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Maximizing the family vacation in Washington, D.C.

This kid-centric tour of Washington, D.C. is brought to you by Elizabeth Thorp, who blogs about traveling with her three daughters at Poshbrood. The helpful tips were first published on Expedia in 2012 as part of the "Kids in the City" summer travel campaign, which highlighted family-friendly urban destinations throughout the United States.

Our nation's capital, Washington, D.C., is a family-friendly historic city with endless monuments, walks, museums, restaurants, and activities to keep your whole brood entertained. Here are just a few of my "must-do" tips for visiting families, as well as a few hotels we love, and our favorite places to dine with kids.

What to do with kids in Washington, D.C.

United States Botanic Garden: Steeped in history and rich with tradition, the United States Botanic Garden, established by Congress in 1820, is a living plant museum located on the National Mall across from the U.S. Capitol. The renovated Conservatory showcases an extraordinary state-of-the-art indoor garden with 4,000 seasonal, tropical, and subtropical plants. Kids ages 9 and older will love the Junior Botanist program, through which they can engage in scavenger hunt-style adventures throughout the Conservatory. A Children's Garden gives kids a chance to handle plants in bloom and play with gardening tools. Best of all? Entry to the U.S. Botanic Garden is free.

International Spy Museum: This is the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage. Here, umbrellas are pistols, buttonholes and lipsticks are cameras, and dead rats are microphones. Cue the Mission Impossible music: Spy Museum visitors even can become a spy for a day. Kids can adopt a cover, break codes, identify disguised spies, and check out the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display. This is a fascinating and educational experience for all ages.

Viewfinder Tip: If you're visiting the International Spy Museum with younger siblings in tow, note that strollers are not allowed in the exhibits. 

Imagination Stage: Founded in 1979 in response to the urgent need for arts education for young people, Imagination Stage is now the largest and most respected multidisciplinary theatre arts organization for young people on the East Coast. Located in Bethesda, Maryland, the theatre offers professional shows (with adult actors performing for families and classes) year round. Not only will your brood have a blast, but also your visit to the Imagination Stage will help the organization fulfill its mission of making the arts inclusive of and accessible to all children, regardless of their physical, cognitive, or financial status.

Historic canals: Transporting goods and people by canal dates back to antiquity. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which opened in 1831, was built because of natural obstructions on the Potomac River. The historic canal—it's actually a national park—begins its 184.5-mile journey to the reaches of Western Maryland in Georgetown. Visitors can travel back in time and enjoy a one-hour narrated trip on a replica canal boat pulled by mule. The tour also enables you to experience the beautiful architecture, rich history, and vibrant commercial life that Georgetown offers. Park rangers in period clothing guide the boat through an eight-foot lift lock as you pass historic buildings along the canal. Tours are seasonal and depart from the Georgetown Visitors Center.

Where to stay with kids in Washington, D.C.

Omni Shoreham Hotel: Just steps away from the National Zoo, Rock Creek Park, and the Metro, the Omni Shoreham Hotel is a family-friendly, historic resort in the middle of the city. Since 1930, the property has played host to presidents, world leaders, and inaugural balls, making it a true Washington landmark. Omni's Sensational Kids program gives children a backpack filled with fun items at check-in. Milk and cookies also are delivered to all child guests on the first night. The hotel has a heated outdoor resort pool, where guests can relax or go for a dip after a long day of sightseeing.


Four Seasons Washington, D.C.: Nestled in historic Georgetown, the Four Seasons Washington, D.C., offers convenient location, attentive service, and top-notch hotel amenities that have made it a favorite among bigwigs, celebs, and fancy families alike. Four Seasons' rooms are stunning but not too precious; there are no Ming vases you have to worry about your toddler breaking. The property provides high chairs, pack 'n' plays, and child-size bathrobes, as well as baby and children's toiletries, toys, coloring books, and board games. The hotel also is a close walk to the Foggy Bottom Metro station, and the nearby D.C. Circulator bus makes regular trips from Georgetown to Union Station to other areas, such as the Mall and the Zoo. The resort's year-round indoor swimming pool, the award-winning spa, and delish restaurants are an added bonus!

Hotel Helix: Sprinkle some kid-friendly zing on your next trip to D.C., with this upbeat Kimpton property in the residential Logan Circle neighborhood. Bright colors, modern layouts, and beautiful photography will wow you from check-in to check-out. Each little guest receives a complimentary backpack of toys and a coloring book with crayons from the KimptonKids program. We love the bunk-bed rooms that feature two sleeping areas—one with a king platform bed, the other with twin bunk-beds. Helix is completely pet-friendly to furry family members of all sizes, so you can bring Fido, too!

Where to eat with kids in Washington, D.C.

Cactus Cantina: A family-run, sprawling Tex-Mex restaurant just north of the National Cathedral, this is a delicious, fun, relaxed spot for families. Tables are spread throughout several rooms so even on a hopping Saturday night, you won't have to wait too long. If you do have to wait, parents can sip excellent margaritas while kids watch the tortilla machine, play with tortilla dough, and check out the "Cowboy and Indian Museum," a glass case of artifacts including antique Stetson hats, boots, chaps, Native American headdresses, and a bow-and-arrow set. Our favorite spot during warmer months is the wraparound veranda. The kids' menu offers excellent value.

Serendipity 3: This legendary New York restaurant has a Washington, D.C. outpost on the corner of Wisconsin and M in the heart of Georgetown. Serendipity 3 D.C. boasts the same characteristic whimsical decor and over-the-top dishes offered at the New York cafe, including the signature Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. Our brood agrees that the Kobe beef sliders, the chicken potpie, and the Reuben are major standouts, as well.

Chef Geoff's: There are three Chef Geoff locations in the D.C. area: one just steps from the White House; one in Tyson's Corner, Virginia; and the original in the Wesley Heights neighborhood off Wisconsin Avenue. We prefer the Wesley Heights location, a neighborhood hotspot that brims with families who love the gracious service, delicious American fare, and innovative kids' menu. Starters include edamame, pineapple skewers, and a goldfish cocktail mix. Other highlights include creative kiddie "mocktails" such as cactus juice with aloe vera and hibiscus syrup and lemon, as well as a "build your own pizza" menu. Gluten-free options also are available. The teeniest of guests can order "Baby Love" natural pureed baby foods inspired by Chef Geoff's own three small children.

What do you like to do when you visit big cities with kids?

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