowling with Italian food favorites.
Cool down with grown-up handmade ice cream, like Thai ice tea and kid favorites like cookies and cookie dough at Ice Cream Jubilee.
Visit the museums
To combine history and playtime, take the kids to the National Museum of Natural History, where Q?rius gives tweens and teens the opportunity to not only meet a scientist but use microscopes, handle some of the 6,000 objects in their collection, solve science puzzles and enjoy touch screen activities while parents tour some of the more sophisticated exhibits. While you're there, take advantage of the only indoor playground on the National Mall called Wegman’s Wonderplace, created for kids six and younger at the National Museum of American History. There, they can run around and touch wheels and boats, climb (and practice balance) on small stairs and peer through colorful windows.
Then, there's the National Gallery of Art, which has a free kids activity guide with tips and interesting information, like how to travel the French countryside with en plein air ("in the open air") painters, and more interactive options, like a playful competition between you and your kids in drawing a renaissance self-portrait.
Explore music & culture
Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center has a free performance daily at 6 p.m., and it's always family-friendly with the rare exception of stand-up comedy once or twice a year.
There are also kid-friendly performances at Atlas Arts Performing Arts Center, like the recent guest Mons Dansa from Barcelona, Spain, who's playful movement-based performance was perfect for ages 1 to 5 — a fun, interactive production that tells the story of two creatures who live inside a wastepaper basket.
After you view the performance, hop on the free streetcar to take you to nearby H Street Northeast, where you can window browse for clothing or grab an ice cream from a food truck.
At D.C.’s food markets, you can pick up fresh fish and produce and then pop in for one of Union Market or Eastern Market’s regularly storytelling sessions.