Washington, DC with Toddlers on a Budget
Visiting Washington, D.C. with toddlers and/or babies can feel overwhelming. Check out our City Guide for where to stay, where to eat and what to do! This isn't at all an all encompassing guide, it is really a weekend in D.C. guide, with kids. D.C. is one of the most family friendly cities in America. Unlike, visiting New York D.C. is easier to navigate with strollers so don't be afraid to bring them (although as with any city smaller is better.) Here is our City Guide to Washington, D.C. with small children:Activities (I am only going to go with FREE things here.)
National Museum of American History: This is by far my favorite museum on the mall for children. They have a children's play area, trains, cars, a whole area dedicated to the First Lady's and much more! The Air and Space museum is also fun but the lines... oh the lines! They are long at every museum but for some reason the Air and Space Museum line feels glacial to me. If you have never been to the Air and Space Museum, go for sure, but make sure the National Museum of American History makes the list. Go early in the day and head straight for the toddler play area on the bottom floor. There you will get a "ticket" to enter the play area at a specific time frame (for 30 mins.) On busy days your time will be later because they only hand out so many per timeframe. When we arrived (around 10am) we could have gone right in but instead requested 11am— snacks first. You are probably asking, What about the Museum of Natural History? Well, that is fun but it's also CRAZY BUSY! We did really enjoy a bug exhibit they had (the kids got to hold a weird bug), but otherwise the several times we have been there it has been too crowed for the little kids to enjoy it.
Smithsonian's National Zoo: This zoo is big, and FREE! They have a ton of animals. Use the metro to get there but get off at the Cleveland Park stop. If you use this stop you will walk down-hill to the zoo instead of uphill. I highly recommend eating before hand or bringing your lunch. The food was very expensive and pretty unhealthy. Plus, it just didn't taste good. The Panda's are hard to find but just ask for directions to the inside habitat and that is probably where you'll find them.
National Mall: Just walk, get outside, and explore the National Mall. It will take you a lot of time to see the entire thing. My littles loved the Carousel on the National Mall (which does cost a nominal amount.) If you have a choice, plan your trip around the Cherry Blossom festival and stay the weekend of the Kite Festival! That was a wonderful afternoon of kite-making, sitting and relaxing around the Washington Monument. Make your way along the river. Kids love to run and play so explore with them with zero limitations. The green spaces are fantastic.
Here is a list of a lot more things to do in Washington D.C.: 17 Kid-Friendly Museums & Hands-On Attractions (a side note: our experience at the Renwick was NOT KID FRIENDLY! They were very strict with gallery rules and it was a more adult experience. The lines were VERY LONG inside the museum to see the upper galleries. They only had one exhibit the kids could really explore. The others were neat to look at but were very fragile and highly guarded. They do not allow strollers. I would not recommend going out of your way to stop there. To be fair we went right after it reopened.)
Bread & Chocolate: This is a great choice for breakfast. They offered Grab & Go items that we could take back to the room.
District Taco: This place is amazing! Lunch, dinner, doesn't matter. It's affordable adult/kid friendly food. It does get really busy so go during off hours and don't expect to have a lot of room to maneuver a big stroller. There is limited seating inside (upstairs) and out front so expect to share a table with a group of strangers. This food is also really easy to take to go! I highly recommend the Barbacoa Taco- Mexican Style!
Sculpture Garden Pavilion Cafe: If you are having a day exploring the museums this lovely restaurant located in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden will serve up a healthy and hearty lunch. The location is great and the setting is wonderfully calming, even on a busy day. It is pretty similar to the food inside the museums but I prefer the outdoor location.
Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse: First, this is a large chain, located all over the United States. I am listing it here because it is a favorite of our family's. If you are looking for a fancy night out this is a good choice. Go early, be respectful, and bring things to entertain your children, but know that the style of eating isn't private so that is in your favor. Our 3 year old LOVED the idea that his red and green coaster would bring food or stop food. He was very entertained by the concept alone.
*** Note: We did eat at the Blue Duck Tavern. This is supposed to be a premier restaurant in D.C. The children's menu was good and the lounge seating was perfect for families. However, the meals we ordered were average at best, especially for the price. I realize I am not a world renowned food critic, but I have eaten at my fair share of upscale restaurants (mostly without children.) The experience I had at Blue Duck Tavern didn't even come close to my experience at Couloir Restaurant in Jackson Hole, for example. So, my advice... skip it. Or maybe just go for an appetizer and tea (they do have an excellent selection of teas!)
Splurge: Park Hyatt Washington The Park Hyatt with kids is a great experience. When I booked I found it difficult to add children to the reservation and still reserve the room I wanted online so I called. We stayed in a Park Junior Suite, 2 adults and 2 children (ages 1 and 3.) The hotel provided a crib for our little one and we brought a blowup toddler bed by Shrunks for the older child. When we arrived the kids were each given a stuffed panda with a Park Hyatt Washington shirt on. They loved that and it meant we didn't have to buy a souvenir. The crib had a travel pack of Burt's Bee toiletries for littles. I am a big tea drinker so I was thrilled that they provided some excellent teas in the room (an even better selection upon request.) The only real negative I had was that there wasn't a fridge, there was a minibar with a small area for your "personal use" but otherwise it was full. I didn't ask if it could be emptied.
L'Enfant Plaza Hotel: We stayed here years ago, so admittedly it has changed. It is currently closed for renovations but when it opens in 2017 it should be fabulous! We loved the location, it was easy to walk to the National Mall from the hotel. We stayed with 4 adults and 1 child in a room and had plenty of space. I can't really say what the pricing will be post renovation but keep an eye out for this hotel if you are planning a trip next year.
Camping! Yes, Camping! Cherry Hill Park offers tent camping, cabins and RV spots. We stayed in an RV spot, the park is quiet and easy to navigate. The spots are tight. We used public transportation to get into D.C. and found it very easy. The office will give you directions. Camping is so fun for kids and a very affordable way to see D.C. Check the weather before you go this direction. We stayed in July and saw a great fireworks display at the nearby University of Maryland campus.
We highly recommend taking an umbrella-type stroller. You will see larger strollers but they are cumbersome and hard to navigate in and out of the public transportation elevators. They are also difficult to navigate inside the museums. We brought a Maclaren Globe Trotter and the new GB Pockit. Both of those units were fantastic to travel with. Our typical set-up, for hot cities, is 1 stroller and 1 baby carrier. My preferred carrier is a Tula. The padding can't be beat. We have been known to ditch the strollers altogether but these kids are getting heavy.