DC, but like FAST
July 26, 2019 12:05 PM   Subscribe

My parents have taken each of the grandchildren for a special trip to Washington, D.C. the summer between kindergarten and 1st grade with exciting things like hotel pools and room service and an itinerary of the special kid's choosing. My daughter's trip has been very delayed for (unimportant) Grown Up Reasons, but it's finally her turn in August and she's been waiting a whole year and she's so excited! Now what?

I've been to DC a bunch but I'm a boring grown-up. I've also searched but I'm hoping for some fresh new suggestions.

She's 7 and going into 2nd grade in the fall. I'm trying to help her figure out what she wants to do. She only has a long weekend there, so not much time at all--probably 2 full days and some change.

They already plan to go to the zoo, and we are researching a twilight bus tour of the monuments so that she can see them all in a condensed time frame. But what else should she do? Hit me with your best of the best suggestions. Looking mostly for museums/experiences but also would take picky kid restaurant suggestions or super great places for donuts and/or ice cream, her two favorite treats.

Things already on the list (but nothing more than a 'maybe' yet):
-cafeteria at American Indian museum
-First Ladies' dress exhibit
-National Portrait Gallery or another art-related thing (suggestions would be helpful here)
-rocks & minerals at the Museum of Natural History

Relevant notes:
-She's an avid reader but hasn't tackled much American history in school yet. We've been reading some kid-oriented books about the First Ladies and I've been pointing out relevant-to-American-history stories as we read Rebel Girls and things like that, but a lot of the American history/founding of the nation type stuff will be a little out of context for her.
-She likes animals and LOVES art of all kinds and is a budding feminist. She follows politics to the extent a 7 year old can as her father works in a political field and takes her to tons of events.
-While she's traditionally been a girly-girl with the sparkles and the ballet and whatnot she's got a new-found appreciation for camping and hiking and outdoorsy stuff.
-She is also an enthusiastic Girl Scout.

Help me make this much-anticipated trip super great for her!
posted by cheese to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (41 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I loved the Kennedy Center as a kid and still love it now. They’re playing Aladdin in the opera house through mid-September, and the production is gorgeous. I really recommend it as a Very Fancy outing for her and her grandparents!
posted by rue72 at 12:09 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

How long is the whole trip ? If there's room in the itinerary for a side trip to Colonial Williamsburg, it would be a great match for her age and interests. It's a 4 hour drive and they'd have to spend a night to make it worthwhile.
posted by nantucket at 12:19 PM on July 26, 2019

Seeing the Constitution at the National Archive is pretty cool. Our kids very much enjoyed the Bug exhibit at the Smithsonian. Keep tabs on any planned events for the Mall, too, in case your trip coincides with Some Big Thing that will snarl traffic.
posted by jquinby at 12:19 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Combine art and ice cream with great gelato in the cafeteria after a walk through the National Gallery of Art. On the way in, you can pick up the highlights tour for kids leaflet if she doesn't have an idea of what she wants to see. And for a seven year old, the architecture of the East Wing might be more interesting than the art.

Remember, because most of the sites and museums here are free, it's fine to go in for 30 minutes or 15 minutes or even just 3 minutes.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:20 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Doughnuts and ice cream? Oh, I can do that. Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken has stellar doughnuts near to the white house/national mall area (note, reasonably limited hours); Farmers and Distillers has EXCELLENT doughnuts (I often stop in there just to buy them - they're often still warm - the rest of the menu is just fine too, but the doughnuts are the thing) also reasonably in the vicinity of downtown. Honestly my favorite ice cream place around is Jeni's which is...not really all that local...but Ice Cream Jubilee is also great too and has several local locations. If you find yourself in Arlington or Alexandria, consider Duck Donuts which are custom-topped to order and really, really fun for kids (plus delicious!) Dolcezza gelato is everywhere and pretty delicious.

Do note that it will be HOT HOT HOT so consider a/c in all planning. For an activity that is more regular-DC than tourist-DC but still weather appropriate, it might be fun to go kayaking* at Navy Yard followed by Ice Cream Jubilee or a splash in the excellent splash pool. I love doing it because it's one outdoorsy thing that's still kind of tolerable in the heat.

*this says it's "appropriate" for anyone 8 and up, but I don't know how hard and fast a rule that is - if you think she's up to it, and she can fit in their PFD, they're pretty relaxed there.

The American History Museum has an exhibition of dresses from each of the first ladies, which was a bit hit with my similarly-inclined cousin of about the same age. Plus a lot of other cool artifacts about the presidency, which is really meaningful and tactile to anyone who learns about the presidents as a historical abstraction in school. Said cousin also loved everything in the Natural History Museum. You really can't go wrong with any of the Smithsonians, especially since they're free so it's easy enough to just hit whatever sounds most interesting and then leave (protip: the street-side entrance often has lines that are 20+ minutes longer than the mall-side entrance.)
posted by mosst at 12:27 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I used to work in museums, I have been to museums all over the world, and the Air and Space Museum is the best museum I have ever been in in my life. I can't say enough good things about it -- the layout, the objects they have, the immensity of it all, the stories they tell.

(And I mean, if she hates it, no one's out any money. But really. Go. It's breathtakingly good on every level.)
posted by kalimac at 12:31 PM on July 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

Lots of great suggestions already (personal faves are Natural History and American History) but also wanted to suggest the National Museum of Women in the Arts as a less known spot that was still super cool. Not free and a bit further out than the Smithsonians but between "loves art" and "budding feminist" I thought it was worth mentioning.
posted by brilliantine at 12:38 PM on July 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

Going to the Lincoln Memorial at night, around 9 pm, was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Not many people and those who were there were speaking quietly.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

My favorite stuff on the Mall as a kid was the Hirshhorn sculpture garden and the Natural History Museum (rocks and minerals was my favorite too, but I also deeply loved the insect zoo and the little movie about the origin of life which is inexplicably still there 30+ years later). The National Gallery also has a sculpture garden now that I would have loved as a kid and do love as an adult. This is all assuming it's tolerable to be outdoors, not by any means a given in DC in August; if not, I was pretty big into the indoors National Gallery too (especially the underground connection between the two sides!), though sculpture gardens feel much more fun somehow. I was also absolutely obsessed with a specific exhibit at Air&Space, it's probably not still there but that museum is great.

On preview I see that this has been said, but it really can't be overstated how much the free admission changes the whole planning approach. Depending of course on your parents' walking tolerance, they can just budget some time to wander around the Mall and dip into museums. As a slightly DC-feral kid I did this all the time (although at 7 I'm sure I had oversight)—as you can probably tell from me having, like, one childhood favorite thing at each museum. It's a great approach when you're trying to experience a little bit of everything.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention for your budding feminist art-lover that there IS an often-overlooked National Museum of Women in the Arts, though I don't remember loving it as a child. Finally, the National Building Museum is a weird one, but it's always worth checking to see if they're doing something wacky with the atrium, and yes! It's an indoor lawn right now! Sounds fun if it's too hot outside. There is also an exhibition of animals in architecture but it doesn't look as cool as I would want it to be.

Not sure where you're coming from but if they don't have water ice there, highly recommend going to the Rita's in Chinatown (like two blocks from the Building Museum) and getting a gelati.
posted by babelfish at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

This might be obvious, but if you live in a place without underground transportation - and maybe even if you do - take her on at least one Metro ride and explain how it works.

Since the Smithsonian museums are mostly one near the other and entrance is free, it's not a big deal if she doesn't love a given exhibit - you can easily go to another. I'd recommend having some backup options ready so you can just go straight there.
posted by trig at 12:44 PM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

If she likes Sesame Street or the Muppets and/or The Wizard of Oz, it's worth a stop in the front of the American History museum for the Muppet on display and the Ruby Slippers!
posted by ChuraChura at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

National Portrait Gallery or another art-related thing (suggestions would be helpful here)

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is in the same building and is fun for kids because they have folk art on display, including a giant silver and gold throne made out of gum wrappers. I’d go to the Portrait Gallery to see the Obama portraits and stop by the SAAM while you’re in the building.

-rocks & minerals at the Museum of Natural History

Since you said she’s a girly girl - don’t miss the gems there, including the Hope Diamond.
posted by sallybrown at 12:48 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

As an artsy kid I absolutely lived for the Freer/Sackler, specifically the Peacock Room. Fairly girly, and just gorgeous. The rest of the collections are always thoughtful in a way that really expresses the interplay between cultures over time that has informed my worldview in profound ways. I know that even as a new-to-DC 7 year old it affected me a lot.
posted by Mizu at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

another art-related thing (suggestions would be helpful here)
If there are any tickets available for ARTECHOUSE while you'll be here, I can't recommend it enough. It's an immersive interactive art gallery where you can interact with the art by moving, waving your hands around, etc. I felt like a little kid going there as a 20-something!

cafeteria at American Indian museum
For a very fast trip, I'd skip this. Quality has steadily declined over the past several years and it's overpriced. I would, however, hit up Duke's Counter for lunch after the zoo. That location is very kid-friendly and they have fabulous burgers and sandwiches.
posted by capricorn at 12:53 PM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

My bias is to recommend that National Air & Space Museum, but it really is an excellent museum. Just across the National Mall is National Museum of Natural History a museum any animal lover would enjoy, and the dinosaurs are back! I previously recommended the National Building Museum in this thread about a three year old visiting the District, but I think that is a great museum for kids of all ages. I like the idea of the twilight double-decker bus tour, I've always wanted to try this one.
posted by Rob Rockets at 1:01 PM on July 26, 2019

I did this trip just recently with my 8 year old.

The big hits:
- The jewel collection at the Natural History Museum
- The Air and Space museum - It's half under construction right now, so go early because it gets crowded. There is Amelia Earhart's plane and a whole exhibit for Bessie Coleman.
- The interactive exhibits the Hirshhorn (next to Air and Space) and the sculpture garden - My daughter loved one ridiculous piece of art involving a boulder crushing a car.

The National Gallery is also amazing and full of important paintings, but my daughter was a little bored. The East Wing with more modern art was a better sell.
posted by Alison at 1:03 PM on July 26, 2019

These are good plans. The Udvar-Hazy part of the Air and Space Museum (out by Dulles airport) is a great way to kill an afternoon - I'm sure there are kids who don't like giant planes hanging from the ceiling, but I don't know them.

I'm quite fond of the botanical garden next to the Capitol. Also Dumbarton Oaks. It will be hot in August, so that's a thing.

The last couple times I've had tourists visit, we've taken the water taxi from Georgetown to Alexandria (decent views of touristy, stuff, plus you're out on the water), wandered around the Torpedo Factory, then gotten ice cream and had some crabs on King St.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:04 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Does she like Hamilton? I would play the soundtrack for her a bunch of times before the trip to give a quick, fun intro to American history. There’s also a number of good children’s books about Lincoln. Kids love Lincoln (as they should), and then she might be excited to see the Lincoln Memorial.
I think this is so sweet of her grandparents and I hope she has a great time.
posted by areaperson at 1:06 PM on July 26, 2019

I love the National Building Museum and the Postal Museum.
posted by msbutah at 1:20 PM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
posted by jennstra at 1:45 PM on July 26, 2019

If she likes art but you're not sure about the National Portrait Gallery, and the weather is nice, just hit up the Hirshhorn sculpture garden.
posted by juniperesque at 1:48 PM on July 26, 2019

Gotta say I loved the Postal Museum and it's really kid accessible so if it's nearby other things she's going to go look at, might be worth popping in. Also if she's a reader, zipping in to the Library of Congress. It's super beautiful even if you just stand in the atrium. Also agree, seeing the Constitution is pretty great. DC in August will be hot and muggy so worth making sure they have options in case it's too beastly for your folks to spend a ton of time outside.
posted by jessamyn at 2:13 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Kids I know love the homemade pop-tarts and milkshakes at Ted’s Bulletin. It’s not our best restaurant or anything, but it will be nice and cold inside in the August heat if they venture near the 14th & U st NW area.
posted by sallybrown at 2:48 PM on July 26, 2019

I'm not sure, but I feel like 7 might be the right age for this: Does she, or anyone else in the party, like long escalators?

The DC Metro has 10 of them that're 115' or higher, all the way up to 230' at the Wheaton station in Silver Spring, which is the longest in the Western Hemisphere. Rosslyn, though, is a good compromise-- 194' and it's moderately central. She'll have to hit the Moscow subway to experience longer ones.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:53 PM on July 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

As a quondam Girl Scout who grew up outside of D.C., take a look ahead of time at potential badge requirements she might be able to fulfill while there - I bet there'll be a lot of stuff she can potentially check off, even in a day or two. Beyond the permanent exhibits, definitely take a look at the Smithsonian website for the current and upcoming exhibitions - some exhibitions I think she might want to see, based on your description of her:

Votes for Women and Women of Progress at the National Portrait Gallery
I Am... Contemporary Women Artists of Africa and Good as Gold at African Art
All Work and No Pay at American History
Nature's Best Photography at Natural History

And seconding the Lincoln Memorial late at night, even if it keeps her up past her bedtime. It's at its best then - it's much less populated, and the combination of the echoes inside and the darkness outside does something majestic and a little magical.
posted by jocelmeow at 3:34 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mentioning this to avoid any spoiling of your daughter's trip: The (utterly awesome) Postal Museum has a taxidermied dog on display.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:15 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Nthing the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The (utterly awesome) Postal Museum has a taxidermied dog on display.

Yes. I cannot deal with that dog. I have a friend who was glad to see it. MMV.
posted by jgirl at 4:46 PM on July 26, 2019

the u.s. botanic garden
posted by 20 year lurk at 5:32 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’ve had my eye on the International Spy Museum. They have some interactive stuff there that looks super cool.
posted by lyssabee at 6:42 PM on July 26, 2019

1. I have never been with a kid who didn't go absolutely bananas for the Air and Space Museum. I would make that first priority on the Mall, unless she really expresses that it's not her thing.

2. I ate at the cafeteria at the NAMI last year -- to be honest, nothing special.

3. Does she bike? When I took my 9-year-old, we used Capital Bikeshare to get to all the monuments in a manageable amount of time; gives you more control than the twilight bus.

Honestly, with just two days, I would consider it just a trip to the National Mall. There's so much there that's not matched anywhere else in the country.
posted by escabeche at 7:24 PM on July 26, 2019

Be thinking about your daughter’s stamina as well. I grew up in the DC area and went to the Smithsonian museums at least once a month, and I can tell you from a 7-year-old’s perspective that it is a LONG WAY from the American History Museum to the Air and Space Museum, especially if it’s hot.

Fortunately there is a carousel about halfway between them. Highly recommend, although it apparently costs $3.50 a ride now!!!!
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:00 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Spy museum was great fun and I went as a solo mid thirties female. 7 year old me would've loved it even more. I remember it being expensive though.
posted by kitten magic at 8:12 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

roadfood recommends the Florida Ave grill(soul food diner) and Ben's chili bowl for half smoked (hot dogs). DC also has excellent Ethiopian food.
posted by brujita at 11:59 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Is she at all interested in Legos? The National Cathedral is doing a wicked cool program right now where you can "buy bricks" (it's a fundraiser) and help construct a scale replica of the Cathedral made entirely of Legos, inside the Cathedral itself.

Here's more info.

It's not near the Mall, but the Cathedral is in a beautiful, leafy green part of town (a very posh, safe neighborhood) and probably won't be over-run with tourists. There is cute local ice cream place right around the corner called Jetties (there are several in town, you want the one on Macomb Street), and a *fabulous* pizza place across from that called 2 Amys.
posted by mccxxiii at 8:34 AM on July 27, 2019

If they visit the Museum of American History for First Lady dresses, add a side trip for the Doll's House, five floors of miniature rooms full of stuff. I still visit it after first seeing it at around your daughter's age. In addition to looking into GS activities, the National Park Service Junior Rangers has programs at many of the memorials & sites. Here's the one for the Mall. Other sites here. If they finish the activities, they get a Junior Ranger badge. The activities/booklet can help focus kids' attention during a visit. My kid still has her badges from various National Park visits. She's 30.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 1:10 PM on July 27, 2019

RIGHT across the street from the upper entrance to the Zoo is a little place called Yael's that sells delicious cake pops among other things.
posted by nkknkk at 3:25 PM on July 27, 2019

Am I the only one who was bored by Air & Space as a child?

Be that as it may, I was definitely bored by Air & Space as a child. My position was that all airplanes are functionally identical pieces of machinery, and that though flying in one is interesting, looking at one that's not working is not. I thought the spaceships were kind of cool, especially the ones you could climb in, but they were overrun by other small children, who were loud and obnoxious. As far as I was concerned, the only truly interesting thing about the Air & Space museum was the dehydrated ice cream and space pens in the gift shop.
posted by yarntheory at 5:34 PM on July 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

You are not alone, yarntheory. I too found (and have continued to find) the Air & Space museum to be incredibly boring. I think this depends greatly on the kid and their feelings about airplanes, and maybe their feelings about the military industrial complex - at eight I had Opinions and they were not positive, a trend that has only continued.
posted by Mizu at 6:11 PM on July 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ben's is a DC institution. The food, based on my last visit years ago and reviews, is also rather institutional.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:15 PM on July 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Am I the only one who was bored by Air & Space as a child?

I thought it was soooo boring, and had to go every time we had cousins come to town, which I hated. On the other hand, I always loved the National Gallery of Art, which a lot of kids find boring. It was special to me to be able to see a da Vinci and I loved the Calder mobiles in the East Building, which is such a sunny and peaceful place.
posted by sallybrown at 9:47 PM on July 27, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I'm reviewing these (fabulous) suggestions with the boss, and I'll update this post with what she ends up doing, what she ends up loving, and what is meh. (FWIW I remember also being mostly bored at Air & Space).
posted by cheese at 8:40 AM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

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