Kid-Friendly City Guide to Washington DC

Washington DC is a fantastic place to visit with or without kids. During bad weather there are many indoor museums to visit (most of them with kid-focused exhibits); for better weather there are outdoor monuments, boat rides, and crab shacks. The Zoo has places to visit during all types of weather.

DC, with it's well thought out Metro system, is a great place to visit with kids. In fact, there is so much to see in DC that it’s impossible to see it all on a week end trip. A great strategy for places with a plethora of stuff is to choose some sort of theme and pick activities based on that. We feel strongly that family travel should be fun but educational, so we look for one or two aspects of an area to learn about and then choose our itinerary based on that.
See also City Visits: Keep Your Sanity While Your Kids Have a Blast!

Here is a list of fun stuff from our own experience ans well as stuff gleaned from Fodor’s Talk forum (in no particular order):

FDR Memorial is the kid-friendliest monument: There is a lotta watta, space to run, and places to sit.

Bull Run Campground outside of DC in Manassas is huge with playground, picnic areas, stables, disc golf, pools, wildlife trails, and other stuff. If traveling without a car, take a cab from the metro station. A great place for kids to burn off energy.

and maybe a night tour of the monuments...

why not go to a foreign restaurant in the area near Dupont Circle. For example, DC is one of the few places in America where you can eat at an Ethiopian restuarant -- and everybody I know who tried it, loved it. Also Japanese, Greek, Indian, .... There are lots of different restuarants in a small area. Do a little research and make a short-list of places within your budget.

Check for free entertainment in the city--there are often free concerts in the lobby at the Kennedy Center or at various government buildings, and the KC is another spot with a killer rooftop view.

The National Spy Museum really did look fabulous and people affiliated with the CIA and KGB contibuted to creating it.

The “Goes without Saying” section:
The Smithsonian: the Smithsonian website also has info on the other DC museums in order to help kids get more out of them.
The National Zoo -- Pandas!
The National Gallery
Air and Space Museum

Please comment on this blog and/or add to the wikimap with your own suggestions.

Tips for Road Tripping with Kids (#10)

View Pintler Scenic Route in a larger map
10. Use a different route on the return trip.
Loops double the excitient of almost any road trip. If you're looking at the same stuff (only backwards) that you looked at when you set out on your adventure, the message to the kids will be clear: We're done, we're going home now, the fun is over. Don't let the return trip cut your vacation short.

Here's a fun loop to Glacier National Park from Missoula, MT.

The Sealy Lake and Swan Lake Vallley is a great return route after heading north into the Mission Valley. Stay the first night in Big Fork and head out first thing in the morning to Glacier. Stay a night or two in the park, and head out to Whitefish for a night and then drive back to Missoula through the Sealy/Swan Valley. And look for the Giant cow where 83 meets 200.

The history of the mountains is really neat along this loop. Like the rest of the rocky mountains, these mountains were formed by earthquakes, and then shaped by glaciers. The Mission mountains are the face of a huge fault line that FAULTED (7.5). Whith a drastic drop, the Missions were formed. But the cool part comes up later in their life; when they met the big glacier of the north. The glacier, which filled the rocky mountain trench (it extends up through British Columbia and into the Yukon) flowed south carving a valley with it until it reached the Mission Mountains. There was a flurry of excitement, but eventually, a compromise was reached. The great compromise consisted of two parts:

1. The Mission Mountains would split the glacier in two, forcing it to fork down the Mission valley and the Sealy/Swan valley

2. The glacier could take as much of the Mission Mountains with it as it could carry.

And so it did, down to around Ronan. That's why the Mission Mountains north of Ronan are very round, (because the glaciers covered then and rounded their tops) and the mountains south of Ronan are so jagged (because the big glacier didn't make it that far).

Read this great article A Freak Preserved by an Accident: The Making of Flathead Lake. It was written by one of my old Geology professors, Dave Alt.

Tips for Road Tripping with Kids (#9)

Night time is the right time to make up miles if you need to. So set yourself up for success and take care of the little things

The ninth in our ongoing series of travel-tested tips for road trips with kids.

Tip #9. Let sleeping kids lay

Gas up after dinner and make sure you've got everything you need because once the kids fall asleep, you can really make some miles disappear. Oddly enough, we've found there to be a Starbucks mightily near many Cracker Barrel restaurants. It also makes some great private time for Mom and Dad to have a nice adult conversation. If the kids wake up, it can put a damper on things, so take care of the little stuff, and let sleeping kids lay.

Tips for Road Tripping with Kids (#8)

We're all for trying out local restaurants and hotels, but sometimes you've got to stick to what's predictable. Because let's face it, road trips with kids aren't.

The eighth in our ongoing series on travel-tested tops for road trips with kids. Stick to what you know and trust:

Tip #8. Residence Inn and Cracker Barrel
Residence Inn is ubiquitous, very kid friendly, and has a breakfast bar in the lobby that is maybe not great, but its fine. Fresh fruit, cereal, espresso machine, english muffins, monster waffles, scrambled eggs, bacon... in other words, it's great for kids and fine for parents. And they allow dogs as well, which is important to many family road trippers. Maybe the best thing is the roominess of the suites. Kitchenette with dishwasher, bedroom, and two bathrooms in many... lot's of room to spread out and build pillow and blanket forts.

Kids love eating breakfast for dinner, and Cracker Barrel serves breakfast 24 hours. Breakfast for supper is especially fun if the kids are already in their jammies. Pull in to Cracker Barrels around 4:30 or 5:00 to beat the rush, fill them with food before they get crazy and get out on the road early enough to let them melt slowly off to la-la land. We're all for eating at local restauraunts, but when you're trying to make time, sometimes its best to stick to what you know. When you've got time to burn, explore for food (try Bubba's Barbeque). Tip: When in the South, order the fried catfish, beans n' greens, and sweet tea. When in the northeast, stick with the meatloaf, (Northeasterners don't know how to do beans n' greens).

More Road Trip Word Games

The miles go faster and familes are happier when the kids are having fun (besides, word games are free and they don't have little plastic pieces to lose)

When you're spending more than a few hours in the car, your kids are bound to get tired of the activity books you've packed for them. A road atlas of their own helps, but when it gets dark, those activities are out of the question. Word games help kids' eyes grow droopy, and that's good news for parents. There are hundreds of word games to play; here is another installment of this series.

4. 20 Questions
One person thinks of something and everyone else takes turns asking questions to narrow the focus. This game is great for developing kids imagination, and teaching them how to choose the right questions to ask.
Sample questions:
Is it a person, place, or thing?
Is it bigger than this car?

5. I Spy With My Little Eye...
A perrenial favorite, (and a great book series as well)Player one spots an object in the car, such as a pencil, and doesn't tell the other players what she's found. She simply gives one clue, such as, "I spy something that begins with a 'p'." The other players take turns trying to figure out what she's "spied" by asking "yes" or "no" questions. After each player guesses once, another clue is offered. In this case, the second clue might be, "I spy something that begins with 'p' and is yellow." The first player to guess correctly spies the next object.

6. The Alphabet game
Everyone in the car builds an alphabetical. Each person adds to the list and remember all the previouis items. Relate the topic to your road trip. Mom: When we drove to Florida, we saw an aligator. Dad: when we drove to Florida, we saw an aligator and some biscuits. Tommy would add the "c" item, and Lilly would likely pass to Mom. The game continues until the alphabet is complete. If you forget an item on the list, you're eliminated.

What are your favorite ways to pass time on long drives?

Great Drives West of the Mississippi: New Mexico

If you're looking to spend time, rather than save it, the family driving focus shifts to scenic and educational topics. This Great Drive series uses an interactive United States road map to highlight geological, ecological,and cultural lessons in history .

This drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe can easily eat up the whole day if you let it; it's only about 130 miles, but there's plenty of reasons to stop and get out of the car.

I spent a couple of months in Jemez Springs during the winter of 1994. I was building houses in Rio Rancho -- near Albuquerque -- and staying with a friend who sold sculpture in Santa Fe. The southern half of this route was my morning and evening commute, the northern half was the weekend pleasure drive to Santa Fe.

There is an interesting ruin in Jemez Springs on the north end of town the Jemez State Monument. The ruins are from two periods: Ancient people (up to 4,000 years ago) and post Spanish Conquistadors (around 450 years ago). The Mission San Jose de los Jemez Church (top photo and second photo) was built in 1621, right around when the pilgrims were landing on Plymouth Rock. The walls were six or seven feet thick (that's really thick by wall standards).

The graduated window sizes and golden mean proportions that are evident in this mission ( top photo shows the inside) lead many experts to believe that it was designed by someone familiar with European Baroque architecture (Tinsley likes to say "If it ain't Baroque, fix it"). Scholars think it was a Franciscan priest named Salmeron that also did a lot of work in Mexico City.

Jemez Springs a nice place to stop for lunch; a couple of restaurant/bars on the right (driving north) and at least one cafe on the left. It seems to me I used to get burgers at Los Ojos Saloon; I think it was the second bar on the right, but it may have been the first one. Try them both.

Further north are the cave dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, an old settlement of The Ancient Ones, people that came to the area over 12,000 years ago. That’s 10,000 B.C.! (ancient = long, long time). A few groups comprise the ancient pueblo people; the Anasazi and Hopi are among them. Archaeologists think that hunter/gatherers migrated from the four corners area and started settling the Pajarito Plateau around 1100. Here, they took up farming and by 1150 the place was hoppin’ (so to speak). It kept growing and thriving until a couple of new groups of people came along, Navajo and Apache. The Ancient Ones were deeply spiritual and peaceful, not warriors like the newcomers. For this reason, they moved down to the desert floor, around 1300. At this date, the Ancient Ones become referred to as the Pueblo People.

The national monument makes a good side trip after lunch, and of course, there is a museum and gift shop just in case you want a souvenir. I can't remember if the monster rock is before or after Bandelier National Monument, but you'll miss it if you drive south. Driving north, the rock is on the left.

Before you get to Bandelier National Monument, you'll drive along the rim of a caldera which is a sunken volcano. Crater Lake is a famous caldera. If you look at the Google map in hybrid view, you'll notice the arced section of road skirting the rim (and if you back out, you'll see the whole crater). Up here is beautiful Ponderosa Pine parkland.

Further still, you'll reach Los Alamos, home of Los Alamos National Laboratory, of Manhattan project fame, where Oppenheimer and all of his propeller-head buddies invented the atomic bomb. There is a free science museum here at the lab (they have Lasers there).

Keep on driving and you'll finally roll in to Santa Fe, but not before you pass Camel Rock, one of Tinsley's favorite US landmarks. A lot of stuff has happened here in central New Mexico from millions of years of erosion sculpting Camel Rock, to the ancients settling the area 12,000 years ago, to the atomic age of the mid twentieth century. It ought to make good conversation along the drive.

Simple Rules for Lousy Photos of Kids (2)

You can't take great pictures of kids until you can take lousy ones first. Luckily that's easy with the Simple Rules for Lousy Photos series.

Great photos are over-rated: they take forever to set up, the "right" equipment costs an arm and a leg, and nobody really notices the difference anyway, do they? No, they don't, at least not consciously. But subconsciously, people can tell the difference between a great photo and a mediocre one. But in order to take great photos, you need to know how to take bad ones first, right? Welcome back to the Simple Rules for Lousy Photos series.
In part one, I talked about ignoring the light. Now I'll move on to ignoring the height. Camera height that is.

Rule #2. Stoop to their level
Most people see the world from about 5-1/2 feet to 6 feet above the ground (sorry Aunt Mary), so why shouldn't you snap photos from any other elevation? Because most people in the world see life from 5-1/2 feet to 6 feet above the ground (Aunt Mary notwithstanding), that's why.

Interesting photos are taken from above or below this 'normal' height. Because kids are close to the ground, you'll capture them much better from down low. Getting on a kid's level let's people see them as they don't usually see them: the way they are. (Getting low works well for photographing pets too).

Run, spin, drop and shoot

One way to get cool photos of dogs and toddlers is to run way ahead of them, spin around, and then fall to the ground snapping fast and furiously. It usually results in a few good ones, as you can see below. Use an adjustable lens so that you can start zoomed and back it off as your subject trots (or crawls) towards you.
Think about which way the light is coming from before you take off running, try to arrange it so that the light will be behind you off to one side when you spin, drop, and start shooting.
Use a wide angle lens to add drama
If you have bad knees, embrace your height advantage: frame dramatic shots from above using the lines in your composition to play up the height difference. A popular photographic device these days is to shoot from above with a wide angle lens foreshortening the subject. This makes the head appear a lot bigger than the rest of the body. Lilly's picture at the top of the page is taken with a 16mm lens about two feet from her face.

Make Learning Fun on a Family Road Trip

The best way to learn about American history is to experience it first hand. If you drive through the countryside, walk in the woods, taste the local food, and listen to the music, you'll see that they're all related.

History is steeped in the stuff you can see out the side windows of a minivan. Cultural history happens in response to natural history: the Mississippi river cuts a new course daily, creating extremely fertile, but unstable farmland. The fish in the river and crops in the fields are what end up in the cook pot. And the seasonings reflect the climate. The music evolves in response to the daily life. Simply put, when you feel the humidity, taste the gumbo, and listen to the Dixieland Jazz, the natural history and cultural essence of New Orleans makes sense. Geology and biology dictate cultural evolution, and when you see what's happening on a big scale, the little stuff is even cooler. The shape of the barns makes sense.

And all that stuff, put into perspective, gives kids things to look at and think about as you drive through the countryside.

Before and during your road trip, learn about how the place was formed. Discover how that form influenced the local history and heroes. Who were the folk legends and what songs that grew out of those legends?

How did the Rocky Mountains form?
Why are lobsters so grumpy?
How does water get from the ground all the way to the top of a Redwood tree?
Can sink holes eat cars? How?
How about the Appalachian Mountains, how did they form, how did they influence the way the civil war was fought? How did they influence the way of life in Appalachia, and the evolution of southern music, cuisine, and whisky-running (and therefore, muscle cars)?

The answers may just make road trips more fun.
And you may notice the level of conversation with your kids kicking up a notch (Bam! Bam!)

Tips for Road Tripping with Kids (#7)

Let it all hang out.

The seventh in our ongoing series of travel-tested road trip tips.

Tip #7. Travel comfortably

Loose-fitting jeans with a sweatshirt and comfy shoes (maybe even slippers). "Let" the kids wear their pajamas and slippers; bring along their pillow and a blanket for them to burrow down into.

Are We There Yet?

This from On The Road with Chris Epting

Some thoughts on family road trips from a father on Father's Day…
By Chris Epting

It is one of the great, if not the great American question. Metaphorically, many of us challenge ourselves each day to achieve what we set out to accomplish in life. Spiritually, emotionally, financially, and on, we wonder, Are we there yet?

More specifically, it is of course the instinctive question posed by generations of children when traveling, especially when road tripping. (Did children in covered wagons ask this?)
When on a family road trip, the question doesn't quite affect my or my wife's nervous system the first several times it's posed. It's when it enters triple-digits that I think we both start to zone out. But that's okay. After all, what would a family trip be without it?

World's largest: Claire and Charlie Epting with Castroville's giant artichoke
In the footsteps of Janis Joplin: Claire onstage at MontereyJames Dean Died Here: Charlie, Jean, and Claire at the Dean crash memorial in Cholame, CaliforniaSitcom memories: Chris and Charlie on the site where MASH was filmed near Malibu

We take as many car trips as we can, to as many fun and interesting and offbeat and historical places as we can. Certainly part of it is by design, as I am frequently in the middle of writing and researching a book. But the more meaningful part of it is the shared experience and sense of adventure; the chance to live life together as a family and of course, for my wife and I to watch as our children discover, learn, grow, and just simply find their way.

Some of my finest memories up to this point are tied to family road trips, particularly in our home state of California. Like watching the kids pose against a giant artichoke in Castroville, California. ("Artichoke capitol of the world.") Panning in the exact same spot where James Marshall famously discovered gold in 1848. Prowling the stage where Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin performed at Monterey in 1967. Sifting for clues on the lonely road where James Dean met his fate in 1955. Or the kids laughing hysterically as Dad navigates the sometimes-sickening curves along Highway 1, one of the world's most gorgeous coastal drives.

And of course, we have a few basic rules of the road…
1. Have at least a few pieces of music that become your own family soundtrack. For us, "Gene Autry's Greatest Hits" plays a big part of any trip.
2. No DVD/Video players on board. In my opinion, they are divisive and help defeat the purpose of traveling together. I remember once, someone I worked with was showing off his shiny new Navigator with hi-tech DVD system, boasting with glee that now he'd never have to hear his kids in the car ever again. As sad a commentary as I've ever heard.
3. Make it fun for the kids, no matter what. In years to come, when they recount these days, it should be fond, relaxed, whimsical times they recall, not over-taxed and over-complicated moments of stress.
4. Leave things open to chance. If it feels right, take that unexpected exit. Too much planning can suck the life and spontaneity from a trip.
5. Eat in unusual, non-chain joints when you can. Fast food places don't need your business as much as Big Bad Bubba's Bar-B-Q. (And Bubba's food is better!)
6. Meet people along the way. Be they locals or fellow travelers, it can really enhance your experience to hear about others' experiences.
7. Take lots of pictures. Later on in life, you'll probably wish you'd taken even more.
8. Be patient. Kids may not love the open road as much as you do. If that's the case, start small with day trips and maybe you'll wean them into it.
9. Give your kids choices. Spur their imagination with what's out there and let them be a part of deciding where you visit/what you do.
10. Take your time. After all, life is shorter than we'd like it to be. Perhaps we can make it at least seem longer by slowing down a bit.

With that, I can hear our daughter's voice right now.
"Are we there yet, daddy?" No, sweetheart. Not yet. Then our son."Dad?"Yes, fella?"Are we there yet?""Not yet, buddy… Soon."

But no matter how close we really are to our destination, in my mind I always sort of hope we don't get there for awhile. Because I love watching miles pass by with my family. And I know that in the years following their eventual leaving of the nest, I will miss that question terribly. After all, what better reminder that you're a parent than hearing those wonderful little voices asking that classic question from the backseat (even if you've just pulled out of the driveway.) Are we there yet?
--Chris EptingJune 20, 2004

Tips for Road Tripping with Kids (#6)

Snacks and meals can make or break your day. The secret to making time and miles fly is to make mealtime early and healthy snacks abundant.

This is the sixth installment in an ongoing series of travel-tested tips for road tripping with kids.

Tip #6. No-crash snack stash

What comes out of kids is directly related to what goes into them (I'm talking about behavior here, we're done with the puke discussion). Sugar-laden foods make them go up and down real fast (especially if they're strapped into the back seat). Snacks are a favorite time killer among kids (parents too), and that can be OK if you give them the right stuff.

  • Fruit such as Clementines are yummy, healthful, and sufficiently messy to satisfy many kids. Cherries with pits are fun to spit, but they're a wicked choking hazard, so they're no good for young kids (make sure to give the kids a trash bag to spit the seeds into). Grapes and bananas are usually popular too. Two word tip: baby wipes
  • Sugarless gum lasts long so it's a good investment in quiet time (you'll want to provide some sort of trash stash for gum disposal, if you're driving a rental, maybe it's not so important). Trident actually tastes good too.
  • Altoids!
  • Goldfish. A yummy snack that doesn't have a lot of bad stuff in it.
  • Individual apple sauce cups.
  • Animal Crackers
  • Little creal boxes are much more fun to eat then a tupperware container with cereal in it.
  • Other crackers
  • Cheerios
  • Beef jerky
  • Peanut butter
  • Cheese sticks
  • Water is better than coke. Juice works well too, but even 100% pure juice has a lot of sugars in it, so make it a once or twice a day thing.
  • Trail mix is a high protein snack with some M&M treats for the kids (I'm not a complete a sugar fascist).
  • Fruit rolls

Tips for Road Tripping with Kids (#5)

Let's face it, at the end of a long day of driving, you need to unwind a little bit. And it's a good idea to hedge your bets in a strange town.

The fifth (so to speak) in our series of travel-tested road trip tips. This is our favorite tip, by the way...

Tip #5. Pack a flask!

...or a bottle of wine or some herbal tea. We're not in any way advocating drinking and driving. We are however advocating drinking after driving. After a long day of driving with kids in the car, you'll likely want some instant relaxation when you get to the hotel. We like to stay at Residence Inns for a number of reasons unfortunately, Residence Inns don't have an adult lounge. In unfamiliar states you'll often find, much to your surprise, dismay, and chagrin, that beer and wine are not sold at the Qwik-Stop. And the liquor store closed ten minutes before you finally found it an hour after you started looking for it.

Pamper yourself, pack a flask (great martini recipe here). Don't have a flask? Get one here (this is a Christmas hint for any loved ones who happen to be reading this blog). If you opt for wine, don't forget the corkscrew, if Herbal teas are your bag, we recommend the custom blends at Montana Tea and Spice Trading. Specifically, Evening in Missoula, Night on Glacier Bay, and Wild West.

What unwinds your drive?