When it comes to fun at the National Mall, its long, grassy 146-acre field and proximity to multiple monuments are just the tip of the iceberg. From play places and yummy eateries (that are not tourist traps…promise!), we’ve got your back with a list of our favorite nearby destinations your whole family can enjoy. Add one of these to your trip, and you’ll take your kids’ National Mall visit to a whole other level.
Climb a Super Sculpture
Awe inspiring and snugly at the same time, the Albert Einstein Memorial is hands downs the best place to climb near the Mall. Nestled between the elms and holly grove at the National Academy of Science is an astronomical sized (21 feet high) seated Albert with the universe at his Birkenstock covered feet. Bring your camera–the relatives will want to see your little genius reading with big guy of relativity.
2101 Constitution Ave., NW
Explore Flights of Fancy
Tucked away in the Air and Space Museum your little adventurers can let their imaginations soar (and you can catch your breath) during a story time at 11 am, Thursday-Saturday. (Story time repeats at 1:30 pm on Saturdays). This isn’t your run-of-the-mill reading session, though. After hearing a tale about hot-air balloonists, trips to Mars, famous aviatrixes or winged creatures and inventions, kids do a hands-on activity or take-home craft.
600 Independence Ave., SW
Gelato + Art. That is All.
With 19 flavors of oh-so yummy gelato, the Espresso and Gelato Bar tucked away inside the National Gallery of Art makes edible masterpieces. After you and the kiddos taste one, grab a free children’s audio tour from the Acoustiguide desk located in the Rotunda, on the Main Floor of the West Building. Budding da Vincis ages 7–12 can use the handheld digital audio players to track down Leonardo, Rembrandt, Degas and Monet. The Information Desk also has kid focused booklets for ages 6 + on American, Dutch, French and Italian Art in the museum. Bring colored pencils or crayons to use with the booklets.
6th and Constitution Ave NW, NW
Grab a Nosh and Cuppa Joe
Zagat rated + museum cafeteria = Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian. Indigenous bounties of the season with foodie flair give your tribe a new way to say “let’s eat!” (Mitsitam means just that in the native language of the Delaware and Piscataway people.) Let the kids try a campfire buffalo burger from the Great Plains tribes. For a sweet treat try a Northern Woodlands dried cherry doughnut with pine syrup and a cuppa Tribal Grounds Coffee—organic, fair-trade coffee grown by indigenous farmers and imported, roasted, and provided to the museum by the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Wallet warning: these delish meals are pricey.
Between 4th St. and Independence Ave., SW
Stroll Through a Secret Garden
Come spring, your little sprout can explore the outdoor Children’s Garden nestled inside the United States Botanic Conservatory. They can dig in with the gardening tools and frolic with watering cans. In the gloom of winter you can feel the heat of the jungle and play eye spy dinosaur fern snacks in the reconstructed Jurassic garden of ancient plants that have been around for 150 million years or so.
Between Maryland and First Aves. SW (Entrance to the Conservatory is on Maryland Ave, SW)
Go directly to the Washington Monument, not the line to the Monument
No need to use your parenting mojo on taming the kids while waiting f-o-r-e-v-e-r on a line. Pssst. Save time. Get advance tickets. Ready to go up 500 feet into the National Monument to one of the best views of the city? You can stand on line for the limited free tickets or reserve your tickets online a few days in advance for $1.50 and they will be waiting for you at Washington Monument Lodge Will Call window. The lodge is just east of the Monument on 15th Street. Bathroom tip: Go at the lodge restrooms; none are available in the Monument.
Commune With Butterflies
It’s worth the ohhs, ahhs and giggles to go the Butterfly Pavilion on Tuesday when admission to this live fluttery exhibit at the Natural History Museum is free. Get your timed-entry tickets at the Butterfly Pavilion Box Office beginning at 10 a.m. each Tuesday. Then take your precious gem to see the Hope Diamond. Butterflies and bling for free.
Natural History Museum, 2nd floor
10th St., NW at Constitution Ave.
Hop On, Hop Off
USDA Farmers Market
Consider making your National Mall visit a Friday trip and you’ll be able to lunch at the USDA Farmers Market, where from May to October you can find over thirty vendors of organic produce, flowers, breads, and a ton of other food options. You can even multitask and do your grocery shopping at the same time!
Outside USDA Headquarters
Independence Ave. & 12th St., S.W.
When: Fridays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m, May-October
Grab a Slice at Matchbox
Finding an affordable restaurant near the National Mall can be tough, but at Matchbox Vintage Pizza Bistro in Chinatown, kids menu options are all $6 and include both classic favorites (think macaroni and cheese or chicken tenders) and their “Captain Healthy to the Rescue” (includes fresh fruit, veggies, cheese slices, and peanut butter). Plus, the best part: kids get pizza dough balls to play with while you wait!
713 H St., NW
Groove to the Military Bands Summer Concert Series
During this free summer series, military bands will play concerts every weekday evening on the U.S. Capitol West Front steps (National Mall side) starting at 8 p.m., weather permitting. Note: you can bring lawn chairs if you get a space on the stone terrace in front of the band, and you can even bring a picnic dinner (no alcohol or glass bottles).
East Capitol St., NE & First St., SE
Concretes at Shake Shack
If you find yourself hot and hungry during your trip, don’t get drawn in by the food trucks on the Mall that are often overpriced—instead, walk a few blocks to the nearest Shake Shack, where you can grab a burger (or Shroom Burger for you vegetarians) and one of their original Concretes, which blend frozen custard with mix-ins. Choose from location-specific options like “Shack Attack” or make your own combination.
—Ayren Jackson-Cannady, Kelly Ann Jacobson, Linda Bennett