ith the White House home to two First Daughters, the city is stirring with activities for even the youngest DC visitors. Packed with dozens of free, kid-friendly attractions, Washington, DC is an ideal destination for a fun, educational family vacation. And even as the District’s traditionally historic sites continue to amaze and inspire, DC’s new exhibitions and attractions are doing their part to engage the city’s family visitors with interactive experiences. In addition to the city’s most famous family-focused attractions, here’s a list of some surprising spots for young explorers.
KID-FRIENDLY MUSEUMS AND ATTRACTIONS
Ford’s Theatre – Center for Education and Leadership
Housed in a building directly across the street from Ford’s Theatre and acquired by the Ford’s Theatre Society in 2007, the Center for Education and Leadership features two floors of permanent exhibits addressing the immediate aftermath of Lincoln’s death and the evolution of Lincoln’s legacy; a Leadership Gallery floor to be used for rotating exhibits, lecture and reception space; two floors of education studios to house pre- and post-visit workshops, after-school programs and teacher professional development; and a distance-learning lab outfitted with state-of-the-art technology that will allow Ford’s to engage students and teachers nationwide and around the world. Like the historic theatre across the street, the Center is an essential destination for local and national visitors—from schoolchildren to scholars, from curious tourists to Washingtonians seeking a thought-provoking experience.
International Spy Museum – Spy in the City and Operation Spy
The International Spy Museum, located in Penn Quarter, offers interactive experiences sure to engage older kids (12+). They can test their skills while exploring DC neighborhoods in Spy in the City, a new GPS-based experience where participants, equipped with a GPS Ranger handheld device, embark on a series of exciting self-guided outdoor missions in DC neighborhoods. And in the hour-long Operation Spy, participants enter a fictional country, take on the role of U.S. intelligence officers and engage in high-energy missions where they’ll need to “feel, think, and act” like real spies. A permanent gallery featuring interesting spy tools like sabotage weapons and secret writings round-out the museum’s intriguing offerings.
Library of Congress – Young Readers Center
The Library is home to a cozy space devoted to young readers. The Young Readers Center, located in the historic Thomas Jefferson Building, allows families to have a “read-aloud” experience, where they can choose books from an up-to-date collection of non-circulating titles or participate in family-friendly reading programs. The Center’s media room also allows visitors to view webcasts of young adult and children’s authors who were featured at the National Book Festival.
The Crime Museum – CSI Experience
For older children interested in forensic science, the CSI Experience at The Crime Museum, located in Penn Quarter, is as close as you can get to a day in the life of a crime scene investigator. Finding themselves in the middle of a fully intact crime scene, visitors begin an investigation, gathering vital clues to determine what happened when, where, why and by whom. Discover the wonders of an autopsy and learn how to solve crime through the use of forensic science technology such as ballistics, blood analysis, fingerprinting, and dental and facial reconstruction.
Washington National Cathedral
While the National Cathedral is a Christian church in Cleveland Park that holds Episcopal services, it is also open to people of all faiths and offers a full roster of programming for the whole family. Take a tour to explore the whimsical stone gargoyles and grotesques that decorate the Cathedral. Or make a stop in the Children’s Chapel, where everything from the chairs to the organ is designed to the scale of a six-year-old child. The beautiful grounds offer almost 60 acres of open space where children can play and a large gift shop features unique gift items for kids to take home.
Capitol Visitor Center
Opened in December 2008, the Capitol Visitor Center has been conceived as an extension of the Capitol that welcomes visitors to the seat of American government. At nearly 580,000 square feet, the Capitol Visitor Center is the largest project in the Capitol’s 215-year history and is approximately three-quarters the size of the Capitol itself. The entire facility is located underground on the east side of the Capitol so as not to detract from the appearance of the Capitol. Tours of the Capitol will begin and end at the Visitor Center and advance reservations are recommended to tour the Capitol.
The Presidents Gallery by Madame Tussauds Washington, DC
DC’s Presidents Gallery by Madame Tussauds gives off a distinctly “Washington” vibe from its downtown location, and gives parents the perfect opportunity to give kids a taste of politics without the crowds on the National Mall. They’ll especially love the opportunity to sit behind the desk in a perfect replica of The Oval Office, or to take pictures with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill or even President Obama and the First Lady. In February 2011, Madame Tussauds added a new presidential gallery, making it the only spot in the U.S. where you could stand face-to-face with all 44 presidents.
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Destination DC, the lead destination marketing organization for the nation’s capital, is a private, non-profit membership organization of more than 800 businesses committed to marketing the area as a premier global convention, tourism and special events destination with a special emphasis on the arts, cultural and historic communities. www.destinationdc.com
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