Washington DC roadtrip

Travel guide: Take your kids for a fun, educational Washington, DC road trip

Photo above by Casey Horner used by permission via Unsplash.

Family travel can be an incredible way to make memories. But we know it can also be a bit of a challenge. Flying is expensive, and frequent flight cancellations and delays have frustrated many families in 2022, with no end in sight. Here’s the good news: With the recent drop in gas prices, road trips are more appealing for many families.

Luckily, Pittsburgh is located near a whole bunch of amazing destinations. Kidsburgh has been taking our readers on a tour of some great spots that you can reach on just one tank of gas. So far Kidsburgh has stopped in Columbus, Cleveland, and the Laurel Highlands

This time, we are off to our nation’s capital: Washington, D.C. 

Most Pittsburghers have been to Washington, D.C. at some point. It is an easy four-hour drive, and a popular destination for class trips and long weekends. The vast city, though, can be intimidating for families with young children to navigate. Kidsburgh has set out to demystify the city in this handy travel guide. From free museums to kid-friendly eateries, it’s a great place for little ‘burgers to spend a long weekend with their grownups.

DC roadtrip
Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash

Where to stay

There are plenty of hotels and other accommodations in D.C. and the surrounding areas. If you have a favorite hotel chain, they likely have a location in D.C. There are also a slew of Airbnb options. A few options stand out, though. For families looking to stay in the district itself, there are several hotels with family amenities. Families who enjoy swimming should consider Holiday Inn Washington Capital, just a quick walk from the National Mall and all of its monuments and free museums. Kids eat free with an adult breakfast purchase, and there’s a Starbucks on-site to fuel your day. 

The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, located on the National Harbor, is a great year-round location. Their stunning pool is contained within a glass atrium that also houses food options and bowling. And the harbor area is full of things to do — all within walking distance.

DC roadtrip
Photo courtesy of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

The Kimpton Banneker Hotel, which is a short walk or metro ride from the main attractions, is another option with several great family-friendly amenities. The hotel has free scooters and bikes for both kids and adults, as well as Kimpton’s “family fridge” program. Most hotel minifridges cannot maintain a proper temperature for freezing breast milk, but Kimpton hotels can deliver a specialized minifridge to your room upon request. 

How to get around

The nation’s capital has a well-laid-out metro system that is easy to navigate as a visitor, and the staff is willing to give directions to tourists. Buses work with the metro system (and use the same pass) for areas that aren’t on a metro line. If you choose to use your own car, it is easy to drive around D.C. — their meters even use the same parking app as Pittsburgh. Just a heads up — do not attempt a Pittsburgh Left. And you’ll likely run into a few traffic circles.

Rideshare programs are abundant as well. If you’re using an Uber or Lyft with kids, consider a portable car restraint system like a RideSafer vest or Bubble Bum. There are also scooters and bikes for rent,  but most are not suitable for young kids.

Families can find a satisfying lunch at Duke’s Grocery.

 What to eat

The number of food options in the nation’s capital can feel overwhelming. You’ll find choices that range from historic pubs like Martin’s Tavern, where booths are labeled with the historical event that occurred in that spot, to the plethora of food trucks that circle the National Mall.

Union Station has over 30 different dining options, ranging from sit-down to food court style, making it a great choice for families who are all hankering for different types of food. Many of the museums also include fantastic cafes. The National Museum of the American Indian and the National History Museum are two museum cafeterias that are popular with families. Since admission is free, it’s okay to stop by for just a meal.

Duke’s Grocery is a fast-casual restaurant that has several family-friendly DC locations. And at Eastern Market, there are also a ton of options for both adventurous and tame palates — think the Strip District, but bigger and cooler (no offense, Pittsburgh!).

For a sweet treat, Savannnah’s Candy Kitchen at the National Harbor has piles of handmade sweets that make a perfect souvenir. 

DC road trip
Photo by Yeon Choi via Unsplash.

What to do

Most of the museums in Washington, D.C., are part of the Smithsonian family and are free to the public. There are the more well-known ones, such as the National History Museum and The National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as some smaller can’t-miss spots like the National Postal Museum. The National Zoo is also free — and is one of only three zoos in the U.S. where you can see pandas in person. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculptural Garden, which features contemporary and modern art, has guided booklets for kids as well as a kid space where they can explore some art hands-on. 

dc road trip
Families can tour the elaborate Hillwood Estate.

One of the few museums that requires paid admission in Washington, D.C. is The International Spy Museum — but if you can swing it, it’s worth it. Best suited for kids who are reading on their own, this museum gives each visitor an individual spy identity and dossier as they seek to solve their own personal mission. Along the way, guests will see spy artifacts going back generations. Shoe phones, cameras worn by doves (the original drone), and secret disguises are enticing for curious kids. Their gift shop is a great place for quirky souvenirs such as a hollowed-out jar of Spaghetttios for hiding treasures or a spy pen. 

There are gorgeous gardens at the Hillwood Estate.

At the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, check out the perfectly preserved home and grounds of the family that changed how America eats breakfast — the Post family. The home is full of gorgeous artifacts and quirky little side rooms. The artifacts are mostly protected behind glass, but the estate’s interiors may not be the best place for toddlers. They’ll be happier outside, where the grounds are perfect for running off a bit of energy.

But perhaps the best thing about D.C. is that just wandering around the National Mall and tidal basin to view the monuments is entertaining — and educational — for kids as well as grownups. Parents are often surprised by how captivated even young kids are by the sculptural art present in D.C.

The trip to the top of the Washington Monument requires free tickets from the National Park Service, which can be obtained here. Limited same-day tickets are available, too. 

For families who want a more in-depth tour of the White House, be sure to request a tour well in advance of your trip by contacting your local representative. This website is easy to navigate, and you will hear back fairly quickly if you are approved. Tours are also available of the U.S. Capitol if you make a reservation. 

Destination DC, the local tourism bureau, is available to help with itinerary and accessibility questions.