The National Mall may be our town’s grooviest culinary cultural educational adventure but… Crowds at the Air and Space Museum.  Kids (and you) cranky from walking the Mall in the heat.  Parking.  Been there. Done that. We’ve gathered nine insider secrets for the National Mall to kick the fun up a notch and make it worth coming back again and again.

albert-einstein-sculpturePhoto: Bruce K. via Yelp

#1 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
Online: nasonline.org

#2 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
Online: airandspace.si.edu

#3 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
Online: nga.gov

mitsitam-cafePhoto: Mitsitam via Facebook

#4  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
Online: nmai.si.edu

#5 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)
Online: usbg.gov

#6 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.

butterfly-pavilionPhoto: R_O_B_O via Flickr

#7  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 am 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.
Online: mnh.si.edu

#8 Spend a Night at the Museum
The crowds leave but you and your kiddos stay for a night of adventure at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History or the National Museum of American History. It’s overpriced and you won’t really have free range to explore but the cool factor is so huge it’s worth it. Come on, how many times will you get to go on a sleepover with your 8-12 year old under a whale?  Sign up to get first dibs and deets on new sleepover dates.

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Online: smithsoniansleepovers.org

#9 Hop On, Hop Off
Come Spring 2015, the National Mall Circulator Bus is scheduled to start its route.  Fifteen stops, around the Mall and Tidal Basin, use a SmartCard, and you can get back on for the same fare within two hours. Translation? More family fun with less parking hassle. Cue the wheels on the bus.

Are there any other National Mall treasures we should check out? Tell us in the Comments section below. 

–Linda Bennett