How well do you know your city? We’re willing to bet that even native Washingtonians (and their families) will find some new places to discover on this list of hidden gems! Skip DC’s tourist traps and explore these off-the-beaten-path places around the District and beyond. Scroll down for 11 under-the-radar places in the DMV.

Smokey Bear at the National Zoo

Pose next to the beloved Smokey Bear, the poster animal for preventing forest fires, at the National Zoo. Along the commemorative trail, you will also see reproductions of vintage Smokey Bear posters and photos of the real Smokey Bear that once called this zoo home. Want to learn more about preventing forest fires? Check out smokeybear.com where kids can print out hands-on activities. 

Editor's Note: The zoo is free, but due to COVID-19, entry passes are required. Get yours here.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park
3001 Connecticut Ave. NW
Woodley Park
(202) 633-4888
Online: nationalzoo.si.edu

The Rooftop at the Kennedy Center

Watching the sun set over our nation's capital is a must-do at least once. There are a number of pricey restaurants and rooftop bars where you can pay handsomely for the view or you can head over to the Kennedy Center where the rooftop is open to the public and allows outside food. Family picnic, anyone?

The Kennedy Center
2700 F St. NW
Foggy Bottom
202-467-4600
Online: kennedy-center.org

Mom's Organic Pinball Club

If you have a little gamer introduce them to the original console, the pinball machine. Mom's founder Scott Nash has shared his personal collection of pinball machines in an arcade lounge at the College Park grocery store. You'll find almost 30 restored classics like "Flash Gordon" alongside newer models, like "The Simpsons." There is an onsite change-making machine and a seating area for those that just want to cheer from the sidelines. 

Mom’s Organic Market
9801 Rhode Island Ave.
College Park, MD
301-220-1100
Online: facebook.com/MOMsPinball/

Gravelly Point Park

Pint-size aviation buffs will love hanging out at Gravelly Point Park, which is conveniently situated just off of the George Washington Parkway. It's there where they're able to watch planes take off (right above their heads!) from Reagan National Airport. Pack a picnic or bring popcorn to make plane watching a serious spectator sport.

Gravelly Point Park
George Washington Pkwy.
Arlington, VA
Online: virginia.org

Summerhouse

This secret hideaway on the Capitol Grounds was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1800s to create a much-needed space for visitors to sit and rest. Inside this open-air building you can still enjoy a break from the elements on the shaded benches or refill your water bottle at one of the three drinking fountains. Summerhouse is a great place to play a quick game of hide-and-seek on your way to a near-by tour or activity.

Insider tip: Peek out the window into the grotto for some birdwatching!

U.S. Capitol Building
E Capitol Cir. NW
West Front Lawn of the Capitol
Online: aoc.gov/capitol-grounds/summerhouse

Heurich House Museum's Castle Garden

The Heurich House Museum only offers tours for ages 10 & up, but you can still take your younger explorers to the Castle Garden. This secret garden is the perfect place for a picnic at one of the tables or spending an hour or two on a bench with a good book in the shadow of the castle. There is no fee to enjoy the grounds. You don’t have to go through the museum to get to the garden. The public entrance is around back.

Editor's Note: The House remains closed at this time, but the gardens are open to the public Mon.-Fri. from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 

Castle Garden
1921 Sunderland Pl. NW
Dupont Circle neighborhood
202-429-1894
Online: heurichhouse.org/visit/castlegarden

Fort Stevens

This one-time battlefield is now an oasis of peace in the middle of urban bustle. Rich with history, it even includes a plaque to commemorate the spot where President Lincoln stood and came under enemy fire. It’s a beautiful place for a picnic and a couple of hours of learning and play. Make sure you check out the cannons, ramparts, and moat before you leave. The park is open every day from sunrise to sunset. 

Insider tip: There are no bathrooms at Fort Stevens, so make sure everyone goes before you get there! If you do need to use one while you’re there, the nearest one is at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium two miles to the west (but it’s only open Wed.-Sun., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.).

Fort Stevens
1339 Fort Stevens Dr.
Brightwood
202-290-1048
Online: nps.gov/places/fort-stevens.htm

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothocary Museum

If your little one loves plants or Harry Potter, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothocary Museum is a goldmine of historical fun! On the first floor, you’ll find a modern gift shop on one side and an old-fashioned apothecary on the other, restored to its original 18th-century appearance. Head upstairs to see a treasure-trove of seeds, plants, and other goodies stored in boxes, drawers and more, exactly as they were on display when the apothocary was in full operation. Tours are $5/adult and $3/children 5-12 and start every half hour at quarter after and quarter of the hour on Sun. and Mon. 

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothocary Museum
105-107 South Fairfax St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
703-7460-3852
Online: alexandriava.gov/Apothecary

National Capital Trolley Museum

"Clang, clang, clang went the trolley." Does your little one like to ring the bell? The National Capital Trolley Museum is a must-do day trip into a bygone era of transportation. Hop aboard a street car for a quick journey into the woods or enjoy a tour on an authentic tram. You can also explore the barn that houses several restored trollies. Admission includes the museum displays, a docent-led tour, and unlimited trolley rides.

Insider tip: Make sure you check the website for the hours before you go. Hours are extremely limited and vary by season. You can reserve your timeslot online. 

National Capital Trolley Museum
1313 Bonifant Road
Colesville, MD 20905
301-384-6088
Online: dctrolley.org

 

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

A day at the National Zoo is a chance to meet over 2,700 animals, many of which are endangered. Furry meet-and-greets are fun, but for those looking to learn more about the Smithsonian's critical mission to protect and save species, head to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, VA. Open to the public only one day a year, SCBI offers a behind-the-scenes look at the zoo at their annual Conservation Discovery Day. While this event is geared toward middle school through college ages, all ages are welcome to come and have fun. Past events have featured bird banding, cryopreservation, wildlife tracking and forest mapping.

Insider tip: There is no on-site parking, but there is a shuttle that will take you from an off-site parking lot.

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
1500 Remount Rd.
Front Royal, VA 22630
202-633-4888
Online: nationalzoo.si.edu/conservation

 

Anderson House

Anderson House was built in the spring of 1905 as the stateside home of American diplomat Lars Anderson and his wife, Isabel. Today, the 50-room mansion on Embassy Row is a museum and library featuring most of the original furniture and artwork. You’ll learn about the significance of the American Revolution while touring this historic property. Tours are about an hour long and led by docents. Admission to this stately home is free.

Editor's Note: Due to COVID-19, Anderson House is temporarily closed to tours and events. 

Anderson House
2118 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Embassy Row
202-785-2040
Online: societyofthecincinnati.org

—Meghan Yudes Meyers and Wendy Miller

featured photo: iStock

 

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