Tag Archives: Washington DC Outdoor Activities

Plenty to Fancy at Brookside Gardens

Those are some pretty fancy wings


Butterflies are a huge part of Sasha’s girly-girl repertoire. Right up there with princesses, Hello Kitty, unicorns, and pink.  She squeals with earnest delight at the sight of anything pretty that flits delicately about, some of her favorite clothes are her “butterfly shirts,” and we’re getting ready to add decals of the dainty insects to her bedroom walls.

Suffice it to say, we have been looking forward to the “Wings of Fancy” exhibit at Brookside Gardens for awhile now. We would have visited earlier this summer had I not been waiting for Owen’s schedule to open up, so he could join us. Because even though a garden full of butterflies is the stuff Sasha’s fanciful dreams are made of, it’s also an enthralling sight for a nature lover like my boy. The timing actually worked out quite well, because Certifikid just debuted a deal for the exhibit, so we saved a few bucks on our outing, too.

Getting started in the Caterpillar Room

Getting started in the Caterpillar Room

We finally headed over to Brookside and the butterflies this afternoon and it was truly worth the wait.  Our visit started with an intro in the Caterpillar Room, where a staff member pointed out a few real caterpillars on plants, then showed us pictures of the butterflies they would become. From there, we entered the conservatory, where the first thing out of Sasha’s mouth was that squeal: “Look, butterflies!” Indeed.

One of many pretty sights

One of many pretty sights

Eye to eye with a butterfly

Eye to eye with a butterfly

Wingin' it

Wingin’ it

Nearly 20 species of butterflies from North America, Central America, and Asia fluttered around us and the colorful flowers and plants throughout the greenhouse. We walked around every inch of it, trying to spot a species we hadn’t seen yet, watching them reveal different patterns as they opened their wings, and just staring in amazement at the sheer number of them.

Butterfly headstand?

Butterfly headstand?

Butterfly makes landing

Butterfly makes landing

Sasha liked looking for her favorite “pink and yellow” butterfly, while Owen kept hoping one would land on him. We stopped by a station where they could hold specimens that were no longer alive (staff told us they’re sterilized) and  examine them through magnifying glasses. There are also cases containing cocoons, and when those butterflies hatch they’ll be released into the garden; we learned that a butterfly life is about two weeks long, so there is constant “turnover.”

Hands on in the garden

Hands on in the garden

A really close look

A really close look

Observing future butterflies

Observing future butterflies

It’s pretty hot inside the exhibit, they say about 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. This eventually took its toll, and we made our way out after about 30 minutes.  But that wasn’t the end of our Brookside visit.  We wandered the lovely grounds and, of course, had to stop by the Children’s Garden, where the kids played in the treehouse and hollowed out tree trunk/gnome hut.

The Children's Garden

The Children’s Garden

And we can’t go to Brookside without stopping by the turtle pond. The geese were hanging out, and they must be so used to people they let the kids get pretty close.

Strolling around the turtle pond

Strolling around the turtle pond

Who's in for Duck Duck Goose?

Who’s in for Duck Duck Goose?

From the gazebo over the pond, we watched the turtles and fish swim below, spotting all three snapping turtles (a small, medium, and large one) and many other kinds.

Too busy looking at turtles to notice the pretty view

Too busy looking at turtles to notice the pretty view


A lovely afternoon, to say the least. We left feeling  all aflutter. 🙂

Brookside Gardens is located at 1800 Glenallan Avenue in Wheaton, Md. Grounds are open daily from sunset to sundown. The Visitor Center is open from 9am -5pm, the conservatories from 10am – 5pm. Admission is free.

Wings of Fancy” is running through September 16. Hours are 10am – 4pm, but be sure to make sure it’s open before you go, as it has closed early on very hot days. Admission is $6/adults, $4/ages 3-12, free for 2 and under. Certifikid currently has a deal for weekday admission for one adult and one child for $6.


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Filed under All ages, Animals, Annual, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Maryland, Nature, Outdoor, Park, Seasonal, Summer, Weekdays, Weekend

Outdoor & Indoor Play at Potomac Overlook Regional Park

All geared up with walking sticks for the 300-meter "trek" to the park's Nature Center


It’s a small blogging world around here.  And I experienced it firsthand on a visit to Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington a couple of weeks ago.  I got the idea to go there from No Monsters in My Bed when a friend and I were looking for a new place to take our little ones to play outside on a nice day.  Then, upon our arrival at the playground right next to the small parking area, I saw some familiar faces, adorable little ones that I recognized from Not-So-SAHM. It turned out their mom, Rebecca, and I both ended up at the park on the recommendation of Darcy (who writes No Monsters).  What can I say… great minds think alike. 😉

Not only was it neat to run into one of my blogging compadres, it was also helpful — she had been there a while and gave me the lowdown on what to see and do at the park (read her review here), which included trail hikes and the Nature Center.  Since the kids were already immersed in playground action, we hung out there before venturing further.

The playground is pretty simple — a small area containing a log tree house with a small climbing wall, a steep and fast slide, and a double slide; picnic tables; and a couple of random exercise apparatus — but it kept the kids entertained for quite awhile.



We finally convinced the kids to move on by asking them if they wanted to see some animals; we knew from talking to Rebecca that there were live (and alive-looking) creatures on exhibit at the Nature Center, just a 300-meter walk down the road from the playground.

Once inside, the kids immediately stopped to ogle an exhibit (not live) near the entrance. From there, we headed downstairs to see the turtles and snakes in terrariums before entering the Kids Cave, a small room full of hands-on nature-related activities.

Checking out an exhibit at the Potomac Overlook Park Nature Center

Checking out an exhibit at the Potomac Overlook Park Nature Center

Hello, Mr. Snake

Hello, Mr. Snake

Kids in the Cave

Kids in the Cave

When we left the Nature Center, we saw a sign for the live bird exhibit, so we walked up a short path to see a couple of owls and a hawk.  A park ranger explained they had been rescued, but their injuries prevented them from being released back into the wild, so they’re now permanent residents of the park.


Wishing for pizza lunch!

Wishing for pizza lunch!

By that time, we were all hungry and decided to head to nearby Italian Store and save a hike for another visit.

There definitely will be one, as Potomac Overlook  is one to put on the go-to list for a easy and free outing, both outdoors and in.

Potomac Overlook Regional Park is located at 2845 N. Marcey Road in Arlington (directions here). Hours are 10am – 5pm Tuesday – Saturday, and 1–5pm Sunday, closed on Monday.



Filed under All ages, Animals, DC, Educational, Free, Indoor Play, Outdoor, Park, Play, Spring, Virginia, Weekdays, Weekend

Take Me to the River Farm

Enjoying the last of spring break at River Farm


For the last day of spring break, I decided to do something new with the kids: A visit to the American Horticultural Society’s River Farm.  It wasn’t a new venture for lack of trying; we attempted the outing on a Sunday a couple of months ago, only to learn upon arrival that it’s not open on weekends October through March. So, with both kids home at the same time for the last day in awhile, we headed out to Alexandria to explore the grounds, gardens, and estate house of the AHS headquarters.

River Farm is located just off the GW Parkway on the way to Mount Vernon, right along the Potomac River.  It’s quite easy to find as long as you keep an eye out for the turn off the Parkway (we missed it our first time out there).  East Boulevard Drive leads right to the front gates, and from there you drive up a short road, loop around the orchard, then park in a small lot.

Right next to the lot is a teaching and demonstration garden, which also contains a donation box — admission to River Farm is free, but donations are welcome to help with operations and upkeep.  After sliding our contribution through the slot, we followed a path that led to the lovely grounds behind the house and sweeping views of the Potomac.

Plenty of room to roam

I don’t know if it’s a consequence of being city kids or what, but when my children see open green space, they run.  And that’s just what they did here. Sometimes it’s a problem, but in this case, it was perfectly fine.  The lawn behind the house leads downhill to a low stone wall called the Ha-Ha Wall (I almost expected Nelson Muntz to pop his head up at any moment), and beyond that is a meadowy area traversed by grassy paths. Even though Owen and Sasha ran in separate directions, I could still see them both and knew they were safe as long as they didn’t run further down the hill to the river.

Getting the scoop on the gardens

When we all caught up with each other, we walked along the trails and read about the vegetation and plantings on signs posted around the area.  Most of the flora seemed pretty dry right now — perhaps all those 70-degree March days took a toll — but it was still quite pretty and gloriously tranquil. After strolling through, we walked down to the river to take in the views for a bit.

Chilin' by the river

We finally made our way back up the hill to the kids’ favorite part — the Children’s Gardens. On the north side of the house, is a lovely area (not that the whole place isn’t lovely) with 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 a great picnic spot.

Row, row, row your garden boat...

Sitting, skipping...both great ways to enjoy the farm

Owen and Sasha played there awhile, joining a group of children who were frolicking (never has this word seemed more apropos, thanks to the delightful setting) throughout the garden together.

The kids probably could have played in the garden for hours, but they needed a potty break, so we went into the house, where guests are welcome to use the bathrooms.  The downstairs  is also open to tour — you can view art in the lobby and a larger dining room and walk through the kitchen and office.

On the way out the kids stopped to sit in rocking chairs in the back porch and had there been more available (a couple were already occupied), it would have been wonderful to sit there all afternoon, just rocking and taking in the view. Instead, we called it a day and made our way back home.

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.  Hours will actually be extended this weekend for a special event: The Spring Garden Market will take place April 12-14.  While Thursday is for members only, the Market will be open to the public on Friday 9am – 6pm and Saturday 9am – 3pm.



Filed under All ages, DC, Farm, Free, Outdoor, Play, Virginia, Weekdays

Where to Play on the Weekdays: April 2-6

Spring break adventure in the Costa Rican jungle


So, a ziplining adventure in the Central American jungle may not be a plausible outing for everyone this week, but one in local forests is (for ages 7 and up, anyway).  That’s just one of several suggestions for fun with the kids during the spring break week. Enjoy!

Monday – The National Postal Museum is hosting a special weekday workshop especially for spring break. Drop in from 10am – 2pm for Collection Connection, where guests can make a stamp collection to take home and learn how to continue the hobby. Afterwards (or before, depending on when you go), head over to Union Station for a bite to eat or maybe even make your way over to the National Mall for more museum-going. (Note: the Postal Museum event repeats on Tuesday, April 3).

Tuesday – Construct your day around a visit to the National Building Museum.  Little ones can enjoy the Book of the Month program and play time in the Building Zone at 10:30am and 11:30am — this month’s reading is Taxi: A Book of City Words. Older kids can do some plastic brick design in the LEGO Architecture upstairs.  And everyone can hang out in the Great Hall for even more activities, including an indoor picnic lunch (BYO or grab something at the Firehook Cafe on premises). Admission is $3 to the Building Zone (with timed hourly entry), $5 to the exhibits, free if you have an NBM membership.

Wednesday – Zip through the treetops at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School, which opened for the season this past weekend. Kids ages 7 and older can experience fun and adventure on the ropes courses and ziplines in the park’s aerial forest, the largest in North America. Hours are 9am – dark this week, and admission is $38/ages7-9, $43/ages 10-11, $48/ages 12 and older.

Thursday – Keep the academics in mind (under the guise of fun) at the new MathAlive! exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center.  Through an array of interactive displays, guests can ride in a 3D snowboard race, operate NASA robotics simulations, design and play their own video games, control a Mars rover, and experience real math at work in everything from nature to music to dancing to movie-making.

Friday –  If the forecast holds out, it’ll be nice weather all week, so take your pick from one of many in this list of the best places in the DC area to spend a beautiful day outdoors with the kids. And a heads-up: Cabin John Regional Park opened its Miniature Train for the week — a spring break bonus for visitors!

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Filed under All ages, DC, Educational, Free, Maryland, Museums, Outdoor, Seasonal, Spring, Virginia, Weekdays

The Weekend Round-Up: March 16-18

A view of the Capitol through a shroud of magnolia flowers


It may not be March 20, but for all intents and purposes, spring has sprung! So, I’ll just cut to the chase and urge you to get outside at some point; if the forecast holds out, we’re in for one gorgeous weekend. The first recommendation in this round-up links to a huge list of outdoor adventures. Balance it out with some indoor time — you’ve got your pick of fun and interesting pursuits, from museum exhibits to an environmental family film fest to theatre shows and more. Happy Weekend!

The Great Outdoors
Where: All around the area
When: All weekend long
Admission: Varies by pursuit

Get out and enjoy the superb “spring” days this weekend. At the rate the temps are rising, it’s going to be 106 degrees by May. If you need ideas for pursuits al fresco, see this big list of the best places in the DC area to spend a beautiful day outdoors with the kids.

Supra Cool Art
Where: Hirshhorn Museum
When: Ongoing
Admission: Free
Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color and Space, a relatively new exhibit at the Hirshhorn, may not have been created with kids in mind, but many of the installations can be appreciated on several levels, including from a child’s perspective. All of the displays are interactive in some way, and a few are exceptionally fascinating — and quite fun. Read more about it in this post from yesterday.

Go Ape!
Where: National Zoo
When: Saturday, 11am – 3pm
Admission: Free
It’s a Featured Creature day at the Zoo, and the apes are the stars of this one. Head to the Great Ape house for feedings, keeper chats, and demonstrations. See the schedule for specific times. Support Friends of the National Zoo and gorilla conservation by bringing an old cell phone to recycle and receive a Green for Gorillas sticker!

Culturally Different Adventures
Where: National Chidren’s Museum Launch Zone
When: Saturday, 11am – 3:30pm
Admission: Free
Drop in at the NCM’s Launch Zone and learn about classic folk tales told from the perspective of other cultures with Story Tapestries. This will be a fun and adventurous program that explores the characteristics of a traditional hero in a non-traditional style. Discover how, even though you might be little, you are very, very smart. Leave the program singing like a bird, dancing like a monkey, slithering like a snake and roaring like a tiger!

Hang with Globetrotter Lang
Where: National Chidren’s Museum Launch Zone
When: Sunday, 12pm & 1pm
Admission: Free
The NCM proudly welcomes Flight Time Lang, the Harlem Globetrotters’ 6’3 guard, best known for his dunks and dribbling skills. Head to the Launch Zone for a show featuring Flight Time’s unique ball handling techniques and tricks. Stick around after to meet and take photos with Flight Time Lang. NCM will also be raffling off a set of four tickets to the Globetrotters game on either March 24 or March 25. Due to the size of the Launch Zone, they will be welcoming kids and families on a first come, first served basis to best accommodate as many people as possible. And as a special thank you their fans, the Globetrotters’ have created a $5 off discount code good for each ticket purchased for one of their upcoming games. To take advantage, go to: www.ticketmaster.com/promo/8v2pmu and use the code NCM.

Environmental Film Festival: An Animated Perspective
Where: National Geographic
When: Saturday, 1pm
Admission: $12
Enjoy some of the most popular animated films screened during our 20 years of participating in the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. Bring the whole family for a stunning retrospective of the favorites from years past—Turtle World, Old Man and the Sea, For the Birds, and The Man Who Planted Trees—selected and introduced by festival founder Flo Stone.

Gaithersburg St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Where: Washingtonian Center
When: Saturday, 10am – 12pm
Admission: Free
The city’s 12th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade will include both traditional Irish performances and classic parade pageantry. Celtic dancers, bagpipes bands, marching bands, clowns, firetrucks, and more will make their way through town. Afterward, stay for live music in the Lakefront Plaza until 1pm.

St. Paddy Party Family Special
Where: Discovery Theater
When: Saturday, 2pm
Admission: $3-12
A rollicking traditional Irish band, lively dancers, and some wearing o’ the green make everybody Irish at this special show! Learn how to count sheep in Gaelic, learn a bit of Ceili dancing. Join Pete Moss and members of the Bog Band, with champion dancer Shannon Dunne, and start the spring off right! After the show, families can learn about color filters, make an acid and base rainbow, plant a sprouting “grasshead” leprechaun to take home, and more. Explore some St. Paddy’s Day ‘green’ science with Curiosity Zone.

That’s Entertainment
Where: Various local theatres
When: Througoutthe weekend
Admission: Varies by venue
Basil Twists’ Petrushka opens at the Lansburgh Theatre tonight. The Puppet Co’s version of Rapunzel opened yesterday. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is still on stage at Adventure Theatre. The Alden Theatre in McLean presents The Revenge of the Space Pandas. Out of the Box is at Landmark Mall. And Encore Stage and Studio’s toupe of young actors is performing The Magic Lamp of Alladin for its final weekend. Get details on all of these productions in this post about spring entertainment or this one listing winter shows.

Spring Clean & Book Launch
Where: Claude Moore Colonial Farm
When: Saturday, all day & 1pm
Admission: Volunteer & Free
The farm doesn’t officially open until April 1, but there are a couple of other happenings there this weekend in the meantime. The Spring Clean-Up is an opportunity to help the living history museum prepare for the 2012 season and spend a nice day outdoors. Families with children are welcome; there are jobs for every age — raking leaves, clearing and mulching paths, hauling brush and firewood, moving rail fences, waterproofing outbuildings, whitewashing the Farmhouse, splitting firewood, filling garden pots, and more. A complimentary picnic hot dog lunch and passes to the upcoming Market Fair provided in thanks. There will also be a reading of the children’s book The Penguin Lady in the museum shop at 1pm. Author Carol A. Cole will be signing copies of her book, and kids can take home coloring and word search activities.

Pong, Anyone?
Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum
When: Opens March 16
Admission: Free
We parents might appreciate this more than our kids: The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the 40-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium. With a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies, the exhibit showcases the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for 20 gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3. Eighty games, selected with the help of the public, demonstrate the evolution of the medium. The games are presented through still images and video footage. In addition, the galleries will include video interviews with twenty developers and artists, large prints of in-game screen shots, and historic game consoles.

Truth & Fiction
Where: 826DC
When: Saturday, 12-2pm
Admission: Free

826DC, an organization dedicated to supporting students with their creative and expository writing skills, is hosting a writing workshop on Saturday for kids ages 11-14. Taught by author and Georgetown professor Fanny Howe, “Truth and Fiction” will explore the differences between writing real and fictional stories. Go here to register. Space is limited to 15, so sign up soon!

Port Discovery for $2
Where: Port Discovery
When: Friday, 4-7pm
Admission: $2
How about some cheap fun in Charm City? Tonight (Friday) is a Target Family Fun Night at Port Discovery. From 4 – 7pm, admission to the popular kids museum in Baltimore is just a couple of bucks a person (children under two are free).

Stories in Art
Where: National Gallery of Art
When: Sunday, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm
Admission: Free
It’s the very last day for Stories in Art this season. Kids ages 4-7 can drop in at the National Gallery to learn how Helen Frankenthaler’s abstract paintings were inspired by landscapes, hear a related reading of A Day Without Crayons, then make a painting without using brushes. Sessions are at 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm. Sign-in takes place in the East Building Atrium, beginning at 11am, and continues until all spaces are filled.


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Filed under All ages, Animals, Annual, Art, Babies, DC, Educational, Free, Gradeschoolers, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Movies, Museums, Outdoor, Parade, Preschoolers, Preteens, Seasonal, Spring, Theatre, Toddlers, Virginia, Weekend