In front of the Smithsonian Castle is on old-fashioned carousel that runs year-round (weather permitting). It costs only $2, so let the kids take a spin—or two or three.
Noon: Lunch at the Washington Monument
Pull out your picnic lunch and, in nice weather, enjoy it on the grass in front of the Washington Monument. Sit back and relax, or toss a Frisbee with Junior. Aren’t you happy you planned ahead?
1 PM: Paddle Boats
Rent a paddle boat for an hour and work out your legs on the Tidal Basin. Two- and four-person boats are available for $8 and $16. Paddle boats operate daily March 15 through Labor Day and Wednesday through Sunday until Columbus Day weekend. Closed after Columbus Day weekend through March 14.
2 PM: Walking Tour of the Monuments
Take the afternoon to explore some of DC’s memorials. Starting at the Washington Monument, head south and walk the path around the Tidal Basin. Then walk west to the Lincoln Memorial, then back east past the Reflecting Pool, and end at the World War II Memorial. Here’s what you’ll see along the way (in order):
• Washington Monument
• Thomas Jefferson Memorial
• Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
• Korean War Veterans Memorial
• Lincoln Memorial
• Vietnam Veterans Memorial
• World War II Memorial
The loop is about 3½ miles long, so wear comfortable shoes and bring bottled water, especially in the summer. You have plenty of time to complete the tour, so feel free to sit, reflect, and rest at each monument.
5:30 PM: Dinner at Tonic
Your walking tour ends the World War II Memorial, then it’s off to Tonic (2036 G St., NW; 202-296-0211), a great spot for dinner with the kids. Hop in a cab or walk the few blocks to this the casual restaurant and bar that serves up kid-favorite bites such as mac and cheese, tater tots, pizza, and nachos with Cheez-Whiz. Parents—or kids with great appetites—can choose from a selection of specialty burgers, including one topped with guacamole and cheddar, or build their own turkey, veggie, or beef burger from a list of ingredients including smoked Gouda, Brie, and olives.
7 PM: Climb on Einstein
Before you call it a night, there’s one more thing you and the kids should see: the Albert Einstein Memorial. The bronze statue, showing a seated Einstein reading a manuscript, is located on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences on Constitution Avenue, just across the street from Vietnam Veterans Memorial. At 21 feet high, the statue makes a great jungle gym. Three of Einstein’s famous equations are written on his manuscript—including E=mc2—so if you’re feeling up to it, this could be a great time for a science lesson!
DAY THREE: LIONS AND TIGERS AND BOATS—OH, MY!
Your day starts at the National Zoo in DC’s Cleveland Park neighborhood, then it’s off to Georgetown for shopping, a ride on a mule-pulled canal boat, and a spin in a canoe.
9 AM: Breakfast at Open City
Hop on the Metro and head to the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan stop on the Red Line. Just steps from the station door is Open City (2331 Calvert St., NW; 202-332-2331), a sunny diner and coffeehouse. There’s something for everyone—even the pickiest of eaters—on the all-day breakfast menu. For parents gearing up for a day at the zoo, the coffee is good and strong.
10 AM: National Zoo
Your next stop is the National Zoo (3001 Connecticut Ave., NW), which houses more than 2,000 animals. The giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian and their cub, Tai Shan, are probably the biggest draws, but the reptile center, cheetah station, elephant and ape houses, and the new Asia Trail—with sloth bears, clouded leopards, fishing cats, red pandas, and more—are all top-notch. The best part? Everything is free.
Your next stop is Georgetown, where you’ll spend the rest of the day. The fastest and easiest way to get there is by taxi, but if you choose to use public transportation, the best way is to take two buses. At the zoo’s Connecticut Avenue entrance, hop on the L4 bus going toward Dupont Circle and get off at the Dupont Circle Metro station stop. Be sure to get a bus transfer from the driver for each person in your group before getting off. From there, walk one block south on 20th Street to the intersection of 20th and P, Northwest. Get on the G2 bus heading toward Georgetown University and get off at the Wisconsin Avenue stop. This puts you in the middle of Georgetown. Total bus fare per person is $1.35; a cab will cost about $8 for a single passenger, plus $1.50 for each additional passenger.
To kick off an afternoon exploring Georgetown, grab a casual lunch at Sweetgreen (3333 M St., NW; 202-337-9338), a salad and frozen-yogurt spot just a couple blocks southwest of the Wisconsin and P bus stop. If the kids don’t like greens, they can order any of the designer salads made into a deceptively healthy grab-and-go wrap sandwich. And the all-natural “sweetflow” frozen yogurt—it’s the sweet-tart kind that actually tastes like yogurt—won’t induce a crash-and-burn sugar rush.