Washington, D.C. may be best known for its politically-charged atmosphere and groundbreaking historical impact, but as many parents know, it’s also one of the most popular travel destinations in the US - and a veritable playground of indoor and outdoor activities for families with children of every age. Jam-packed with monuments, museums, parks, comic shops, and countless other places to entertain and dine, there’s no shortage of best places to take kids in DC whether you’re a local or simply visiting during popular tourist seasons. But where you begin your adventures when looking for the top kid-friendly sights and attractions in town? The below list – a complete starter guide to several of the best places to take kids in DC, courtesy of the travel pros at SELECT: Your City's Secrets Unlocked – can help by providing a cheat sheet of popular favorites, and several fun and funky selections off the typical path that are guaranteed to blow kids’ minds.
Captain White’s Seafood City - Established in 1805, this live fish market on the wharf is the perfect spot to visit seafood lovers, or anyone ready to bid on bushels’ worth of freshly-caught crabs. Locally-sourced fish, shrimp, oysters and just about any other oceanfront delicacy you can imagine can quickly be found on-sale here: From cooked to raw, Captain White’s Seafood City has it all. You don’t have to look further than market’s 200-year history either for proof of its quality and popularity. The beautiful view of the river by the seating area only adds to the deliciousness of the seafood. Bring the whole family for a pleasant afternoon out, but do be prepared to face crowds if you visit on the weekend.
The Hamilton - Want to take the kids out to eat somewhere special, but don’t want to blow the blank. Hands down, The Hamilton – whose glittering bars and dining rooms will impress almost as much as its wait staff’s impeccable service is your best bet. With its upscale décor, range of multiple live on-site music venues, and an eclectic food menu (sushi, pasta, burgers, etc.) you’ll sink right into the experience – kids will especially appreciate a Toasted Marshmallow or Bananas Foster milkshake. Fun fact: Bar seating is family-friendly in case you don’t feel like waiting for a table, and live music options are often “all ages” unless otherwise specified, providing a great excuse to take in dinner and a show.
Comet Ping Pong - The name says it all: Picture a pizzeria with a starter menu chockful of other comfort food like wings and mac and cheese bites that – if you’re looking to do more than eat – also offers several spots where you can test your table tennis skills. A longtime DC favorite, the establishment event hosts regular concerts so be sure to check its calendar for upcoming shows.
International Spy Museum - Ask your kid what’s cooler than a secret agent, and they’ll be hard-pressed to come up with an answer. Noting this, the International Spy Museum provides a series of interactive exhibits designed as an homage to all things espionage-related. From shoe phones like “Get Smart” to KGB lipstick guns, you’ll find a million and one spunky spy gadgets to feast your eyes on here, while kids from around age 7 and up can enjoy scheduled activities like Code Busters Club or KidSpy Overnight camps. A must-see while in town, while it’s one of a small handful of local museums that does charge an entry fee, you’ll find the asking price well worth the ticket.
Top Golf - ATravel about 15-20 minutes southwest of D.C. and you’ll end up at the ever-popular Top Golf. This two-level driving range is great for any putter who wants to practice his or her stroke or show young tykes a thing or two about how to pound out the birdies. There are two different mini golf courses with 36 holes in all to play through, perfect for the whole family. And when you’re done hitting the links, you can make your way to the bar inside for adult beverages or dine with the family at a handy seating area.
9:30 Club - When you think 9:30 Club, you probably think of one of DC’s most popular nightclubs and concert venues. While that’s entirely true though, it’s important to remember that there are a number of acts that come through that are family-appropriate. In fact, events at the venue are often labeled “all ages” – meaning, quite literally, anyone under 21 can still get in: Even your feisty 10 year-old. It’s just a matter of choosing the right show to bring your kids to, and coordinating schedules, as some shows start around 7pm and can run much later. However, there are performances from top local and national acts virtually every night, so don’t hesitate to get the party started – it doesn’t take look to figure out just how hard a trip to one of the nation’s best concert halls rocks.
The Capitol Steps - Best described as “Second City meets D.C.,” The Capitol Steps is a hilarious troupe of comedy performers that deliver raucous laughs at the expense of the government. Most of the performers are former Hill staffers themselves, so they know a thing or two about the comedy that ensues in politics – and aren’t afraid to skewer the latest news and happenings. There shouldn’t be any worry about offending either, as the good-natured material presented (including singing/dancing numbers, impersonators, and bit comedy acts) doesn’t swing too far afield and eschews vulgar remarks. Parents and kids will love a trip to the comedy troupe’s early evening shows – and learn more about the current political landscape in any given week in the process.
Da Hong Pao - If you’ve got a hankering for some fantastic dim sum, but also need a place that caters to kids, then Da Hong Pao is recommended. Tasty food and a large open layout makes this an ideal restaurant choice for your family. Located off Logan Circle, Da Hong Pao stands out due to its authentic Cantonese dishes like chicken feet and prawn dumplings (xia jiao). But if the little ones are a bit picky you can stick with simple noodle and meat dishes as well.
Madame Tussaud’s - This world-famous wax museum boasts some of the most realistic wax models you’ll ever see in your life. From historical figures like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. to contemporary pop idols like Taylor Swift and Lorde, there’s something here for any fan. You name the famous personality and there’s a good chance their life-like doppelgänger holds court here. The chance to take thousands of selfies alongside the not-quite-alive figures will thrill parents and kids alike.
H Street Country Club - Replete with skee-ball, shuffleboard, and a giant jenga setup – not to mention the star attraction, a 9-hole indoor putt-putt mini-golf course – this clever bar and restaurant is one of a kind. While primarily an establishment for those aged 21 and up, H Street Country Club does allow children before 7pm on weekdays and for brunch on the weekends (11:30am-3:330pm). Bring ‘em by for some of the best French toast in town (no really), and a couple holes – you’ll be amazed how much fun sprouts can have.
Fantom Comics - Fantom Comics is a go-to spot in the city for comic-obsessed kids ages 6-100. This little shop, located off Dupont Circle, represents everything in geekdom including Marvel characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil as well as DC icons Batman and Superman. Of course, it doesn’t come up short on indie or lesser-known titles either: Fantom has something here for everybody whether that be light-hearted fare like Archie or adult graphic novels like All You Need is Kill. Are your kids having trouble deciding what to pick? No worries – just ask the knowledgeable staff for a recommendation.
Mount Vernon - Mount Vernon, also known as the home of America’s first president, George Washington, is a must-visit for any kids or adults who have even a passing fancy for history. There’s plenty at this estate-turned-museum to keep you and your family occupied for the day. Wander the grounds and check out the house Washington called home letting your mind soak in the weight of its history. And make sure you take the time to view the plethora of short films on offer in the auditorium. One of the stand-outs is the Revolutionary War 4D experience located in the Education Center.
Paul Bakery & Cafe - This quaint French bakery offers some of the most delicious pastries this side of the Atlantic. With three locations in NW DC you can choose to spend a couple of hours in Georgetown, Foggy Bottom or Penn Quarter options with the kids. While breakfast and dessert rank among the standout offerings here, there’s also a sandwich menu if you’re looking for something more substantial. However, sweets are clearly the standout options here: You’ll find a wide variety of choices to satisfy any taste from vanilla macaroons to blueberry tarts.
Firefly - This Dupont area favorite offers quality comfort food like mac and cheese, fish tacos and biscuits and gravy at a decent price. But most importantly? Wee ones who stop by also get the chance to decorate, bake, and enjoy their own cookie for dessert. As an added bonus, the atmospheric establishment –known for a faux tree-themed inside dining experience – also offers a selection of color/flavor-changing drinks bar for adults looking to try a cocktail with an unexpected twist.
John F. Kennedy Center - The John F. Kennedy Center represents culture at its finest. Most shows scheduled at this world-renowned performing arts center (which can range from concerts to symphonies, art exhibits, ballets, and plays) are family-appropriate. Case in point: You can take in the National Symphony Orchestra, catch Madame Butterfly, or pop in as needed for a traveling Broadway show. But if you want to absolutely ensure that featured programs keep your child’s interest, then check out the Family Theater, which specifically delivers fun and engaging shows aimed at young audiences. Head to the Millennium Stage for a free performance held many nights around 6pm.