The Great Indoors

The U.S. Botanic Garden is about as close as you can get to the outdoors on an indoor outing.

The U.S. Botanic Garden is about as close as you can get to the outdoors on an indoor outing.

When the rain forced our family to make a Plan B this past weekend, I turned to my own (old) list of Rainy Day Recreation.  Looking it over, I realized it needed revamping — some elaboration on listed suggestions and the addition of many new ones.  It’s now all here in this bigger, hopefully better, list. So, when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor recreation or you simply just feel like being inside, check out these ideas of where to take shelter, just about all of them tried and tested by yours truly and crew.

1. Visit a Smithsonian museum on the National Mall and elsewhere in the city. They are free, fantastic places to stay dry, cool, or warm, depending on the weather.

More specifically…

2. Hold giant insects, eyeball all kinds of mammals, learn about human origins, and much more at the National Museum of Natural History. Of course, there are tons of fascinating exhibits to tour while you’re there, including Q?rius, the impressive new interactive and experimental learning space.

3. Discover “How Things Fly” at the National Air & Space Museum. The gallery is full of cool hands-on displays that explain the basics of flight and pique kids’ curiosity. Take time to wander through the rest of the exhibits, too.

4. Navigate to the National Museum of American History, where kids can see “America on the Move,” a history of transportation; toys and games from your childhood; the Star Spangled Banner; and much more. The Spark!Lab is currently closed for renovations, but put the museum’s activity center for kids on your must-do list for when it reopens.

5. Deliver on fun at the National Postal Museum, where lots of interactive exhibits and an easy-to-explore space make it a nice outing for little ones.

7. Drop in for special free programs at the National Portrait Gallery. Open Studio Fridays (1-4pm) welcome visitors for creative fun, and Portrait Story Days invites kids ages 5 and up to hear a story about a person who has influenced American history and culture and to create a special piece of art (runs most Saturdays 1-4pm and Sundays 2-5pm). On any day, tour the collections and be sure to stop by the lovely Kogod Courtyard.

6. Roam around the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The modern art exhibits on the top level are usually most appealing to young art buffs. On weekends at the gallery, enjoy Art ala Cart, where four interactive carts found throughout the galleries let kids (about ages 7-12) explore subjects such as sculpture and folk art through hands-on activities — check the calendar to see when they’re available. All ages can explore the museum on their own everyday, but be aware that museum hours are 11am – 7:30pm.

8. Explore imagiNATIONS, the family activity center at that National Museum of the American Indian. Be sure to check the schedule for open hours and any special activities.

9. Jet out to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Dulles arm of the National Air & Space Museum, to see a giant hangar full of aviation and space artifacts. Admission is free, but parking in the lot is $15/vehicle.

10. Catch an IMAX like To the Arctic 3D, To Fly!, or one of several other films currently playing at one of the Smithsonian’s IMAX Theaters.

11. Experience Asian culture through art at the Freer & Sackler Galleries. Art Cart and Imaginasia activities are available most weekends and sometimes during the week for families to enjoy.

12. Contemplate the exhibits at the Hirshhorn Museum. While some of the collection and installations may initially seem a bit sophisticated for children — many pieces have deeper meaning that is over their heads — they can still appreciate much of it on a visual level. Past exhibits like Suprasensorial and Ai Weiwei: According to What are good examples.

At other local museums…

13. Foster an interest in art at the National Gallery. The Calder exhibit and pop art downstairs are often fun for children to view (though currently closed for renovations). The “sparkly” moving sidewalk between the East and West Buildings is always a hit. And don’t forget to check to see if any family programs are on the schedule.

14. Head to the National Building Museum for playtime in the Building Zone, exhibits, and activities in the Great Hall. The current PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit is a blast for all ages. Admission is $3/person for the Building Zone, $5-15 for exhibits. (Tip: There is no admission fee for museum members, and a family membership is just $90/year. For many of us who visit often, this is well worth it!)

15. See an exhibition or a few at the National Geographic Museum.  Currently on view that young museum-goers will enjoy are Spinosaurus: Lost Giant of the Cretaceous and FOOD: Our Global Kitchen. And they always have stunning photography, often featuring wildlife and nature, on display.

16. Cruise on over to the U.S. Navy Museum. This true hidden DC gem, located on the Navy base in southeast DC, is full of artifacts that illustrate the history of the navy.

17. Wing it at the College Park Aviation Museum. See historic aircraft and direct the kids play in the children’s area with art activities, a dress up station, and more hands-on fun.

18. View a wonderful collection of art and traveling exhibits at the Corcoran Gallery, where admission is now free! Hours are 10am – 5pm Wednesday to Sunday.

19. Nurture the next 007 at the International Spy Museum. (Best for about ages 6 and up. Check for admission discounts here.)

20. Examine the human body from a scientific point of view at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. But know what you’re getting into first! While the museum is quite fascinating, it’s not for very young children, nor the faint of heart.

21. See some of the quirkiest, coolest art ever at the American Visionary Art Museum. Located at Baltimore Inner Harbor, it’s three buildings are full of outrageously creative masterpieces that all ages will not just appreciate, but absolutely adore.

22.Time trip through Charm City’s early business days at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The Inner Harbor attraction highlights the trades and people that helped build the port city through exhibits that showcase relics from the past and recreate various industry environments. Hours are 10am – 4pm (Tuesday – Sunday).

And for non-museum pursuits…

23. Experience the outdoors inside at a nature center. Rock Creek Nature Center, Watkins Nature Center, and Potomac Overlook Nature Center are a few faves. Or find one near you with the help of The Natural Capital blog.

24. Get in touch with nature at the U.S. Botanic Garden, where many of the plant collections make you feel like you’re not just outdoors, but in a whole other region altogether. Be sure to stop in the “Plants in Culture” exhibit where little ones will have fun sniffing the aromas of various plants and learning about their everyday uses.

25. Bounce, swing, climb, run, balance, and tumble at the PG Sport and Learning Complex Gymnastics Center. See this post for more details and open play hours.

26. And for even more places to let little ones burn some energy, see this list of indoor playgrounds.

27. Take in a show at Glen Echo Park — see what’s currently on stages at The Puppet Co. and Adventure Theatre.

28. Or join the audience at Imagination Stage. The Night Fairy is their current production, and tickets can be purchased here.

29. Shake your thang with the Boogie Babes. They bring children’s musicians to Union Market every Wednesday morning, Eastern Market on Thursdays, and to the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Fridays. Showtimes is always 10:30am and admission is $5/child, free for siblings 6 months and under.

30. Check out your local library.

31. Score a strike or a spare or just have fun knocking down some pins when you go bowling. Lucky Strike downtown sets up ramps and bumpers for little bowlers, as does Bowl America, which has several locations in Virginia. Or try duck pin bowling at White Oaks Lane in Silver Spring.

32. Stay entertained at Discovery Theater, located in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center. Check the schedule to see what productions they’re currently presenting.

33. Rock out at a Jammin’ Java kids show. Visit the website to see the line-up of children’s musicians playing at the Vienna venue.

34. Entertain the kids (and yourself) at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. The program presents free, no-tickets-required performances every day at 6pm, and the public is welcome to enjoy them. Check the website to see what’s on the schedule — acts span the genres, with everything from contemporary dance to folk music to puppetry to comedy shows to opera scenes.

35. Get a glimpse of where DC’s bigwigs work on a tour of the Capitol Building.

36. Bounce on over to an open jump session at Pump it Up.  Go here to find out when they’re offered at a location near you.

37. Jump in at an indoor pool. (Note: DC DPR closes aquatic centers if there is thunder).

38. Journey through space at a planetarium. The Albert Einstein Planetarium at the Air & Space is open every day.  The Rock Creek Park Planetarium has free shows on weekends and Wednesdays at 4pm.  And the David M. Brown Planetarium in Arlington has special programs at various times.

39. Play the day away among the awesome variety of fun exhibits designed especially for kids at Port Discovery in Baltimore. And check the calendar to see if there are any special programs going on when you plan to go

40. And speaking of Baltimore, the National Aquarium in Charm City gets its own spot on this list.

41. As does the Maryland Science Center, also on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It’s chock full of fascinating hands-on fun for kids!

42. Make a trip out to Luray Caverns in the Shenandoah Valley to gawk at the spectacular display of stalagmites and stalactites. It really is breathtaking, and most kids will be thrilled by the idea of an underground adventure.

43. See a movie.  It seems there are always flicks for little ones showing at a theater near you.  Find out what’s playing now.

44. Enjoy Theatre for the Very Young, the program for little audiences at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Visit the website to see if there’s a show currently running.

45. Glide the day away on an ice skating outing. This post has a list of venues for fun on ice, indoors and out, in the area.

46. Or try another skating style at a roller skating rink.  Wheels Skating Center in Odenton, Md, and Skate Zone in Crofton are a couple of places to get rolling in the area.

47. Paint some pottery at Jimmy Potters Studio & Workshop in Arlington and Fairfax, Color Me Mine (several locations in the area), All Fired Up in DC and Bethesda, or Clay Cafe in Falls Church and Chantilly.

48. Get your game on at Labyrinth, the Capitol Hill shop specializing in games and puzzles for all ages. Demo a few at tables set up in back for just that purpose.

49. Romp in the play area and ride the Express Train at Tysons Corner Center.

50. Frolic in the 1,200-square-foot play area at Potomac Mills Mall in Woodbridge, Va. (And while you’re there, do a little outlet shopping, too!)

51. Day trip or plan an overnight to Pennsylvania’s Amish Country for the Turkey Hill Experience to get the scoop on the ice cream-making process through a series of interactive exhibits.

52. Roll on down to the National Capitol Trolley Museum to see old streetcars and even take a ride on one.  The museum is open on the weekends all year, and Thursdays and Fridays during select dates, so make sure it’s open before you go.

53. Chug on over to the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. Along with old trains on display and other exhibits, there is a Kids Zone for ages 2-8, regular children’s programs, and special events.  Check the calendar to see what’s happening when.

54.  Go to a Storytime session at Barnes & Noble.  The bookstore chain regularly hosts free children’s book readings at locations around the area.  Find out when there is one near you. Make time before or after to play at the train table (there’s seems to be one in every store) and look at some more books.

55. Find even more free storytime options in NW DC. Check out this great list from Mommy FTW.

56. Learn and play at Living Classrooms. Open weekends only, kids can explore nature and wildlife through interactive play, live creature encounters, and more hands-on fun at Glen Echo Park.

57. Cheer on our local teams at a sporting event when their seasons are on. The Wizards, Capitals, and Mystics all play indoors at the Verizon Center.

58. Feast on delicious pizza and get in a few games of table tennis, too, at Comet Ping Pong in Chevy Chase.  The eatery is open Monday – Thursday 5-9:30pm, Friday 4-10:45pm, Saturdays & Sundays 11:30am – 9:30pm.

59. Get a glimpse of written history at the National Archives, home of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Stop in the Boeing Learning Center for hands-on activities and more historical discoveries. Hours are 10am – 7pm during spring and summer, 10am – 5:30 during fall and winter. Admission is free.

60. Show them the money at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Free 40-minute tours run every 15 minutes 9-10:45am and 12:30-2pm from September to February, 9am-2pm March 1-23, and 9am-7pm from March 26 – August 24.  The experience includes an introductory film and gallery tour of the production process.

61. Get a bird’s eye view of DC along with an interesting tour at the Washington Monument. One of the city’s most famous structures has reopened, allowing visitors to go up to the observation deck 500 feet up and check out the museum 10 feet below. Get free first-come, first-served tickets day-of pr pay a small fee to reserve them in advance.

62. Sign up for an art class at Little Loft, an art space on Capitol Hill offering all kinds of creative sessions for little ones.

63. Inflate your good time at Sport Bounce of Loudon, where kids will love a roomful of air-filled contraptions that practically scream fun.

64. Put a little extra spring in your…jump at Flight Trampoline Park in Springfield.

65. Let imaginations run wild with pretend play at the Playseum. Locations are in Capitol Hill and Bethesda.

66. Scale a rock wall and do some rapelling at SportRock Climbing Center. Facilities are located in Alexandria and Sterling, Va, and they offer programs just for kids.

67. Take advantage of Tots Playtime at Pinstripes in Georgetown. From 10am – 12pm most weekdays, ALL kids can bowl for just $5, and parents are free (limit 4 kids per adult)! Stay after for lunch — they have a kids menu and a pretty extensive main menu, too.

68. Locate secret doors, see outrageously fabulous themed rooms, and browse a trove of secondhand treasures on a tour of The Mansion on O Street. The Dupont Circle landmark is a mansion, museum, restaurant, vintage store, and hotel all in one — and visitors are welcome to explore it all. Open daily 11am – 4pm. Self-guided tours start at $10.

69. Full steam ahead at the Gaithersburg Community Museum. Located in the B&O Railroad complex in Olde Towne, the indoor/outdoor interpretive spaces provide hands-on learning centers for children that spark the imagination, and permanent and changing exhibits explore Gaithersburg’s rich history. Open Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 3pm. Admission is free.


Filed under All ages, Animals, Art, Babies, DC, Educational, Free, Gradeschoolers, Indoor Play, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Movies, Museums, Music, Ongoing, Play, Preschoolers, Preteens, Sports, Theatre, Toddlers, Trains, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

16 Responses to The Great Indoors

  1. ADSinNoVA

    Such a great list…but you’re killing it for any of us who want to say, “heck, it’s raining. OK, turn on a video and I’m going to read the paper.” :-) No more excuses. Don’t forget to add Udvar-Hazy to the list. The $15 parking is a bummer but it’s a remarkable place to spend some hours and has the extra lure of McD’s on site.

    • Linda @ KidFriendly DC

      Ha! I should probably add that one, too. :) Thanks for the Udvar-Hazy reminder. Total brain fart on my part – it’s a fantastic destination for an indoor outing.

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  3. Heather

    The National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland is worth a visit. It’s open from 10-2 on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

  4. Nicole

    Thanks so much for this great resource! I really appreciate you putting it together. Just an update: Bubble Bounce at Montgomery Mall (#47) has closed.

  5. Jennifer

    Thanks! We are looking for just such options now. Any idea of good ones for later in the day weekend energy (4-7 pm on a Saturday, for example)? Here are some of our favs: Ikea for the small play area + dining and larger play area for kids who are potty trained, Pump It Up, Playseum (has DC and Bethesda locations), LOL in Greenbelt, MD. Wish there were more free or low-cost options for indoor play rooms.

  6. Rachel

    Unless something comes up quickly, the DC aquarium will close its doors on Sept. 30. Such a loss for the city!

  7. Erica S.

    This is a fantastic list. Thank you. Your last entry, the rock climbing wall, reminded me of another fun indoor activity: batting cages. For the older kids among us. We went there after the the climbing gym in Rockville.

  8. mark

    Caught the night fairy today and it was great. Highly recommend.

  9. Catharine

    Just wanted to note that the Post a Office Pavilion is now closed. Some new places too add to this list are Flight Trampoline Park and Kids Choice (indoor bounce place) in Annandale.

    • Linda @ KidFriendly DC

      Thanks, Catharine! I’d forgotten to update the Post Office Pavilion, but just switched it out (#59). And Flight Trampoline is already listed (#62) – we love it there!

  10. Deb

    Just a note that the U.S. Navy Museum at the Navy Yards is not as accessible as it used to be. I believe this was instituted after the shooting on that campus. This is from the website:

    The Museum is open to the public and tours can be arranged for schools or other groups.
    Call (202)433-6826.

    To enter the Washington Navy Yard and visit the National Museum of the United States Navy, visitors must have a Department of Defense Common Access Card, an Active Military, Retired Military or Military Dependent ID, or an escort with one of these credentials. All visitors 18 and older must have a photo ID. Contact us for help with accessing the museum at
    (202) 433-4882.

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