Best activities in Washington DC for three-year old?
September 6, 2018 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Our family will have this Friday afternoon and evening to spend in Washington, what should we do to keep our toddler entertained? We are staying a short walk from union station so can take the metro, but also have access to a car.
posted by skewed to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
National Zoo? Or just walk around the mall and let her lead you where she wants to go; I loved doing that as a child.
posted by gatorae at 6:43 PM on September 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Go to the National Building Museum which is located just a short walk from Union Station. Visit the Building Zone exhibit designed just for visitors from 2 to 6. Check out some fun building toys in the Play Work Build exhibit. Buy her a toy from one of the best gift shops in DC.
posted by Rob Rockets at 7:01 PM on September 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Seconding the Building Museum. 100%. We went with a three year old and that and the hot dog vendor on the National Mall were the bits he talked about for months afterward.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:07 PM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

The National Zoo is great, and while the weather won't be absolute garbage tomorrow (although still hot and humid with a chance of storms), just be warned it is a big place and pretty spread out.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum is fun, as is Air & Space (that's in ... transition, but it's still good) and they're "classic DC." There's the American History Museum, which has some fun things that might be of interest to a toddler, but even as an adult I find it less exciting.

(Depending on your kid, any of the Smithsonian museums can be a good bet -- as is the National Gallery. But you know your child and I don't.)

I do second the National Building Museum as a cool place.

Unfortunately, you're here in a weirdly transitional weekend where a lot of things have ended but other things haven't started.
posted by darksong at 7:08 PM on September 6, 2018

There are so many great options. From the Zoo (a bit further out on the metro but off the Red Line which goes to Union Station) or Building Museum, mentioned above, to the Natural History Museum which as a great kids room. Or the Air and Space museum, where there are planes and space stations to visit and frequently chats and story times. Or the National Museum of the American Indian, which also has a kids space. Other options are a bit more driving required/more metro needed but are fun. For dinner, many places are kid friendly. You'll have great luck in Chinatown (not a far walk).
posted by anya32 at 7:08 PM on September 6, 2018

While in no way specifically for a toddler, nor even the best choice, the Postal Museum is directly across from Union Station and its downstairs exhibits might be diverting for a bit. They've got several larger walk-through displays, as well as a stagecoach you can get onto and a railroad mail-car you can explore.

It's not a day-long visit, but you could weave it into your day pretty easily. It is also extremely cool for adults who may not realize the absolute gem our Postal Service is compare to almost any other country's.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 7:11 PM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

National Zoo is great- start at the main entrance and work downhill (we did it the other way- still fun but more work).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:41 PM on September 6, 2018

Kids love the postal museum. I have experience with slightly older (~5yo) kids there, but I imagine 3 year olds could get pretty into all the interactive stuff they have there too. It’s accessible and informal-feeling, very kid-friendly - and you might be surprised by how much you learn.
posted by mosst at 7:57 PM on September 6, 2018

The building museum would be my first choice, but I bet the postal museum would be my ex-toddler (now 7-year-old)'s first choice.

But mainly I remember museums in general as being a surprising success from an early age. Walking around looking at odd stuff with your family, how could a toddler not love that?
posted by bfields at 8:26 PM on September 6, 2018

My three-year-old loved Natural History and Air & Space (but he was (and remains!) SPACE CRAZY). He liked the zoo, but he liked the Metro trip to get to the zoo even better than the zoo itself! At the time we lived somewhere without subways and he was crazy for subways.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:11 PM on September 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

The only warning I would give about the Air and Space Museum is that if you have a really interactive kid, they will get really excited to see every cockpit, run towards it to click the buttons and sit in the seat, and leave a toddler-sized smear on the plexiglas they didn’t see covering the whole section. And weep. Every. Time.

(We didn’t stay long. It went much better at age 5.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:02 AM on September 7, 2018

Plenty of ideas for the afternoon (I'd say Building Museum and/or Postal Museum). The Building Museum in particular has plenty of exhibits that are of interest only to adults, so you can take turns touring them while your child plays. For the evening, go to Eastern Market, have dinner at Matchbox (but make reservations), and shop at Labyrinth Games and East City Books.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:23 AM on September 7, 2018

We did this with our niece and nephew and they loved it:
posted by brilliantine at 6:51 AM on September 7, 2018

(my similar ask)

My kid was almost 2, not 3, but we ended up going to the National Zoo which was good because it was free. We also hit up a nearby playground and walked to the White House and that was about it. To be honest, even the zoo was a bit much for my kid who very much preferred to just explore his near surroundings and getting stroller rides was more restraining than he'd prefer. A subway ride can be fun for a 3yo, too. If you can find a good playground and maybe some no-agenda walking through a national monument that is FREE so kiddo can go at kiddo's pace, that might be best.
posted by jillithd at 7:21 AM on September 7, 2018

Pro tip for Metro to the the National Zoo:

Get off at Cleveland Park, not Woodley Park/National Zoo. The walk from the Cleveland Park station to the Zoo is downhill. At the end of your visit go left on Connecticut from the exit, and walk downhill to the Woodley Park/National Zoo station.
posted by jgirl at 8:35 AM on September 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

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