7315 Ox Rd., Fairfax Station; 703-323-6600
Summer doesn’t get any more nostalgic than at this woodsy park. A rustic trail outlines the lake, and campsites are available. Paddle around the water or play a round of mini- or disc golf. For little ones, there’s a miniature train and a carousel. An ice-cream parlor is a cool place to wind down the day.
6317 Georgetown Pike, McLean; 703-388-2807
Adele Liebowitz donated her 18-acre estate to Fairfax County under the stipulation that it build a playground that’s fun for all kids, including those with physical limitations. The result: Clemyjontri (named with pieces of each of her four children’s names), a rainbow-colored play-ground with lowered monkey bars; swings with higher backs; ramps; Braille; and a wheelchair swing.
1525 Flag Ponds Pkwy., Lusby; 410-586-1477
Nothing beats a day at the beach with shark teeth involved. Along the small stretch of sand at this park in Southern Maryland, you’re bound to find fossils dating to the Miocene epoch. Expect crowds in summer, but the park is enjoyable even in the off-season, when visitors don wellies to comb the sand.
2739 W. Ox Rd., Herndon; 703-437-9101
This is known mainly for two things: a picturesque working farm with animals, where you can experience farm life in the 1920s to 1950s, and an equestrian center where you can see horse shows and take lessons. For kids, there are also small, retired tractors to climb as well as a playground and carousel.
7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo; 301-634-2222
The popular puppet show and antique carousel easily fill a morning with children at Glen Echo, an arts and culture center set amid a former Art Deco amusement park. With resident artists and studios, it also offers classes for all ages, including ceramics, photography, glass blowing, dance, theater, and of course puppetry.
1400 Lake Fairfax Dr., Reston; 703-471-5414
Summer comes alive when Water Mine Swimmin’ Hole water park opens in this park and parents can relax around the lazy river while kids splash down water slides. There’s also the lake, with paddleboat rentals and fishing, a skate park, walking trails, an antique carousel, and campsites.
7500 Ben Lomond Park Dr., Manassas; 703-361-4451
Smaller than Six Flags yet bigger than the neighborhood pool, SplashDown features a splash pad and activity pool for tots and, for bigger kids, a “lily-pad walk,” a lazy river, and water slides. Nearby non-swimming activities include beach volleyball and tennis. Tip: Come on a weekday or after 5 on a weekend, when crowds thin.
6060 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-534-3437
Perhaps no other area park packs as much athletic fun into such a compact space. Six batting cages—helmets and bats provided—sit across the parking lot from a nicely landscaped mini-golf course. Next to that is Ocean Dunes Waterpark (opening for the season May 25), with water slides, a 500-gallon dumping bucket, and a separate lap pool.
301 Watkins Park Dr., Upper Marlboro; 301-218-6700
Follow the yellow brick road into the Wizard of Oz–themed playground, complete with ruby-slipper slides, Auntie Em’s play-house, and hot-air-balloon climbing structures. Once children tire of the playground (if possible), there’s a miniature train, a carousel, mini-golf, an educational farm, a nature center, and walking trails. Picnic pavilions are available to rent, and you can camp, too.
2000 Shorefield Rd., Wheaton; 301-495-2595
Families flock here to amble through beautiful Brookside Gardens, hike around the nature center, ice-skate at the indoor rink, scale the playground’s rope-climbing structures, or ride the miniature train and carousel. Prefer to chill? Spread a blanket among the wildflowers by Pine Lake, a five-acre fishing spot.
355 Water St., SE
In Southeast DC’s revitalized industrial area, this riverfront park has quickly gained a following. Relax on the grass or a bench while your kids play in the ankle-deep splash basin, complete with waterfall and water jets.
This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Washingtonian.