Making plans for Nigel.
July 17, 2011 11:26 AM   Subscribe

(Local attractions filter): Washington, DC, for teenagers.

I am importing my 15-year-old younger brother into DC for Otakon weekend, and also a few days before and after. Every time he comes, I'm at a loss for where to take him and what to do with him, and I appreciate your suggestions. Some specifics:
  • The time window is July 27th through August 2nd.
  • He's been to DC several times before, so just seeing the Capitol, the White House, and the National Monument is no longer inherently thrilling.
  • He's not much for the Smithsonian museums, especially now that they're chock-a-block with out-of-state visitors with children.
  • We've repeatedly been to the zoo.
  • Baltimore and Annapolis destinations are OK, keeping in mind that we've already been to the BMA, the Walters, the AVAM, and the Aquarium multiple times.
  • No camping or overnight trips to the country.
Vague ideas of what we're looking for:
  • "Stuff adults do for fun," i.e., he's not interested in kiddie events.
  • Some sort of musical act or show, although nothing interesting seems to be playing nearby, and I'm loath to spend $50 to go to a random show at the 9:30 Club. Obviously, he can't go to 18+ shows.
He doesn't seem to have any hobbies or interests beyond videogames, anime, and websurfing, so your guess is as good as mine about what he might like. For reference, last year we went to an Arcade Fire concert and enjoyed it tremendously.
posted by Nomyte to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (24 answers total)
Take him to a show at Fort Reno! It's free, you get to see local bands, and you can pack a picnic. Shows are Mondays and Thursdays at 7:15.

Try the Baltimore Aquarium, too.
posted by nonasuch at 11:37 AM on July 17, 2011

I searched in my neighborhood listserv and here are some iteas:

- "We had my husband's teenage siblings last summer (ages 14 and 15), and they liked Mt. Vernon, the pool, just playing with neighborhood kids, and they were a great help around the house and with my younger kids. Depending on how free-range you are (and how trustworthy/capable your nieces are), you could give them a map of DC and let them take the metro by themselves somewhere or drop them off somewhere (not the mall) and let them come back on their own. That would be a great adventure for them."

- "My very bookish 12-year old niece LOVED the Library of Congress and Politics and Prose. There's also that super-cool international bookstore on 14th street--I think it's called Candide something. Also, if they're into shopping at all, it's fun to shop amongst the little boutiques of U Street or Georgeown (most people are not used to shopping among bricklined sidewalks!), and there's really not a store you can't find at Evil Tysons (evil because I detest those congested roads around it!)"

- "Perhaps they might like some fun places to eat? Cupcake places are ALWAYS fun--Hello Cupcake in Dupont Circle, or Red Velvet in Chinatown has the bonus of Tangysweet frozen yogurt attached (and tangy yogurt hasn't come to all cities yet so that might be fun (though you could try Sweetgreen right here on the Hill for that too!) I also think catching the Curbside Cupcakes pink van when they're close to/on the Hill would be a blast-go to to check their schedule each day. Matchbox is fun to eat at, and though reivews of Sticky Rice have been spotty lately, there's that (or Merry-Go-Round sushi in Chinatown is fun, with the boats of sushi that float by), or perhaps Ethiopian at Ethiopic would be a welcome change."

I'd also add Capital BikeSharing for bike adventures. Atlas Theatre might have some sort of shows going on.
posted by k8t at 11:39 AM on July 17, 2011

Check out Pandora's Cube in College Park for some videogame/anime shopping.
posted by mauvest at 11:46 AM on July 17, 2011

Not sure how much it costs, but I think your brother would like the Spy Museum.
posted by littlesq at 11:47 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

In your list of museums, you did not mention the National Museum of Health and Medicine. They have a lot of anatomy specimens.

Also, have you and your brother been to the Mt Vernon Estate --George Washington's home (plus gardens, graveyard). You can bike there on a bike path to make it more adventurous.
posted by Wolfster at 11:54 AM on July 17, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to all so far.

nonasuch: He's been to the Aquarium many times. Fort Reno looks like a nice way to spend an evening.

k8t: I'm afraid the cupcake fad hasn't reached teenage boys yet. Also, boutique shopping isn't quite his cup of tea. I'll see if there are any interesting speakers at Politics & Prose that week.

mauvest: They clear their shelves for Otakon, where they have a dealer booth.

littlesq: Thanks, duly noted.
posted by Nomyte at 11:54 AM on July 17, 2011

Nthing the spy museum and the Newseum. Have dinner at an Ethiopian place; the alitcha dishes are the least spicy.
posted by brujita at 11:55 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

On August 1, Screen on the Green is showing "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" at dusk on the National Mall.

If you want a break from the heat and "tourist-y" stuff, he might also like just hanging out for a couple of hours on his laptop, as many of us adults do for fun, at a coffeeshop like Busboys & Poets or Tryst.

(and ah, makes sense re: dealer booth)
posted by mauvest at 12:02 PM on July 17, 2011

It seems like you need a more directed kind of list of attractions than just "cool stuff to do in DC."

- What about reading Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation and then seeing as many of the DC sites as you can? (I think this sounds fun, but maybe I'm morbid.)

- Finding all the different kinds of African food in DC you can try? Ethiopian is just the beginning ...

- Has he watched The Wire? If so, a Wire-centric tour of Baltimore might be entertaining.

- Even though they're both expensive, I enjoyed the Newseum and others I know have enjoyed the Spy Museum. (Tickets are, like, $18-$20, I think.)

- What about smaller, non kid-friendly Smithsonian museums? (For example, I think it's worth it to wander into the Renwick Gallery just to see the sculpture Ghost Clock.)

- I think the National Building Museum is cool. And the Lego exhibit they have going will likely pull in some annoying tourist types, but may be worth it anyway. (Its non-Mall location will help reduce the numbers.)
posted by purpleclover at 12:03 PM on July 17, 2011

It's possible he might like the National Arboretum--esp. if you have 2 bikes you can take and ride around. Even if he's not so much into ornamental gardens, the bonsai exhibits and koi pond are pretty cool.

DC and environs is also great for ethnic food if he has an adventuresome palate, things like sushi or Ethiopian where it's not just different food, but a whole different atmosphere. Tyler Cowan's Ethnic Dining Guide is a good resource for figuring out what/where.

Great Falls in general, and the Billy Goat trail in particular. Billy Goat is great in that it's kind of challenging for a hike, but is still doable by a typical teenager even if the only shape they are in is roundish.

Jug Bay/Patuxent River Park. There are a lot of little components that in and of themselves may not be a big wow, but altogether make a worthwhile trip--the Patuxent Rural Life Museum, the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, kayak/canoe rentals, etc...
posted by SomeTrickPony at 12:03 PM on July 17, 2011

My 15 year old likes going to baseball games, playing laser tag at Shadowland, going to Bengies drive-in theater, and browsing for music, movies, and games at CDepot.
posted by hoppytoad at 12:24 PM on July 17, 2011

George Clinton is playing at DAR Constitution Hall (along with EU and Biz Markie!) on July 29. Might not be where his taste in music would naturally lead him, but definitely a one-of-a-kind experience.
posted by argonauta at 12:25 PM on July 17, 2011

Spy museum is great and so is the Museum of Crime and Punishment AND the Newseum. All are a little expensive, but worth it. Plus, they are all adult-centered museums.

You can also go kayaking on the Potomac and look for free outdoor movies, there are tons in the area in the summer.
posted by brynna at 12:46 PM on July 17, 2011

He might enjoy the cryptologic museum north of the city.
posted by destro at 1:27 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

The National Pinball Museum, obviously.

Unfortunately, the National Museum of Health and Medicine is closed. Word on the street is that it's not going to reopen, in Silver Spring or anywhere else.

I'm not sure if they're still there, but you could show him the Toynbee Tiles (there's 2 in DC, or at least there were). Or maybe do some more research about DC street art in general - the Red line between Silver Spring and Union Station is a great place to take in graffiti.
posted by god hates math at 2:13 PM on July 17, 2011

I know I sound like a broken record when people ask about things to do in The District but the National Cathedral really is worth the visit. There's an organ demonstration on the 27th at 12:30 PM, a gargoyle tour on the 28th at 6:30 PM, and my personal favorite (all together now) the 12:30 PM carillon recital on the 30th, which should be heard from the Bishop's Garden if at all possible. I realize it doesn't sound much like a great teenage activity, but you can go to museums in any big city. To see a similar cathedral outside of Washington you'd have to go to Europe.

For something maybe more up your brother's alley, and if you're willing to schlep out to Gaithersburg, there's the Ultimate Gaming Zone.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:02 PM on July 17, 2011

I've enjoyed the National Building Museum. It's free, so even if he hates it, you've not lost anything. It's quite near the spy museum. You could also try the less popular Smithsonian museums. I went to Air and Space a couple years back and, you're right, it was awful. Overrun with people and aimed at little kids. But there are loads of museums and some are bound to be less popular. (I think the African-American museum has opened by now and, if I recall correctly, it was going to be a bit out of the way, so there might be fewer people.)

The Great Falls of the Potomac? Only works if you have a car, it's not obnoxiously hot and you guys are up for a bit of hiking.
posted by hoyland at 5:03 PM on July 17, 2011

Rent a canoe or bikes and paddle or ride along the C&O Canal near Georgetown. You can also look into pick up sports that may go on near you. Here is a list of pick up ultimate games.
There are also a number of communities that do occasional music in the park type events. Falls Church City does it every Thursday.
In general, this question might be a bit easier to answer if you specified where you live and what your means of transportation are.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 5:49 PM on July 17, 2011

Also re: the Newseum, right now they're running a deal where kids (18 and under) get in free with an adult's paid admission, so it's even more worth it than usual! And nthing the Spy Museum. I've gone as a teen and an adult and it is always so cool. Oh and if you're willing to venture to the burbs, maybe see if there is anything interesting at Jammin Java. They regularly have very affordable all-ages shows.
posted by brilliantine at 8:09 PM on July 17, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, the Spy Museum and the Newsoleum are now under consideration. Thanks to everyone who suggested them.

mauvest: Every time I've gone to B&P, it's been a frustrating and loud experience. Same with Tryst. I don't work in the city, so maybe they have a different vibe on weekday afternoons. At one point I was trying to get into the B&P weekly open mic, but it always sold out before I got there. I quickly realized that I was spending an awful lot of time trying to get into a weekly open mic. Some things aren't meant to be.

purpleclover: He's not a reader and doesn't watch shows. We're on a budget, so we're trying not to turn this into "how many times can we eat out in one week." We'll take a look at the Renwick and the NBM.

SomeTrickPony: We'll consider the arboretum, although neither of us has bikes. Great Falls hiking sounds like a great idea. My family lives in a medium-sized city that has plenty of options for sushi and Ethiopean, so that's not really an interesting subject.

argonauta: That would be expensive to do on a whim.

destro: Good suggestion!

god hates math: Awesome! I've never even heard of it.

ob1quixote: I MeMailed you, but then found out what I wanted to know on their website. Sounds like a good option to consider.

martinX's bellbottoms: My profile gives my exact location. I have a car, but Metro access is better.

brilliantine: Thanks for the heads-up. Jammin Java is a bit too far afield, considering that it's not Metro-accessible and would be an unpleasant drive.
posted by Nomyte at 9:17 PM on July 17, 2011

Washington Improv Theater at the Source theater has multiple shows every weekend in the $10-15 range. If you're lucky iMusical will have shows while he's in town. I've seen them many times and it's like magic. I'm 41, but I'm pretty sure that even at 15 I would've enjoyed a comedy musical show, made up on the spot, about a narwhal that killed my family and how Im going to exact my revenge on it. All because the audience suggestion that night was a smartypants shouting "NARWHAL!!"
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:57 AM on July 18, 2011

The Air & Space museum annex by Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy center, might be worth a try. Admission is free but it's $15 to park (and that is free after 4pm).

The Luce Center at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art has a scavenger hunt that he might find appealing. I haven't done it but from what I understand you just show up and the whole thing is conducted via text message. It's free.

West End Cinema is showing Conan O'Brien Can't Stop. $11.

Both the Nationals and Orioles typically have cheap day-of-game walk up tickets (Nats $5, Orioles I am unsure).
posted by troika at 7:23 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

hoyland: "I've enjoyed the National Building Museum. It's free, so even if he hates it, you've not lost anything."

Not anymore. It's $8 for adults and $5 for kids now. Blame the budget and the economy.
posted by schmod at 9:28 AM on July 18, 2011

Response by poster: What we ended up doing, and the accompanying verdicts:
  • Spy Museum — expensive; too much reading; practically swarming with adolescent boys; too gimmicky; irritating way to start the tour (visitors are admitted in parties; you are then corralled into a room where you memorize your "secret identity" for a short while; then you watch a silly intro film; then you enter the display area).
  • National Building Museum — beautiful building; few displays; a lot of reading; several displays primarily of interest to DC locals (e.g., neighborhood histories).
  • Gift shop at the Museum of Unnatural History — spent a surprising amount of time here.
  • Museum of Industry (Baltimore) — lots of cool machinery; text quantity manageable; interesting info on cards; many cool displays, including a functioning machine shop.
Regretted not seeing: National Pinball Museum (it was only open on the days Otakon was in session); National Cathedral (failed to generate interest).
posted by Nomyte at 9:46 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

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