Big Bucket List: 225 Things to do in Washington DC



The DC area has such a special place in our hearts. Three of our four kiddos were born there, so it's the first place we started exploring with kids. We moved there before we had kids, so we also got to experience a bit of non-kid time while my husband was working and I was in graduate school. In a lot of ways, DC still feels like home.

We lived across the Potomac River in Arlington, VA for the whole time we were there, so while we didn't technically live in the city, we were very close, often walking, Metroing, or driving into various spots. These are some of our favorite places both in the city itself, as well as in the surrounding suburbs.

As always with these Big Giant Lists, please comment with any favorites of yours that I've forgotten or missed so this can be a dynamic resource for anyone living in or visiting the area!

                                                                     

A couple of notes:
- DC will be a madhouse in the summer. It just will be. But it can still be super fun, and there are always various festivals and such happening on the Mall and elsewhere. So it's still worth it. Just prep yourself to deal with crowds. Get to places early, and consider taking a break midday when crowds are biggest.

- One tip to deal with summer crowds is to visit some museums during extended evening hours. A few of the bigger museums (I believe there are 4 that participate) will stay open late on certain days and it is MAGICAL. We've been probably 10 times and every single time, the museums have been practically empty. We've found street parking right in front of the museum. All the tourists have lost steam by that time and you get to peruse in peace.

- The museums are big, and Metro stops are often not super close together. Be prepared to walk. A lot.

- DC just has so, so much to do. Don't worry about trying to get to everything. Just pick some favorites, and enjoy what you can.

- I wanted to put all this info out there so you can have an easy place to reference a ton of options. However, I recognize this can potentially be completely overwhelming. If you're visiting (or live there!) and want a little more direction based on your interests, PLEASE feel free to reach out to me and I'd be happy to help!

- I love so many of these but I've also highlighted some of my personal tippy top favorites to help those who may be on a first visit.



MUSEUMS/HISTORY

This is the biggest category for a reason. DC is stuffed absolutely full with amazing, important places around every corner.

  • African American History & Culture Museum (either reserve tickets online way in advance, or they release same-day tickets each day at 6am. We were able to get those by getting on right at 6am when we went.)
  • African Art Museum
  • Air & Space Museum (DC - on the Mall - my kids are obsessed with the How Things Fly exhibit where they have great, interactive activities and demonstrations; they also love the Wright Brothers room, touching the moon rock, and seeing the Spirit of St. Louis)
  • Air & Space Museum (Udvar-Hazy Center in Dulles - this is a giant hangar with huge aircraft, including a Concorde and the Space Shuttle Discovery. There's also a cool observation tower.)
  • American Art Museum (connected to NPG by Kogod Courtyard, which is a wonderful, warm or air conditioned space to take a little break and/or eat lunch and let kids have some space to roam. There's a tiny water area where technically, I don't think kids are supposed to play. But I've seen many a kid get soaked there - it's like a quarter inch of water, how?? - and not just my own, so beware if you want to stay dry.)
  • American History Museum (including Wegmans Wonderplace 0-5 play area; this is where you can see the giant American flag)
  • American Indian Museum (has a terrific children's area)
  • Anacostia Community Museum
  • Anderson House/Society of the Cincinnati - old Embassy Row mansion that's open to the public
  • Archives (get there early!! the line is often out the door during busy months, but we've waltzed right in and had the Declaration to ourselves on a weekday in the winter)
  • Arts & Industries Building (2nd oldest, under renovation)
  • Baltimore (this really deserves its own post, maybe some day)
    • Aquarium
    • B&O Railroad Museum [online BOGO coupon]
    • Baltimore Streetcar Museum
    • Evergreen Museum & Library
    • Fort McHenry
    • Little Italy
    • Maryland Historical Society
    • Mount Vernon Cultural District [great neighborhood for walking/architecture]
    • Orioles game
    • Outdoor concerts at pier 6
    • Port Discovery Children's Museum (this is SUCH a great children's museum, and they have $2 family nights on the 3rd Friday of the month from 4-8)
    • Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse
    • Star-Spangled Banner Flag House
  • Botanic Garden
  • Building Museum
  • Capitol tour
  • Carter G. Woodson Home
  • College Park Aviation Museum (oldest continuously run airport in the world)
  • Congress Session (Watch)
  • Department of Treasury tour (Bureau of Engraving & Printing)
  • FBI Experience - tour some exhibits at Headquarters (must be scheduled in advance)
  • Ford's Theater
  • Freer Gallery
  • Frederick Douglass's Home (Anacostia)
  • Hirshorn (modern & contemporary)
  • Holocaust Museum (so well done; kids are welcome but be cautious in how you approach this time)
  • Interior Museum
  • Koshland Science Center
  • Library of Congress (visit, tour, storytime) (you can also get a special card to be able to go in the gorgeous Reading Room)
  • Marine Corps Museum (near Quantico)
  • Mary McLeod Bethune Council House
  • Mount Vernon (it's 100% worth the trek down)
  • Museum of the Bible
  • National Children's Museum at National Harbor - CLOSED until reopens in DC
  • National Gallery of Art (pick up one or several of the terrific children's guide booklets they have for free)
  • National Geographic Museum
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • National Portrait Gallery (they have really excellent children's programming - check their website for what is going on as some of it requires advance registration)
  • Natural History Museum (the butterfly exhibit is great and is free on Tuesdays, but get there early in order to get timed tickets)
  • Navy Museum
  • Newseum (one of the few not-free DC museums, but it's worth the cost)
  • Old Stone House (Georgetown, oldest building in DC)
  • Pentagon Tour (must be scheduled in advance)
  • Phillips Collection
  • Postal Museum (somewhat of a hidden gem for children's programming - lots of fun stuff going on here, and they have a really cute storytime)
  • Postal Tower (used to be public access, but now Trump owns it...)
  • President Lincoln's Cottage (his summer home)
  • Renwick Gallery (part of American Art but at a different location and usually has some fun, big exhibits)
  • Sackler Gallery
  • Smithsonian Castle
  • Spy Museum (they do free evenings on occasion, so check for that)
  • State Department Diplomatic Reception Room
  • Supreme Court
  • Textile Museum at GW
  • Tudor Place - historic home built by a granddaughter of Martha Washington
  • Union Station
  • White House tour (you need connections to be able to do this now, or contact your representatives WELL in advance)
  • Woodrow Wilson House

MEMORIALS

I highly recommend seeing the memorials at night. It's getting more popular, but it still won't be nearly as crowded as during the day. And they're beautiful then.
  • 9/11 Pentagon Memorial
  • Air Force Memorial (this has a great view of the city)
  • Arlington Cemetery
  • Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument
  • C&O Canal National Historical Park
  • Franklin D. & Eleanor Roosevelt
  • George Mason
  • Iwo Jima
  • Jefferson
  • Korean War Veterans
  • LBJ Memorial Grove
  • Lincoln
  • MLK
  • Roosevelt (this one is actually on its very own island, as Teddy loved nature and the outdoors. There are beautiful trails to explore and lots of room to run.)
  • Vietnam
  • Washington
  • WWI
  • WWII
                                                                                                                                                 

OUTDOOR

  • Anacostia River Pontoon Boat Tour
  • Bike to cherry blossoms, Lincoln Memorial, Zoo, etc.
  • Billy Goat Trail (Maryland side of Great Falls)
  • Bon Air Park (formal gardens & roses)
  • Book Hill Park in Georgetown
  • Burke Lake Park
  • Butler's Orchard
  • C&O Canal
  • Cabin John Regional Park (amazing playground) - Bethesda
  • Cherry Blossoms - bike ride to picnic at the Tidal Basin. Kenwood is another great neighborhood to see them that is slightly less crowded (but not much)
  • Claude Moore Colonial Farm
  • Cox Farms
  • Cunningham Falls State Park
  • Dumbarton Oaks Museum & Gardens
  • Floral Library
  • Frying Pan Farm Park (working farm with animals, carousel, farm market, etc.)
  • Georgetown Waterfront Park (spray fountains)
  • Gravelly Point (a fun place to see airplanes take off and land from Reagan airport right overhead)
  • Great Falls
  • Green Spring Gardens
  • Gulf Branch Nature Center
  • Haupt Gardens (behind Smithsonian Castle)
  • Hillwood Museum & Gardens
  • Ice Skating at Hirshorn Sculpture Garden
  • Key Bridge Boathouse - kayaking, paddle boarding, etc. on the Potomac River
  • Long Branch Nature Center (there's a great, clean stream here with fun, big rocks, and it's perfect for splashing with little ones)
  • Meridian Hill Park (largest cascading fountain in North America)
  • National Aquatic Gardens (Kenilworth Park - go when the lotuses are blooming if you can!)
  • National Arboretum (so few tourists make it up here but it's beautiful; the bonsai exhibit is very cool. They also hold night tours a few times a month.)
  • National Mall
  • National Zoo
  • Nationals Baseball Game
  • Old Town Alexandria (darling waterfront, shops, restaurants, old homes, etc.)
  • Paddle boating at Tidal Basin
  • River Farm - Alexandria near Mt. Vernon - gardens great for kids
  • Riverbend Park hike to Great Falls (2 miles each way)
  • Rock Creek Nature Center
  • Rock Creek Park (tons of beautiful trails)
  • Roosevelt Island
  • Run to Reagan National Airport on trail along the river
  • Scott's Run Nature Preserve (short waterfall hike in McLean)
  • Spanish Steps
  • Turkey Run hike (McLean off gw parkway - short, somewhat steep but great for kids, a couple stream crossings and little tide pools)
  • Upton Hills Park
  • Watkins Regional Park - Old Maryland Farm, pony rides, hay rides, carousel, train, Wizard of Oz-themed playground, nature center
  • Yards Park (great park by navy yard, lots of fountains, large and shallow wading pool for kids, outdoor concerts)

PLAYGROUNDS

There are SO MANY of these. This is honestly just a small snapshot of some of our favorites.
  • Beauvoir School Playground (amazing playground by National Cathedral. It has funny hours for the public so check before you go.)
  • Chestnut Hills Park
  • Clemyjontri Park in Mclean
  • Lyon Village
  • Trampoline Flight Park in Springfield
  • Wheaton Regional Park - Wheaton, MD - huge slides, etc.
                                                                  

CULTURAL

  • Around the World Embassy Tour
  • Frank Lloyd Wright's Home (Pope-Leighey house - south of Springfield) + Nelly Custis home
  • House of the Temple (masonic temple; they do tours on certain days/times)
  • Imagination Stage (children's theater in Bethesda)
  • Kennedy Center
  • Kennedy Center Millennium Stage (free performances)
  • Mansion on O Street
  • Mass Ave Annual Interfaith Walk
  • National Gallery Sculpture Garden Jazz Concerts (take a picnic, but beware these get crowded)
  • National Theater
  • National Theater Helen Hayes Gallery - free children's theater 9:30 and 11am
  • Navy Band Concerts
  • Puppet Co. in Glen Echo Park (great puppet shows, plus the park has a carousel, local art galleries, and community art classes)
  • Sky Tonight stars show at Arlington Planetarium
  • Torpedo Factory in Old Town (watch the artists)
  • Voice of America tour
  • Warner Theater
  • Wolftrap
               

RELIGIOUS

  • 16th Street Churches (including old LDS chapel that used to have angel Moroni on top and still has stained glass of Americas)
  • Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (largest Roman Catholic church in US, amazing concerts)
  • Franciscan Monastery in DC (one of our very favorite somewhat hidden gems in DC)
  • Georgetown Lutheran Church
  • National Cathedral (do free tour, the crypt is cool, or I've heard the gargoyle tour is interesting, and they have some great concerts)
  • Washington DC LDS temple & visitors' center

FOOD

Honestly, DC has so, so many places to eat and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Still, I've highlighted a few of my very faves, and included a bunch of others that we have enjoyed.
  • 2 Amys
  • Artfully Chocolate
  • Baked & Wired (I'm not the biggest cupcake fan, but theirs are better than Georgetown Cupcake)
  • Bombay Club
  • Boundary Road (pierogies)
  • Bread & Chocolate
  • Cafe Bonaparte (crepes)
  • Cheeseteaque
  • Co Co Sala
  • Cuba Libre
  • Dairy Godmother (delicious custard)
  • Del Ray Cafe
  • District of Pi (deep dish)
  • Duangrat's
  • Eastern Market (a DC institution)
  • Farmers Fishers Bakers (buffet brunch, but amazing)
  • Filomena
  • Fiola
  • Founding Farmers (sister restaurant to FFB)
  • Gadsby's Tavern - period restaurant in Alexandria (rec'd by a friend)
  • Georgetown Cupcake (again, I don't much care for cupcakes, but it's kind of an institution)
  • Good Stuff Eatery (do not miss the toasted marshmallow milkshake. Also they had this fried green tomato sandwich the last time I was there that was insane.)
  • Graffiato
  • Kapnos
  • L'Enfant Cafe
  • Las Canteras - Peruvian (rec'd bya  friend)
  • Le Diplomate (the brunch here is great)
  • Mandu - Korean (rec'd by a friend)
  • Neramitra
  • Oyamel (great guac and mole)
  • Patowmack Farms (this used to be better)
  • Pitango Gelato
  • Pizzeria Paradiso
  • Puppatella Pizza (our fave pizza in the area)
  • Raaga (the paneer tikka masala here is GOOD)
  • Rasika (I prefer this Indian to Bombay Cafe)
  • Ray's Hell Burger
  • Rose's Luxury (good luck getting in. We haven't actually tried this one but I couldn't not include it)
  • Sakana - affordable & delicious sushi in Dupont Circle (rec'd by a friend)
  • Sweet Green (a chain, but I love their plain tart frozen yogurt and they have good salads)
  • Table
  • Thai X-Ing (my very favorite Thai. They just bring you whatever is on the menu that day. The pumpkin curry is to DIE for. Beware if you're spice-averse.)
  • Thaiphoon
  • Toby's ice cream (LOVE the cinnamon ice cream here)
  • Tosca
  • Union Market (lots of different stalls and vendors for a fun lunch)
  • Whitlow's on Wilson (diner fare)
  • Zaytinya
              


DAY TRIPS

Truly, DC is close to SO much. You could conceivably do day trips even as far as Philadelphia or New York, depending on what you wanted to do. Still, I've just included a few of our favorite accessible trips from DC.
  • Annapolis - such a cute town
  • Antietam
  • Ash-Lawn Highland - James Monroe's estate (much more toned-down than Monticello)
  • Beach - Eastern Shore, Rehoboth, Bethany
  • Charlottesville - deserves way more than a day, but a gorgeous university town with excellent food and lots of walking areas
  • Fredericksburg
  • Gettysburg
  • Harper's Ferry
  • Lancaster County - Amish country
  • Monticello (a pretty drive)
  • Montpelier - James Madison's estate
  • Purse State Park (fossilized shark teeth hunting - I LOVE this place - it's only about an hour and so so cool!)
  • Shenandoah National Park (okay, this is much more than an hour and you really need far more than a day, but I had to include it! Some perennial favorites are the Cedar Run Trail which has a natural waterfall slide and wading pool, as well as Old Rag)
  • Sky Meadows State Park/Skyline Drive
  • Williamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown - tiny towns with so much history! Colonial Williamsburg is definitely the most built up of the three, and is darling to walk around


OTHER

  • Georgetown - shopping, super cute to walk around
  • National Harbor - shopping, walking, and a big ferris wheel and carousel

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