Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   United States (
-   -   Washington DC Trip with 6 and 8 year old (

shorty1 Mar 24th, 2012 05:30 AM

Washington DC Trip with 6 and 8 year old
I plan to take my family to Washington DC for the first time this summer. I would like to get feedback on whether or not the following activities would be interesting for a 6 and 8 year old. Also, would I need about 4 or 5 days to cover the below? Is the zoo worth visiting? We have been to San Diego Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, and St. Louis Zoo already.

National Air and Space Museum
International Spy Museum
National Mall
Lincoln Memorial
Washington Monument
National Archives
National Museum of Natural History
U.S. Capital Building - probably will need to skip this. Might be hard to do this tour with the kids.
National Zoo

Is the Six Flags in Baltimore worth visiting? We have a season pass to the one in Gurnee, IL and would like to know if it is different enough from the one in IL to visit.

I would also like to know if there are any nice beaches within a couple of hour drive of Washington DC.

We will probably also stop by Baltimore and visit the aquarium, and Children's Museum.

Dukey1 Mar 24th, 2012 05:53 AM

The Six Flags is in Largo and I would FORGET that for a number of reasons, least of which is the way the thing is run; one of the poorest theme parks anywhere IMO.

The nearest OCEAN (vs. Chesapeake Bay) beach would be Rehoboth and Bethany in Delaware; Rehoboth is 120-130 miles away. A bit further would be Fenwick, Island, DE, and Ocean City, Maryland. In the Summer, if you even go, the least traffic is during the week. I think you'll find PLENTY to see/do IN Washington itself.

The National Zoo is not going to compare with San Diego (what does?) but folks seem to think it is worth it in terms of zoos.

nytraveler Mar 24th, 2012 06:21 AM

You might want to consider Colonial Williamsburgh - which is fantastic for kids - not just educational but also really fascinating.

vjpblovesitaly Mar 24th, 2012 06:46 AM

1000s and 1000s of kids have done the Capitol Building tour.

ksullivan Mar 24th, 2012 07:02 AM

Our kids were 7 and 10 the first time we went to DC. The Air and Space, Natural History as well as the American History museums were great for their ages. I would not go to the Spy Museum with kids that young - we went on our second trip when the kids were 13 and 16 and I think they appreciated and understood the exhibits more at that age. They also found the archives boring that first visit - of course we waited 45 minutes to get in and go through security. Once again, 6 years later on our second visit they knew more about history and appreciated the archives more. The zoo is really nice, we went both visits because of the pandas. If your children have been to all those other zoos though it might not mean as much and you could use that time to see things you can only see in DC. Have fun planning!

longhorn55 Mar 24th, 2012 08:16 AM

NO--International Spy Museum. It requires a lot of reading which 6 and 8 year olds will not be able to do. I think the minimum age for appreciating this museum is 10+.

YES--U.S. Capitol tour. Lots of kids take this tour, especially in the summer months, and there are interesting things to see. You may want to contact your Representative or Senator about a Congressional tour. These tours, often led by an intern, generally have fewer people in the tour group than the general admission tours.

NO--Washington Monument, except to see it from the outside. The tours to the top have been suspended due to damage caused by the August 2011 earthquake.

YES--National Archives, but to avoid the long lines to enter that occur in the summer months, consider getting either a guided tour or a timed entry. See:

YES--National Zoo. It's not in the same league as the San Diego Zoo, but it's a nice, small zoo with some good exhibits. I would definitely recommend getting there first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds and the heat. (Check the zoo website for opening hours.) Also, if you are taking Metro to the zoo, read the following from the Zoo website to avoid doing a lot of uphill walking:

NO,NO,NO--Six Flags in Largo

MAYBE--There was a story today in the Kid's Post section of the Washington Post about the new Ford's Theatre Center for Education and Leadership. It sounds like parts of it would appeal to kids, although in the "What You Need to Know Before You Go" sidebar, it says that it is best for kids in 4th grade and up who have a knowledge of Lincoln and the Civil War. After reading this article, you can decide whether it would appeal to your kids:

obxgirl Mar 24th, 2012 09:35 AM

Agree with what others have said and would add one possibility to your list: Smithsonian's National Postal Museum which has a lot of kid themed hands on exhibits. It is located away from the National Mall across the street from Union Station ( metro and a train station) and is frequently not as busy as the other places on the National Mall. For kids 6 and 8, trains and post offices may be historical artifacts by the time your two are adults!

Christina Mar 24th, 2012 04:24 PM

The zoo is decent, but I wouldn't bother going there as you can go to zoos in other places (and you have). I think you should concentrate on doing things that are unique and special to DC as long as you are here. I can't imagine you'll have extra time to waste, but if you do, then I'd consider it. I would definitely not make it a priority.

You might consider Mount Vernon.

gardendiva Mar 24th, 2012 06:00 PM

The Bureau of Engraving might be fun for them. You can see how money is printed. The drawback is that you have to be in line early to get tickets. The tickets are free and timed but you must have tickets. In place of the Washington Monument go to the Old Postal Building. There is an elevator to the top observation tower. I beleive that it is now the highest observation deck in the city.

If you go to the Archives reserve a tour. It is free but you have to get tickets online. The guided tour was about 40 minutes but it seemed to move faster. Our guide was very interactive with the 2 young children in our group.

Lastly, the zoo. I believe that you can go into the zoo before it opens. We went at about 9:00 and there were already people there. Do take the metro to the stop past the Woodley Park/Zoo stop otherwise it is a steep uphill walk for a few blocks.

gardendiva Mar 24th, 2012 06:02 PM

I also suggest Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown. A lot of the exhibits are interactive with the kids. I was rather bored as an adult but it seemed like the kids were having fun.

shorty1 Mar 24th, 2012 07:16 PM

Thanks a lot for all of your advice. I am starting to think that Washington DC/Smithsonian Museums might be more interesting to my kids if I went when there were a bit older. I have to rethink my trip destination now.

ksullivan Mar 24th, 2012 08:16 PM

I think you should still consider DC. My kids were right around your kids ages the first time we went.

When planning our first trip I really thought about what our children had studied in school and tailored the trip around that. For example, my 6 yr. old was fascinated with Lincoln, calling him the "penny man", we went to the Memorial, found the spot on the steps where MLK gave his famous speech and she had her picture taken with it. We also went to Fords Theatre. The Air and Space, American and Natural History Museums were fascinating to our kids, we spent two whole days between those three museums. They liked visiting the memorials, especially WWII, FDR and Iwo Jima.

It was the first time to DC for both my husband and myself and we were actually surprised at the amount of things to do with young children. I truly believe it is a city that you could go to every few years and see different things as your kids grow up.

tomfuller Mar 24th, 2012 08:31 PM

If you want to see Smokey Bear's desk, you can see it at the USFS Information Center at the corner of 14th & Independence. It is the only red brick building in sight among all that marble.
Sometimes in the summer they have a plywood cutout of Smokey just outside the door. I used to proudly wear the suit in school programs and in parades.

MikeT Mar 25th, 2012 06:44 AM

If you do come to DC, just remember with kids that age you can't do what I call the "death march" vacation where you try to fit lots of things in every day. You will have to pick one or two things to do each day

kmbp Mar 25th, 2012 08:33 AM

I agree with MikeT. Washington summer weather can be hot and humid; be prepared to go slowly.

When my daughters were the age of your two, we were fortunate to do some long weekends, and even lo-n-g day-trips, to DC. The museums around the mall were a given, and we tried to plan so that lunch would be at the cafeteria on the lower level between the east and west buildings of the National Gallery of Art. (The Museum of the American Indian may have good, interesting food, but I found the cafe to be too crowded.) There's a cafe with outdoor seating in the sculpture garden across the street from the west building of the NGA--and the sculpture is fun, too.

My suggestions: Monuments (drive-by if the weather is oppressive), American History, Natural History, maybe one of the art museums (check the Smithsonian and NGA websites for info on permanent and special exhibitions that might be especially interesting for the children).

After a day of sightseeing, my girls always looked forward to a swim in the hotel pool.

gardendiva Mar 27th, 2012 09:55 AM

Another suggestion may be to stay in Williamsburg and take a day trip to DC. If I remember correctly, it is about 2 1/2 hour drive to Old Town Alexandria. You can park there and take the Metro into DC. If you arrive aroung 10 am the Metro will not be so busy. On our return we had dinner in Alexandria and then drove back to Williamsburg. You will want to wait until about 7 or 7:30 to leave Alexandria because the traffic is horrible anytime sooner.

persimmondeb Mar 27th, 2012 10:20 AM

We went last August with my then five-year-old nephew (who is, however a precocious reader, probably 5th-6th grade level) and my mildly autistic 16-year-old(reads on a college level but functions at about 10-12 for the most part) for an overnight. They had a wonderful time. We did Air and Space, and they both loved it, although my son was much more interested in military/history of aviation type exhibits and my nephew found some rather complicated looking thing on astrophysics that clearly captured his imagination. There's a children's activity area that they both enjoyed, too.

We also did Natural History, and they both enjoyed that very much, although they also decided that they really, really needed a drink and some dinosaur cookies. We went the day after the earthquake and the oceanography exhibits were closed due to earthquake damage, which was kind of disappointing. Lots of stuff for kids who like science, though.

We spent the next day in American History, and while my son liked it all, a number of the exhibits did not do much for my nephew (precocious or not, a five-year-old just doesn't seem to have much context for a lot of it, and he's not the kid who'll gaze rapturously at old vehicles). The kid's activity area was a big hit though.

All in all, we had a good time, and I'd consider it a good destination for kids, as long as you tailor it to their specific interests. I think the museums may do more for good readers, though.

shorty1 Apr 13th, 2012 05:27 AM

Thanks for the recommendations. It sounds like there is enough in Washington DC to interest my kids. I plan to go to the beach and Baltimore also.

shorty1 Apr 14th, 2012 01:25 PM

Does this trip plan look doable?

8/11 (Sat.) – arrive at Dulles Airport and drive down to Williamsburg (2.5 hour). Stay at Hampton Inn & Suites Williamsburg.

8/12 (Sun.) – Visit Colonial Williamsburg or Jamestown Settlement and have dinner at King’s Arms Tavern.

8/13 (Mon.) – Visit Busch Gardens and drive back to Washington DC area.

8/14 (Tues.) – Old Town Trolley Tour of Washington DC. Air and Space Museum.

8/15 (Wed.) – Capitol building Tour (reserve tour) and American History Museum. Visit Pitango for gelato.

8/16 (Thurs.) – Visit National Archives (reserve tour) and Bureau of Engraving .

8/17 (Fri.) – Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake. Go to Cantler’s for seafood.

8/18 (Sat.) – Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens.

8/19 (Sun.) - Baltimore – Visit Inner Harbor, Faidley’s for crab cake, and National Aquarium.

8/20 (Mon.) – depart from Dulles Airport

If I am looking for a clean hotel in the DC area with 2 queen beds which is near the metro and in a safe neighborhood, what do you recommend?

ElendilPickle Apr 14th, 2012 03:12 PM

Mmmm, Pitango! Good choice.

What is your hotel budget? We stayed at the Americana Hotel in Arlington - free parking, a couple of blocks from the Crystal City Metro stop, free continental breakfast, free wi-fi.

Lee Ann

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:19 AM.