Nerd & Nerdling in the Nation's Capitol
June 29, 2012 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Grown-up nerd and seven year-old nerdling are visiting Washington D.C. next week. ISO amusement, entertainment, novelty and awesomeness. Snowflakes aplenty inside.

Lil' Thumbscrew and I are visiting D.C. next week (from the 3rd - 7th) and we are TOTALLY STOKED. We're a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things to do, however. Of special concern is the fact that Lil' Thumbscrew is not a 100% typical kid (he's enthralled by science and other grown-up stuff, he's capable of being quiet/still/attentive for a decent length of time, etc). We already have lodging, a car and a working knowledge of the Metro.

What We're NOT Interested In: the typical "Nation's Capitol" stuff - the White House, Arlington Cemetery, bus tours, tour-tours, monuments, etc.

What We ARE Interested In: science, medicine (our favorite show is "Mystery Diagnosis"), hidden gems, secret places, hands-on activities, cool playgrounds, DIY projects, physics, vehicles, experiments, blowing stuff up, thrill rides, not being forced to socialize with large groups (the introverted acorn does not fall far from the introverted tree).

Special Caveat: I love, love, love food. Lil' Thumbscrew despises eating with a fiery passion. Therefore, if there are any awesome eateries which have a kid-friendly atmosphere (but not necessarily kid-friendly cuisine), we'd be very interested. The "Road Food"-ier, the better.
posted by julthumbscrew to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (36 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also: has anyone done The Mansion on O Street's treasure hunt? It seems like it'd be super-cool, but there are some scathingly negative reviews online.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:34 PM on June 29, 2012

Best answer: I'm assuming you're already planning on the Smithsonian science museums and such. The Air & Space Museum and the Natural History Museum, at least; the American History Museum may also be fun for the pop culture element.

I was personally pretty much floored by the Holocaust Museum, but that may be really heavy for a seven-year-old.

There's an International Spy Museum that also may appeal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:40 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Smithsonian is your best bet. I'm thinking the Natural History museum might be the first stop. I personally can't get out of the American History museum.

There's a neat looking x-ray exhibit at the National Zoo.

Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt-I've seen a similar exhibit at the Rosecrutian Museum. When I was 7 you couldn't drag me away from it it was so facinating.

For vehicles, Air and Space museum.

For you, they even have an exhibit at the American History Musuem about the evolution of Chinese food in the US called "Sweet and Sour".

Now I'm getting amped for MY trip to D.C. next year.

Also, the FBI tour is closed but the alternatives sound interesting.

Now, the bureau of printing and engraving! That's for me!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:43 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Will you have a car or are you willing to walk 1-2 miles during a record breaking heat wave?

If you answered yes, may I suggest the off-beat and slightly gruesome National Museum of Health and Medicine? Where else are you going to find the actual bullet that felled Lincoln AND a large selection of bezoars under one roof?!?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:47 PM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, guys - keep 'em coming! And yes, we will have a car (and GPS).
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:49 PM on June 29, 2012

Best answer: Mr. Yogato is delicious.

The Portrait Gallery's Luce Center has a pretty neat little scavenger hunt (and other interactive games). It's never crowded and extremely air-conditioned.
posted by troika at 12:57 PM on June 29, 2012

If you are interested in Air and Space, make sure you check out the annex - Udvar-Hazy Center out by Dulles airport. It's amazing.
posted by bluefly at 12:57 PM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Also, for kids, the National Building Museum has some fun stuff.
posted by bluefly at 12:58 PM on June 29, 2012

Building Museum
posted by bluefly at 12:58 PM on June 29, 2012

DEFINITELY Air and Space -- there's an interactive section called How Things Fly that explains stuff like air pressure and lift on the first floor (gallery 109) that it sounds like your kid will LOVE. I took a field trip there with mysecond graders and they thought it was awesome. I don't know about the summer but they sometimes have demonstrations as well.

It might also be worth getting tickets for some IMAX stuff or planetarium shows there. It sounds like Air and Space could be a very worthwhile full day for you.

Also, don't underestimate the power of the zoo! It might be worth seeing what different animals are in DC than your local zoo (e.g. Komodo dragons and giant pandas...awesome!).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:00 PM on June 29, 2012

To do (I'd budget a couple hours for each of these, BTW):

The National Building Museum has lots of stuff for kids

The Udvar-Hazy Center, which is part of Air and Space Museum in Northern VA, has even more planes and rockets (including a space shuttle, the Concorde, and the Enola Gay) and flight simulators that will actually go upside down if you want.

The National Cryptologic Museum, which is part of the NSA and in Maryland, is uber-nerdy, not sure how attuned to 7yos.

To eat:
Ray's Hell Burger, which has the best burgers in the area hands-down.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:01 PM on June 29, 2012

Mt. Vernon is a pretty cool trip. Lots of information about the horticulture and agriculture of the time and the many ways Washington experimented and improved upon those. There is also the potential for some interesting discussion about slavery and how integral it was.
posted by goggie at 1:03 PM on June 29, 2012

You might like the aerial show at the Gaylord National.

Be sure to follow Food Truck Fiesta for the best of the food trucks which have exploded in popularity around the city.
posted by hmo at 1:10 PM on June 29, 2012

The Insect Zoo within the Natural History Museum always felt like the nerdiest spot within an already pretty nerdy museum.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine is cool (at least I hope it is - I went to the old one several times and the limited "preview" of the new location last year), but might be a little too much for a seven year old. "Slightly gruesome" is an understatement. The old location could have fueled an entire childhood of nightmares.

That said, maybe nightmares are good for kids. Builds character.
posted by The Lamplighter at 1:14 PM on June 29, 2012

Oh yeah, and the video game exhibit at the American Art Museum!
posted by The Lamplighter at 1:17 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, one last post. Everyone else is also recommending the Air and Space museum but I'm worried that you'll skip it since it is the epitome of "typical Nation's Capital stuff". That place is pure science magic and will make you feel like we live in the shadow of a lost civilization of space-faring giants.

Also, the invertebrate house at the zoo.
posted by The Lamplighter at 1:21 PM on June 29, 2012

That said, maybe nightmares are good for kids. Builds character.

Full disclosure, I still get the creeps thinking about all those bezoars! Them and all the child skeletons. Sorry for the spoilers/nightmares!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2012

Ooh! One of the "unique, interactive exhibits and hands-on activities" at the Koshland Science Museum in downtown DC is the Infectious Disease Gallery, which "shows what viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites look like up close. You’ll also get a lesson on how these things cause infectious diseases."

Also, for food: Ben's Chili Bowl. And Market Lunch at Eastern Market. And Amsterdam Falafel Shop. And maybe the Tastee Diner (in Bethesda MD). DC also has legendary Ethiopian food (I can't pick just one!), which is a hands-on experience as much as a meal. The cafeteria at the American Indian Museum (next door to Air & Space) is also pretty cool.

Hope you have a fantastic trip.
posted by argonauta at 1:47 PM on June 29, 2012

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
posted by MsMolly at 1:52 PM on June 29, 2012

Best answer: National Arboretum - it's Bonsai year/summer (again).

National Zoo - everyone and especially kids loves the Pandas.

Smithsonian National Folklife Festival is like a State Fair with things from all over the US and the world. (But not enough good ole US carnival food.)
posted by caclwmr4 at 3:22 PM on June 29, 2012

Seconding Ben's Chili Bowl - you can sit at the counter! Watch the cooks! Have a Plain hotdog!
posted by pupdog at 3:22 PM on June 29, 2012

How has no one mentioned the Einstein Memorial at the National Academy of sciences yet? On Constitution Ave NW between 21st and 22nd sts NW. You can sit on his lap!!
posted by sarahnade at 3:46 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Came in to suggest the Udvar-Hazy Center, so glad that's taken care of. I mean, a friggin' space shuttle!

In terms of good food with a kid-friendly atmosphere, can't speak highly enough of Two Amy's. They make a concerted effort to be family friendly, and the pizza is really good (if you're into brick oven style).
posted by General Malaise at 4:14 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Roadfood mentions Ben's and the Florida Avenue Grill ( soul food).
posted by brujita at 4:35 PM on June 29, 2012

Best answer: Check your memail.
posted by easily confused at 5:05 PM on June 29, 2012

Seconding sarahnade's suggestion of the Einstein Memorial. It is an often-missed delight.
posted by thebestsophist at 5:26 PM on June 29, 2012

+1 to the International Spy Museum (the first few things are a bit hokey, but it improves a lot after that) and the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.
posted by maxim0512 at 5:29 PM on June 29, 2012

Best answer: I was an attentive, nerdy kid growing up in the area, and the Air and Space museum was and continues to be one of my favorite museums ever. The Udvar-Hazy Center, out by Dulles Airport, is definitely worth checking out, too - especially since they now have the space shuttle Discovery. In the same vein, the museum at the Goddard Space Flight Center is pretty cool and great for people who are really interested in SCIENCE! rather than just on the periphery. Everyone has mentioned these, but honestly you really don't want to miss them and I can't pass up an opportunity to mention them.

The National Zoo is actually a really great zoo, which I didn't totally appreciate until I had gone to some other zoos around the country. They really make an effort to educate visitors rather than just have them gawk at the animals.

If you're interested in taking a day trip up to Baltimore, the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center are both really awesome and both on the Inner Harbor.

Finally, are you staying in the District or out in the suburbs? Simply being in DC on the evening of the 4th of July is one of the most preposterous experiences ever. The entire city is constantly exploding for several hours, from the massive national fireworks display on the Mall to all of the ad hoc neighborhood shows all around town. Literally everyone is setting off some kind of firework, everywhere.
posted by malthas at 5:44 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a transplant who has lived here for a few years now, we visited the Smithsonian Postal Museum located right across the street from Union Station. Lots of full-size displays (train cars, a cut-away truck) and it was only redone a few years ago, and not very well known. Amazing stories and interactive exhibits, it is one of the not-well-known places.

My youngest kids are too young to make it to the Rock Creek Park Planetarium, but it should be worth the effort. (There is one at the Air & Space Museum as well.)

If your 7-year old like trains, the B & O Railroad Museum in Baltimore is worth the drive. There's a 1/2 mile out-and-back train, the roundhouse is huge, and there is a lot of nice history here.

You didn't say what part of DC you will be staying, but if you are in the McLean area the Clemyjontri Park is an amazing children's park. Carousel, take a look at the aerial map - it is a huge play area that is very well maintained. If you can make it early in the day before it gets too hot (or late in the afternoon if its cool enough out) that would be important, there's not a lot of shade.

Glen Echo Park's Puppet Show can be a fun diversion, depending on the temperament of your little guy.

Hiking would certainly be on the list, perhaps to famous battlefields to soak up the history. Manassas, Monocacy, Antietam are all about 30 or 40 miles out. There are several other hiking options, such as Great Falls Park where you can hike along a wooden raised trail above the Potomac rapids to the middle of the river, take a touristy (IMO) barge-boat ride up and back through the C & O locks, and if you are up for it the 'Billy Goat Trail' goes high above the Potomac with awesome views from up there.

You mention amusement parks, a close one is Six Flags which also has a water park, but I cannot vouch for it as I haven't visited it in-person (yet). King's Dominion is a bit further away, but I've been told it is worth the effort.

For some culture, you may want to check out what is playing at The Imagination Stage (a theatre for children and adults in Bethesda) and Wolf Trap in Vienna VA. If the Kennedy Center doesn't have anything appropriate, there are many smaller theatres in the city, or even out in the suburbs (like Olney) that might be worth looking into.

Thinking about that favorite topic - food - since I'm out in the 'burbs I can only speak to what is local to me in the Montgomery County Maryland environs. Korean Soon-Tofu? Lighthouse Tofu is a good bet. Simple Japanese cafe with great sushi / noodles / small dishes? Temari Cafe I like. A simple Chinese place that serves fried dumplings, xiao long bao, and a great rice-flour-steamed ribs on carrots? A & J's gets my vote (all in Rockville). A great Szechuan place also in Rockville is Sichuan Jin River.
posted by scooterdog at 5:56 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention art at all, but take half an hour after the Air & Space Museum and visit the Hirshhorn for this exhibit. I was in DC a couple of weeks ago and I'm pretty sure the only way I could have loved this exhibit more than I did would be to have seen it when I was seven. Blue plastic stuff hanging from the ceiling which you are allowed to play with! Don't miss it.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:13 PM on June 29, 2012

A day on the Mall is good but very tiring. A day on the Mall on rented bicycles is EXCELLENT.
posted by yclipse at 7:59 PM on June 29, 2012

I enjoyed my time at the Newseum. One of the exhibits in an interactive news room.
posted by oceano at 9:05 PM on June 29, 2012

Best answer: While you're at the Natural History Museum, don't miss a tarantula feeding at the Insect Zoo. To feed yourself, there's the cafeteria at the American Indian Museum, the food court at the Old Post Office Building, or Teaism near the Archives Metro (not kid-friendly food, but there's a koi pond!).

The pandas get all the hype, but my favorite part of the zoo is the Small Mammal House. Science nerds will especially appreciate the naked mole rats, which may help us cure cancer. For a meal after the zoo, if you can get past the McDonalds near the Metro, the restaurant Open City might be a good choice.

I've never been and it's a bit expensive, but the Crime Museum (near the Spy Museum) might be interesting, especially the CSI exhibits.

-1 for the Koshland Science Museum. I thought it was too text-heavy for kids, and the text wasn't all that interesting.

For the 4th, if the large crowds on the Mall don't appeal to you, there are plenty of other places around the city with great views of the fireworks but much smaller crowds. I like watching from the north side of Cardozo High School (walkable from U St or Columbia Heights Metro).
posted by kayram at 5:22 AM on June 30, 2012

Lots of great mentions already - scooterdog hit a lot of the hidden gems, and I'm about to add one more. Since he likes vehicles, you might take a picnic to Gravelly Point Park (it's just outside the city in Virginia along the George Washington Parkway, just north of National Airport; if you're headed down to Mount Vernon, it's on the way, though you'll have to go past the park and turn around, because you can only enter heading northbound). The attraction of GPP is its proximity to the airport - it's right on the water and at the end of a runway, so as the planes come in, it basically seems like they're about to land on your head! It's great fun in the ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh we'reallabouttodie PHEW! way. Here are pictures taken there and some video too.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:38 PM on June 30, 2012

Best answer: My family went to DC when I was... ten, I think? Maybe eleven at the latest. We basically did very little but the various Smithsonian museums.


Oh yeah, and we saw fireworks over the Mall what with it being the 4th.

We looked at some government stuff, went up the Washington Monument, visited the Library of Congress... but mostly we did the Smithsonians. It was a delight for a young nerd in the early eighties, I'm sure it will be a delight for one in the early teens as well.
posted by egypturnash at 1:51 PM on June 30, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks SO much to everyone for your suggestions (with super-duper, extra-special thanks to easily confused). Lil' Thumbscrew and I managed to hit Udvar-Hazy, the Natural History Museum, the Spy Museum, the White House and the Washington Monument. We're planning another trip in a month or so to see the National Museum of Health and Medicine and the Building Museum.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:06 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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