Spring Family Fun in Washington, DC

Mar 15, 2019

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Everyone should experience springtime in Washington, DC, with its breathtaking floral displays and family-friendly activities that celebrate the end of winter in the nation’s capital. Tulips, daffodils and swaths of azaleas from the National Mall to the Tidal Basin brighten the city’s walkways while the cherry blossoms steal the show in their annual Tidal Basin display.

Stop to See the Cherry Trees

Against the backdrop of the Potomac River and the Jefferson Memorial, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, March 20–April 14, is the city’s annual botanical showstopper. Washington gears up for the moment of “peak bloom” in a monthlong celebration of 3,000 cherry trees, a gift of the Japanese government to the United States. At their peak, the trees paint the Tidal Basin and Hains Point in colorful bursts of pink and white blossoms. Predicting this display of natural beauty is imprecise science, intensively watched over the next few weeks by the National Park Service “Bloom Watch,” which tracks the progress from bud to bloom. Check for details at the National Cherry Blossom Festival site for family events such as kite flying, a parade along Constitution Avenue and a music event on The Wharf called Petalpalooza. Most events are free and open to the public, though some require tickets. Even pets on a leash are invited. (Here’s TPG‘s guide to visiting DC’s cherry blossoms and a list of other cities in North America with equally compelling cherry tree festivals.)

(Photo by Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)

For one of the most colorful festival events, head over to the National Mall for the annual Blossom Kite Festival. Decades ago, flying a kite on the National Mall was illegal until Paul E. Garber, the first curator of the National Air and Space Museum, started the Smithsonian Kite Festival in 1967. Now called the Blossom Kite Festival, the March 30 event is held on the grounds of the Washington Monument, near 17th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW. Look for a variety of competitions and kite-flying demonstrations, Rokkaku Battles and the Hot Tricks Showdown. Bring your own kite and join the fun, or children can make a kite at an activity station (while supplies last). Kites are also available for purchase.

Elsewhere in the city, you can find stands of cherry trees at the gardens of Dumbarton Oaks, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Kenwood neighborhood of Bethesda, Maryland, and along Kennedy Drive, Dorset and Kenwood Avenues in Northwest Washington. You’re likely to find blossoms a few days later in Kenwood than downtown, but you will probably encounter No Parking signs in Kenwood, so drive slowly or walk or bike the Capital Crescent TrailThe National Arboretum in Northeast Washington has cherry blossoms and the added benefit of amazing azaleas, and an overlook that lets you see Washington (before the trees become too leafy), the columns from the old Capitol façade, a koi pool and a bonsai garden.

White House Easter Egg Roll

Perhaps the most famous Washington springtime event is the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, held on Easter Monday. Free ticket distribution is through an online lottery where you sign up and pick your preference of time slots. Selection is about six weeks before the event. It’s closed for this year but add this to your calendar if you plan to visit in 2020. Special arrangements are made for military families. Enter through the South Lawn entrance. Last year’s event included an egg roll, egg hunt, music stage, reading nook, egg dyeing, cookie decorating and more. You’re not allowed to bring food, so eat before your scheduled time. Souvenir eggs are available for purchase, whether or not you attend the event.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 28: One year-old Ava Johnson plays a game during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House March 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. The tradition dates back to 1878 when President Rutherford B. Hayes allowed children to roll eggs on the South Lawn. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House March 28, 2016, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

John Wilkes Booth Escape Tour

For Civil War buffs, every spring (and fall), the Surratt House Museum Society offers a John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tour ($85 per person), tracing the route taken by John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. The 12-hour narrated bus trip tracks the assassin’s escape route from Washington, DC, through Maryland to Virginia. It starts at the Surratt House Museum, stops at Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot, and Petersen House, where Lincoln died. It then heads south to visit Dr. Samuel Mudd’s home and other stops Booth and his accomplice David Herold made during their 12-day escape through Southern Maryland and across the Potomac River as they tried to evade federal troops. Reservations for this popular event are made well in advance. (Spring participants are notified in mid-January and fall participants in mid-June.) Lunch is included and is usually at a crab house along the Potomac late in the day, so take snacks and drinks for the ride. Appropriate for children 12 and older. 

Ford’s Theatre Performance

If your travel plans don’t allow for a 12-hour bus tour, you still can get a glimpse of history on a tour of Ford’s Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, You can visit the theater, museum, Aftermath Exhibits and Petersen House. Tickets range from $3 to $8 per person and can include any combination of those attractions. While the museum and Aftermath Exhibits are self-guided, you can rent an audioguide for an additional $5. Expect to spend about 30 minutes exploring the exhibits. The Petersen House, where Lincoln died, is also available for a self-guided tour. You’ll spend more time in the theater itself, anywhere from 30–45 minutes. The theater also offers stage performances. You can see Stephen Sondheim’s production of the fairy tale “Into the Woods” through May 22. (Appropriate for children 12 and older.) Tickets range from $28–$64 per person. If your kids can’t endure an entire musical production, opt for the theater/museum tour earlier in the day instead.

People line up outside of Ford's Theatre. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
People line up outside of Ford’s Theatre. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Embassy Spring Tour

A free annual spring tour of select Washington Embassy buildings lets you take a world tour without a passport. Experience the food, art, dance, fashion and music of different countries from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, May 4. This year, the following embassies will open their doors to visitors: Australia, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Iraq, Libya, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar and Rwanda. No tickets are required. Although street parking is available, many buildings are within walking distance of Dupont Circle and Van Ness–UDC Metrorail stations. You may be asked to show a photo ID.

National Harbor Happenings

A few miles south of Washington is National Harbor with shops (including a Peeps and Company store that sells those beloved marshmallow chicks and bunnies), restaurants, a beach, an outlet mall, a casino, a carousel and more. There’s also the 72-foot aluminum statue by J. Seward Johnson, Jr. called The Awakening, which is great for climbing. Plus, you can ride on the huge Capital Wheel ($15 for ages 12–60; $13.50 for ages 60 and older; $11.25 for children ages 3–11, and free for youngsters 2 and under). The ride in the enclosed gondolas 180 feet above the Potomac River waterfront will give you a bird’s-eye view across the city of the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument, and across the Potomac, of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, and planes landing and taking off at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Aerial photograph of the Washington National Harbor. (Photo via Getty Images)
Aerial photograph of the Washington National Harbor. (Photo via Getty Images)

Memorial Day Celebrations

If you’re in town over Memorial Day, plan to attend the annual National Memorial Day Concert on May 26 on the West Lawn of the Capitol from 8–9:30pm. The free concert honors the service of our men and women in uniform and their families. This year’s concert features Joe Mantegna, Gary Sinise, Jack Everly, the National Symphony Orchestra, U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, the US Navy Band Sea Chanters and more. Or, if you want a sneak preview, attend the rehearsal the night before. The gates open at 5pm, and you must enter through a metal detector. Take the Metro to Federal Center, SW (Orange and Blue Line) or Union Station (Red Line) to one of the two public entrances, at the north (Senate) side of Capitol Square at Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, and the south (House) side of Capitol Square at Third Street and Maryland Avenue, SW.

The city also welcomes thousands of motorcycle riders over Memorial Day, for the Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration Run, in which riders travel from the Pentagon parking lots through city streets as a demonstration/protest to bring awareness and accountability for POWs and MIAs.

Where to Stay

There are tons of points hotels throughout DC, so your family will find plenty of options. Look to properties from the best hotel chains for families. Some favorites include the Hyatt Place Washington, DC/White House for 12,500 World of Hyatt points per night (or a Category 1–4 free night award from the World of Hyatt Credit Card, or the Grand Hyatt Washington, DC, for 15,000 points. (You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to your Hyatt account on a 1:1 basis.) Or, if you have Hilton Honors points, book the Embassy Suites by Hilton Washington, DC – Convention Center (standard award for 70k points per night) or the Hampton Inn Washington, DC/White House for 70k points per night. (Find out which is the best Hilton credit card for families.)

Bottom Line

Washington, DC, is a spring destination that offers family activities for all ages and a colorful outdoor display by Mother Nature as you navigate the nation’s capital. Are you headed to DC this spring? What’s on your agenda?

Here are some more trip-planning resources for Washington, DC:

Featured photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images

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