Few family vacation destinations offer the education, fun, and adventure of the Washington DC/Baltimore area. After arriving at BWI, Reagan, or Dulles airport the fun began for us. Looking back now, DC was kind to us. I was traveling with four family members I was caring for and three of the four were disabled. Pushing two wheelchairs and all the luggage and medications and carry-ons wasn't easy but I managed to pull it off and have a lot of fun in the process.Our favorite spot of all was George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Our kids loved everything about this magical, historical place. We loved seeing the gardens, the museum, the slaves’ quarters, the horse and tack buildings, ice house, gristmill, wharf, trails, cellars, servants areas, greenhouse and much more. My grandmother especially loved the beautiful grounds.
Inside George Washington’s home we toured and enjoyed unspoiled and majestic views of the Potomac where original trees still stand. Inside we were captivated by Washington’s actual furniture and books and personal belongings that still occupy the home.
His original bedroom is still on display where he and Martha lived and slept and where Washington died. Docents fascinated all generations of our family with personalized tidbits and stories of Washington’s history. Docents dressed up in period costume, answered our kids' questions and had animated conversations with guests while staying in character. We enjoyed interacting with Mrs. Washington asking her what life was like 200 years ago.
More Family Vacation Excursions
The nearby town of Alexandria, Virginia just ten minutes from Mount Vernon is a must for browsing and lunch where beautiful historic buildings from centuries ago, only add to the mystique.
Get on the 495, 295, 195, 695, 395 or was it the 95, no, just get a map or a GPS for sure, as the freeways are insane and even the locals joke openly about it. But get on the right one and follow the signs to the Baltimore National Aquarium. We were glad we toughed the traffic and made it.
Located right in the Baltimore harbor, we liked getting up close and personal with aquatic and coastal life including sharks, rays, dolphins, birds, frogs, snakes and other creatures from the east coast as well as far away places like Australia and Africa.
We loved feeding the rays and enjoyed getting close to poisonous dart frogs, and crocodiles. The Animal Planet Australia exhibit is great and the dolphin show is similar to what you might find at Marine World or Sea World.
A Family Freebie
If getting to see wonderful animals excites your kids, another ‘must visit’ is the National Zoo in Washington DC. We found this free admission zoo spectacular with all that you would expect to see at any large zoo plus lots more like Panda Bears and anteaters.
You can even get tickets ahead of time for watching the Pandas during feeding time. We didn’t get the special tickets and we still enjoyed watching them play. This zoo is huge and spread out so plan on comfortable walking shoes for walking a good 2-3 miles.
One short but exciting day excursion from DC is Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. After driving over the magnificent Chesapeake Bay Bridge and through vast agricultural farming towns where the kids loved stopping for local produce, we arrived at our favorite little beach town in Delaware. With wonderful beaches, quaint stores, restaurants, lighthouses and shell shops, this little gem is worth checking out for a relaxing afternoon away from the bustle of cities.
More Day Jaunts from DC
Another day trip is to the beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch Country. We could have spent several days experiencing the lovely Amish people, fascinating culture, and breathtaking landscape that make up this haven of beauty. But even if you just have a day, you can enjoy some of it with Baltimore/DC as your starting point.
Highlights that cannot be missed include taking a real Amish buggy ride at Aaron and Jessica’s. Next door at the Plain and Fancy Farm we thoroughly enjoyed a real Amish meal served long-table-family-farm-style and a multi media movie depicting Amish culture and values.
We browsed through the towns of Bird in Hand and Intercourse enjoying the shops and wares. We enjoyed a tour of the Intercourse Pretzel Factory where we all tried our hand at twisting pretzels. The kids and the grandparents loved a ride through the countryside on the Strasburg Rail Road. And you won’t want to miss authentic Amish dishes like shoe fly pie at Good ‘N Plenty Restaurant in Smoketown.
Back in the city, our favorite spots in the downtown mall DC area are the Lincoln Memorial and of course the one and only Smithsonian. With so many Smithsonian museums to choose from, it’s best to pick one or two for an afternoon and focus on those.
We especially loved the National Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History but there’s no such thing as a bad Smithsonian museum, with nearly twenty to choose from.
DC Area's Best Family Lodging
For family-friendly places to stay, the choices are equally as unlimited. However on three of our visits we’ve stayed at the Woodfin Suites Hotel in Rockville, Maryland. Fairly central to everything and next to several major freeways, we found a stay in one of their suites comfortable and affordable and it even includes breakfast every morning and a free light dinner most evenings with complimentary cocktails and sodas. They offer lots of extras like a free grocery shopping service and a shuttle, which proves very handy if you choose to take the Metro into the city like we did most of the time. Having disabled people in our group, all these little extra ammenities really made all the difference.
The train buffs in our family loved the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum within walking distance of the popular Inner Harbor area.
Another side excursion is to the Shenandoah Valley past all the amazing civil war trails to Endless Caverns in New Market,Virginia. We found this cavern tour simply unforgettable where stalagmites, stalagtites, calcite, and rock formations can be enjoyed on a guided tour revealing the geology and history. It’s a great place for bat lovers!
In town by the cavern is our favorite eating place, the Johnny Appleseed Restaurant where homemade apple fritters and apple butter must be sampled along with some fun souvenirs. Our kids couldn't get enough of the fritters.
The Washington DC area offers FREEDOM at its best with so much to visit, view, and do for free including: African American Civil War Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington House, Ford’s Theater, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Library of Congress, Lincoln Memorial, National Gallery of Art, Washington National Cathedral, Union Station, U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument and so many others.
Again, I cannot warn you enough how bad traffic and parking is in the DC area. I recommend renting a car but plan on taking the Metro into the city areas as parking is almost impossible. If you must take a car into downtown DC, try visiting the monuments on Sunday when commuter traffic is not a problem and parking is at least feasible.
Excellent bus and public transportation is available and in Bethesda, The Bethesda 8 Trolley is our favorite mode of transportation. It’s free, it’s fast and it’s fun. Bethesda with it’s quaint and eclectic shops and eateries, is a family-fun-must for at least one afternoon.
DC and its outlaying areas are extremely hot and humid most summers. Early fall is a favorite time to visit while avoiding the crowds.
Get a good map at any bookstore and a guide book if you really want to productively plan the most out of your family vacation. The choices are a bit overwhelming but nonetheless wonderful. I recommend at least a week to fully enjoy the area.