Thursday, June 11, 2009

DC Tourism for Toddlers

I had been planning to write this post about Touring DC with children for months, but after the sad and senseless, horrible shooting at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on June 9, I wasn't sure now was the time for it.

In the end, I'd like to help keep the Ima Shalom blog going, and this post is what I have. I will only add that I am very glad my very pregnant friend who works at the museum is okay, and that this city is a good place to be a Jew, despite what happened two days ago.

For the past year or so we've been poorer than dirt. We couldn't afford any big trips. Heck, I could only do nearly-full time child care. So we pretended to be tourists in our own city twice a week. Here are some of our favorites, and all are fun for toddlers, too.

1. The U.S. Botanic Gardens and Conservatory: I have never in my life smelled anything as good as the Conservatory. Don't know if it was the complete rain forest inside or the cinnamon and allspice trees, the orchid room, or what. And if that's not enough for you, its blue tile fountains inside, and the sand box, fountains, play house and other objects of childhood desire, in the very center atrium, kept my girl occupied until she fell over with fatigue. At which point we put her in the stroller and strolled through the botanic gardens outside.

2. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museumwill also keep a girl entertained for hours. We could hardly pull her out of the cockpits of all the cool planes. It's very hands on, considering how expensive all that stuff is. To be honest, the escalators are also entertaining for kids. But big people could fall for the homemade planes--complete with instructions. You could probably build one yourself if you had enough plastic wrap and a spare lawnmower engine.

3. The great thing about the American History Museum is that the Spark! lab (for older toddlers) and the Invention at Play lab (for kids, with play area for babies and young toddlers) are right next to Julia Child's kitchen. So when you're done looking at Dorothy's ruby slippers and Jerry Seinfeld's puffy pirate shirt upstairs, the fun can continue for everyone downstairs.

4. The Natural History Museum is such a no-brainer, I can't believe I'm writing it. So's the Zoo.

5. But if you get to the stunning Sackler and Freer Galleries which house Asian art, and if there are two of you, one of you can enjoy the art while the other douses herself and the kid in one of the two outdoor fountain/gardens. But seriously, my girl loved the Islamic art--lots of animals on pottery, even elephants. And the Sackler gift shop is incredible for kids stuff. Think about it, all the cool toys are made in Japan anyway.

Then we scoot over to the Carousel on the Mall. There may be better carousels, though this one is terrific. But what I like about it is that when the ride is over and the girl is crying that she doesn't want to get off, they give you a STICKER as you exit! How brilliant is that?

6. We also loved the Aquatic Gardensin Kenilworth. It was an easy metro ride, though people do drive. The Kenilworth Park is next to the gardens, but we ran out of time. Imagine DC before civil engineers--yep, virgin swamp, folks. But we got to see a real live beaver in the wild building his dam. (Beavers chew very loudly.) My girl loved running up and down the boardwalk and looking at the pretty flowers and chasing ducks. I wouldn't recommend it on a hot day, though. It is a swamp, and is pretty humid.

7. The only item on this list that is not free is Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. It's $8 for adults and $5 for kids, and by "kids," they mean ages 2 and up (though it's free in the winter; very limited hours). But it's worth it. These are among my favorite gardens in the USA. The terraces are dreamy, the first orangerie in the USA (which, incidentally, smells almost as good as the conservatory) is adorable, the swimming pool is like something out of The Great Gatsby, but with less depression and booze. There is an amphitheater that makes clever use of a reflecting pool, a rose garden. Something is always in bloom. The daughter took off running in sheer bliss and didn't stop for two hours.

8. I'm not going to mention the Building Museum. You can find it yourself. But it's my secret. So don't go. I mean, it's got a free playroom with every fabulous toy connected to construction and building in it (The building zone). The interior is stunning, and the indoor fountain is tantalizing to the kids, but so far no one has fallen in. It's got the best gift shop for adults in the city, if you like architecture themed houseware, which I do.

We also did the Cherry Blossom Festival and Tidal basin, which the girl slept through.

The National Sculpture garden, which we got in trouble for because the girl broke free and tried to play tea party in the Lichtenstein house. Also, it frustrated her that the birds she tried to feed kept running away from her.

The Hirschorn fountain, in my opinion, looks like the blow hole of a whale, and is, therefore, really cool. I like the design of the museum itself, but never quite got into any of the exhibits there. Stay with the fountain.

What are your favorites?


The Queen of Laundry said...

Thanks for a very informative list. My first (and only, so far) short visit to DC almost a decade ago was a great disappointment, due to a host with no sense of direction and very little time to show us around.
Somehow, the combination of having no money for big excursions and living in a city with a lot to offer (Jerusalem, Israel, in my case) sounds rather familiar. Writing my own list of favorite places would surely take more time than I have right now, but even just the thought of it is a good reminder of how much is indeed within our reach without touching our savings... Thanks for the tip!

Frayda said...

My husband, In-laws and I went to the building museum and botanical gardens on Sunday. Thanks for the suggestions! we had an amazing time!

Marcela said...
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Maya said...

I'm so glad the post was helpful--thanks for letting me know.

Since I last posted, we visited Mt. Vernon ($15 a person, children under 6 free) using public transportation from DC. Door (mine) to door (George Washington's gate) took about 50 minutes, including the 10 minutes walk to the metro. Metro cards worked in Virginia as well as DC (free transfers). My girl loved the gardens (flowers and vegetables) and the animals (sheep, cows, chickens and boars). The house was exquisite, and my girl appreciated the baby bed in one of the bedrooms and porch most of all.

A friend just told me about the national arboretum in SE Washington, and that will be our next destination.

Maya said...

One more destination: Glen Eco. There is a bus that leaves from the Bethesda metro station. An amusement park until the 1970s, the cold-war era small town Americana feel and look were terrific. The puppet theater ($10) and carousel ($1.25) are fantastic. I bought some gorgeous and inexpensive ceramics made on site, and then we all played in the spring-fed river. I'm not sure if it was strictly legal--I think you are supposed to look at it from a bridge--but no one got upset when, bit by bit, my daughter ended up skinny dipping in it.