An insider’s guide to a day trip in D.C.

Updated April 2017

by Karen Stysley

Washington, D.C., offers a perfect day trip for families in the Baltimore/Annapolis area. Catch the MARC train or Metro outside the city limits, and it's an easy ride right into the heart of the nation's capital and all it offers families.

The benefit of living so close to the nation's capital and all it offers is not lost on Lindsey Gill, a mom of two from Odenton. Two to three times a month she loads her kids onto the MARC train and heads into the city for some hands-on education and fun.

"There's just so much history and opportunities we really like to take advantage of," Gill says.

Gill and her son Cullen, 6, and daughter Ella, 4, might be found having lunch at Union Station and then heading to the National Postal Museum. Or they may take a ride on the paddleboats at the Tidal Basin, see a free show at the Kennedy Center or picnic at the National Mall.

DCdaytrip1WElla Gill of Odenton visits D.C."I think it's a neat experience to be able to do all the things that a lot of people travel so far to come see," she says. "There's just so much (the kids) really enjoy."

Weekdays are the best time to visit Washington, D.C., but Gill says sometimes they will brave the crowds on a weekend and hit the "Memorial loop" including the reflecting pool, the FDR Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.

"We try to switch it up," she says, since there are so many different things to see and do in D.C.

Below are a few of the lesser-known sites and activities that are worth a stop on a day trip to D.C. this spring and some spots to get a bite to eat when the kids get hungry.

D.C. fun beyond the typical tourist stops

National Geographic Museum

Features a wide range of changing exhibits for all ages. Check out Earth Explorers, a highly interactive, hands-on, family-friendly exhibition that allows visitors to learn and use methods employed by Nat Geo explorers in the field. Through September 2017.

Admission: Adults $15, ages 5-12 $10. Invisible Boundaries exhibit is free.
Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Getting there: A few blocks from the Farragut North Metro or street parking and nearby parking garages.
1145 17th St. NW

Pit stop:
NGS Café available in the museum with a variety of foods from international to kid fare, open weekdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Or check out District Taco less than a half-mile away at 1919 M St. NW, a popular place to get Mexican-style food.

DCDaytrip3WCullen Gill at the National Postal Museum

Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Any child who has wondered how the mail gets to the house will enjoy learning how the postal system works. Examine many different kinds of stamps, check out a 1931 Model A Ford Parcel Post truck, hear the stories of the Pony Express and much more.
Admission: Free
Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily.
Getting there: Across the street from Union Station. Take the MARC or park at Union Station or on the street.
2 Massachusetts Ave. NE

Pit stop:
Union Station food court offers many fast-food style restaurants in the historic train station.
50 Massachusetts Ave. NE

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Watch millions of dollars being printed and see exhibits about how money is made. The free, 40-minute experience includes an introductory film and gallery tour of the production process. Tickets are required during peak season — March to August — and can be obtained at the ticket booth at Raoul Wallenberg Place beginning at 8 a.m. Tours are every 15 minutes 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays. No tickets required from September to February.
Admission: Free
Hours: The Visitor Center is open weekdays only, 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Getting there: Located near the Smithsonian Metro. Very limited street parking.
300 14th St. SW

Pit stop:
Street vendors, food trucks or the Museum Café in the Ross Administrative Center adjacent to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.), which has pizza, knish and other kid-friendly options.

Click Next below for more fun things to do in Washington, D.C.

Paddle boating in the Tidal Basin

Kids of all ages will enjoy seeing a new point of view of the Jefferson Memorial as they paddle around on the Tidal Basin. If the cherry blossoms are in bloom, it can be especially scenic. New swan paddle boats were added this year. One person 16 years or older is required per boat. All passengers must wear life vests.
Admission: $18/hour for a two-person boat, $30 for a four-person boat, $34/hour for a two-person swan boat.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, mid-March to Labor Day; Wednesday-Sunday Labor Day to Columbus Day weekend, weather permitting.
Getting there: Located close to the Smithsonian Metro or pre-pay on the website for a guaranteed parking spot.
1501 Maine Ave., SW

Pit stop:
Picnic on the Mall, street vendors or food trucks

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Millennium Stage

Free performances are offered daily at 6 p.m. and can expose kids to different styles of music, dance and theater. No tickets are required. Check the website for scheduled shows.
Admission: Free
Getting there: Close to the Foggy Bottom/George Washington University Metro. Some limited paid parking available at a garage.
2700 F Street, NW

Pit stop:
The Kennedy Center's casual KC Café is open daily from 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. selling sandwiches, salads and other dishes.

Washington Youth Garden at the National Arboretum

Part of the National Arboretum, the Youth Garden is specifically designed for families to explore the natural world. See, smell, touch and even taste a wide variety of plants and flowers and enjoy an outdoor classroom with wooden xylophones and a stage. If there's time, explore the rest of the arboretum including a walk through the Fern Valley Native Plant Collection, which has wide trails and bridges that are inviting for kids.
Admission: Free
Hours: Daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Getting there: Parking lot available. No Metro stop nearby.
3501 New York Ave., NE

Pit stop:
Take a picnic to eat in the National Arboretum in the National Grove of State Trees.

Click Next below for tips for a D.C. day trip.

Washington, D.C., day trip tips

Lindsey Gill, of Odenten, has several tips for parents preparing to embark on a day trip to Washington, D.C.

  • Cluster activities so that they are physically close together.
  • Visit only one Smithsonian museum per outing since it can be "kind of overwhelming to do more than one in a day."
  • Ask about scavenger hunts and other activities at museum desks to help keep visits interesting for the kids.
  • Take the Metro or MARC train. Don't drive. Not only does it save the trouble of parking, but the kids will love the ride.
  • Check out the Circulator bus to get around within D.C. It costs just $1. Starting this spring the Circulator will include a route around the National Mall. Check the website for maps and schedules: