Northern Virginia Staycation (Updated 2017)

Child at Mount Vernon in Northern Virginia

I made this list when we stayed home for yet another Spring Break, and thought it would be equally helpful to share at the start of summer! There are so many great things to do in the Northern Virginia area.

The Smithsonian- Our family’s favorite museums include the Natural History Museum, the two Air and Space Museums, the American Indian Museum, the American History Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The National Building Museum is also a hit with families, especially their recent summer exhibits. My children particularly enjoy taking in an IMAX movie and visiting the butterfly experience at the National History Museum. Here is a link to highlighted children’s activities: http://www.si.edu/Kids

Steven F Udvar Hazi Center- If your kids enjoy the Air and Space Museum, this museum in Chantilly is a must.  http://airandspace.si.edu/visit/udvar-hazy-center/

Newseum- We have found this to be a great museum with older children. It’s as interactive as it is informative. http://www.newseum.org/exhibits/

International Spy Museum- Fun for kids seven and up. http://www.spymuseum.org/education-programs/kids-families/

Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse- Good food, and who can beat Monday and Tuesday’s $2 movies? They often play family friendly matinees on the weekends as well. http://arlingtondrafthouse.com/drafthouse/

Fletcher’s Boathouse- Great place to rent rowboats, kayaks, canoes and bikes right on the Potomac River. http://boatingindc.com/boathouses/fletchers-boathouse/

Appalacian National Scenic Trail near Leesburg- For beautiful short or long term hikes, the entrance is just west of Loudoun County. https://www.visitloudoun.org/listing/appalachian-trail/364/

The B&O Railroad Museum- If you have a train lover in the family, this museum is worth the trip to Baltimore. http://www.borail.org/

Kid Museum in Bethesda- This museum offers STEM and cultural activities for children six to 14 years old. http://kid-museum.org/

Port Discovery in Baltimore- A fun children’s museum in Baltimore. They provide three floors of interactive exhibits. It’s designed for children who are toddlers to 10 years old. http://www.portdiscovery.org/

National Aquarium in Baltimore- The aquarium has become both of my girls’ favorite outing because of the dolphin show, rainforest area and shark tanks.  http://www.aqua.org/

Maryland Science Center- This Baltimore museum is worth the trip. http://www.mdsci.org/

Corcoran Gallery of Art- This museum has a large collection and interesting family programs. http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/education/families.html

National Geographic Museum- http://events.nationalgeographic.com/locations/city/washingtondc/

Canoeing, Kayaking and Tubing- We enjoyed tubing last summer, and are scheduled to go white water rafting (the mild course) next weekend. There are several companies including:

  • River & Trail Outfitters in Harper’s Ferry http://www.rivertrail.com/adventure-tours/
  • Shenandoah River Outfitters in Luray http://www.shenandoah-river.com/
  • DownRiver Canoe Company in Bentonville https://www.downriver.com/.

Mount Vernon- A full day of learning about George Washington’s life and times. It’s a kid friendly tour with lots of tips under Educational Resources on the website. http://www.mountvernon.org/

National Harbor Ferris Wheel and Waterfront Activities or Tidal Basin Paddle Boats – For waterfront fun! 

http://www.nationalharbor.com/play/ or http://www.tidalbasinpaddleboats.com/

US National Arboretum- This is a beautiful place to visit, and now they have a mobile app to assist with your visit. http://www.usna.usda.gov/

United States Botanical Gardens- Another beautiful place to visit to learn about plants and gardening. Every Thursday they host a parent-child tour for parents with young children in backpack carriers or slings. https://www.usbg.gov/

Leesburg Air Shows- Save the date – this year it’s Saturday September 30th. http://www.leesburgairshow.com/

Sandy Point State Park (beach on the Chesapeake Bay)- A small family friendly beach on the bay.

http://reservations.dnr.state.md.us/camping/sandy-point-state-park/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=MD&parkId=380517

Trampoline Parks – Flight in Springfield, or Rebounderz in Chantilly.

County and State Parks

  • Huntley Meadows in Alexandria
  • Buddy Ford in Arlington
  • Frying Pan Park in Reston
  • Burke Lake Park in Burke
  • Bull Run Park in Centreville

Children’s Theatre

  • Encore Stage and Studio
  • Wolf Trap Children’s Theater in the Woods
  • Imagination Stage
  • The Puppet Co. at Glen Echo
  • Creative Cauldron

Spraygrounds and Water Parks

  • Special Harbor Spray Park at Lee District in Alexandria
  • Drew Park in Arlington (spray park)
  • Mosaic District in Fairfax (spray park)
  • Great Waves in Alexandria (water park)
  • Splash Down in Manassas (water park)

Farms

  • Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon
  • Loudoun Heritage Farm Park
  • Great Country Farms in Bluemont, VA
  • Washington’s River Farm in Alexandria

Horse Riding Trails 

  • Rock Creek Park Horse Center
  • Piscataway Riding Stables
  • The MainTree Farm in Leesburg

Zoos

  • National Zoo, DC
  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
  • Salisbury Zoological Park, MD
  • Catoctin Wildlife Preserve, MD
  • Roer’s Safari (Reston Zoo)
  • Leesburg Animal Park

Ice Skating

  • Lee District Rec Center
  • Ashburn Ice House
  • Fairfax

Playgrounds- There’s really too many to list here. This is a link to Northern Virginia Magazine’s list: http://www.northernvirginiamag.com/game-plan/2013/07/05/playgrounds-for-the-kiddos/. Here’s a second extensive list from Our-Kids https://www.our-kids.com/sports-recreation/playgrounds.

Nature Walk Ideas by Age

family walking

I grew up in a bird-watching, nature-loving family. We camped for summer vacations and had bird books on the coffee table. My parents still hike out to the middle of nowhere at 4:00 a.m. once a year for the Christmas Bird Count. With my own kids, we have found there are so many fabulous places for nature walks in Virginia. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Any age:

  • Encourage children to make related art projects – This may be drawing or painting pictures, crayon rubbings, making a leaf collage, painting pine cones or rocks and weaving flower jewelry.
  • Encourage children to make a collection – It may be shells, rocks, leaves or flowers. Allow the collecting and help create a place to display. It helps to take a collection bag on your walks.
  • Encourage nature photography and videos – With so many point-and-click options, being a budding nature photographer has no age minimum.
  • Encourage children to use all their senses – Ask how things feel and how things smell. Encourage children to sit quietly in nature and really listen.
  • Bring binoculars and a magnifying glass – It’s wonderful for children to be able to see things far away and very up close.
  • Bring a bug box – This can be a nice way for kids to get a really good look at bugs.  As best you can, plan for a safe catch and release.
  • Bring friends – It’s always more fun with friends!

Preschoolers:

  • Take all the time they need – When they are really interested in something, it can take 10 minutes to go a few feet. Have patience and let them examine things fully.
  • Point out and discuss colors, shapes and sizes often – Colors, shapes and sizes are  all part of an academic foundation.
  • A nature scavenger hunt
  • Label and then label some more – Nature walks and outings in general are a great way to boost early vocabulary. Label and include definitions as much as you can.
  • Be descriptive – Include lots of details and adjectives in your descriptions.

Elementary school kids:

  • Discuss similarities and differences – Discuss how two flowers or two birds are alike and different. Elementary children should be able to participate with this and it’s good practice.
  • Encourage journaling – This is an easy way to keep up their writing skills over the summer months. Bring a notebook and encourage them to write about the things they see.
  • Keep lists, counts and make charts – To make the journal more interesting, suggest they keep track of how many and what animals, birds or flowers they see.
  • Keep measurements – Early elementary schoolers may be very into measuring things. The simple idea is to take a ruler with you and have them measure flowers and sticks and rocks. This can be a fun thing for the journal.
  • Introduce guide books and teach to identify –  Guide books help identify the bird or plant in front of you. You can use these as you go, or take pictures and later go back to sort through the book.

Middle and high school kids:

  • Encourage more detailed journaling – As they grow, their writing should be fuller and have a shape. I think encouraging writing is up there with reading and math, this is just an easy way to get that practice. This might be an interesting time to focus on poetry.
  • Let them plan the hikes – Planning is a good skill in life. Have them pick the place, plan the snacks and pack the bags (might want to check this last one).
  • Good idea to ban the phones – Aside from taking pictures, nature walks are a good time to turn off the talking and texting. This helps everyone to be present and really enjoy where they are.

Please share your own tips below!

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