Epic DC Summer Adventure Bucket List: 55 Fun Outings for Kids and Families

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anacostia boat tour
Free boat tours of the Anacostia River are one of the many ways you can enjoy the DC waterfront this summer. Photo: Allison Winter

The DC area has no shortage of fun activities for families. Here is our epic guide to 55 local, kid-friendly excursions we’re putting on our bucket list for the summer … and even better, many of these fun outings are FREE. Last year’s summer bucket list was our favorite post of the year, so we’re back with EVEN MORE adventures for 2019. Summer boredom is not a problem in the DC Area!  Use #DCMBSummer19 to share what you’ve checked off your list! We may end up featuring your family on our DC Moms Blog Instagram Feed (with your permission, of course!).

55 Free or Cheap Summer Activities for the Family

1) Kick off your summer museum trips in a big way with the Smithsonian’s massive Solstice Saturday celebration on June 22. There are free programs throughout the day, an astronomy festival on the mall at night, and some museums will even stay open until midnight!

2) Hit the (miniature) links! Play a round on the oldest continually operating mini-golf in the country AND take a water jitney ride from DC’s Hains Point. It’s like a dreamy summer vacation day, right here at home in DC. Read more about this DC staycation day here.

3) Extra! Extra! Visit the Newseum before it closes its doors forever at the end of 2019. Kids are free July through Labor Day with their summer fun deal.

4) The dinosaurs are back! It’s going to be a roaring good time this summer at the newly renovated fossil hall at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The “Deep Time” exhibit has a towering T-rex, interactive learning stations, and plenty for kids to see and touch. Check out our post for tips on the interactive exhibit, stroller access, and where to find the museum’s nursing room. Admission, as always, is free.

5) Make a museum day even more memorable when your kids take a spin on the antique carousel on the Mall (by the Smithsonian Castle).

6) Take a FREE educational boat or canoe tour of the Anacostia River with either Anacostia River Keepers or Anacostia Watershed Society.

7) Or row, row, row your boat yourself! You can rent a canoe or kayak on the Anacostia or Potomac River.

8 ) The National Building Museum’s summer exhibit is an event for all ages each year (if you don’t believe us, just check Instagram). This summer’s installation, The Lawn, includes an “augmented reality game for kids and adults to chase and collect fireflies”, interactive hammocks, and so much more! Admission is free for Building Museum members. The exhibit runs from 7/4 – 9/2. Check the Ward Days for free admission for your neighborhood (DC residents only).

9) A working farm? Mini golf? Carousel? Train through the woods? Wizard of Oz themed playground? Yes, all of it! There is no place like Watkins Regional Park in Maryland.

10) The National Mall will be home to two days of concerts for this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival June 29-30 on the social power of music. It features a tribute to Pete Seeger with one of our favorite songtresses for children, Elizabeth Mitchell.

11) Get lost in a field of sunflowers at McKee-Beeshers, a FREE Maryland park that blooms with fields of gold in mid-July. (note: this is NOT a stroller friendly location!)

12) Salta! Salta! Jump, dance, and sing (in two languages!) with award-winning local musician, 123 Andrés. Andrés, a Latin-grammy award-winner, is a bilingual rockstar for little language learners. And with 123 Andrés busy summer tour of libraries and theaters across the DMV, he is likely coming to a venue near you!

19) Chugga-chugga-choo!-choo! You can chuff through a summer day riding on one of the region’s many sweet miniature trains. Parks in Virginia and Maryland offer train rides all summer long. Check our really useful list here.

14) Or watch metro trains over lunch at Fox Loves Taco in Brookland.  Kids love the view of the metro train tracks. And the shop has some of our favorite things: delicious tacos, really good coffee, and an adjoining bike shop.

15) This above all: to thine own self be true. If you have older kids who are pondering the existential questions of existence, give them some poetry for it!  Get free tickets to see a live performance of Hamlet in downtown DC this summer. The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s FREE for All brings Hamlet to the stage in Chinatown July 10-21.

16) Get carried up, up, and away at the Chesapeake Bay Hot Air Balloon Festival from August 2nd-4th! This three day festival features over 20 hot air balloons, live music, and lots of kid activities.

17) Roll on over to the only roller skating rink in the National Park Service. Anacostia Park Skating Pavillion has FREE skate rentals all summer!

18) Make it a fair day! Milk a cow, ride a Ferris wheel, and eat a funnel cake at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair between Aug 9-17. Or check out the rides, performers, and live music at the Arlington County Fair August 14-18.

19) In a city like DC, summer nights are sometimes best punctuated by herald trumpets and cannons. Take your kids to the U.S. Army’s FREE Twilight Tattoo on Wednesdays at Ft. Meyer in Arlington, VA. The U.S. Army Band plays music, and troops re-enact some scenes from famous battles in American history. (Warning: the cannons are LOUD.)

Enjoy the waterlillies in bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Photo Courtesy National Park Service.

20) Visit one of DC’s hidden gems, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, during its peak summer bloom of water lilies. The park hosts a FREE Lotus and Water Lily Festival in July. Admission is FREE!

21) Berry-stained hands are the best summer look! Kids can pick their own berries at one of the many family-friendly farms near DC. Check out our U-Pick and Farm Fun guide for some local favorites.

22) Can’t make it to the farm? You can still sink your teeth into summer with fresh produce at a local farmers market. Many feature free performances on market days.

23) Take a dip in the fountains and FREE wading pool at Yards Park, and then…

24) …Split a sundae at DC’s own Ice Cream Jubilee (301 Water St SE and 1407 T St NW) or check out our other Favorite Ice Cream Shops.

25) Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley! Ride the H Street Trolley for FREE.

26) Get mud therapy in the children’s garden at the US Botanic Garden. Recently renovated, this outdoor garden is a beautiful place for children to play and explore. Kids can dig, water plants, climb, and run through a tunnel of mist. You can also head indoors to admire plants in climate-controlled conditions. Admission is FREE.

27) Need more plants plus lots of space to run? We’ve got you covered at the FREE National Arboretum in NE DC. It has 446 acres of land and an excellent youth garden. Who cares if you have no yard when we have parks like these?

28) Check out the pandas and watch the orangutans traverse on lines overhead at the National Zoo. Cool off at misters around the park or in the “tidepool” splash area near the sea lions. Zoo admission is FREE! Special this summer: the zoo has an indoor animatronic dinosaur show and a panda documentary movie (purchased tickets required).  

29) Giddy up! Have your little one explore Rock Creek Park on a pony ride. (Pro tip: this also makes a great gift for kids)

30) Come for the performance, stay for nature at the Children’s Theatre in the Woods! Nestled in the forest of the Wolftrap National Park for the Performing Arts in Va., this small outdoor amphitheater hosts dance, music, puppetry and more. There are also FREE Junior Ranger programs after some shows. We like to bring a picnic and make a day of it, we rock out with music and then rock out throwing pebbles in the stream.

31) Be filled with wonder inside the butterfly pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History. Tickets are FREE on Tuesdays!

32) Summer reading + summer treat = a combination that can’t be beat. Find a fun route near your house to walk or bike and visit some little free libraries or your neighborhood public library on the way. My favorite is a bike ride to Petworth Neighborhood Library + Lulabelle’s Sweet Shop.

33) Splash dance! Free summer fun is always flowing at the region’s splash parks. Check out some of our favorites in our Guide to Spray and Splash Parks Guide.

34) Or cool your toes in the indoor stream flowing through the National Portrait Gallery atrium. Eat lunch in the atrium, visit the Portrait Gallery’s children’s room, “Explore!, and make sure you check out the hall of presidential portraits.  Admission is FREE.

35) Frederick Douglass is getting recognized more and more, I hear. Learn more about the incredible abolitionist Frederick Douglass at a free guided tour of his home in Anacostia.

36) Docks, boats, sunshine, seafood, and ice cream: dinner plans can feel like summer vacation at the new District Wharf. The Wharf hosts free outdoor concerts every Wednesday evening this summer. Eat fried seafood on the pier, then enjoy a soft-serve gelato from Dolcezza. Play with your kids on the free, giant, outdoor board games.

37) Put summer on ice! When the heat and humidity have you saying “I can’t even with you,” flip the seasonal switch. Take the kids to an indoor ice rink! There are open skates throughout the summer at Kettler Iceplex in VA, and Wheaton and Cabin John Ice Rinks in MD. The Maryland rinks have cheap sessions for parents and tots, and Kettler has a fun “recess skate” for kids.

38) $1 movie + air conditioning = cheap summer relief. Regal Cinemas hosts dollar movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at many area theaters

39) GOAL! Score with your kids at a DC United Soccer game. Enjoy the beautiful new stadium and watch Wayne Rooney and friends play the beautiful game. Check out our tips to enjoy DC United as a family, from ultimate soccer mom, Tatiana.  

40) Make your own stamps and avoid crowds at other museums with a visit to the National Postal Museum. Admission is FREE!

41) In search of that island life… for FREE? Go for a hike and look for birds on Roosevelt Island on the Potomac River.

42) Or hike, bike, fish, and bird-watch on the beautiful Kingman & Heritage Islands on the Anacostia.

43) Dive into summer at your local public pool! Some of our favorite DC public pools: Francis Pool (great for kids), Banneker (Olympic-sized adult pool and sizable kids’ pool), and Rosedale Pool (one word: waterslides). All DC Pools are free for residents or require a small fee for non-DC residents. 

44) Kids can laugh with The Great Zucchini or rock out with Rocknoceros at the FREE weekly shows at Kids in Canal Park on Wednesday mornings this summer. The series runs from 6/12 – 8/28.

45) If you have not yet visited the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, try to make time to go this summer! The museum still requires FREE timed passes for entry on weekends or before 1 pm on weekdays. Most of the advanced timed passes are sold out for the summer, but you can try for same-day online passes each morning at 6:30 am or walk up after 1 pm on a weekday.  The museum also hosts kid-friendly activities and events.

46) Wish upon a star! Local astronomy clubs host events each month to give the public a closer look at space. You can peer in their fancy telescopes at Rock Creek Park in DC, or with the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club in The Plains, VA.

47) Watch a puppet show and ride the historic carousel at Glen Echo Park. The Puppet Co. has some shows geared especially for tiny tots.

48) Seeking some sweet relief? Visit Captain Cookie and the Milkman Foggy Bottom or at Tastemakers in Brookland for the city’s best ice cream sandwich.

49) Top tennis players will compete at the Citi open tennis tournament in DC July 29-August 4.  The tournament is at Carter Barron, tucked in the edge of the forest of Rock Creek Park. Check for family day discounts early in the tournament.

50) Enjoy FREE outdoor movies under the stars all summer! Check this schedule for lots of DC-area locations!

51) Grab a picnic and watch the planes fly into DCA from Gravelly Point. (Warning – it can be loud for babies!) If you have strong cyclists, you can take the bike path there. Parking is also FREE.

52) Climb the sleeping giant statue and enjoy some of the FREE family events at National Harbor! Check out summer Fridays & Family Movie Nights on Sundays.

53) Our local public libraries have lots of fun, FREE programs over the summer.  Kids can also collect free prizes in the Summer Reading Programs in Washington, DC, Virginia (Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Loudon County, Prince William County), and Maryland (Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, and Anne Arundel County).

54) Set your summer soundtrack for the long summer nights with FREE outdoor concerts. Our favorites include the Friday night jazz at the Sculpture Gardens, family-friendly Friday concerts at Yards Park, and the longstanding tradition of summer concerts at Fort Dupont Park.

55) Take them out to the ball game! The Nationals have a new, updated playground for kids inside the ballpark. There’s also an air-conditioned nursing lounge for mamas.  And most Sunday games conclude with a FREE opportunity for kids to run the bases. Check out our tips for taking kids to a baseball game.

Zimmerman Nationals kids
Take them out to a ballgame this summer! Kids run the bases after most Sunday games. Photo: Allison Winter

[box]DC Area Moms Blog Contributors Allison Winter and Juliet Armerding created this bucket list. What are some of your favorite summer activities around DC?[/box]

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Ali came to DC “for the summer” in 2000 and has been here ever since. She worked for more than a decade as an environment and energy reporter on Capitol Hill. After her second son was born, she took some time off to chase her children instead of lawmakers. She's now juggling both as a freelance reporter and mom of 2 active sons. Ali lives in NW DC with her husband, sons, and a rotating menagerie of foster animals from the Humane Rescue Alliance. She loves reveling in the awe and wonder of the ordinary with young children as a guide for a Montessori-inspired class at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Foggy Bottom. She also loves to explore DC on the family cargo bike. Likes: Long runs, pour-over coffee, theatre, nature, seasonable weather, and DC’s amazing array of free museums. Dislikes: Mosquitoes, mayonnaise, and change.

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