Tag Archives: Outdoor Pools

The 2017 KFDC Guide to the Best of Summer in DC

Summer in the city:  Evening play in the sprays at Yards Park

Summer in the city: Evening play in the sprays at Yards Park



summer-camp

It’s time to bring back one of my favorite annual guides! Summer may not officially begin for a few more weeks, but as we head into the warm months, many seasonal favorites around DC are starting up again. And this guide has the scoop on the best of them, so you can jump in on the fun.

Ah, summer. The time of year to shift gears, from closed toed shoes to sandals, jeans to shorts, red wine to margaritas. It’s when play dates extend well into the evening, a dip in the pool counts as a bath, and the folks at the neighborhood water ice shop know the kids by name.

It’s also when we can enjoy some of the area’s best activities. Water-inspired recreation, music and movies in the open air, special fests and feasts, and bonus attractions at everyday places are just some of the joys of the season.

So, unpack the swimsuits and flip flops, get out the blender for cocktails (smoothies for the kids), bookmark this guide, and get ready to have some summer fun!

Outdoor Pool Season
Play in the Sprays
Water Parks
Summer Concerts
Festivals
Beaches
Big Screen Under the Stars
Museum Programs & Seasonal Exhibits
Movies, Storytimes, & More
Mini Trains, Carousels, Mini Golf, & a Ferris Wheel
Theatre Time
Summer Sports
Crab Feasts
Seasonal Experiences


Outdoor Pool Season
Nothing says summer like swimming under the sun, and there are plenty of public pools in the area where you can jump in for free or a small admission fee.

  • DC outdoor public pools will open on Memorial Day Weekend, Saturday, May 27. Days and hours vary from pool to pool so be sure to check the schedule before you go. Last year they began opening earlier on weekdays, at 11am, and that’s continuing! (And some open even earlier than that for lap swim.)
  • For outdoor swimming outside of the city, Montgomery County outdoor public pools will open on May 27 through Labor Day — the Department of Recreation website has locations and hours.
  • In Northern Virginia, Arlington’s Upton Hill has a whole water park for guests to enjoy, and Alexandria has several places where the public is welcome to swim. Be sure to check the City of Alexandria website for hours, as they vary by pool.


A refreshing run through the sprays at Georgetown Waterfront Park

A refreshing run through the sprays at Georgetown Waterfront Park

Play in the Sprays
Kids can run through fountains and splash around at many area spraygrounds. Several are within the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, but some of the best are built right into the urban landscape, making the concrete jungle a cool place to hang out during the hottest months.

  • Georgetown Waterfront Park, right next to the Washington Harbour, has a fountain with arcing sprays that makes for a fun, refreshing way to cool off on a hot, summer day. The rest of its pretty green space along the Potomac is a great place to hang out, too.
  • The Yards Park is a favorite for many in the city with two levels of super fun sprays, a wading pool and wall of water (essentially a water fall between the levels), plus a great scenic location on the Anacostia River in the Navy Yard
  • Canal Park in the Navy Yard is great for all ages with both a gentle, shallow fountain that is perfect for really little ones to enjoy, plus a bigger fountain with lots of sprays for more enthusiastic play where the ice rink is in the winter.
  • Starting Memorial Day Weekend, May 27, DPR Spray Parks will be open for the season, but hours vary by location, so be sure to check the website for hours.
  • Some of the area’s most popular spray parks — Lyon Village Park, Hayes Park, and Drew Park — can be found in Arlington.
  • The interactive fountain in Downtown Silver Spring plaza is open daily from 10am – 8pm. While my kids have never played there, I recall seeing very happy youngsters playing in the sprays on the colorful mosaic design during my lunch breaks when I worked at Discovery. It always looked like a blast.
  • The fountain in the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza located at 14th and Park Road, NW is a great place to cool down on a hot day, with many sprays that surge up from a pretty, circular tiled surface. Do a little shopping while you’re there — Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and many other big retail stores are right there — and plan to grab a bite at one of many kid-friendly eateries around. And don’t miss a chance to stop in Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Co. at 826DC located right there.
  • The Fountain on the Square at Rockville Town Square welcomes kids to splish splash from May to September. It’s open Monday – Saturday 11am to 9pm and Sunday 12-8pm, but it’s turned off for maintenance at certain times during the week, so be sure to check the schedule before you go.
  • One of the newest to the sprayground scene, the fountains in the Mosaic District welcome all to play in the sprays that jet up from concrete. Surrounded by retail stores and restaurants, you can make a day of it there with some shopping and eating, too. Plan to go on a Tuesday with little ones when you can also enjoy Stories from Strawberry Park at 10-11am. (Note: Currently closed for renovations, but check back for reopening date!)


Make  splash at Soak City in Kings Dominion

Make splash at Soak City in Kings Dominion


Water Parks
Giant water slides, wave pools, waterfalls, sprays and splash pads…this is the stuff kids’ summer dreams are made of. There are actually several water parks around the area offering many of these attractions, just about all of them opening Memorial Day weekend for limited hours, until they open daily in a few weeks. Here’s a quick list — visit the websites for more details.


Friday night concerts at Yards Park are a great way to kick off a summer weekend

Friday night concerts at Yards Park are a great way to kick off a summer weekend


Summer Concerts
Free music in the fresh air has become a staple of the season, and there are opportunities to enjoy just about every genre regularly at outdoor venues all around the DC-Metro.

  • The Capitol Riverfront Friday Night Concert Series at Yards Park begins May 26 and will run through September 1, presenting a different band each week on the boardwalk stage overlooking the Anacostia River. Along with the free music, food and beverages are available for purchase. (Unfortunately, the NO BYOB policy implemented last year still holds). I recommend getting there early, so the kids can play in the fountains before the concert starts at 6:30pm. And on a hot summer day, it’s nice to continue the water fun even while the tunes are playing — you can still hear them from across the park!
  • Experience live music amid art at Jazz in the Garden, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden’s free concert series, every Friday from 5–8:30pm. The first performance of the season is May 19, rain or shine, and there will be weekly shows through August 25. Spread out a blanket, pack a picnic dinner or purchase food and drinks there, and enjoy the sounds of a variety of jazz artists. Note: Adult drinks are available from the pavilion; BYO alcohol is not permitted.
  • The U.S. Air Force Band 2017 Summer Concert Series kicks off May 17 with a performance by Airmen of Note, Air Force Strings, and Max Impact at the Air Force Memorial. After that, you can catch free concerts all summer long at locales around the DC-Metro area, including the Capitol steps, Sylvan Theater on the Washington Monument grounds, and National Harbor Plaza. Show times vary so be sure to check the U.S. Air Force Band website for the complete summer schedule.
  • In Silver Spring, the TGIF Downtown Street Party brings free music once a month on Friday evenings to the Fountain Plaza 6:30-8:30pm. Enjoy everything from pop to jazz to R&B to classic rock starting May 12.
  • All summer long, families can enjoy a variety of free fun at Rockville Town Square. Concerts for all ages on Friday evenings run from June 2 through September 30 — enjoy live music, good food, and beverages from 7-9pm.
  • Rock at the Row returns to Pentagon Row Thursdays July 13 – August 17. From 7-9pm, all are invited to the lounge on the new plaza for food samples and craft beer in the VIP section or to gather at one of the outdoor cafés while enjoying live music, giveaways, and merchant specials.
  • The U.S. Botanic Garden is bringing back the American Roots Music Concert Series every Thursday 5-7pm. Celebrate American roots with Americana and folk, country, blues, jazz, and even zydeco outside on the Conservatory Terrace. Schedule still TBD, but check back soon!
  • You can kick-start your weekends at Tysons Corner Center’s Fresh Artists Concert Series. Grab a blanket and enjoy performances ranging from ballet to blues, folk to funk, poetry to pop. Schedule still TBD, so check back.
  • Get a nice dose of nature as you listen to live tunes at Potomac Overlook Park in Arlington on Second Saturdays of the month from May 13 – September 9. The free, family-friendly performances take place on a stage in the woods surrounded by trails to explore. (FYI: The Nature Center — with snakes, turtles, owls, hawks — is great, too.
  • Enjoy music in Northern Virginia parks! The Fairfax County Park Authority presents their Summer Entertainment Series, a summer-long calendar of shows, concerts and movies appropriate families held in local parks. Bring a picnic dinner, blankets, and lawn chairs to enjoy the best local and regional entertainers.
  • Strathmore, the North Bethesda performing arts center, hosts Live from the Lawn, free outdoor concerts, every Wednesday from July 12 – August 30.


Tour de Fat is as zany as it is fun!

Tour de Fat is as zany as it is fun — and it stops in DC during summer this year!


Festivals
Several stand-out events are anticipated around the area this time of year, celebrating everything from music to art & culture to neighborhoods to food.

  • Get folksy at Glen Echo Park June 3-4, when the 37th Annual Washington Folk Festival showcases the diversity of traditional music in Washington. All of the artists hail from the DC area, but cultures from around the nation, as well as the world, will be represented through music, dance, crafts, and stories. The public is invited to enjoy the free festival that is renown in the folk community.
  • It sounds like a grown-ups-only event, but the Vintage Virginia Wine & Food Festival offers plenty of family fun, too. Taking place June 3-4 at Bull Run Park in Centreville, VA, festivities include wine tasting (of course), chef demos, food truck fare, live music, and a whole family-friendly area with activities especially for kids.
  • Imagination Bethesda, an annual festival occurring in the heart of its namesake city, is all about children. On June 3 from 10am – 3pm, Woodmont & Elm downtown will be lined with activity tents offering tons of fun for kids — arts & crafts, face painting, games, etc. There will also be live entertainment, food from local restaurants, and more. Admission is free.
  • The DC Jazz Festival presents a variety of performers at venues all around the city from June 9-18, but the most family-friendly of them actually precedes the main event. Jazz n’ Family Fun Days will take place June 3-4 with free shows for all ages at The Phillips Collection.
  • Attend one of the biggest summer barbeques around June 24-25 as the National Capital Barbeque Battle returns to pit some of the nation’s best barbequers against each other as they compete for big prizes. The reward for attendees: Samples from all the entrants (plus, more food), live music, cooking demos, kids’ fun, and more.
  • Every summer, the National Mall becomes stomping grounds of folks from around the globe to celebrate living cultural heritage and community traditions at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year’s event will run from June 29 – July 4 and July 6-9, celebrating circus arts and migrations of people to and within this U.S.
  • The lotus and water lilies in full bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are such a ravishing sight it calls for a celebration. Along with the spectacular display of flowers, the annual Lotus & Water Lily Festival will feature traditional Asian and African dancing and drumming, gardening workshops, park tours, arts & crafts, face painting, and other family-friendly pursuits. The exact date is TBD, but it always takes place sometime mid-July.
  • The annual Del Ray Music Festival is always a popular event. On July 23, count on a celebration of the Alexandria community with a day of food, games, and lots of kids’ activities along with a varied line-up of live entertainment.
  • Tour de Fat, easily one of my favorite annual festivals, takes place at Yards Park on July 22. The celebration of all things bicycle is zany in the best way possible. There’s a bicycle parade, bicycle art, reconfigured bicycles to ride, a dance contest to win a bicycle, a car-for-bike swap, a bike-themed kids area, and bikes just… everywhere. There’s also beer (New Belgium is the sponsor), circus performers, vaudeville acts, musicians, magicians, and more. It’s weird and wild and so much fun for the whole family.
  • It might run into fall, but it starts in August, so I’m counting the Maryland Renaissance Festival among the summer fun. Plus, it’s one of my very, very favorite annual events (more confirmation on that here). The merriment begins August 26 and will continue every weekend through October 22. Go. Just go.


Have some fun in the summer sun at a local beach

Have some fun in the summer sun at a local beach


Beaches
Summer and beach trips go hand-in-hand, so why not hit one with the kids? You don’t have to drive all the way to the ocean for it; there are several places where you can get a nice dose of sand and surf that are within day trip-distance from DC.

  • Head out to Calvert County for a day at Flag Ponds Nature Park. Not only is there plenty of sand for playing and nice mellow waters for swimming, it’s also a great spot for fossil hunting — look for shark teeth and other prehistoric remnants along the shores while you’re there, too! Hours are 9am – 6pm Memorial to Labor Day. Admission is $6/car.
  • Bayfront Park aka Brownie’s Beach is a nice little spot in Chesapeake Beach, MD. With a small but nice stretch of sand, gentle shallow water, shark teeth to fin, and cliffs edging the shoreline, it’s a great place to spend a day — especially with little ones since they can’t roam too far. The only downside is the admission fee: $16/adult, $9/child for non-residents of the county.
  • Enjoy views of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from the beach at Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis. At nearly 800 acres, it’s a big beach park with lots of recreational opportunities — swimming, picnicking, fishing, crabbing, hiking, and more. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, there are lifeguards on duty. And snack food and beach and picnic supplies are available. Hours are 6am – sunset. From May 1 through September, admission is $5 for Maryland residents, $7 for non-residents.
  • The beach is narrow, and you’re on a river, but you still get sand and water at Purse State Park in Charles County, MD. This is best if your main purpose is fossil hunting — it’s a great place to go for it — and you want to get in some “beach” time, too. Wear swimsuits, bring a picnic, and be sure to check the tide table so you can make the most of your time there. Open sunrise to sunset, and admission is free.


Big Screen Under the Stars
Outdoor movies have become a DC summer tradition in the last few years with films al fresco in several neighborhoods. Even better, all of them are FREE! (*Before you make plans to enjoy any of the series, be sure to check schedules, as some movies may not be appropriate for children.)

  • Catch a flick on the big screen from the comfort of your car at the Union Market Drive-In Series, occurring on select Fridays throughout the summer, with several family-friendly films in the mix. Get there as early as 6pm and have a bite to eat in the Market or bring food back to your car. The film starts at 8:15pm. Advance purchase is recommended.
  • National Harbor’s Movies on the Potomac already started their Sunday night film series for families, and it will run through September 24. Movies are shown on the plaza screen beginning at sunset, usually around 8:30pm.
  • Movie lovers of all ages should head to the Four Mile Run Movie Series in Alexandria on the last Friday of the month from May 26 – August 24, when the park is transformed into an outdoor cinema. This free event will also include two hours of activities and entertainment leading up to show time. Films start at dusk, fun begins at 6:30pm
  • See Your favorite stars beneath the stars at the Capitol Riverfront’s Canal Park Outdoor Movie Series. Catch films every Thursday evening at sundown from June 1 through August 10.
  • The Golden Triangle (BID) is raising the curtain on its Golden Cinema Film Series to be hosted this summer in Farragut Park. Outdoor movies will be shown at sunset every Friday beginning June 2 – August 4, and just about all of the films are family-friendly.
  • The NoMa Summer Screen 13-week outdoor film series starts on June 7! The movies begin at dark, so get there to picnic at 7pm.
  • Bethesda Outdoor Movies will bring five days of flicks al fresco to downtown at the corner of Norfolk and Auburn Avenues from July 18-24.


Make a wish at Yoko Ono's Wish Tree in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden

Make a wish at Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden


Museum Programs & Seasonal Exhibits
Extraordinary installations, lovely annual exhibits, kids’ programs during the school break, and admission deals are some of the special experiences at our museums and galleries to take take advantage of over the summer.

  • First there was indoor mini-golf, after that it was a giant maze, then came the super awesome BEACH, and last year it was ICEBERGS. This summer, the National Building Museum will be buzzing with excitement over HIVE! The massive installation will be built from more than 2,700 wound paper tubes, taking up much of the space in the Great Hall, with an aim to “explore how a structure can modify and reflect sound, light, scale, and human interaction.” Admission is $5/youth member, $10/adult member and $13/youth non-member, $16/adult non-member. Open July 4 through September 4.
  • What sounds like an amazing virtual experience is coming to DC for the summer. ArTecHouse presents XYZT: Abstract Landscapes, an immersive sensory art exhibition composed of ten interactive digital installations. The interactive, multi-space digital art installation lets you manipulate time and space as you step into imaginary territory, manipulate algorithms, and immerse into a virtual playground of digital landscapes. For ages 6 and up only!
  • Annmarie Sculpture Garden is enchanting any time of year, but it’s especially so in the summer when the fairy and gnome houses are on display. The adorable collection of little whimsical abodes for sprite-like creatures have all been selected from many submissions in an annual fairy house building contest. And they are just fantastic. Created by all ages, individuals and groups, each one has a different theme, but together they are a brilliant showcase of imagination and craftiness.
  • The National Gallery of Art’s wonderful drop-in program for children returns — with a new name! Formerly Stories in Art, Art Investigators, geared toward ages 4-7, introduces kids to art and encourages them to make observations and use their imaginations as they discover different works. It’ll run Friday – Monday from July 7-31. Read a KFDC review of the program from a few years back (we’ve been since, and it was just as good!).
  • You can walk amid a garden of butterflies at Brookside Garden’s amazing Wings of Fancy exhibit. It’s back after being closed last summer during renovations. The seasonal display featuring live butterflies and caterpillars from all over the world opened in April and will welcome visitors through September 25, 10am – 4pm. Admission is $8/ages 13 and up, $5/3-12, free ages 0-2 (admission to the rest of Brookside is free). Read about a KFDC experience at the exhibit.
  • The Hirshhorn has a couple of special exhibits happening this summer starting with sunrise, sunset, a large-scale, site-specific wall mural by Swiss artist Nicolas Party. The mural will be painted directly onto the museum wall in the Sculpture Garden over the course of two weeks, and will be on view June 7 – October 1. It’ll be a great backdrop for Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree for Washington, DC, returning for its second year. From July 1 through Labor Day, the public is welcome to write wishes on small cards and tie them to the tree’s branches. They’re collected throughout the summer, then sent to Ono’s “Imagine Peace Tower” in Reykjavik, Iceland.
  • As you make your way around the area near CityCenter, look out for the Fancy Animal Carnival, an installation of whimsical, larger-than-life sculptures by renowned Taiwanese contemporary artist Hung Yi. Scattered around for all to enjoy, they’ll be here until October 15.
  • Every year, the Newseum offers the Summer Fun Deal. From July 1 – September 5, there is no admission fee for kids ages 18 and under. The promotion waives the $12.95 regular entrance charge for youth with one paid adult admission, senior admission, or Newseum membership (a benefit to ages 7 and up, as kids 6 and under are always free). Up to six kids can enter free with the offer. Read a KFDC take on the Newseum and look for a deal on adult admission here.
  • The National Academy of Sciences has been showcasing Igniting the Imagination since March, and it will be on display through August 7. The exhibition of 28 children’s book illustrations from the Mazza Museum in Findlay, Ohio, all relate to science, engineering, or medicine in some way. The show looks at the power of images and stories to ignite the imagination of young people. Copies of the books are on hand in the gallery for families to read as well as several comfortable couches and chairs.
  • During the warm months, little ones can flex their green thumbs in the outdoor Children’s Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden — they can dig in dirt, water plants, and explore a cute little Bamboo Forest. (Note: It’s currently closed for renovations, but expected to be open by summer.) The rest of the USBG’s outdoor gardens are great to explore, too!


The National Gallery of Art's Drop-In program returns this summer

The National Gallery of Art’s Drop-In program returns this summer


Movies, Storytimes, & More for Kids
Family movies at local theaters are a great way to stay cool and keep kids entertained when the weather heats up. And several seasonal programs keep little ones engaged with storytimes and more interactive fun. Even better, they’re all free or super cheap!

  • The Regal Summer Movie Express presents flicks for kids on many Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 10am. Admission is just $1. Be sure to check the website for the film schedule and theater locations, as it doesn’t run at all theaters every week.
  • From May 10 – September 27, Kids Corner on The Plaza at CityCenter welcomes little ones for outdoor story time, singing, and fun with DC Public Library.
  • The new Kids in Canal is a 12-week series of kid-friendly entertainment every Wednesday 10:30-11:30am beginning June 7. Bring little ones to the middle block of Canal Park to enjoy magic shows, kids tunes, science demonstrations, and puppet shows. Top off the day with a refreshing splash in the dancing water fountains!
  • Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Ashburn welcomes families to Kids Camp, a movie series that is inexpensive ($1-3) and benefits local charities, to boot.


Go for a spin on the carousel at Watkins Regional Park

Go for a spin on the Antique Carousel at Watkins Regional Park

Mini Trains, Carousels, Mini Golf, & a Ferris Wheel!
These extra delights bring even more fun to several parks around the area that are already great outdoor places to hang with the kids.

  • Watkins Regional Park opens its attractions on a limited schedule in early May, but come Memorial Day weekend, they can be enjoyed for extended hours almost every day of the week. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10am – 7pm; Sundays 12–5 pm, closed Mondays except May 30 (Memorial Day), July 4 (July Fourth Holiday; closes at 4pm) & August 30 (Labor Day). Read about the rest of the fun you can enjoy at Watkins!
  • Cabin John Regional Park opened its Miniature Train on weekends only back in April, but as of June 1, it’ll be operating daily 10am – 7pm through August. After that, hours will be limited, so check the schedule. Read about the wonderful Cabin John playground here
  • The Miniature Train and Ovid Hazen Wells Carousel at Wheaton Regional Park started taking guests for spins in early April on weekends and will be open daily June 1 through August (limited times after that). Hours are 10am – 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am – 7pm Saturday & Sunday. Read about the super fun Wheaton playground here.
  • The beautiful historic Dentzel Carousel is open for its 97th season at Glen Echo Park. Plan to go for a spin before or after a show at Adventure Theatre or The Puppet Co. From May through August, it’s open Wednesday – Friday 10am – 2pm, and Saturday and Sunday 11am – 5pm.
  • The Clemyjontri carousel has been running on weekends since April, but will be offering rides daily starting May 31 on weekdays 9:30am – 1:00pm and weekends 9:30am – 6:30pm. Read more about Clemyjontri here.
  • Kind of like a London Eye of the U.S., The Capital Wheel at National Harbor is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of DC. The 42-gondola ride (all closed and climate-controlled with room for 8) soars 180 feet above the Potomac River waterfront, offering vistas of the White House and Capitol, the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and more amazing sites. Ticket prices start at $15. Read more about it here.
  • The RIO Express Train and Carousel at RIO Washingtonian are open 3pm – dusk on weekdays, 11am – dusk on weekends through June 19. After that, they’ll open daily 11am – 9pm. Rides are $3.
  • Burke Lake Park’s Mini Train and Carousel are open April to October, daily from Memorial Day – Labor Day 11:30am – 5:30pm. The park is free to access for Fairfax county residents. For non-county residents, the park is free on weekdays and has a $10 entrance fee on weekends/holidays for a car or large capacity van. Carousel rides are $2-3, and train rides are $3-4.


A setting as great as the entertainment at Children's Theatre in the Woods

A setting as great as the entertainment at Children’s Theatre in the Woods


Children’s Theatre
All the world’s an outdoor stage at these venues that present entertainment especially for children throughout the summer.

  • From late June through early August, Wolf Trap presents the fantastic Children’s Theater-in-the-Woods, over 70 family-friendly performances at 10am Tuesdays through Saturdays. Amidst 117 rolling wooded acres and nestled in a shady grove, the stage is set for lively adventures in music, dance, storytelling, puppetry, and theater. All of the productions are recommended for children between Kindergarten and 6th grade, though I think kids even younger can enjoy them, too (mine did!). Read a KFDC review of the series from a few summers ago.
  • Backyard Theater for Children, Strathmore’s summer theater series brings live music and fun to kids – all outdoors under a big tent. Weekly performances take place every Thursday at 9:30am and 11:30 from July 6-27. Admission is $8, free for ages 2 and under.
  • See a Shakespeare play in the park! The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents Shakespeare in the Ruins at the Picturesque Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City this summer. The Tempest, Shakespeare’s magnificent final play of storm and shipwreck, mystery and magic, and profound redemption, runs from June 16 – July 23. Not only can you picnic as you watch the play, but kids are free (two for every adult). Advance reservations are recommended as tickets are limited.
  • Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual Free For All will present Othello from August 15-27 this summer. The Washington tradition offers free performances of a Shakespearean classic to the public. Get tickets through an online lottery or waiting in line day-of with a limited number available.


Minor League is major fun at a Bowie Baysox game

Minor League is major fun at a Bowie Baysox game


Summer Sports
Some of the season’s best action takes place in ballparks, stadiums, and arenas thanks to our local sports teams. Here’s where you can join the fan clubs.

  • A day at Nationals Park is all it takes to understand why baseball is America’s favorite pastime. Catching a Nats game is one of our family’s preferred ways to enjoy a nice summer (or spring) day (or evening), anyway. The excitement extends well beyond the diamond with games and activities in the park, a playground for kids, the Racing Presidents, fun in the stands, and more. Before you go, check out these tips on doing a Nats game without breaking the bank. And I highly recommend the Jr. Nationals Kids Club for children 12 and under. Just $20 gets them membership, which includes Nats swag, plus a coupon book with offers for free meals, BOGO tickets, a ballpark tour, and all kinds of discounts. Even a few months into the season, it’s still worth it!
  • Tennis, anyone? The Washington Kastles, the DC franchise of World TeamTennis, will bring some on-court thrills to the Smith Center, where Kastles Stadium is located, July 18-29. For some background, see this post and this one from a few years back.
  • Every summer, the Citi Open Tennis Tournament serves up exciting competition along with other fun activities for fans of all ages. See some of the sport’s top players in action and enjoy the thrills on and off the court.
  • Whether or not you’ve got a little soccer fan in your fam, DC United matches are fun experiences for all ages. And since games only last 90 minutes, it’s not too long for antsy young spectators. Be sure to check for any pre- or post-game activities for kids.
  • Can’t stand the heat? Head to the Verizon Center to see the Washington Mystics (w)hoop it up on the basketball court. Tickets start at $19.
  • Swing up to Charm City to see the Baltimore Orioles play. Camden Yards is a beautiful ballpark, and you can head to the Inner Harbor before or after to make a day of it up north.
  • If the Nats or O’s aren’t in town, or you want to see baseball on a smaller but still fun scale, you’ve got several great options around the area. Take ’em out to the minors at a Bowie Baysox, Potomac Nationals, or Aberdeen Ironbirds game. Summer collegiate team Bethesda Big Train is also very popular for non-majors baseball action.
  • Women’s pro soccer team, Washington Spirit, plays in Germantown. Per a KFDC reader, “you get affordable tickets and concessions, picnic seating behind the goal, a really intimate, family-friendly environment and top-level soccer.”


One of the best treats of the season

One of the best treats of the season

Crab Feasts
Easily one of the best activities during summer in Maryland and neighboring areas (this is where I get non-DC-centric because I have to give credit where it’s due). Here are some suggestions for places to get ’em, though the “best” is always a subject for debate.

  • Cantler’s is an Annapolis institution.
  • Mike’s Crab House in Annapolis is also a popular spot.
  • Drive over the Bay Bridge to Kentmorr for great crabs and an awesome beach area for hanging out while you wait
  • The Jetty on Kent Narrows has crabs, scenic views, and a fun beachy vibe
  • In Baltimore, Bo Brooks on the Canton Waterfront often tops crab eaters’ lists.
  • Stay close to the city at Quarterdeck in Arlington.
  • Waterman’s in Rock Hall after a hike at the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge makes for a great Eastern Shore day trip.
  • Pick up your own at the Maine Avenue Fish Market. Buy them already steamed or get them while they’re still alive to cook at home.


Enjoy recreation on local waterways during the warm months

Enjoy recreation on local waterways during the warm months


Seasonal Experiences
Some particularly cool activities and offerings are only possible this time of year. Sure, you can say that’s most of this guide, but these experiences that fall into the “other” category shouldn’t be missed.

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The 2015 KFDC Guide to Summer in DC

Make a summer day (and night) of it at Yards Park

Make a summer day (and night) of it at Yards Park



Are you ready for the summer? If, like me, you answered that with a resounding, “Yeah!” then you’re in luck. The season may not officially begin for a few more weeks, but this is the time of year that I start shifting gears — from close-toed shoes to sandals, jeans to shorts, red wine to margaritas. It’s when play dates extend well into the evening, a dip in the pool counts as a bath, and the folks at the neighborhood water ice shop know the kids by name.

It’s also when some of DC’s most quintessential “summer” activities begin. Music and movies in the open air, special fests and feasts, water-inspired recreation, and bonus attractions at everyday places are just some of the joys of the season. This guide has details on all of them, most of it updated from last year, plus a few choice additions. So, unpack the swimsuits and flip flops, get out the blender for margaritas (and smoothies for the kids), and get ready to have some summer fun!

Outdoor Pool Season
Play in the Sprays
Water Parks
Summer Concert Series
Festivals
Big Screen Under the Stars
Movies at Theaters Near You
Mini Trains, Carousels, Mini Golf, & a Ferris Wheel
Children’s Theater Series
Summer Sports
Crab Feasts
Museum Programs
PYOP


Outdoor Pool Season
Nothing says summer like swimming under the sun, and there are plenty of public pools in the area where you can jump in for free or a small admission fee.

  • DC outdoor public pools will open on Saturday, May 23, from 12 – 6pm and will be open weekends only until June 20 (though they will be open Memorial Day, Monday, May 25). After that, they will open daily, though all pools are closed one day a week for maintenance, so be sure to check the schedule before you go.
  • For outdoor swimming outside of the city, Montgomery County outdoor public pools will open on May 23 through Labor Day — the Department of Recreation website has locations and hours.
  • In Northern Virginia, Arlington’s Upton Hill has a whole water park for guests to enjoy, and Alexandria has several places where the public is welcome to swim. Be sure to check the website for hours, as they vary from pool to pool.


A refreshing run through the sprays at Georgetown Waterfront Park

A refreshing run through the sprays at Georgetown Waterfront Park


Play in the Sprays
Kids can run through fountains and splash around at many area spraygrounds. Several are within the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, but some of the best are built right into the urban landscape, making the concrete jungle a cool place to hang out during the hottest months.

  • Georgetown Waterfront Park, right next to the Washington Harbour, has a fountain with arcing sprays that makes for a fun, refreshing way to cool off on a hot, summer day. The rest of its pretty green space along the Potomac is a great place to hang out, too.
  • The Yards Park is a favorite for many in the city with two levels of super fun sprays, a wading pool and wall of water (essentially a water fall between the levels), plus a great scenic location on the Anacostia River in the Navy Yard
  • Canal Park in the Navy Yard is great for all ages with both a gentle, shallow fountain that is perfect for really little ones to enjoy, plus a bigger fountain with lots of sprays for more enthusiastic play where the ice rink is in the winter.
  • Starting May 23, DPR Spray Parks will be open for the season, but hours vary by location, so be sure to check the website for hours.
  • Some of the area’s most popular spray parks — Lyon Village Park, Hayes Park, and Drew Park — can be found in Arlington.
  • The interactive fountain in Downtown Silver Spring plaza is open daily from 10am – 9pm. While my kids have never played there, I recall seeing very happy youngsters playing in the sprays on the colorful mosaic design during my lunch breaks when I worked at Discovery. It always looked like a blast.
  • The fountain in the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza located at 14th and Park Road, NW is a great place to cool down on a hot day, with many sprays that surge up from a pretty, circular tiled surface. Do a little shopping while you’re there — Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and many other big retail stores are right there — and plan to grab a bite at one of many kid-friendly eateries around. And don’t miss a chance to stop in the Museum of Unnatural History at 826DC.
  • The Fountain on the Square at Rockville Town Square welcomes kids to splish splash from May to September. It’s open Monday – Saturday 11am to 9pm and Sunday 12-8pm, but it’s turned off for maintenance at certain time during the week, so be sure to check the schedule before you go.
  • One of the newest to the sprayground scene, the fountains in the Mosaic District welcome all to play in the sprays that jet up from concrete. Surrounded by retails and restaurants, you can make a day of it there with some shopping and eating, too. Plan to go on a Tuesday with little ones when you can also enjoy Stories from Strawberry Park at 10-11am.


Water Parks
Giant water slides, wave pools, waterfalls, sprays and splash pads…this is the stuff kids’ summer dreams are made of. There are actually several water parks around the area offering many of these attractions, just about all of them opening Memorial Day weekend for limited hours, until they open daily in a few weeks. Here’s a quick list — visit the websites for more details.


Rockin' on the Riverfront is a great start to a summer weekend

Rockin’ on the Riverfront is a great start to a summer weekend


Summer Concert Series
Free music in the fresh air has become a staple of the season, and there are opportunities to enjoy just about every genre regularly at outdoor venues all around the DC-Metro.

  • One of my personal favorites is Rockin’ on the Riverfront. The Yards Park Friday concert series, running May 15 – September 11, presents a new band each week on the boardwalk stage overlooking the Anacostia River. Along with the free music, food and beverages are available for purchase (or you can BYO — adult beverages okay, too). I recommend getting there early, so the kids can play in the fountains before the concert starts at 6:30pm. And on a hot summer day, it’s nice to continue the water fun even while the tunes are playing — you can still hear them from across the park!
  • Experience live music amid art at Jazz in the Garden, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden’s free concert series, every Friday from 5:30–8:30pm. The first performance of the season is May 22, rain or shine, and there will be weekly shows through August 28. Spread out a blanket, pack a picnic dinner or purchase food and drinks there, and enjoy the sounds of a variety of jazz artists. Note: Adult drinks are available from the pavilion; BYO alcohol is not permitted.
  • The U.S. Air Force Band 2015 Summer Concert Series kicks off Friday, May 29, at 8pm, at the Air Force Memorial. After that, you can catch free performances all summer long at locales around the DC-Metro area, including other iconic spots like the Capitol steps and Sylvan Theater on the Washington Monument grounds. Show times vary so be sure to check the U.S. Air Force Band website for the complete summer schedule.
  • Carter Barron Amphitheater’s annual concert series takes place amid the woods of Rock Creek Park. While most shows are free, a few require admission. The 2015 lineup has not yet been announced, but check the website for an update soon!
  • All summer long, families can enjoy a variety of free fun at Rockville Town Square. Kids Night will be every Wednesday with live entertainment for the younger set (more info to come soon). And concerts for all ages on Friday evenings began May 1 and will run through September 4 — enjoy live music, good food, and beverages from 6:30-9:30pm.
  • Strathmore, the North Bethesda performing arts center, will host free outdoor concerts every Wednesday from July 1 – August 19.
  • Starting July 16, Rock the Row returns to Pentagon Row through August 20. On Thursdays from 7-9pm, all are invited to the lounge on the new plaza for food samples and craft beer in the VIP section or to gather at one of the outdoor cafés while enjoying live music, giveaways, and merchant specials.
  • You can kick-start your weekends at Tysons Corner Center’s Fresh Artists Concert Series, co-hosted by 94.7 Fresh FM and powered by Intelsat. Featuring “Fresh Artists,” the series has a little something for everyone. Grab a blanket and enjoy performances ranging from ballet to blues, folk to funk, and poetry to pop. This will run from July 26 – August 29.


Bicycles and bemusement at Tour de Fat

Bicycles and bemusement at Tour de Fat


Festivals
Several stand-out events are anticipated around the area this time of year, celebrating everything from music to art & culture to neighborhoods to food.

  • Tour de Fat may just be my second-favorite festival (Renn Fest takes the top cake), and it’s only been happening for a few years. The celebration of all things bicycle is zany in the best way possible. There’s a bicycle parade, bicycle art, reconfigured bicycles to ride, a dance contest to win a bicycle, a car-for-bike swap, a bike-themed kids areas, and bikes parked everywhere. There’s also beer (New Belgium is the sponsor).
  • Get folksy at Glen Echo Park May 30-31, when the annual Washington Folk Festival showcases the diversity of traditional music in Washington. All of the artists hail from the DC area, but cultures from around the nation, as well as the world, will be represented through music, dance, crafts, and stories. The public is invited to enjoy the free festival that is renown in the folk community.
  • It sounds like a grown-ups-only event, but the Vintage Virginia Wine & Food Festival offers plenty of family fun, too. Taking place May 30-31 at Bull Run Park, festivities include wine tasting (of course), chef demos, food truck fare, live music, and a whole Family Tent with activities especially for kids.
  • Imagination Bethesda, an annual festival occurring in the heart of its namesake city, is all about children. On June 6 from 10am – 3pm, Woodmont & Elm downtown will be lined with activity tents offering tons of fun for kids — arts & crafts, face painting, games, etc. There will also be live entertainment, food from local restaurants, and more. Admission is free.
  • Attend one of the biggest summer barbeques around on June 27-28 as the National Capital Barbeque Battle returns to pit some of the nation’s best barbequers against each other as they compete for big prizes. The reward for attendees: Samples from all the entrants (plus, more food), live music, cooking demos, kids’ fun, and more.
  • The DC Jazz Festival presents a variety of performers at venues all around the city from June 10-16. Keep up to date on details by visiting the website.
  • Every summer, the National Mall becomes stomping grounds of folks from around the globe to celebrate living cultural heritage and community traditions at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year’s event will run from June 24-28 and July 1-5, celebrating Peruvian culture and heritage.
  • The annual Del Ray Music Festival is always a popular event. The date is still TBD, but count on a celebration of the Alexandria community with a day of food, games, and lots of kids’ activities along with a varied line-up of live entertainment.
  • It might run into fall, but it starts in August, so I’m counting the Maryland Renaissance Festival among the summer fun. Plus, it’s one of my very, very favorite annual events (more confirmation on that here). The merriment begins August 29 and will continue every weekend through October 19. Go. Just go.


Big Screen Under the Stars
Outdoor movies have become a DC summer tradition in the last few years with films al fresco in several neighborhoods. Even better, all of them are FREE! (*Before you make plans to enjoy any of the series, be sure to check schedules, as some movies may not be appropriate for children.)

  • “Dance, Dance, Dance” is the theme of this year’s NoMa Summer Screen, so mark your calendars for Breakin 2: Electric Bugaloo, Grease, Footloose, and a bunch of other family-friendly flicks. begins May 27 and will run weekly on Wednesdays until August 19. The series will take place at Storey Park Lot (1005 First Street NE), which will be temporarily transformed into a mural-filled urban park. Get there to picnic at 7pm, and the movie begins at dark. See the list of films on the website.
  • The Capitol Riverfront will start presenting the Canal Park Outdoor Movie Series on June 4, and it will run every Thursday evening at sundown through September 3. Celebrating characters whose decisions shape the world, space, and time, the lineup includes plenty of movies that kids will enjoy
  • Union Market’s drive-in movie series is returning to the vibrant district in Northeast DC and will “flashback” every Friday, rolling out films that salute the ‘80s and ‘90s decades.
  • The National Harbor hosts Movies on the Potomac, with family films every Sunday night. It started May 10 and runs through September 27. Movies begin at sunset, usually around 8:30pm.
  • The longest running, Screen on the Green, takes place on the National Mall on Mondays in July and August. See the lineup of films here.
  • Bethesda Outdoor Movies will bring five days of flicks al fresco to downtown at the corner of Norfolk and Auburn Avenues from July 21-25.
  • Catch Films in the Park at the Mosaic District every Friday from June 5 – September 4. The entire film line-up is family-friendly, and they’re kicking it off with one of my all-time faves (Rudy never fails to make me cry.)


Movies at Theaters Near You
Special summer movie series for families at local theaters are a great way to keep kids entertained and stay cool when the weather heats up. Even better, these programs invite guests to view films on the cheap.

  • The Regal Summer Movie Express presents flicks for kids on many Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 10am. Admission is just $1. Be sure to check the website for the film schedule and theater locations, as it doesn’t run at all theaters every week.
  • Starting July 7, THEARC Theater will present Showtime Tuesdays, free children’s movies every Tuesday from 9:30am-11:30am through August 13. The program includes a fun pre-show activity, snack, and movie screening — all on them.
  • The Atlas Performing Arts Center presents a Summer Film Series every year, including A Family Series that takes place on Fridays at 5pm. The schedule has yet to be released, so stay tuned for an update


Mini Trains, Carousels, Mini Golf, & a Ferris Wheel!
These extra delights bring even more fun to several parks around the area that are already great outdoor places to hang with the kids.

  • Watkins Regional Park opened its attractions on a limited schedule in early May, but come Memorial Day weekend, they can be enjoyed for extended hours almost every day of the week. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10am – 7pm; Sundays 12–7 pm, closed Mondays except May 25 (Memorial Day), July 4 (July Fourth Holiday; closes at 4pm) & September 7 (Labor Day).
  • Cabin John Regional Park opened its Miniature Train on weekends only back in April, but as of June 1 it’ll be operating daily 10am – 7pm through August. After that, hours will be limited, so check the schedule.
  • The Miniature Train and Ovid Hazen Wells Carousel at Wheaton Regional Park started taking guests for spins in early May and will continue daily through August 30 (limited times after that). Hours are 10am – 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am – 7pm Saturday & Sunday.
  • The Clemyjontri carousel has been running on weekends since April, but will be offering rides daily starting May 25 on weekdays 9:30am – 1:00pm and weekends 9:30am – 6:30pm.
  • The Carousel at RIO Washingtonian in Gaithersburg will celebrate its Grand Opening on May 31 at 11am. Be among the first to take a spin or catch a ride another time. The Americana-themed classic carousel will feature 30 Allan Herschell-style dancing horses, whimsical creatures, and two chariots, allowing for up to 38 adult and 30 children passengers, with wheelchair access and chariot wheelchair positions. Rides are $3.
  • Kind of like a London Eye of the U.S., The Capital Wheel at National Harbor is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of DC. The 42-gondola (all closed and climate-controlled with room for 8) will soar 180 feet above the Potomac River waterfront, offering vistas of the White House and Capitol, the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and more amazing sites. Ticket prices start at $15. Read more about it here.


A setting as great as the entertainment at Children's Theatre in the Woods

A setting as great as the entertainment at Children’s Theatre in the Woods


Special Children’s Theatre Series
All the world’s an outdoor stage at these venues that present entertainment especially for children throughout the summer.

  • From late June through early August, Wolf Trap presents Children’s Theater-in-the-Woods, over 70 family-friendly performances at 10am Tuesdays through Saturdays. Amidst 117 rolling wooded acres and nestled in a shady grove, the stage is set for lively adventures in music, dance, storytelling, puppetry, and theater. All of the productions are recommended for children between Kindergarten and 6th grade, though I think kids even younger can enjoy them, too (mine have). Read a KFDC review of the series from a couple of summers ago.
  • Backyard Theater for Children, Strathmore’s summer theater series brings live music and fun to kids – all outdoors under a big tent. Weekly performances take place every Thursday at 9:30am and 11:30 from July 9-30. Admission is $8, free for ages 2 and under.


Boys of summer

Boys of summer


Summer Sports
Some of the season’s best action takes place in ballparks, stadiums, and arenas thanks to our local sports teams. Here’s where you can join the fan clubs.

  • A day at Nationals Park is all it takes to understand why baseball is America’s favorite pastime. Catching a Washington Nationals game is one of our family’s preferred ways to enjoy a nice summer (or spring) day (or evening), anyway. The excitement extends well beyond the diamond with games and activities in the park, a playground for kids, the Racing Presidents, fun in the stands, and more. And I highly recommend the Jr. Nationals Kids Club for children 12 and under. Just $20 gets them membership, which includes Nats swag, plus a coupon book with offers for free meals, BOGO tickets, a ballpark tour, and all kinds of discounts. Even a few months into the season, it’s still worth it!
  • Tennis, anyone? The Washington Kastles, the DC franchise of World TeamTennis, will bring some on-court thrills to The Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront, where Kastles Stadium is located, July 12-29. For some background, see this post and this one from a few years back.
  • Whether you’ve got a little soccer fan in your fam or not, DC United matches are fun experiences for all ages. And since games only last 90 minutes, it’s not too long for antsy young spectators. Be sure to check for any pre- or post-game activities for kids.
  • Can’t stand the heat? Head to the Verizon Center to see the Washington Mystics (w)hoop it up on the basketball court. Tickets start at $19.
  • Swing up to Charm City to see the Baltimore Orioles play. Camden Yards is a beautiful ballpark, and you can head to the Inner Harbor before or after to make a day of it up north.
  • If the Nats or O’s aren’t in town, or you want to see baseball on a smaller scale, you’ve got several great options around the area. Take ’em out to the minors at a Bowie Baysox, Potomac Nationals, or Aberdeen Ironbirds game. Summer collegiate team Bethesda Big Train is also very popular for non-majors baseball action.


Crab Feasts
Easily one of the best activities during summer in Maryland and neighboring areas (this is where I get non-DC-centric because I have to give credit where it’s due). Here are some suggestions for places to get ’em, though the “best” is always a subject for debate.


Tending to the USBG Children's Garden

Tending to the USBG Children’s Garden


Museum Programs & Seasonal Exhibits

  • First there was indoor mini-golf, last year it was a giant maze. This summer, the National Building Museum is riding the seasonal wave and bringing The BEACH to the Great Hall. The installation will cover 10,000 square feet and include an “ocean” of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic balls. Visitors are welcome to “swim” in the ocean or spend an afternoon at the “shore’s” edge. Admission is $5/youth member, $10/adult member and $13/youth non-member, $16/adult non-member. Open July 4 through September 7.
  • During the warm months, little ones can flex their green thumbs in the outdoor Children’s Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden — they can dig in dirt, water plants, and explore a cute little Bamboo Forest. The rest of the USBG’s outdoor gardens are great to explore, too!
  • You can walk amid a garden of butterflies at Brookside Garden’s amazing Wings of Fancy exhibit. It’s back after being closed last summer during renovations. The seasonal display featuring live butterflies and caterpillars from all over the world will be open daily July 1 – September 25, 10am – 4pm. Admission is $8/ages 13 and up, $5/3-12, free ages 0-2 (admission to the rest of Brookside is free). Read about a KFDC experience at the exhibit.
  • Every year, the Newseum offers the Summer Fun Deal. From July 1 – September 7, there is no admission fee for kids ages 18 and under. The promotion waives the $12.95 regular entrance charge for youth with one paid adult admission, senior admission, or Newseum membership (a benefit to ages 7 and up, as kids 6 and under are always free). Up to six kids can enter free with the offer. Read a KFDC take on the Newseum and look for a deal on adult admission here.


Gonna eat me a lot of peaches

Gonna eat me a lot of peaches


PYOP: Pick Your Own Produce

    While the picking season starts in the spring with strawberries, it carries on through summer with even more delicious fruits — blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, plus veggies and more produce you can gather yourself. Find out where you can PYOP at farms around the area.

Have I left out anything really good? If you think so, feel free to let me know in the comments.

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Where to Play on the Weekdays: July 11-15

Long, lazy summer days sound wonderful in theory, but when you add energetic, curious kids to the mix, they are few and far between. Luckily, there are always plenty of options for weekday recreation around DC or within an easy drive; it’s just a matter of figuring out where they are.

Well, I’m going to do some of the guesswork for you by offering suggestions of what to do with the kids each week.  This is an idea inspired by the Go Out & Play blog, which highlights an activity, mostly in northern Virginia, for little ones every weekday. (FYI – Arlington Mama always recommends a great selection of unique outings for young children.)

My Monday to Friday picks will mix up the locales and age groups a bit, but the goal of a good time will be a constant throughout.

Here are my suggestions for this week, July 11-15:

Monday – By the time this post is live, much of the day will be over, but you can still get in some good swim time at an outdoor pool. DC public pools remain open until 8pm, many Alexandria pools until 7pm, and until 8pm in Montgomery County.

Tuesday – The National Gallery of Art is hosting its Stories in Art drop-in program tomorrow.  Four hourly time slots are available starting at 10:30am.

Wednesday – Catch a movie with the kids for free, just a buck, or with a baby in tow. There are several special movies series going on that cater to kids or moms who have brand new ones. Read about them all here.  (And note that some run on Tuesday as well.)

Thursday – If the forecast holds out, we should have cooler temps by the end of the week, perfect for Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods at Wolf Trap, where Baba Jamal Koram and SteveSongs are performing this week. Read a KFDC review of the summer theatre series.

Friday – Go check out a new playground. This brand spanking new blog already has a couple of great reviews of local outdoor play spaces.  And here’s a bonus recommendation: The Friday Concert series at the Yards Park is great for all ages — fountain play for kids; music, food, and fun for everyone.

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The Best Places in the DC Area to Enjoy a Beautiful Day Outdoors with the Kids

Now, this is how to enjoy a beautiful day



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Today’s superb weather inspired me to put together a list of places that are made for beautiful days like this. Most of these locales have been recommended before, but never in one easy go-to list.  Certainly, there are many more, so I’ll continually add new recommendations.  In the meantime, may there be many great days ahead to try them out.

The old Capitol columns at the National Arboretum

The old Capitol columns at the National Arboretum

U.S. National Arboretum
Hands down one of the best places in the city to chill out with the kids outdoors — which is why I recommend it so often. Its nearly 450 acres contain an amazing variety of plant, tree, and flower collections. Even if little ones aren’t into the flora, there still is plenty they will enjoy. The old National Capitol columns standing smack in middle of the Ellipse Meadow are a big draw – kids can play amid the pillars and check out the fountain, which flows down from the middle to a pool below. You can hike through woods, cross footbridges over small creeks, and seek out “magic” sitting areas like gazebos and spaces beneath tree canopies. The wonderful Washington Youth Garden invites visitors to watch the cultivation process, and the natural playground lets them engage in fun activities. The koi pond at the visitor center is great fun – the fish will swim right up to the edge and even pop their faces above the surface in hopes of a feeding. Little ones will also delight in the little trees at the bonsai exhibits. And the Grove of State Trees, a collection of trees from all 50 states, is a designated eating area with wooden tables and nice flat spots to spread out a blanket for a picnic.


An urban oasis at The Yards

An urban oasis at The Yards

The Yards Park
One of the other best places to chill out with the kids, this relatively new recreational space is not a new recommendation from me, and for good reason. The centerpiece of the still-developing Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has many elements that make it a gem — open grassy spaces, lots of artistically designed benches and seating areas, a boardwalk along the Anacostia, the sculptural Pedestrian Bridge, and a fantastic view of the river. But the real bonus for kids is the fountains. Located on the park’s two levels, the water features aren’t just there for people to look at; those who want to get wet can play in the sprays above and wade in the shallow pool below. Just be sure to bring a change of clothes for the kids – getting soaked is guaranteed. (February 2015 Update: There’s even more to enjoy now, as The Yards has developed quite a bit since this was originally posted — more eateries, kayaks for rent (see Ballpark Boathouse below), a fantastic summer concert series, and lots of fun events hosted there. However, the fountains and boat rentals and not on during the cold months.)



The Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial

The National Mall
This is an obvious suggestion, but sometimes those are the very ones we need to be reminded of, especially when it’s easy to get lured into the many museums surrounding the Mall that beckon with wonderful collections and free admission.  But there’s plenty of  art and history along with active recreation to enjoy outside of the galleries, too. Walk or bike among the monuments and memorials,  but be sure to stop and take in the magnificent architecture and design.  View art al fresco — kids will love the whimsical creations at the National Gallery of Art and Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Gardens. Stop and smell the roses and other pretty flowers at the Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. Take a spin on The Carousel for $3.75 a ride.  Rent a paddle boat and cruise the Tidal Basin ($12/hour for 2 people, $19/hour for 4 people.



Visiting peacocks at Old Maryland Farm

Visiting peacocks at Old Maryland Farm

Watkins Regional Park
Plan on several trips to this PG County park — there is so much to do here, that you need a few outings to thoroughly enjoy it all.  Visit bunnies, chickens, peacocks, ducks, llamas, cows, ponies and sheep at  Old Maryland Farm. Bring quarters for the food dispensers to feed the birds, and the Watkins Nature Center will have even more critters for guests to see.  From there, head over to the sprawling colorful Wizard of Oz-themed playground.  As if all that isn’t enough, Watkins gets even better in the spring, when the antique carousel, train, and mini golf open for the season — be sure to check the schedule for days and times.



On the Cunningham Falls trail

On the Cunningham Falls trail

Walks in the Woods
One of my favorite ways to relish in a great day is on the trail, immersed in nature. Last spring I discussed how having kids changed the way my husband and I approach outdoor recreation, particularly hiking. We have to be mindful of our babes’ capabilities when hitting the trail, from how far their little legs can take them to how long they have before boredom kicks in. So, we try to find hikes that are short, not too strenuous, and include sights that we know they will appreciate. This post contains a list of some of the best places we’ve found to tramp with the kids.



A pony ride at the Rock Creek Horse Center

A pony ride at the Rock Creek Horse Center

Rock Creek Park
The sprawling urban park regularly offers all kinds of ranger-led programs and activities for children, many for free.  There are hikes, horseback rides, nature tours, and more.  On any given weekend and select dates during the week, there’s something going on to bring kids closer to nature.  One of our favorite stops is the Horse Center, where guests can visit equine residents at the stables and sign up for a pony ride through the woods ($20 – check the schedule for days and times).



Great views abound at Great Falls

Great views abound at Great Falls

Great Falls Park
I mentioned this park that straddles the Potomac River in Maryland and Virginia in my post about hikes with kids awhile back. But it’s more than just a great place for walks in the woods. Along with numerous trails, Great Falls is a showcase of some of the area’s best natural scenery and a harbor of historical sights. The falls, gushing furiously over jagged rocks in the Mather Gorge, are a magnificent must-see. You can view them from a few different overlooks that are easily accessible via wooden footbridges or hike down (or up) dirt trails where it’s less crowded. Remnants of 18th-century locks are still on the Maryland side along the C&O canal, and if you look closely, you can find stone mason marks created to identify their work. Ranger-led programs and tours are available – info about both can be found on the National Park Service website.



Hanging by the river

Hanging by the river

Riverbend Park
This is where we go when we arrive at Great Falls to find a long line of cars at the entrance, which is not uncommon on a beautiful day. Riverbend is just a few miles away from its more popular neighbor on the Virginia side of the Potomac in Fairfax County. There are no awe-inspiring falls, and at 400 acres it’s about half the size, but it’s low-key, peaceful, and a lovely riverfront retreat. Hike through the woods along the water or stick to paved paths near the Visitor Center. Picnic tables are available, so pack a lunch to enjoy a bite by the water.



Strolling the boardwalk

Strolling the boardwalk

Huntley Meadows
There are trails, wildlife sightings, and plenty of nature to explore on the 1,425 acres of woods and wetlands throughout this park in Alexandria.   Hike along the paved, dirt, and boardwalk trails, and you’re practically guaranteed to spot turtles of all sizes, frogs, great blue herons, cardinals, and a variety of other birds.  The entire hike is just over a mile, and there are  lookouts and benches where you can stop for breaks and snacks along the way to make it a few hours’ outing. Don’t forget sunscreen, hats, and water, as there’s no shade through the wetlands section of the park. Get directions to the Huntley Meadows here.


What up, Teddy!

What up, Teddy!

Roosevelt Island
I always think of this national memorial honoring President Theodore Roosevelt and his contributions to the environment as very “DC.”  Its 91 acres are located amidst a natural woodsy setting accessible by long wooden footbridge crossing the Potomac.  Vegetation grows thickly along two and a half miles of paved paths looping through the preserve. And smack in the middle of it all – the “DC” part — is a stone tribute to Roosevelt, a 17-foot bronze statue of Teddy himself, flowing fountains, and large granite slabs inscribed with Roosevelt’s tenets on conservation. It’s all quite impressive to both kids and adults.  And the island itself is perfect for an outing with kids with short, easy hikes, wildlife sightings (we’ve seen deer and other small animals there), and a chance to splash around in water a bit (just hands and feet – there’s no jumping in these fountains).



George's riverfront lawn

George’s riverfront lawn

Mount Vernon
George Washington’s old digs, sprawling along the banks of the Potomac across the river from DC, offer a history lesson, some of the best views around, and a good time all in one. Get a glimpse into the life of the first POTUS by touring the Mansion and other buildings, several gardens, and a four-acre working farm on the estate.  Staff dressed in costume roam the estate and tell stories about the old days.  That’s often a favorite for kids along with the stables, seeing the farm animals, and generally getting an idea of what life was like over 200 years ago.  Don’t miss a stroll on the Mansion’s east lawn — the stretch of green grass right along the water offers a beautiful lookout over the Potomac.  Admission is $17/adult, $9/ages 6-11, free for children 5 and under.



Exploring Brookside's Children's Garden

Exploring Brookside’s Children’s Garden

Brookside Gardens
This public display garden in Wheaton is beautiful any time of year with spectacular blooms in the spring, the Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit in the summer, brilliant foliage during fall, and holiday lights in the winter. Along with many incredible plant and flower collections there’s a turtle pond, a children’s garden complete with gnome hut and tree house, and plenty of open space for roaming and enjoying the scenery. Admission is free, though there is a fee for Wings of Fancy.



The Hains Point playground

The Hains Point playground

East Potomac Park | Hains Point
Many people, including me, call the whole 300+acre peninsula Hains Point, but that particular locale is actually only the southern part of the entire park.  Situated between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River just south of the Tidal Basin, East Potomac Park contains a nice variety of recreation, and it all comes with great views of the water as well as the boats and airplanes that cruise and fly alongside it.  Within the park there’s a golf course, a mini-golf course, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a playground, and plenty of space to run, play, and picnic.  Ohio Drive, the road that runs the perimeter of the park is a popular training course for competitive cyclers and runners, but the flat, scenic loop is good for family bike rides, too.



Plane view at Gravelly Point

Plane view at Gravelly Point

Gravelly Point
The small, scenic park just off the GW Parkway next to Ronald Reagan Airport  is an ideal spot to picnic, people watch, play ball, and walk along the river — if you really like airplanes.  I have to warn:  it’s hit or miss with kids (and adults, for that matter).  The park is adjacent to the airport runway, so planes take off or land (depending on which way they are going that day) literally right overhead. That’s the hit or miss part.  It’s loud and potentially scary for those who don’t like the looks of a plane coming right at them.  But for kids who don’t mind and love airplanes, it’s quite a thrill.



PYO apples at Homestead

PYO apples at Homestead

Homestead Farms
During fruit and veggie harvests, this is one of our family’s favorite farms to visit.  It’s not open to guests until strawberry season begins in May, but when it does open, it’s a great place to pick your own produce and enjoy some time on the farm. Homestead scores just as high on aesthetics as it does on its crops—the lovely pastoral setting in Montgomery County makes you feel like you’re way more than 20 miles from the city. Before you go, be sure to check the website for hours and to see what’s  ripe for picking.



Strolling and browsing the market

Strolling and browsing the market

Weekends at Eastern Market
This one is quite special to me, as it’s just blocks from our house and one of my favorite things about living on Capitol Hill. Something about spending time there feels like a vacation in my own neighborhood.  The market is both a community touchstone and a big draw for folks who don’t live here, especially on the weekends when the flea market, stretching along 7th Street SE, is in full swing.  Local farmers sell fresh produce and other vendors sell art, jewelry, housewares, clothes and accessories, food, and a variety of other goods.  Live music and food trucks parked nearby are additional treats.  Of course, you can’t miss the centerpiece of it all, Eastern Market itself.  Inside, food stalls offer all kinds of fresh fare, from meats and cheese to produce and baked goods to fish and flowers.  The Market Lunch is an institution, serving some of the best pancakes and crab cakes around (don’t let the name fool ya… the breakfast is legendary.)  But if the line is too long for little ones to wait, there are plenty of other places both in the market and the immediate area to grab a bite to eat.



The bridge from WV to MD

The bridge from WV to MD

Harpers Ferry
Just over an hour’s drive from DC, where the Potomac meets the Shenandoah River, this West Virginia locale is a great day trip destination and an easy escape from the Metro-area bustle.  Outdoor recreation, historic landmarks, and small-town strolling give visitors plenty to see and do.  Located along the famous Appalachian Trail, there are ample tramping options, many that lead to overlooks offering incredible views (these tend to be steep and strenuous so be prepared with little ones).  Civil War remnants provide a glimpse into the past.  The charming town with quaint shops and cobblestone streets is a fun area to roam and explore.  And if the kids are older and confident on the water, take them tubing on the river for a glorious way to enjoy a warm-weather day.



Wheee!

Wheee!

Cabin John Regional Park Adventure Playland
The beautiful natural setting and abundance of play  options put Cabin John among the top area playgrounds. A variety of primary-colored play structures are scattered throughout a sublime wooded section of the park. Tall trees surround the area, and their long shadows streak across sunlit surfaces. Kids can climb up, slide down, scramble over, swing from, even pretend to drive the apparatuses. And while there are many structures of all kinds of configurations for varying ages, there’s also a lot of open space in which to run around. As if that’s not enough, there is also a Miniature Train that offers rides through the woods ($1.75 for ages 3 and up, free for 2 and under with adult). For a complete review of this playground nirvana, see this post.



Catching a taxi ride

Catching a taxi ride

Potomac by Water Taxi
The Potomac Riverboat Company operates daily between the National Harbor and Old Town Alexandria. It’s about a 20-minute ride on the river, plenty of time to thrill young mariners. Catch the taxi from either point, cruise to the other side, then stay awhile to eat and explore.  Round-trip rides are $10/adults and $5/kids ages 5-11. A coupon for $2 off is available on the company’s website.



Stay Cool at an Outdoor Pool
Nothing says summer like swimming under the sun. Starting Memorial Day weekend, DC outdoor public pools are open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 – 6pm.  They open daily a few weeks later, though all pools are closed one day a week for maintenance, so be sure to check the schedule before you go.  For swimming outside of the city, Montgomery County outdoor public pools are open Memorial Day through Labor Day — the Dept. of Recreation website has locations and hours.  In Northern Virginia, Arlington’s Upton Hill has a whole waterpark for guests to enjoy, and Alexandria has several places where the public is welcome to swim — be sure to check the website for hours, as they vary from pool to pool.



Heading for home plate

Heading for home plate

Nationals Park
When baseball season is in full swing, a day at the ballpark can be a great family activity. (I think so, anyway.  As mentioned in an early KFDC post, not all folks agree).  It’s an experience that extends beyond just the game  — there are the Racing Presidents during the fourth inning; the Family Fun Area outfitted with corporate-sponsored interactive games and activities;  the Jungle Gym, full of twisty climbs, tunnels, and slides; and plenty of JumboTron entertainment.  Go on Sundays for Kids Run the Bases—after the game children ages 4 and up are invited to loop the infield, high-fiving Nationals mascot Screech and the Racing Presidents along the way.


Spray play at The Yards

Spray play at The Yards

Play in the Spray
Kids can run through fountains and splash around at many area spraygrounds. Several are within the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, and you can find out where on their website. DPR Spray Parks open Memorial Day weekend on a Saturday-only basis, hours are 11am – 4pm. Starting June 21, they will open daily (check the website for hours). For spray fun with a riverfront view, the Yards Park has fountains and a great location on the Anacostia.  And some of the area’s most popular spray parks—Lyon Village Park, Hayes Park, and Drew Park–can be found in Arlington.


King of the jungle in the city zoo

King of the jungle in the city zoo

National Zoo
Lions and tigers and bears…and elephants and pandas and gorillas…oh, yeah!  What kid doesn’t love to see the beasts they usually only read about in books or see on TV — all in one place?  Our zoo has it all, and it seems to get better all the time with new habitats for many animals and more exhibits for visitors (though updates also require construction, which also seems to be ongoing).  Ambitious zoo-goers can tour all of it in a day, but I find it easier to pick a few exhibits in one area and take our time. Cafes and food stands offer a small selection of food, or you can also pack lunch and picnic in the grassy area by the Kids’ Farm (or just find an empty bench). The new Elephant Trails exhibit is quite popular as is the Giant Panda Habitat and lion cubs. And there are always daily programs and special events, so be sure to check the calendar before you go to help plan your visit. Woodley Park on the Red Line is the closest Metro stop, or you can pay $15 to park in the Zoo lot (or hope to get lucky and find street parking along Connecticut Avenue or nearby side street).


There was an old woman...

There was an old woman…


Clark’s Elioak Farm
From a kid’s eye view, this farm must be magical. And from a parent’s perspective, it’s the kind of place that makes me wish I were a kid again. The grounds are straight out of a fairytale, charmingly adorned with recovered installations from an old storybook park. Kids can peek in the windows of the Three Bears’ house, zip down a slide of the Old Woman Who Lived in A Shoe, tumble down a hill with Jack & Jill, climb aboard Cinderella’s pumpkin, sit on Humpty Dumpty’s wall. If that’s not enough, there are also hayrides, cow train rides, pony rides, a playground area (not that the whole thing isn’t a giant playground), and farm animals – goats, ponies, sheep, and chickens—including a petting area that kids can actually enter to feed and pet baby goats. Check the calendar for hours and special events spring through fall when it’s open to visitors, including pumpkin patch fun in autumn. Clark Elioak’s Farm is located in Ellicott City, Maryland, about a 45-minute drive from DC. Admission is $5/person (free for children under 1), $2 each for pony rides, cow train rides, and hayrides.


Time trip at Claude Moore

Time trip at Claude Moore

Claude Moore Colonial Farm
This living history farm in McLean is straight out of the 18th-century. Everything at Claude Moore has been recreated to look just as it did in 1771, with a tobacco barn, farm house, garden, orchard, animals, even a family (portrayed by actors) who live and work on the farm and go about their daily life as visitors pass through. The farm isn’t huge — the whole walk is about 3/4 of a mile, and there is a dirt path that winds through it — but it’s a wonderful earning experience for all ages as well as a great way to spend a nice day outside.  Admission is $3/adult, $2/children 3 and up. The farm is closed during the winter, but will reopens in early April.


All ages and abilities can play at Clemyjontri

All ages and abilities can play at Clemyjontri

Clemyjontri Park
The park’s tag line, “Where every child can play…”, really says it all. Unique among DC area playgrounds, Clemyjontri was designed with children of all abilities in mind and accommodates those who use wheelchairs, braces, and walkers, or who have sensory or developmental disabilities.  Swings have high backs and added safety features, ramps and rubber surfacing allow wheelchairs to navigate the entire area, wider openings offer better access to play structures, and monkey bars are lowered for easier climbing.  And the beautiful American Classic Carousel is at ground level for wheelchair accessibility. Just looking at the sprawling expanse of brightly colored play structures with a fairytale-esque carousel at its center is an instant boost to any kid’s excitement meter.  Parents are often equally captivated by the park, and not just because they know their kids will have a blast there, but also because of the idea that just about any kid can enjoy it. Clemyjontri Park is located at 6317 Georgetown Pike in McLean.  Hours are 7am – Dusk, admission is free, and carousel rides are $1.50 when it’s in operation (check the calendar).


Giant lily pads at the Gardens

Giant lily pads at the Gardens

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
It’s hard to believe something like this exists right in the city. Yet there it is in northeast Washington, right on the other side of the Arboretum.  However, you have to go around to 295 to access the entrance. Numerous ponds are filled with giant lily pads, lotus flowers, water lilies, and a variety of interesting aquatic plants. Paths winding among them make for excellent nature walks, letting visitors get a close look at the flora and fauna that thrives there. Along with the vegetation, it’s quite possible to see any number of marshland residents — frogs, turtles, geese, great blue herons, and more. The best times to go is when the weather is warmer and the flowers are in bloom.  But a stroll through the gardens any time of year is a wonderful way to get a nature fix without even leaving the city. Hours are 8am – 4pm.  Find directions to the Gardens here.


The Children's Garden at River Farm

The Children’s Garden at River Farm

River Farm
The American Horticultural Society’s headquarters located right off the GW Parkway on the way to Mount Vernon are, in a word, lovely. Over looking the Potomac River, the grounds welcome visitors to explore, relax, and play.  That’s right, the Children’s Gardens on the north side of the house include all kinds of mini gardens designed to stimulate children’s interest in plants and nature. There’s a little fort that kids can crawl under or over; the Boat Garden with a real row boat to climb aboard; a Little House on the Prairie Garden with – yup! – a little house to play in; and many more charming areas for kids to enjoy.  And right next to it all are more gardens with beautiful flowers, plants, brick paths, and nice seating areas that would make great picnic spots. The large house on premises is also open to tour and contains the office, art to view, and bathrooms. Rocking chairs on the back porch practically beckon you to sit and enjoy the tranquil surroundings and beautiful riverside view. River Farm is located at 7931 East Boulevard Drive in Alexandria. It’s open from 9am – 5pm Monday through Friday all year, and 9am – 1pm on Saturday from April through September.


Peek-a-boo pig at Oxon Hill

Peek-a-boo pig at Oxon Hill

Oxon Hill Farm
This park in Prince George’s county, just minutes from the National Harbor, makes for a wonderful outing with the kids. Not only is it super fun for little ones, with animals to visit and lots of space to run around, it’s also scenic and serene, a nice escape from the city bustle.  And it never seems to be crowded, so parking isn’t a problem and seeing the sights is easy. Along with the animals, there are historical exhibits, including old farm equipment, a display about grain uses, and an area demonstrating the agriculture (tobacco and wheat) of the farm’s past. Be sure to stop in the Visitor Center, where there is a small play area for kids, and to find out about any special programs taking place when you’re there.  Oxon Hill Farm is open daily from 8am – 4:30pm. Admission is free.


Yum!

Yum!

Strawberry Fields
One of the activities I anticipate most every spring is strawberry picking. I love heading out to the farm and gathering produce with the kids. The slow pace and open space are a nice change from the hubbub and confines of the city.  It’s a fun, active way for little ones to see where their food comes from.  And then there’s the obvious: the enjoyment continues with a basketful of delicious hand-picked berries at home. Lucky for us, there are many farms within an easy drive from DC that offer pick-your-own opportunities.  And some of them host festivals to celebrate the fruit, to boot.  For a list of them, see this post about PYO places in the area.


Roses are red (and yellow and pink) outside at the USBG

Roses are red (and yellow and pink) outside at the USBG

U.S. Botanic Garden
A great destination no matter what the weather, but even better on a nice day when you can enjoy the wonderful outdoor areas too.  Little ones always love the Children’s Garden where they can flex their green thumbs with shovels, water cans, and  planters and ground space to dig in. There’s also a working water pump and fountains, a bamboo “forest,” and a little garden house (with a real green roof!) where kids can play. Outside of the building is the National Garden, which is terrific for all ages to tour and explore. The roses are gorgeous, there are little foot bridges spanning a small stream (where Sasha claims the Grumpy Old Troll lives), a mini amphitheater, and the First Ladies Water Garden, a lovely fountain where you can cool your feet, relax among the beautiful plants and flowers, and take in iconic DC views all at once.


Burke Lake Park
Whether you’re up for an outdoorsy experience or just seeking kiddie amusement in a nice setting, this is an ideal place to go. Encompassing nearly 900 acres, the park offers alfresco adventures to suit every age and interest.  You can hike, bike, fish, run, rent rowboats, spot wildlife, play sports. Back in the pre-kids day, we loved flinging discs through the Frisbee golf course, and there’s also an 18-hole golf course and driving range, volleyball courts, and playing fields for other games.  Especially for little ones are the mini train and carousel (open seasonally) , and playgrounds.  Choose your pursuit (or two) and make a day of it, or pick a few and overnight it — campgrounds are open to visitors late April through most of October. Admission to Burke Lake is $10/vehicle and some of the activities cost extra. For more info and specific costs, visit the website here.


Put a skip in your step at Dumbarton Oaks

Put a skip in your step at Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks Gardens
The grounds of this historic estate tucked away in a relatively non-bustling area of Georgetown are absolutely enchanting. It’s sprawling acres are graced with beautifully landscaped plats, artfully designed terraces, and glorious stretches of green grass. Stone and brick passageways meander in every direction to many different areas, each one seeming more lovely than the last. Some of them you arrive at directly, the path leading to the next obvious place. Others you feel like you encounter by chance, as if you’ve discovered a secret oasis within the larger, wonderful retreat. You can easily spend a good few hours strolling the grounds and relaxing in the many seating areas. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 2-6pm. Admission is $8/adults, $5/children ages 3 and up, free for 2 and under. There are a lot of stairs and bumpy stone paths, so if you’re bringing a little one, I recommend a wearable carrier over a stroller. (Note: From mid-November to mid-March, admission to the gardens is FREE!)


Hurray for the sprays!

Hurray for the sprays!

Georgetown Waterfront Park
This recently opened park is like a Joni Mitchell song in reverse: They unpaved a parking lot and put up paradise. A 10-acre sliver of local paradise, anyway. Where there once was a big fenced-in blacktop area where you could overpay to leave your car for a few hours, is now a wonderful stretch of recreational space right along the Potomac River. And with elements that make it great for play and relaxation, plus a location that’s both scenic and convenient, it’s quickly becoming one of the city’s best go-to spots to hang outdoors. Along with a wonderful in-ground fountain that visitors can play in, there’s lots of open green space for relaxing, paths to stroll, artistic elements, and, of course, the gorgeous setting along the Potomac River. Open from dawn to dusk, and free to the public.


Ready to walk among the trees

Ready to walk among the trees

The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring
The locale’s five acres of Maryland woods are like a natural amusement park, outfitted with 10 ropes courses that have a total of 180 obstacles — all amid the trees.  Guests navigate from tree to tree via “bridges” made from ropes, wooden boards and slats, nets, and wires (connected by carabiners to wires, of course).  You might walk up a thick tree branch, duck through large metal hoops, and whiz gleefully down zip lines to get to the next platform. It’s all self-guided, and they give first-timers a lesson on handling the ropes before starting. In a nutshell: It’s So. Much. Fun. The park is open weekends through November 25 from 9am – dusk, and during September and October on Thursdays from 3pm – dusk and Fridays from 1pm – dusk. In the spring, it’s open weekends and some weekdays 9am – 7pm. During summer, open daily 9am – 8pm. Participants must be at least 5 years old, and there is a package for ages 5-6: accompanied by an adult (and it must be a one-to-one ratio), they have access to their two easiest ropes courses for 90 minutes for $34 total for kid and adult. Admission for a 3-hour adventure is $48/ages 12 and up, $43/ages 10-11, $38/ages 7-9.


Meadowlark's Korean Bell Garden

Meadowlark’s Korean Bell Garden

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
This park in Vienna is, in two words, absolutely glorious. Large open expanses of soft grass are traversed by paved paths with plant and flowers collections on view all around. A couple of ponds are great places to see some wildlife — turtles, fish, ducks, and geese can be easily spotted in and around the water. A new Korean Bell Garden is a pretty and peaceful area with Korean inspired structures and art. A woodsy area contains a small creek and bridges to cross it. There is also a little Butterfly Garden, whimsical botanic-themed sculptures, and some live animals to view in the Visitors Center.  Meadowlark open 10am – 8pm in August, but it closes an hour earlier every month until November (then stays open later again beginning in March). Admission is $5/adults, $2.50 for ages 7-17 and 55 and up, free for kids 6 and under.


Trail guide in training

Trail guide in training

Turkey Run Park
A great option for hiking with kids. Located right off the GW Parkway near 495, Turkey Run contains nearly 700 acres of woods, trails that ramble along the Potomac, streams that flow down from the woods to the river, great views from the shoreline, and a variety of wildlife. Hikes are fairly easy, and you can opt for trails anywhere from about one to four miles long. There are clusters of big rocks on the riverbanks where it’s nice to stop and take in the views — or have a picnic if you’re so inclined. Fallen trees are fun to scramble over or walk upon, and a few small footbridges let you cross over streams. Birds and squirrels are easy to spy, and keep your eyes peeled for deer. A few picnic areas with tables are perfect for lunch al fresco, and open spaces are great areas to toss a Frisbee or kick a ball around. Access the park via the GW Parkway, right before the Beltway. Hours are 6am -10pm, and there is no admission fee.


Row, row, row...

Row, row, row…

Fletcher’s Boathouse
While the grounds at Fletcher’s are a nice place to hang out, it’s actually more of a starting point for even more fun: Paddling on the Potomac. Canoes, kayaks, and row boats are available for rent for an hour or the whole day for some fun on the river. The Boathouse is open from 7am – 7pm daily mid-March through October. Canoe rentals are $25/hour, kayaks are $16/hour for a single and $22/hour for a double. Rowboats are $16/hour or $30/day. Standup Paddleboards are $22/hour. And if you’re not up for water time, Fletcher’s is still a nice place to enjoy a picnic and Potomac views — an open grassy area includes grills, tables, and space to toss a Frisbee.


Soaking up the fun

Soaking up the fun

Canal Park
The relatively new park in the Navy Yard offers both active and relaxing recreation year-round. During the warm seasons, there are two interactive fountains for the public to enjoy: A 135-foot long, 20-foot wide fountain with a gentle, shallow cascade flowing down its scrim surface is a perfect place for really little ones to play. Then there’s the fountain with jets embedded into the concrete over about a 40-foot diameter area that splash water several feet in the air. And the space is not wasted with the changing seasons. Where there’s the big spray fountain during the warm months, is the ice skating rink in late fall and winter, a unique at that with meandering paths on either end. There are green, grassy areas where children are welcome to play, and big, twisting metal sculptures adorning them. And Il Parco, the restaurant next to the fountain/ice rink, has tasty food and outdoor seating when weather permits (adults can relax with a beverage and watch the kids play at the same time). Good Guys and Subway are also right across the street, and food trucks park nearby during lunchtime if you want to grab something fast and inexpensive.


Play the day away in Wheaton

Play the day away in Wheaton

Wheaton Regional Park Playground
A variety of primary-colored equipment sprawls over a fairly large area over two levels that you can access by ramped paths or climbable walls. Kids of all ages can slide through several tunnels, climb netted apparatuses, play on swings, and more. There’s an area especially for babies and toddlers, facilities to accommodate children with special needs, and a climbable mound keeps children of all ages entertained for awhile (who knew?). And the park setting with tall, leafy trees and grassy spaces dotted with picnic tables needs to be noted, too. It’s a pretty place to spend a few hours while the kids romp. And bathrooms are nearby the playground for added convenience. Open sunrise to sunset, free admission.


Paddling the Anacostia

Paddling the Anacostia

Ballpark Boathouse
Yards Park is continually adding new awesome features, and Ballpark Boathouse is among them. Single and double kayaks and canoes are available for rent for some recreation on the Anacostia River. This paddling excursion is more about the views from the water than the nature around it, since the area is very developed. You can get fresh perspectives of Nationals Park, Yards Park, and the Navy Yard, places most of us usually just see on land. One of the coolest sites is the USS Barry, the display ship moored at the Navy Yard, that you can paddle up close to (2015 Update: The ship is no longer berthed there). Canoe rentals are $25/hour, kayaks are $16/hour for a single and $22/hour for a double. You pay upon return, so there’s no limit to how much time you spend on the water. Really small kids need to be in a boat with parents, but older children can paddle on their own. After a jaunt on the water, hang out at the park, where you can picnic, play, and watch the boats go by.


The Potomac at the end of the trail

The Potomac at the end of the trail

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve
Another fantastic alternative when Great Falls is crowded (or even when it’s not) Scott’s Run offers a nice local dose of nature in a short drive from the city. Trails that meander through lush woods lead to lovely hang out spots and great views of the Potomac. The spot may not boast the spectacular vistas that its larger, better known neighbor does, but it’s peaceful and pretty and makes for a nice hiking experience with kids. Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is located in McLean just off Georgetown Pike. It’s open from just before sunrise to just after sunset. Admission is free.


gsgp_childrensGreen Spring Gardens
You’re driving along a main road in Northern Virginia past shopping centers and town house communities, then you make a turn into a parking lot behind a strip mall, and voila!, there’s this gorgeous park with a large green space surrounded by gardens full of plants, flowers, art, whimsical structures, play spots for children, gazebos, and fountains. A fun way to explore it all with the kids is on a scavenger hunt — stop in the Horticultural Center to pick up instructions. Cute tasks for children include finding a plant as tall as them, greeting a tree, and telling the time based on a sun dial. Of course, wandering the grounds aimlessly or even finding a pretty spot to just sit and relax is a perfect way to enjoy Green Springs, too. Find it at 4603 Green Spring Road in Alexandria. Hours are 9am – 4:30pm Monday – Saturday, and 12-4:30pm on Sunday. Admission is free.


monastery_gardensThe Franciscan Monastery in Brookland
The “Oasis of Peace” in northeast DC was one of several “secret” spots on a round-up of places that many people (myself included until I read the list) don’t even know exist here. The locale includes the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the centerpiece of the Monastery, beautifully manicured grounds immediately surrounding it, and a gorgeous, peaceful garden area adjacent to that. Christian sculptures and shrines adorn the site and are interesting to explore, regardless of religious views. Of course, you can just go for a stroll and enjoy the gardens — the flowers are spectacular in the spring. It’s all open for visitors to enjoy for free, but be sure to check times as they vary by day.


glassforest_omirrorsThe Glass Forest
This hidden gem really is just that — if I hadn’t known to look for it, I never would have known it was there. Another DC “secret,” the collection of sculptures made from natural and scrap materials, is located in a small patch of woods next to the Palisades Playground. There are tree branches artistically stacked and bound together. Pieces of broken mirrors and glass on strands hang from trees looking like an oversized wind chime. Metal and plastic pipes, parts of bike frames, thick pieces of bamboo, and other odds and ends like small pans dangle from strings, some creating actual chimes that you can play. There’s a colorful, glittering mosaic piece and a wood and glass design that resembles a large sun catcher. And something about it being tucked away unobtrusively among the trees adds to the enchantment of it all.


Play with extra zip!

Play with extra zip!

Beauvoir Playground
Easily one of the best playgrounds in the District. The National Cathedral Elementary School’s outdoor area clearly reflects the school’s philosophy on the importance of outdoor play in children’s development. There are structures and spaces for all ages to enjoy. Kids can climb interesting treehouses then walk among them along wobbly wooden bridges and take a twisty underground slide from one level of the playground to a lower one. There are more cool climbing structures, swings, a kid-size basketball court, a small soccer pitch, and…wait for it…a zipline! And it’s not just Beauvoir students who benefit. The public is welcome to enjoy it all when school or camp is not in session — after school, weekends, and days off. View the school calendar for details.


Searching for shark teeth

Searching for shark teeth

Flag Ponds Nature Park
This day trip destination in Calvert County about an hour out of DC is nirvana for beach-going budding paleontologists. You can enjoy the sand and surf and hunt for shark teeth and other fossils that are said to be millions of years old! With a wide expanse of sand, sea grass blowing along the dunes, and pond-like inlets formed by sand washing in, it’s a lovely relaxing setting. And the calm, shallow water makes it a nice swim spot for children. Perhaps the only negative is the half-mile hike from the parking lot to the beach, then another short trek through the sand to the water. But bring along a wagon, good stroller, and rolling cooler for stacking your beach gear, and you’ll be all set.


Whimsy abounds at Annmarie

Whimsy abounds at Annmarie

Annmarie Sculpture Garden
Plan to spend many, many hours at this enchanting park and arts center in Solomons, MD. Annmarie is full of art and whimsy that is both wonderful to view and glorious to experience. From eye-popping exhibits indoors to sculptures (and summer fairy houses) scattered about the grounds outside, the works appeal to all ages. Special hands-on activities, including an artLAB full of crafty possibilities invite guests to create. And the Fairy Lolly, perhaps the most charming playground you’ll ever encounter, is a fantastic delight in itself. If there’s any place worth an hour-plus drive to visit, Annmarie is it.


Combing the sand for fossils

Combing the sand for fossils

Purse State Park
Just over an hour’s drive away from DC along a part of the river called Wades Bay, where woods meet water, you’ll find this pretty and peaceful beach area. A narrow strip of sand stretches along the shoreline, tree branches from the woods overhanging in a few spots. But the best parts of this locale are hidden among the piles of shells and small rocks at the water’s edge; that’s where you’ll easily find fossils from sharks, fish, shells, even crocodiles, many of them over 30 million and some up to 60 million years old. Be sure to go at low tide, as the already narrow strip of sand thins out even more at high tide (check the tide table here). Bring along a container to store your finds, because you’re guaranteed to go home with a good-sized stash.


Anacostia Parrrrk's pirate playground

Anacostia Parrrrk’s pirate playground

Anacostia Park –
Stretching along the river for which it’s named in southeast DC, Anacostia Park offers recreation galore for visitors. You can bike, run, or walk on a riverside trails. Big grassy fields host all kinds of rec league sports and are also great for pick-up games, kicking a ball, or just running around. Kids love the three playgrounds, especially one with a pirate theme. There are also tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool, and a skating pavilion for even more active fun. The Anacostia Community Boathouse is located on the west shore of the river, and includes a marina with a public boat launch and canoe rentals during the summer (free Paddle Nights are also offered through the Anacostia Watershed Society). You can bring along food on your visit — there are lots of tables and lovely spots to picnic. Is that enough activity for you? And it’s all going to get even better when Anacostia Crossing, the 11th Street Bridge Park coming to southeast DC, is developed over the next several years.

These boots were made for walkin'

These boots were made for walkin’

Woodend Nature Sanctuary
The 40-acre property in Chevy Chase, MD, is home to the Audubon Naturalist Society, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservation and education. The grounds are open to the public and free to roam daily. It’s perfect for hiking excursions with little ones, with easy trails that wind through the woods and through open, meadow-y spaces. Wildlife sightings are plentiful — deer, frogs, chipmunks, small fish, and, of course, lots of birds reside in the woods. There is a look-out to climb for better viewing and a small pond where you’ll find some creatures, too. A few exhibits like a bird feeding area, bees nests, and a composting station are worth checking out. And when tired little legs need a break, there are plenty of benches and nice, peaceful seating areas around. The grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free.

Paddling options complement the on-land activities

Paddling options complement the on-land activities

Quiet Waters Park
This beautiful locale in Annapolis boasts 340-acres of recreational bliss. There are hiking and biking trails that wind through the woods and paved paths that stretch along large grassy fields and other areas of the park. There’s plenty of room for picnics and pick-up games, a garden adorned with sculptures, a Visitor Center with art galleries, scenic views of the water, and perhaps best of all, paddling opportunities on the South River. A hike could take you by old farm farm equipment and a composting demo, and there’s a chance of spotting deer, small animals, and some cool birds (we saw a woodpecker merely a few feet away). Bring along a picnic lunch — there are plenty of beautiful spots to eat al fresco. Or plan to go for crabs after, as one often does when in Annapolis. Quiet Waters Park is open 7am – dusk every day but Tuesday, when the park is closed. Admission is $6/car.


O say, can you see...

O say, can you see…

Fort McHenry
The site of the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812 and birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner, Fort McHenry makes for a very interesting, informative, and enjoyable outing for all ages. There are all kinds of engaging exhibits in the Visitors Center and throughout the grounds, from historical objects and structures to multimedia displays and interactives. And it’s all located along a tranquil part of the Chesapeake. You can walk along the bastion and take in the same view soldiers did over two hundred years ago. What was once a battle scene is now a lovely Baltimore vista. Open daily 9m – 5pm. Admission is $10/adult, free for children 15 and under.


#naturing

#naturing

Prince William Forest Park
Stretching over 15,000 acres in Triangle, VA, this park is a perfect place for a nature break — you can really immerse and escape the bustle of the city. The largest protected green space in the DC-Metro area, there are over 37 miles of trails to hike, plus many miles of paved and gravel paths to cycle, rivers for fishing, and cabins and tent sites for camping. Variety in trails makes it a great place to hike with young children, as there are plenty of short, flat routes. And if you’re with older kids who want more of a challenge, there are longer and more difficult ones, too. If you want to make it a weekend trip, cabins are available May – October, and tent sites May – November. Admission is $7/car or $5/walk- or bike-in.


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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Farm, Free, Maryland, Monuments & Memorials, Outdoor, Park, Sports, Spring, Summer, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

DC Public Pools – Quick Links

With the record high temps we’ve had lately, you’d think the DC Department of Parks & Recreation would make it easy to find public pool locations and hours. Surprisingly, a simple Google search doesn’t yield fast results; you’ve got to navigate through a bunch of links to find most of the info.

So, to save you a few clicks, here are quick links to all of the basics—hours, addresses, phone numbers, fees, and mapped locations—for the city’s public aquatic facilities.

Outdoor Pools
Outdoor swimming pools are open Mon – Fri: 1 pm – 8 pm; Sat – Sun: 12 pm – 6 pm for the season. DPR operates outdoor swimming pools during the summer; pools close one weekday each week for scheduled service and maintenance.

Aquatic Centers
Indoor pools and aquatic centers operate across the District throughout the year. Open swim and lap swim times are available at each site. Also open for swimming lessons and other events. For more information on classes and programs going on at an aquatic center see the Register for Programs section.

Children’s Pools
Children’s pools are small developmental pools that range in depths from one to three feet and are designed for children up to 12 years old. Outdoor children’s pools open for the summer season every year.

Spray Parks
An exciting and alternative way to cool off and have fun. Spray Parks open every summer and follow a similar schedule to outdoor pools.

Admission Fees
DC residents can use public facilities at no cost. Admission fees for non-residents vary by age.

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Filed under All ages, Outdoor, Summer