Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Free/Low-cost Activities for Kids in the Washington DC area

It's getting to be that time of year that I'm feeling the familiar pang of nervousness about entertaining the kids all day, every day starting next Friday.  They love going to the pool and hanging out with friends, but it's also fun to get out and explore together as a family.  To help me (and you) out this year I've compiled a list of free and low-cost activities in the DC area.  If you know of any other hidden treasures I've missed feel free to let me know and I'll add them to the list!

FREE(or mostly free) ACTIVITIES

Clemyjontri Park--This fun park in Fairfax County is fun and free, but usually quite crowded.  We always go on either a cloudy day that is threatening rain or  in the evening after dinner.  It gets us out of the crowds and out of the heat of the day.  My kids can seriously stay here for hours and hours.  There's a carousel too, so be prepared with a little cash ($1.50 per person) if you're going while it's open (9:30-1:00 on weekdays).
 Photo courtesy of Fairfax County website.

Adventureland Playground (South Germantown Rec Center) --This amazing playground is in Germantown, Maryland and entertains ALL of the kids (young and old) with its unique amenities.  The climbing wall and the saucer swings that fit several children at a time entertain the older kids and the countless climbing structures and tot lots entertain the younger children.  The same as for Clemyjontri, we only go on cloudy days or during the evening time.  It is well worth the trip a couple times per summer!   There is also a Splash Park nearby that is part of the South Germantown Rec Center.  It's not free ($4.50 per person), but if you're there on a hot summer day it's a great way to cool off after a fun day at the park.
 Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Parks.

Home Depot/Lowe's Kid's Workshops--My kids LOVE the Home Depot kid's workshops.  They're held the first Saturday of every month from 9-12 and they're totally free.  You can just walk right in without any appointment or pre-registration and each child gets a free apron and building kit.  After they're finished building with real hammer and nails they get a certificate and keepsake pin.  The kits are easy enough to put together that Adam and Emma need only minimal help from me. 
Lowe's has a similar program called Lowe's Build and Grow kits.  They're available a few times a month, but it does look like you have to pre-register.

Fairfax Corner Fountains-- Directly in front of the movie theaters in Fairfax Corner, these fun fountains are great for cooling off on a hot day.  Picnic tables, benches,  and shade umbrellas are nearby, so you can set up camp while the kids run through the shooting fountains.  Even my upper elementary kids like it for a fresh change from the pool every day.  Come prepared to buy food at the child friendly restaurants nearby (Potbelly, Ben & Jerry's,  California Pizza Kitchen, etc.) or bring your own to eat at the picnic tables.   Admission is FREE!  Here are the directions.

Natural History Museum Discovery Room--My young elementary  and preschool age kids love this hands-on room at the Natural History Museum.  We often will go spend 45 minutes or so seeing the fossils or gems, then go and spend the rest of the time in the Discovery Room. 

National Museum of American History--Spark Lab--We've never tried this one, but it looks like a fun place to explore inventions and problem solving! 

Letterboxing-- Similar to geocaching, but without a GPS, you just print off some clues off the internet and go find a hidden box somewhere (usually in parks or just off of trails).  Inside is a stamp and a logbook where you sign in with your stamp and then you stamp the box's stamp into your own logbook.   It's a great way to get out and be active while you explore new places.    Read here for our tutorial.  

DC Temple Visitor's Center--Walk around the beautiful grounds, explore the interactive exhibits at the visitors' center, watch an inspiring movie, and during the evenings watch live performances by local and sometimes international performers.
Photo courtesy of

Free Movie Days at Regal Theaters and Phoenix Theaters--The free family film festival is held at select Regal and Phoenix Theaters 10am for nine weeks from June to August 2010. The movies are always G or PG and tickets are available the day of the show at the box office on a first-come, first-served basis, limited to theater capacity.  The movies are usually old and available on DVD already, but it is fun to have the whole theater experience at an affordable price (free)! 

Indoor play places---Malls (like Fair Oaks or Tyson's Corner) and fast food restaurants (like Chick-fil-A in Fairfax Circle, or the McDonald's in Falls Church or Arlington  or any Chuck E Cheese) have play places which are great for kids to burn off some energy on a steamy (or rainy) day. 

Young at Art Family Art Workshops for kids ages 6-13--at the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (on the mall in downtown DC).  We've never done this, but I've heard great things about this program. 

National Air & Space Museum--My kids love exploring the Air & Space Museum itself, but I was excited to discover these free shows at the Planetarium there.  These two shows are geared towards kids and are totally free!
Einstein Planetarium free shows--
10:30 am
The Stars Tonight Tues, Thurs, Sat - FREE
10:30 am
One World, One Sky: Big Bird's Adventure Fri
and 1st Sat & Sun of month - FREE

National Building Museum--This beautiful building has much more than stunning architecture.  You can build a life-sized arch in the Great Hall (this is a great activity for teens and adults too), which kept us busy for 20 minutes.  You can also check out a family tool kit for $5 which is designed for families with children of many ages.  Each family or group will get their own tool kit loaded with lots of cool things to help explore the architecture of the Museum's historic home by seeing, moving, touching, and doing! The Building Zone is a fun room which is geared for kids ages 2-6 where they get to explore building with a variety of fun tools.  Adam's favorite is the set of gigantic Legos! 

Haye's Spray Park  in Arlington--This is a great place to cool off on a summer day.  I love the planet theme of the park and I love that my younger kids will play happily for hours. Deanne also found Drew Park and Lyon Village Park which are also free spray parks in Arlington and look like fun! 

Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History--(see below for details) Tickets are FREE every Tuesday. Here's a post about our experience.

National Zoo--I know everyone knows about how cool the National Zoo is, but what everyone may not know is that if you can get there by 9:00 you can miss the crowds, get a good parking spot, avoid the worst heat, and get to see the animals up and moving around.  I also like going to the zoo on light rainy days to really get out of the crowds and heat! (Note:  Admission to the zoo is free, but parking is $20 for 3+ hours.  We used to always take Metro which was an adventure in and of itself)

LOW COST (Under $10): 

Nielsen's Frozen Custard in Vienna--It's the creamiest, tastiest frozen custard around; perfect for a cool and inexpensive treat after a hard day of playing in the summer sun! 

University Mall Theatre in Fairfax--We love this theater for the low-cost movies that are out of the full-price theaters, but before they're out on DVD.  With ticket prices at $3 for kids and $4 for adults, it's a fun way to get the theater experience without breaking the bank!

Children's Theater in the Woods at Wolf Trap--Performances for this popular summer event run from June 29 to August 14, 2010 Tuesday to Sundays.  Tickets $8 for one show or $10 for both shows in a day. We've seen some really cool shows here! 

Strathmore Backyard Theater for Children--Strathmore’s Backyard Theater provides innovative performances for children every Thursday morning in July at 9:30 & 11:30 a.m. We've never tried this before, but it looks like it has some fun shows.  Tickets $7.

Mini-Golf at the Rec Centers--My kids (including Glen) love mini golf.  It's only $5 for kids, $6 for adults. 

Perils of the Lost Jungle Mini-Golf--rated one of the top 5 mini golf courses in America, Cami recently went here for a birthday party and thought it was ultra-cool.  It's a little pricier, but could be fun for something fun and different.   $8.75 for kids and $9.75 for adults

Einstein Planetarium--in the National Air and Space Museum.  In addition to the free shows mentioned above there are shows for a fee too.  If you have kids interested in outer space, this could be a very cool activity for them.   $7 for kids, $9 for adults.

Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History-- This is a fun way to get up close and personal with one of God's most beautiful animals.  You walk through an enclosed room filled with a variety of plants and get to experience butterflies flitting around everywhere.  It's fun to watch them land on people's heads or backpacks and it's easy to see why they subject everyone to a visual check before leaving the pavilion to make sure they aren't unknowingly carrying out a stowaway. Tickets are $5 for kids, $6 for adults.  (Tickets are FREE every Tuesday, but you need to go in advance to get your timed entry ticket).



Meeks said...

What a great list! Makes me want to bring my kids over to DC! (anything to escape the winter over here! brrr!)

Steve-Rosanna said...

An amazing list of fun things to do cheaply. D.C. is the best since so much is free of charge. Everything (almost) in LA or the Bay Area seems to cost (an arm and a leg ususally).

Such a great place to raise a young family.

Thanks for sharing.

alexandra said...

I'm printing this post! Thanks!

Deanne said...

This is perfect! Thanks for all the ideas.

Andrea said...

You're getting me excited about things to try this summer!

Karey said...

Thanks for putting this together Lara! We'll have to meet up and do some of these things together this summer!

annalisa said...

I love the D.C. area! It's a great place! I miss it there.

Adventureland Playground and Clemyjontri Park look awesome!

I love the National Building Museum and the Zoo!

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