10 Things to Do with Kids In Washington, D.C.

A boatload of fabulous, free attractions helped make the nation's capital one of Parents' best city vacation picks.

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Courtesy Hugh Talman, Smithsonian

1. Start with the Smithsonian

Most of the family-friendly attractions in D.C. are free, so there's no pressure to stay all day to get your money's worth. While the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (dinosaurs galore) and National Air and Space Museum (lunar rockets) are obvious stops on the National Mall, don't miss the National Museum of American History. Kids can see Dorothy's ruby slippers, Harry Potter's Hogwarts robe, and a replica of Julia Child's kitchen with interactive features.

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Courtesy of Casey McAdams, Smithsonian

2. Step Outside

In between museums, take breaks by riding the carousel on the mall, suggests Eileen Ogintz, author of The Kid's Guide to Washington, DC.

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Courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Zoo

3. Visit the Pandas

While not near the other main attractions (you'll have to hop on the Metro), the free National Zoo -- with its 2,000 animals, including two giant pandas -- is well worth the hike. In fact, only four U.S. zoos have pandas; the others in San Diego, Atlanta, and Memphis.

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Courtesy of Timothy Hursley

4. Stop at the National Portrait Galley

"We love the big, bright atrium where we can take the kids to see portraits of the presidents," says resident Tricia Bowman Pietravalle, a mom of three. "And if you have a crawler, you'll appreciate that the gallery is mostly carpeted."

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Courtesy of Greg Powers

5. Play & Eat

For a fun meal, try Jaleo, in Penn Quarter, which serves up tapas on a glass-covered foosball table so you can play between courses. Or go celeb-watching at Carmine's Italian restaurant across the street.

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Courtesy of Mary A. Behre

6. Walk by the White House

While it's a bummer that the White House is not currently open for tours, it's still an attraction that the whole family will want to see. Visitors are welcome to walk the perimeter. Look for the First Lady's vegetable garden and bees from the White House hives. Always keep an eye out for the president's helicopter: It lands on the West Lawn several times per week.

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Courtesy of Maxwell MacKenzie

7. See a Show

Washington, D.C., is second only to New York City in the number of theater seats. Take the family to see a performance at The Kennedy Center. If you have older kids, also check out the lineup at Ford's Theatre -- a recently renovated historic theatre that was the site of assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

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Courtesy of Maria Bryk/Newseum

8. Make News

Visit the Newseum, where school-age kids will love the new Be a TV Reporter experience. They can operate the camera and then step in front of the teleprompter to read their own news story. Once they've recorded their report step back and watch as it airs on TV monitors in the Interactive Newsroom. The facility also offers many other hands-on experiences.

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Courtesy George Washington's Mount Vernon

9. Venture into Virginia

Visit George Washington's Mount Vernon, about 16 miles south of Washington, D.C. (Metro service is available.) There, you'll be able to see his mansion, more than 16 original structures, and gorgeous gardens. Drop by the Hands-On History Room in the Education Center where 3- to 8-year-olds can dress in eighteenth-century clothing, play with a Mount Vernon dollhouse, and explore activity boxes.

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Courtesy of Paul Gellsobello/Hotel Rouge

10. Spend the Night

Just six blocks from the White House, the Hotel Rouge entices kids with animal-themed bathrobes and a goldfish bowl in the room. (Rooms with two queen beds start at $149 per night and bunk-bed rooms that sleep up to six start at $219.)

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.

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