Washington DC Local Highlights

Published on April 21, 2022 - Updated on April 22, 2022

Washington, DC is a great place to visit with kids. It's full of hands-on educational museums, family-friendly attractions, and tons of green space to run around. If you're looking to add some education and history to your vacation, DC is the place to go! Here's a list of our favorite things to do.

Washington, DC City Highlights and Local Favorites

The National Mall, Capitol and Memorials

2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW, Washington, DC 20002

Lincoln Memorial

You just can't visit DC without exploring the Memorials, Capitol and National Mall. We like to park near the Lincoln Memorial, then loop around the reflection pool. This will take you by the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the DC War Memorial, the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and back to Lincoln. If you want a super long walk and adventure, when you get to the Washington Monument, you can continue straight to the National Mall, where you can explore park space and some of the Smithsonian Museums (more on those below!). At the end of the Mall you will find the Capitol Building.

Nearby: After your walk around the monuments, head to the Foggy Bottom neighborhood and grab a bite to eat at Wiseguy Pizza or Sweetgreen, or grab a smoothie or coffee at South Block or continue on into Georgetown.

United States Botanic Garden

100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20001

US Botanic Gardens

The US Botanic Garden is located on the Mall, very close to the Capitol. The Conservatory is a great place to go on a rainy or chilly day. Walking through the rainforest, the desert, and the orchid room (such beautiful colors) you can't help but feel the calm of nature. For an adventure, jump on the elevator or climb the stairs up to the skywalk, peer at the green below and take in an awesome view of the city. The Children's Garden, which is open seasonally, is located at the center of the Conservatory, giving youngsters the opportunity to dig in the dirt, plant plants, and play in the water. 

Nearby: Kids can run around the Mall and the Capitol, grab an ice cream from one of the nearby food trucks, or have lunch at Vie de France Bakery & Cafe. Across Independence Avenue, Bartholdi Park is open from dawn to dusk and is another spot to enjoy the flowers and plants with the little ones. 

The National Arboretum

3501 New York Avenue NE, Washington DC 20002

National Arboretum

The US National Arboretum, which offers 446 acres of outdoor fun, is a great place to take the kids to run around or do some family hiking without having to leave the city.  Admire the National Capitol Columns, an arrangement of twenty-two Corinthian columns that were a part of the United States Capitol from 1828 to 1958, and then head to Fern Valley for a stroll through the woods or a visit to the Children's Garden. In addition to the wide-open spaces and wooded trails, there's a fabulous bonsai exhibit and a beautiful koi pond.

Nearby: Stop by Union Market for lunch or an afternoon snack or grab something to refuel or cool off or grab a bite at Tropical Smoothie Cafe at Dakota Crossing in the nearby Gateway neighborhood. 

Great Falls Overlook, Maryland Side

11710 MacArthur Blvd Potomac, MD 20854

Great Falls Overlook

You’ll find great hiking and breathtaking scenery at Great Falls, and with access from I-495 (Capital Beltway), it's surprisingly easy to get to such a remarkable highlight of the area. Enjoy a hike on the multi-use paths, many fit for biking, horseback riding, and dog walking (provided pets are kept on a 6-foot leash). The Maryland side, part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, boasts the locally beloved Billy Goat Trail and other trails kids of all ages will enjoy.

Nearby: Stop at Moby Dick House of Kabob's Potomac location on your way to pick up a picnic or on your way out for dinner! It's less than a ten-minute ride from the trailhead.

Smithsonian Institution Museums


The Smithsonian Institution runs a network of museums throughout DC that are all free to the public. You can't visit DC without visiting at least a few of these awesome, educational museums! Many of them are within the same area near the National Mall and you can easily visit several in one day. Here are some of our favorites, but check their website for the full list!

  • National Air and Space Museum - There is no shortage of things to explore at this museum. With upwards of 20 exhibits on view, an Imax theatre, an observatory, virtual reality simulators, science demonstrations (best to reserve a spot in advance), and storytimes there is something for kiddos of all ages and this museum is sure to capture everyone's imagination. 
  • Museum of Natural History - Fossils, mammals, gems, oceans, butterflies, insects; "The museum’s collections tell the history of the planet and are a record of human interaction with the environment and one another". Interactive exhibits are scattered throughout the museum, and docents or staff are available to answer questions.  The dinosaurs, recently renovated, are a favorite. You can watch archeologists working on actual artifacts through glass windows. 
  • Museum of American History - The United States Star-Spangled Banner Flag, Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers, and the Batmobile reside in the museum collection. In all, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History possesses over three million historic items. From the original “Elmo” to Julia Child’s home kitchen, the variety is creative and unexpected. There are countless cool and historical items related to transportation and war on display. We discover something new and exciting during each and every visit.
  • American Art Museum - The American Art Museum has a wonderful kid's room, with daily story time and singalongs. The children’s room features entertainment ranging from drawing or playing with blocks to a fun photo booth-type activity. Beyond the children’s area, the museum contains a lot to see and enjoy with your kids. On the 3rd floor, you'll find the Lincoln Gallery. There is a very cool neon map structure, along with some other kid-friendly art pieces and light displays. The remainder of the museum is wonderful for older kids, with a popular sports gallery, and many portraits that will appeal to young people, including paintings of U.S. presidents. 

Tidal Basin Walking Trail

1540 Maine Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024, USA

Tidal Basin

This 1.5-mile-loop trail winds around the body of water known as the Tidal Basin. In the spring, it is best to be the home of the iconic cherry blossom trees (almost 4,000 of them!), but it's great year-round for views of the Washington Monument, the Arlington skyline, and many other memorials dotted around its path.

Start walking on the Tidal Basin from Maine Avenue SW or Ohio Drive SW. You will walk past the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and across the Kutz Bridge which gives a beautiful view of the Jefferson Memorial and planes taking off from Reagan International airport.

Nearby: Located along the path is West Potomac Park if you want to stop and run around in the lush green grass! Afterward, head to the Wharf for a bite to eat! Surfside Restaurant is a favorite.

Explore Georgetown


Georgetown is a must while in DC, but it doesn't have to be a quick stop. Make an entire day out of it and enjoy the other sites along with it! Take a walk along the Potomac, past the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, ending at the Georgetown waterfront for lunch. Or alternatively, take a family bike ride from Bethesda along Capital Crescent Trail before stopping in Georgetown for a bite and a stroll around the charming neighborhood.

Nearby: Georgetown is famous for its cupcake shops, so a sweet treat is a must! Two of our favorite spots are Georgetown Cupcakes and Baked and Wired.

Have you been to Washington, DC? Does your family live in our nation's capital? Let us know what your favorite local spots are in the comments below! Or tag us in your photos on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!

Interested in other amazing cities around the U.S.? We've got a whole bunch of local-recommended spots in major (and not major!) cities across the country. Check out our blog for great advice on cities like Chicago, Denver, Maui, Chattanooga, and more! Or, if you are interested in getting information about taking the family to the national parks, we've got some great tips on Saguaro National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Haleakala National Park, and Mt. Rainier National Park!

For even more local activities and attractions at your fingertips, be sure to download the happyly app, the country's only mobile-first family activity planning app, for fast access to all of our frequent blog content, favorite activities, and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country

Thoughtfully captured by:
Jessica Parrish
I am a Massachusetts native who grew up in the suburbs of Boston and on Cape Cod. As a military spouse I have lived all over the country from Florida to California, and several places in between. My family has now settled in Virginia where I am a stay-at-home mom to two awesome girls. I love to explore and hike National and State Parks, and spend tons of time at the beach with my kids, splashing in the waves in the summer and searching for shells and seaglass in the winter. I also love running, yoga and cooking!
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