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Washington DC for families

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Trying to figure out what to do over the long weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? Looking to go somewhere that is just a short plane, train, or car ride from New York? Consider Washington, D.C., where you can learn more about the civil rights leader. Although America’s capital city is known for its politics, its history, diversity, and accessibility draws families from throughout the country all year long.

Some of the biggest draws in D.C. are the impressive monuments, museums, mansions, and government buildings — many of which are free of charge. As expected, there is heightened security in D.C., but there are concerted efforts to keep the significant buildings open to the general public. With proper planning, you can schedule a visit or even a tour. The opportunity to witness the government in action is equally thrilling. Imagine walking through the Pentagon, taking a peek into the Supreme Court, or standing in awe of the lavish rooms in the White House. If you are planning to visit the White House, remember that trips must be coordinated through your member of Congress at least 21 days before the planned trip.

The Arlington National Cemetery — and its “sea of stones” that holds thousands of graves of those who served in the U.S. military — will humble you. The gravesites of President John F. Kennedy and his well-known brothers (former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and former Sen. Ted Kennedy) are also housed at Arlington.

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is grand in scale, and is even more impressive in the evening with its spotlight beaming. By visiting the Memorial (or any of the memorials on the National Mall and Tidal Basin) at night, you will encounter smaller crowds. If visiting on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Jan. 19), you can witness the parade and peace walk. As part of the celebration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, you can also attend the Kennedy Center celebration “Let Freedom Ring,” or participate in a day of service to honor the slain civil rights leader.

Throughout D.C., there are statues, plaques, and monuments to honor those who helped shape our country. The most visited sites are on the National Mall, and the National Park Service has conveniently developed an app to navigate the area easily (entitled “NPS National Mall”). Another feature of the app is the “park lens” that aids users in locating nearby monuments. You can follow a recommended tour or create your own. If you plan ahead, you can also print a copy of the useful “Be a Park Ranger” packet for your kids. This will add a sense of adventure to your visit to the National Mall and its monuments.

Washington D.C. is a terrific place for families, and you will be drawn in by the educational and historical appeal the city offers. There are also tantalizing restaurants that you will want to seek out. During the week of Jan. 19 to 25, you can take advantage of Restaurant Week, when more than 200 restaurants will be offering three-course lunches for $20.15 and three-course dinners for $35.15. This will be a great opportunity to experience D.C.’s best restaurants at affordable prices.

Here are 10 places and events that you cannot miss:

Bureau of Engraving and Printing

www.moneyfactory.gov/tours/washingtondctours.html, 300 14th St. SW, Washington, DC 20228, (202) 874–2330

Also referred to as the “Money Factory,” it offers a self-guided tour that takes approximately 35 minutes. As you would expect, this tour is quite popular, so plan ahead.

Discovery Theater

www.discoverytheater.org, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW, Washington, DC 20560, (202) 633–8700

A theater devoted to young audiences, it offers 300 programs a year exploring art, science, and global heritage.

International Spy Museum

www.spymuseum.org, 800 F St. NW, Washington, DC 20004, (202) 393–7798

This museum explains the art of espionage and displays cool gadgets. Please note that this museum is best for older kids and teens — strollers are not allowed in the museum.

Mount Vernon

www.mountvernon.org, 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy., Mount Vernon, Va., 22121, (703) 780–2000

Visit George Washington’s former home, which is now home to farm animals, a discovery center, and museum. This site is stroller friendly and dogs are welcome. Open all year.

National Air and Space Museum

www.airandspace.si.edu, Independence Avenue at Sixth Street, Southwest, Washington, DC 20560, (202) 633–2214

One of the most popular museums in Washington, it houses 23 galleries that illustrate the story of aviation, space, and human attempts at flight.

National Museum of Natural History

www.mnh.si.edu, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20560, (202) 633–1000

This huge museum is dedicated to natural wonders and boasts a great collection on dinosaurs. It also houses an “Insect Zoo,” which is home to live insects and other critters.

National Zoo

www.nationalzoo.si.edu, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008, (202) 633–4888

One of the world’s most renowned zoos, it is family friendly and easily navigable with a stroller.

National Gallery of Art

www.nga.gov, Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20565, (202) 737–4215

During the winter months, there is an outdoor ice skating rink in the sculpture garden. View sculptures while skating with your children.

Newseum

www.newseum.org, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001, (202) 292–6100

This museum houses seven floors of interactive exhibits covering the history of journalism. The exhibits are sure to engage kids of all ages.

United States Botanic Garden

www.usbg.gov, 100 Maryland Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20001, (202) 225–8333

Located on the Capitol grounds, the garden has living exhibits in the conservatory, such as seasonal exhibits.

Other links:

Be a Junior Ranger: www.nps.gov/kids/jrRangers.cfm

NPS App: www.nps.gov/nama/photosmultimedia/app-page.htm

Washington DC Restaurant Week: www.ramw.org/restaurantweek

Shnieka Johnson is an education consultant and freelance writer. She is based in Manhattan where she resides with her husband and son. Contact her via her website, www.shniekajohnson.com.

Updated 4:55 pm, July 9, 2018
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