Our insider's guide offers helpful tips on how to mix education and enjoyment in the nation's capital.
Fun Things To Do
1. COOL CARRIAGE RIDE Three Jack Russell terriers serve as private guides when you take a twilight tour via horse-drawn Cinderella carriage or fringed surrey. With Beanie, Boomer, and Bambi at your side (or in your lap), you'll trot around the gleaming monuments, past the Smithsonian museums to Capitol Hill, and back down Pennsylvania Avenue. $150 per hour for up to six. 301-407-0007; www.carriagesofthecapital.com
2. PJ PARTY WITH HONEST ABE Wear your pajamas to the "Goodnight Mr. Lincoln" evening walking tour of the Lincoln Memorial. Designed with stories and games for kids ages 4 to 10 and their parents, the hour long tours start at 7 p.m. on Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day or other times by appointment ($5 for kids 12 and under; $10 for adults; sponsored by Washington Walks and Children's Concierge; 202-484-1565 or 877-888-5462; www.washingtonwalks.com). Before heading to bed after your tour, stop for a photo op in the lap of Albert Einstein, a 12-foot seated bronze statue located across the street outside the National Academy of Sciences at 22nd Street and Constitution Avenue, NW.
3. TOWER OVER WASHINGTON Instead of hassling with tickets and lines at the Washington Monument, get a great view of it and the surrounding vistas from the 270-foot-high observation deck in the 1890s-era Old Post Office Tower. Back on earth, try the cream cheese brownies at local favorite Larry's Cookies in the main-floor food court. 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW; 202-606-8691; www.nps.gov/opot
4. HAIL TO THE CHEF Catch a Metro train to Cleveland Park for cookies and cupcakes at Amernick, a bakery co-owned by Ann Amernick, a former White House pastry chef (3313 Connecticut Avenue, NW; 202-537-5855). Then walk downhill for a glimpse of family life, animal style, at the National Zoo. In the Elephant House, don't miss 2-year-old Kandula and his 9,200-pound mom, Shanthi; 2-year-old Kojo and mama Mandara wrestle and cuddle in the Great Ape House. But watch out -- the orangutan family may swing by overhead on the outdoor O Line! 3001 Connecticut Avenue, NW; 202-673-4800; www.nationalzoo.si.edu
5. LET LOOSE ON CAPITOL HILL A little tattered but a lot of fun, the Capital Children's Museum lets young visitors slide down a fire pole, scramble through manholes, and climb behind the wheel of a Metrobus. Older kids can star in cartoons in the Animation Lab or perform experiments in the Chemical Science Center ($7, free for ages 2 and under; 800 3rd Street, NE; 202-675-4120; www.ccm.org). Later, wander through stalls of flowers, crafts, produce, and meats at Eastern Market (7th and C Streets, SE). After crab cakes at Market Lunch, browse at Fairy Godmother, a book and toy store (319 7th Street, SE; 202-547-5474), and stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the U.S. Capitol.
6. JUST PLANE CRAZY Adventurous kids will rock and roll when piloting various airplanes and fighter jets in the flight simulators in the National Air and Space Museum (Independence Avenue at 6th Street, SW). Rather keep your feet on the ground? Test paper airplane designs in the How Things Fly interactive gallery. Or get an Orville-eye-view of the first powered airplane, now at floor level in the "Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age" centennial exhibit. Still got your head in the clouds? Catch a bus to the new Udvar-Hazy Center, a 760,000-square foot annex featuring the Concorde, the first space shuttle, and dozens more air- and spacecraft near Dulles Airport. $7 per person round trip; www.nasm.si.edu
7. THE WHITE HOUSE -- TOP DOWN Order a round of strawberry smoothies at the Sky Terrace atop the Hotel Washington (515 15th Street, NW; 202-638-5900). Pull out $5, $10, and $20 and play I Spy: Can you spot the buildings pictured on the bills (Lincoln Memorial, Treasury, and White House)? Then head down to the Tidal Basin to rent a two- or four-seater pedal boat and splash your way to the Jefferson Memorial and back. $8 to $16 per hour daily from mid-March through September at Tidal Basin Boathouse, Maine Avenue and Tidal Basin, SW; 202-484-0206
8. THAT'S WILD! Starting with the Bengal tiger leaping over your head, the interactive new Behring Family Hall of Mammals brings a world of animals to dramatic life at the National Museum of Natural History. Even young children will be captivated by the Evolution Theater video, a lively blend of Wild Kingdom-type visuals and stand-up comedy. (Grab a seat next to a life-size sculpture of a chimp named Harriet.) Just beyond Dinosaur Hall is the Fossil Café, where you can check out tools and fossilized plants embedded in the tabletops as you munch a chicken sandwich. Constitution Avenue at 10th Street, NW; www.mnh.si.edu
9. SURE CURE FOR GALLERY ALLERGY Take a whirlwind tour of the National Gallery of Art's most kid-friendly features. Under the enormous Calder mobile in the East Wing atrium, take a seat on the rock settees. Then traipse down to the concourse's moving walkway and past the glassy underground waterfall at the Cascade Café/Espresso and Gelato Bar (ask for your free gelato sample). Climb back up the West Wing stairs to view the glittering Mercury statue under the massive dome. End your tour at the outdoor Sculpture Garden, where you can dip your toes in the fountain, study the optical illusion of Roy Lichtenstein's "House 1," and order from the kids' menu at the pretty Pavilion Café. Start at 4th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW; 202-737-4215; www.nga.gov
10. CRUISE A CANAL Glide back to the 1870s on a mule-drawn boat through the C&O Canal in historic Georgetown. The 60-minute ride is narrated by costumed National Park Service rangers and volunteers who may let you feed the mules if you BYOC -- bring your own carrots. (Call for schedules and prices; 1057 Thomas Jefferson Street, NW; 202-653-5190.) It's a pleasant walk past chic shops on M Street to Pizzeria Paradiso, where kids can have a simple Margherita pizza as adults try the Atomica, topped with olives, salami, and hot-pepper flakes. 3282 M Street, NW; 202-337-1245
Where to Stay in DC
LOEWS L'ENFANT PLAZA HOTEL A rooftop pool (covered by a bubble in winter) tops the list of family-friendly features at this sleek hotel, just steps away from the Mall and major museums. Amenities include kids' menus and a kids' gift bag at check-in. Double rooms start at $140 a night on weekends. 480 L'Enfant Plaza, SW; 800-235-6397;www.loewshotels.com
DOUBLETREE GUEST SUITES This all-suite hotel has a rooftop pool (open in summer) and a convenient location near the Kennedy Center and Georgetown. Kids receive a free Carepak canvas backpack with an activity book, crayons, a Berenstain Bears book, and discount coupons. Rates start at $150. 801 New Hampshire Avenue, NW; 202-785-2000; www.doubletree.com
THE HAY-ADAMS Located across Lafayette Park from the White House, this elegantly restored hotel welcomes young guests with a history-based picture book, kids' room service menu, child-size robe, and rubber duck. The double room rate is $270 a night, but ask about family packages that cost much less. 16th and H Streets, NW; 800-424-5054; www.hayadams.com
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Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission from the April 2004 issue of Child magazine.