Looking for places to go with a toddler in Washington, D.C. and its suburbs? Here are some of our favorite places to go, beyond the Smithsonian and the monuments on the mall. Hope to see you there!
The College Park Aviation Museum (College Park, MD) welcomes toddlers and kids of all ages. This bright, open, cheery space has over a dozen real planes hanging from the rafters and on the floor, including a trainer that kids are encouraged to climb in and experiment with how the basic controls work. There are many auxillary educational exhibits that demonstrate lift, drag, pitch, and how the various parts of an airplane work. Kids can also listen to control tower broadcasts from several local airports, try on bomber jackets, control model and computer generated planes, color, stamp, and climb the stairs to more history-focused and print exhibits on the second floor. Toddlers and preschoolers will especially love the 2 dozen toy rocking or riding planes in the outdoor courtyard, so this is a great place to learn and explore.
Brookside Gardens and Nature Center (Silver Spring, MD) are kid-friendly spaces to explore and learn about the natural world. The gardens are a lovely place for a morning or afternoon stroll (the paths are stroller-friendly and step-free), with an abundance of plants, flowers, trees, and wildlife. The nature center is tucked into the surrounding forest and features another nature walk (this one is better for walkers than strollers), turtles, snakes, a viewing window for birds and flying squirrels, and a large open playspace where little ones can dress up as bugs or animals and run around with new friends. Nearby Wheaton Regional Park also incorporates a small train, carousel, large and small playgrounds, and riding stables. Cabin John Regional Park also has a nature center, small train, summer concerts, hiking trails, and plenty of playground space for kids of all ages.
Great Falls Park (Great Falls, VA) has stunning views and hiking for adults and kids alike. Some of the trails are difficult; none are suitable for hugely pregnant women like me, so I’ll leave this entry up to commenters who have been there more recently.
The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center (Dulles, VA) is a cavernous space filled with real airplanes, rockets, space capsules, and the retired Space Shuttle Enterprise. No kidding — an actual space shuttle lives here! This is an amazing place, and they also have story hour.
The National Capital Trolley Museum is a gem tucked into the woodlands of Silver Spring, MD. It’s a small museum, but a fun trip for even the youngest kids. Toddlers will particularly like the miniature model inside the museum that they can send into action at the push of a button. There is also a small museum and bookstore. The highlight of any trip is a ride on the trolleys on the one-mile demonstration railway. Check hours, since it’s not open every day.
The National Building Museum (Washington, D.C.) has a fantastic playspace for kids two to six called the Building Zone. There’s space and tools and toys galore, and kids who are into Bob the Builder or Handy Manny will be in heaven. It’s also a great place to take the playgroup, since it’s across the street from a Metro stop and up to 25 kids can play.
I’ve blogged about this one before, but the Goddard Visitor Center (Greenbelt, MD) has many nice exhibits including Science on a Sphere, Hubble mirror, Gemini space capsule, stunning space photography, hands-on exploration for school-aged kids, an astronaut suit they can try on, and a lovely rocket garden for the little ones to run around in and get their ya-yas out. They also offer special programs for school groups and homeschoolers and real live rocket launches once a month.
Butler’s Orchard (Gaithersburg, MD) is a fun place to pick your own berries, applies, pumpkins, and much more. Drive past the farm market and up to the fields to catch a wagon ride out to the ripest bushes. This is a great gathering place in the Summer and Fall, and best of all, it’s toddler-friendly. When we picked blueberries there this summer, the grandfatherly tractor driver sent us off with instructions to “eat one, pick one” — and knowing that it would be okay made us much more relaxed about picking berries with a not-quite-two-year-old! Prices are reasonable too, with buckets of berries much cheaper than local grocery stores.
Frying Pan Park (Herndon, VA) features an early 20th century working farm, a four-room schoolhouse, and lots and lots of farm animals to meet and pet. This is an amazing resource so close to urban DC and fun to visit!
The National Aquarium in Baltimore (Baltimore, MD) is one of the best aquariums I’ve visited. Housed in two adjoining buildings, you’ll find everything from frogs to penguins to dolphins. The layout is simple, with winding walkways ascending up 5 stories to an enclosed rain forest. After the rain forest, visitors walk down a curling ramp that nestles against giant shark tanks. Even the youngest kids will love walking (okay, running) down these ramps and looking at the sharks through the glass. The Aquarium can be dark, however, and moms and dads with very young kids should bring a sling or baby carrier instead of the stroller. The Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center at the other end of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are typically pricey for a toddler’s attention span, but both offer $8 tickets Fridays After Five, which can be a good option. The Inner Harbor offers plenty of yummy places to eat, some with shorter waits than others, and live entertainment on weekends and summer evenings. Kids will also be intrigued by the small boats that dock here and, of course, the ducks.
We stumbled on Canal Place and Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (Cumberland, MD) recently and were pleasantly surprised. The railroad runs right through town, and there is a lovely historic district with shops and restaurants that is a nice place to spend the day. They also host A Day Out With Thomas occasionally, although we haven’t been to one of those.
We visited the Toy Train Museum and Joy Line Railroad in Harpers Ferry, WV, this summer, and we loved it. Such nice people, and they fired up the minature trains and the kid-size railroad just for us! Train fans may also like to visit the DC Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society web site for leads on other cool train sites. We haven’t been to them all yet … but stay posted, cause we love trains!
These are some of our favorite places to go with a toddler in and around Washington, D.C., suburban Virginia, and suburban Maryland. There are so many other places we go together, including parks, playgrounds, nature walks, coffee houses with live kids’ music like Jammin Java (Vienna, VA) and Mayorga Coffee Roasters, story hour at the library, open gym at the community center, the occasional visit/shopping trip to the playspaces at IKEA, the National Zoo, and of course the Smithsonian Museums on the mall. Apologies for the length of this post, but it was so nice to reminisce and to look forward to this Spring, when Widget, Whybaby, Daddy, and I will be able to visit all these fine places again — and find new sites to explore!