D.C. is all about the free (or the dirt cheap). Makes sense, too, since it’s literally the capital of the free world and home to the best free museums. And that’s awesome for parents and tourists alike who are trying to save more and spend less. Read on to learn about 9 off-the-beaten-path places that won’t break the bank.
Photo: Marc A. Garrett via Flickr
For the Indecisive: Glen Echo Park
D.C. is steeped in history, and this park, founded in 1891, is no different. Go for a spin ($1.25/ride) on the Dentzel Carousel, in place since 1921; see a show ($6-12) by the Puppet Co.; or get up close with sea life at the new aquarium ($6/person). There’s also a playground with swings and climbing equipment, and a picnic area.
Cost: Park entry is free, but some activities charge a fee
5801 Oxford Rd. (Glen Echo, Md)
For Explorers: Pilgrim Observation Gallery
We all know the Washington Monument provides sweeping views of the District, but this gallery at the National Cathedral also offers unobstructed panoramas without the crowds. Plus, the cathedral, where presidents have held prayer services and been laid to rest, offers a scavenger hunt for kids to find images in stained glass and carvings in the gargoyles. Bonus: Explore the foliage and koi pond in Bishop’s Garden.
Cost: $11/adult; $7/kids ages 5 to 17; free/kids under 5
3101 Wisconsin Ave., NW (Cathedral Heights)
For Museum Hoppers: National Postal Museum
Rain, sleet, snow, the Digital Age – the mail still gets delivered. Here, kids can see the path it takes from place to place, gawk at the ultimate stamp collection, and check out old-fashioned mail trucks.
2 Massachusetts Ave., N.E (Union Station)
Photo: Carol Barnard via Flickr
For Water Babies (and Grown-ups): Great Falls Canal Boat Rides
Hop aboard a replica of a 19th-century mule-drawn boat and set out on the C&O Canal to learn how early Washington-area visitors got around. This hour-long trip includes a ride on the locks and narration by park rangers dressed in period clothing.
Cost: $8 for ages 16 to 61, $6 for seniors 62 and up, $5 for kids 4-15, free for 3 and under
Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center
11710 MacArthur Blvd.
For Chill Seekers: Patterson Park
Leave the bustle of the Inner Harbor for a slice of serenity at this park, which offers ice skating on a rink first formed in 1865 between October and March ($4/per person, $2/skate rental), two playgrounds, and a 19th-century structure known as the Pagoda. Climb it between noon and 6 on Sundays April through October.
Cost: Free, although some activities charge fees
Where:27 S. Patterson Park Ave, Baltimore
When: Daily from dawn until dark
For History Buffs: Manassas National Battlefield Park
The site of a Confederate win in 1862, today this park offers visitors a look at its past at the visitor center or during park ranger-led walking tours. Check the website for Civil War reenactments.
Cost: $3 for ages 16 and up, free for 15 and younger
Photo: Maria S. via Yelp
For Foodies: Breadline D.C.
In the age of the food truck, this sandwich stop is still hugely popular with locals. Everything is baked fresh onsite. The menu changes daily, but here’s a sampling of what you can find for picky palettes: turkey on ciabatta, hummus with cucumber, and salami and cheese on a baguette. Hungry, yet?
Where: 1751 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
For a Sweet Tooth: Moorenko’s
This handcrafted ice cream is made in Silver Spring. Scoop up kiddie staples such as Cookie Overload and Cotton Candy Gummy Bear. For more refined taste buds, there’s Honey Sunflower Seed and Grapefruit Campari sorbet.
8030 Georgia Ave. (Silver Spring, Md)
Photo: Alexandria Archaeology Museum
For Science Stars: Alexandria Archaeology
Cross the Potomac into Virginia and dig into Alexandria’s past on Family Dig Days, offered about five times a year. Help archaeologists screen soil during a real dig at Shutter’s Hill, where bottles, cans, china and a 1920 Mercury dime have been unearthed in the past.
Torpedo Factory Art Center, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria
Where do you take out of town guests to save money? Tell us in the comments section.
–Stephanie Kanowitz and Ayren Jackson-Cannady