Family Vacation in Washington, DC

With free or cheap admission to countless museums and attractions packed in tight throughout the greater Washington, DC area, it’s no surprise that America’s capitol city is a popular vacation destination. Walkable and bikeable, visitors to DC can also utilize a network of public subway and bus lines to maximize their exploration.

The type of place you’ll never be able to completely “take in” in just one trip or one long weekend, it’s best to have a general plan of attack but allow for moments of spontaneous wanderlust. Visiting Washington, DC with kids in tow, we used a travel guidebook to get us started. Here are some highlights from the trip:

Capitol Tour

Capitol BuildingAn iconic item for any Washington DC bucket list is touring the United States Capitol building. With a limited number of same-day tickets available to the general public, advance reservations are recommended and available through or your local Member of Congress. An important experience for people of all ages, the hour-long guided tour takes visitors through the building and into the rotunda and is rich in history and architectural significance.

National Museum of the American Indian: Mitsitam Café

Mitsitam CafeFeaturing Native foods found throughout the Western Hemisphere, the Mitsitim Café on the first floor of the National Museum of the American Indian features five food stations that depict “regional lifeways related to cooking techniques, ingredients, and flavors found in both traditional and contemporary dishes.”

Foodies may be compelled to purchase a copy of the Mitsitam Café cookbook as a trip souvenir. If available, take a seat by the window overlooking the man-made waterfalls located in the outer courtyard.

International Spy Museum

Spy MuseumOne of the more popular admission-based attractions in DC, the International Spy Museum is the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage. Ideal for older kids and the James Bond fans in your group, make sure to leave time to lurk around the museum gift shop.

If the weather is nice and you need a break from the museums, consider renting a GPS device from the Spy Museum gift shop and going on an urban adventure. Called “Spy in the City,” participants embark on an hour-long interactive quest to intercept an intelligence breach to the enemy. Decoding messages and using “clues” hidden along a one mile loop on the streets surrounding the museum, this experience was the highlight of a fourth grade boy’s day.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery Tomb of the Unknown SoldierThe final resting place of over 14,000 United States veterans, Arlington National Cemetery is one of the oldest national cemeteries in the country. Located on the rolling hills above the Potomac River, the cemetery is 624 acres in entirety.

If visiting the grounds on a summer day, consider purchasing a ticket to ride the trams that stop at the Kennedy gravesites, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Arlington House. Tours are interactive and visitors can spend as much or as little time exploring the grounds as they decide (busses pass every 20 minutes).


Georgetown WaterfrontA historic neighborhood located just Northeast of downtown DC, Georgetown is now a hub for upscale shopping, dining, and entertainment. Home to Georgetown University and landmarks including the Old Stone House, families with younger children will enjoy a stroll on the paved paths along the Potomac River waterfront. Pack sunscreen, a towel, and change of clothes if you want to cool of in the fountains at Georgetown Waterfront Park.


ChinatownMarked by the Friendship Arch, a Chinese gate spanning H Street at the intersection of H and 7th Streets, the historic Chinatown neighborhood is best known for its ethnic Chinese and Asian restaurants and business establishments. Within walking distance of the Smithsonian museums, Chinatown is also fantastic place to people watch and window shop.

National Gallery Sculpture Garden

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

Located on six acres in the block adjacent to the National Gallery of Art, the National Gallery Sculpture Garden is a year-round respite from all things urban. A giant fountain is the centerpiece of the grounds that feature a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. The grounds house sculpture and works of art from the Gallery’s collection, in addition to traveling exhibitions on loan. Visitors may want to dine at the Pavilion Café with indoor and outdoor seating (and a perfect view of ice skaters enjoying the fountain in winter months).

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Smithsonian American Art MuseumOne of the nineteen museums in the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex, the American Art Museum is the nation’s first collection of American art. Spread out over three floors, museum collections range from folk to contemporary to impressionism. Housed in a sun-lit atrium in the center of the building, The Courtyard Café is a lovely place for a cup of coffee.


About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. In March 2018 Julie Henning published the book "100 Things to Do in Eugene Before You Die" (Reedy Press). She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. She has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, Travel Wisconsin, Travel Oregon, Hometown News Group, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine (DNR publication), Experience Michigan Magazine, the Official Oregon Wine Touring Guide, Metro Parent Milwaukee Magazine, Eugene Cascades & Coast Official Visitors Guide, Trivago, Intercom Magazine,,, Eugene Magazine, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio. She has produced episodes for Journey of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. Julie has also produced travel apps with Sutro Media and Bindu Media. She works full time in marketing. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at