Summer is in full swing, and that means you’ve already exhausted all your great ideas to keep the kids busy. Maybe it’s time for a family vacation, minus the hassle and cost of flying with kids. Consider an awesome staycation right here in D.C., or opt for a short road trip to the beach or mountains instead. We’ve found the best staycation ideas for families, you can see them all below. What are you waiting for? Go pack!

Wharf DC


Washington’s newest neighborhood will easily make you forget you’re in the nation’s capital. The 24-acre waterfront site is home to a zillion–seriously, we counted–activities for kids and adults including oversized Scrabble, bocce, a splash fountain, swings and ice skating or mini-golf, depending on the season. Rent a kayak or paddleboard from the Wharf Boathouse on the Recreation Pier or listen to a concert on the Floating Stage. Through Aug. 21, the Transit Pier has free concerts on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. featuring R&B, Motown, jazz, reggae and pop music. Use the free District Wharf App, available on iTunes and Google Play, to go on a treasure hunt for 30 historic markers and plaques.

If–OK, when–the whining starts, hop on a free Wharf Jitney and sail across Washington Channel to East Potomac Park, which has plenty of green space and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Other options include taking the free Southwest Shuttle to the National Mall or hopping on a Water Taxi to Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria. Also, not far from the Wharf sits the newly reopened and relocated International Spy Museum, where kids ages 7 & up can enjoy interactive exhibits and see the tools that make spying both a science and an art. Another off-the-beaten-path museum is Artechouse, which marries art and technology, making for a few mesmerizing, Insta-worthy exhibits. 


You can’t go to the Wharf and not stop at the Municipal Fish Market, the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the country. If taking home raw, fresh fish as a souvenir is your thing, this is your place. But you can also get cooked dishes onsite. For instance, Captain White Seafood City will steam your order and have it ready for pickup, and Jessie Taylor Seafood sells cooked shrimp and crabs and shucked oysters.

If dessert is more your thing, there are plenty of options, including District Doughnut, Dolcezza Gelato, and Ben and Jerry’s, which has cases full of dipped and decorated waffle cones. The Southwest Soda Pop Shop sells throwback treats like Firecracker pops and root beer floats. During the summer, check out Camp Wharf at the District Square Firepit, which sells s’mores made with Oreos and shaved-ice snowballs in flavors such as tamarind, lemonade and blue raspberry.


Hunker down at the Hyatt House Washington DC/The Wharf. Three blocks south lies the National Mall, where more traditional D.C. treasures await, including the Smithsonian museums, monuments and the U.S. Capitol. Plus, the hotel has a seasonal, heated rooftop pool that’s open from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. If you want to make the trip a true family affair, bring Fido or Fifi, too. The Hyatt House is pet-friendly to housebroken dogs weighing less than 50lbs. Another option is the new InterContinental Washington D.C.–The Wharf, which also has a rooftop pool that overlooks the Potomac River and the marina.



If beautiful parks are your thing, make sure to check out Dumbarton Oaks. Kids will love meandering through the vibrant greenery, winding pathways and colossal fountains. Be sure to check out the historic landmark, Tudor Place, which has been a fixture in DC since 1816 and has served as a home to descendants of Martha Washington for six generations. The chic house has furnishings, household items and fascinating Washington-related artifacts. The five-plus acres worth of gardens on the estate make for a scenic outdoor adventure.

No trip to G-town is complete without visiting the striking campus of Georgetown University. Established in 1789, GU is one of the world’s leading academic and research institutions. Hoya Saxa is palpable throughout Georgetown, and they love to see mini, future Hoyas roaming around campus.


Need to pick something up for the baby or want to pamper yourself? Pay Take Care a visit. It’s a great little store, in the heart of Georgetown, that sells natural beauty, baby and home products. It’s so pretty—truly an Instagrammer’s dream!


Hungry and need to get some wiggles out? Head over to Pinstripes, the family-friendly game space–which merges an Italian-American menu with 14 bowling lanes and six bocce courts in an enormous 32,000 square foot space that borders the canal. For a sweet treat, look for the pink bicycle outside Baked & Wired for everything scrumptious from bread to granola to cupcakes. Prefer macarons to cupcakes? Check out the head of the macaron monarchy on M St., Ladurée.


If you really want to make your jaunt special, spend the night in one of Georgetown’s most exclusive hotels, The Four Seasons. But, guess what? ... it’s totally kid friendly! Book one of their special 25% off Suites offer: a family of four can fit very comfortably, and the parents can enjoy the privacy of their own room. When you check-in, your kids will be welcomed with a red wagon full of toys, and you can even request a special teepee set up for the kids in the rooms. A few fun, complimentary items you can ask for as part of a childproof guest room include cribs, high chairs and playpens, child-size bathrobes, baby & children's toiletries, toys, coloring books and board games, Wii and video games. Intrigued by room service? Younger kids will get personalized homemade cookies shaped in the form of the Tic-Tac-Toe game to play with before enjoying: older kids will get a sweet tribute to the US, two brownies with American flag motif, decorated with sprinkles.

photo: Maureen Porto Photography

Annapolis, MD


The Chesapeake Bay is the heart and soul of Maryland. Famous for its blue crabs and mouthwatering oysters, her sandy shores and nippy, fresh water are a playground for water lovers. Both Maryland and America’s Sailing Capital, Annapolis is a charming historic town and a great place to visit with kids. Founded in 1649, its colonial city center is small and easy to navigate. But the highlight is that it’s surrounded by a bustling waterfront full of boats. Kids love to walk around, grab an ice cream cone and just gaze at the beautiful vessels.

Annapolis is also home to the U.S. Naval Academy. You can take a guided tour of the Academy, to see what life is like as a midshipman, or just walk around campus. Make sure to check out the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center, where you can get information about what to see on campus and admire some of the naval artifacts at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum.

The Annapolis Maritime Museum is a great resource to teach kids about the deep maritime heritage of Annapolis. The Museum is home to McNasby’sOysterPacking Company, the last remaining oyster packing plant in the area. Located on the waterfront, the Museum teaches visitors how to harvest oysters, allows them to climb aboard a native workboat and explore artifacts. There is also an 850-gallon oyster tank that kids love to observe.


Get your fix of seafood and waterfront views at Sams on the Waterfront. Snag a spot on the outdoor patio and enjoy Maryland favorites like crab cakes and locally-raised oysters while the kids watch the boats. The restaurant’s got awesome happy hour specials every day of the week, but we especially love the family-friendly perk on Thirsty Thursday: kids 12 & under eat for free!


Book a night at the recently renovated, Westin Annapolis. Located just minutes from downtown Annapolis, the Westin is the perfect combination of relaxation and fun. They offer modern rooms and suites even have an indoor pool.

Loudon County, VA


Sure, it sounds forever away, sitting almost 45 miles from D.C., but it’s worth braving the region’s notorious traffic to literally head for the hills. 

Nature lovers can hit Harper’s Ferry Adventure Center, which has zip lines, an aerial park, tubing and river rafting. For something tamer but still outside, head to Great Country Farms in Bluemont, an unincorporated part of the county that’s also its highest, at an elevation of 680 feet. For $8/kid and $10/adult, enjoy a day of picking seasonal fruit and vegetables while playing on attractions such as a giant jumping pillow, slides, a ninja course, mazes and Cow Pie Putt-Putt (really). 

When all else fails, tell the kids to take a hike–and then join them. The storied Appalachian National Scenic Trail passes just west of Loudoun County.

Of course, there are many indoor activities in Loudoun, too. In Sterling there’s the Sportrock Climbing Center, Hogback Mountain Paintball and Ultrazone Loudoun laser tag, while Ashburn has TopGolf, iFly Loudoun indoor skydiving, movie theaters and EXIT Plan escape rooms.


Bluemont Vineyard, a relative of Great Country Farms, has flatbread pizzas, crab dip and a cast iron cookie with ice cream that should keep the kids busy while you sample wines. Or take in the history at the Tuscarora Mill Restaurant. Set in a historic grain mill that dates to 1899, it has a kids menu with flank steak, shrimp pasta, chicken strips and more. Grab some grub in Middleburg, a charming town established in 1787 by an American Revolutionary War lieutenant colonel. The Red Fox Inn and Tavern has served guests since 1728, making it the oldest continually operating inn in the country. Although some of the dining options skew fancy, the tavern’s weekend brunch has three choices for children 10 & under: French toast, chicken tenders and mac and cheese.


Rent a cabin at Harpers Ferry or bring your own camping gear to make the most of your proximity to all things outdoor adventure. But if the great indoors calls, answer at Landsowne Resort and Spa, which has a pool, hiking trails, bikes for rent, footgolf, horseshoes, and tennis, basketball and volleyball courts. OK, so we said it has a pool, but that’s an understatement. It has an indoor heated lap pool that is open year-round, and the outdoor Aquatic Center, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, has five pools, including a zero-depth one, an interactive fountain and a waterslide.

Ocean City, MD


Um, it’s the beach, so take to the sand and call it a day. But if you need more, Ocean City has more. Go for rides at the boardwalk amusement parks: Trimper’s Rides, which has been run by the same family for more than a century, or Jolly Roger Amusement Park, which has waterslides, roller coasters, a ginormous Ferris wheel and more.

For boardwalk oddities, spend some time perusing in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, featuring weird things like shrunken heads that will blow your mind. 

Or have free fun by joining the Family Beach Olympics on Tuesday evenings, when parents and kids partake in sandcastle contests, tug-of-war and relay races. Celebrate a victory or shake off a loss at the weekly Beach Dance Party on Tuesdays from 7-9 p.m. at Caroline Street Stage. A calmer option is Movies on the Beach happening at 118th and 27th streets, while the Ocean City Lifesaving Station Museum offers free summer programs for kids on Mondays through Saturdays on subjects such as knot tying and Ocean City history.


There is no shortage of food choices here. For a meal, try Longboard Café, which has a “Little Grommies” menu with burgers, pizza and the like, or Fish Tales, which has the city’s original and largest enclosed playground. On the boardwalk, enjoy snacks such as popcorn, ice cream and candy.


Guys, the Francis Scott Key Family Resort has “family” right there in its name. The hotel has several pools including the outdoor Shipwreck Cove and Pirate Ship Sprayground and Caribbean Key Indoor Pool, maintained at a comfy 84 degrees. Another option is the Castle in the Sand Hotel, which has kids activities such as arts and crafts, silly hat day, face and body painting and making messages in a bottle. Right on the ocean, it also has an Olympic-size swimming pool and sand volleyball court. Plus, the Mermaid Show magic and comedy show is a big hit with the littles.

—Stephanie Kanowitz with Guiomar Ochoa


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