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Epic DC Summer Adventure Bucket List: 50 Fun (free or cheap!) Outings for Kids and Families

The best kind of summer slide: enjoy fun DC exhibits like this 2016 summer block party installation at The National Building Museum.

The DC area has no shortage of fun activities for families. Here is our epic guide to 50 local, kid-friendly excursions we’re putting on our bucket list for the summer … and even better, most of them are FREE. Summer boredom is not an issue here! (use #dcmomsblogsummer18 to share what you’ve checked off your list!)

1) Dance to the music and pick up some new books at a free library concert with award-winning local musician, 123 Andres. Andres, a Latin-grammy award-winner, is a bilingual rockstar for little language learners. His packed summer tour includes libraries in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. 

2) Kick off your summer museum trips with the Smithsonian’s massive Solstice Saturday celebration on June 23. There are free kids’ programs throughout the day, and some museums stay open until midnight! 

3 ) Instagram-worthy snaps abound at The National Building Museum’s Block Party, the annual large-scale installation inside the museum’s Great Hall. This year’s imaginative romp, “Fun House,” opens in July. The exhibit will feature an interactive house with a massive ball pit “pool” in the faux backyard. Dive in! Membership to the Building Museum will get you into “Fun House” for free.

4) In search of that island life… for free? Go for a hike and look for birds on Roosevelt Island on the Potomac River.

5) Or hike, bike, fish, and bird-watch on the beautiful Kingman & Heritage Islands on the Anacostia.

6) Get lost in a field of sunflowers at McKee-Beeshers, a free Maryland park that blooms with fields of gold in mid-July. (note: this is NOT a stroller friendly location!) 

7) Visit the No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man at the Renwick Gallery. It’s free and great for kids. See our guide here.

8) In a city like DC, summer nights are sometimes best punctuated by herald trumpets and cannons. Take your kids to the U.S. Army’s free Twilight Tattoo on Wednesdays at Ft. Meyer in Arlington. The U.S. Army Band plays music, and troops re-enact some scenes from famous battles in American history. (Warning: the cannons are LOUD.)

9) Get mud therapy at the new children’s garden at the US Botanic Garden. Recently renovated, this outdoor garden is a beautiful place for children to play and explore. Kids can dig, water plants, climb, and run through a tunnel of mist. You can also head indoors to admire plants in climate-controlled conditions. Admission is free.

10) Need more plants plus lots of space to run? We’ve got you covered at the (free!) National Arboretum in NE DC. It has 446 acres of land and an excellent youth garden. Who cares if you have no yard when we have parks like these?

11) Check out the new baby gorilla, cool off in the “Tidepool,” or take a ride on the ZooTubes at the National Zoo. Zoo admission is free!

12) Come for the performance, stay for nature at the Children’s Theatre in the Woods! Nestled in the forest of the Wolftrap National Park for the Performing Arts in Va., this small outdoor amphitheater hosts dance, music, puppetry and more. There are also free Junior Ranger programs after some shows. We like to bring a picnic and make a day of it.

13) Be filled with wonder inside the butterfly pavilion at Natural History. Tickets are free on Tuesdays!

14) Seeking some sweet relief? Visit Captain Cookie and the Milkman at Tastemakers in Brookland for the city’s best ice cream sandwich.

Free boat tours of the Anacostia River are just one of the many ways you can enjoy DC’s waterfront this summer.

15) Take a free educational boat or canoe tour of the Anacostia River with either Anacostia River Keepers or Anacostia Watershed Society.

16) Or row, row, row your boat yourself! You can rent a canoe or kayak on the Anacostia or Potomac River.

17) Docks, boats, sunshine, seafood, and ice cream: you can pretend you’re on summer vacation at the new District Wharf. Eat fried seafood on the pier, then enjoy a soft-serve gelato from Dolcezza. Play with your kids on the free, giant, outdoor board games. Or splurge on a water taxi across the Potomac! The Wharf hosts free outdoor concerts every Wednesday this summer.

18) Visit Abraham Lincoln’s cottage and participate in the summer Learning With Lincoln program.

19) A working farm? Mini golf? Carousel? Train through the woods? Wizard of Oz themed playground? Yes, please! Watkins Regional Park in Maryland has it all, and it’s amazing. 

20) Roll on over to the only roller skating rink in the National Park Service. Anacostia Park Skating Pavillion has free skate rentals all summer!

21) Put summer on ice! When the heat and humidity have you saying “I can’t even with you,” flip the seasonal switch. Take the kids to an indoor ice rink! There are open skates throughout the summer at Kettler Iceplex in VA, and Wheaton and Cabin John Ice Rinks in MD. The Maryland rinks have cheap sessions for parents and tots, and Kettler has a fun “recess skate” for kids.

22) The Smithsonian Folklife Festival always tops our summer bucket list! The National Mall transforms into an outdoor international playground with tons of free, kid-friendly activities and performances. This year’s free festival features Armenian and Catalonian cultures and a tribute to Sisterfire concerts. June 27-July 1 and July 4-8. 

Enjoy the waterlilies in bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Photo Courtesy National Park Service.

23) $1 movie + air conditioning = cheap summer relief. Regal Cinemas hosts dollar movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at many area theaters.

24) Visit one of DC’s hidden gems, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, during its peak summer bloom. The park hosts a free Lotus and Water Lily Festival in July.

25) Splash dance! Free summer fun is always flowing at the region’s splash parks. Check out some of our favorites in this guide.

26) Or cool your toes in the indoor stream flowing through the National Portrait Gallery atrium. Eat lunch in the atrium, visit the children’s room, “Explore!,” and make sure you check out the hall of presidential portraits.  Admission is free.

27) Get a cool treat from Pleasant Pops! Delicious fresh-fruit popsicles and coffee slushies can fuel your summer day. 

28) Frederick Douglass is getting recognized more and more, I hear. Take a free guided tour of his home and learn more about this awesome abolitionist. 

29) What better place to celebrate Independence Day than in DC?! Head to the Mall for the free 4th of July fireworks and morning parade.

30) GOAL! Score with your kids at a DC United Soccer game. The brand new stadium opens July! 

31) Ride the miniature train at Cabin John Park in Maryland and enjoy the nature trails.

32) Take a dip in the fountains and free wading pool at Yards Park, and then…

33) …Split a sundae at DC’s own Ice Cream Jubilee (301 Water St SE and 1407 T St NW) or check out our other favorite ice cream shops here.

34) Make your own stamps at the National Postal Museum. Admission is free! This summer you can also check out a new exhibit on everyone’s favorite 10-dollar-founding-father, Alexander Hamilton. The display features some of Hamilton’s letters… and the pistols from that infamous duel with Aaron Burr.

35) Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley! Ride the H Street Trolley for free.

36) Dive into summer at your local public pool! Some of our favorite DC public pools: Francis Pool (great for kids), Banneker (Olympic-sized adult pool and sizable kids’ pool), and Rosedale Pool (one word: waterslides).

37) Kids can laugh with The Great Zucchini or rock out with Rocknoseros at the free weekly shows at Kids in Canal Park on Wednesday mornings this summer.

38) Make a museum day even more memorable when your kids take a spin on the antique carousel on the Mall (by the Smithsonian Castle).

39) Milk a cow, ride a Ferris wheel, and eat a funnel cake at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair between Aug 10-18.

40) Wish upon a star! Local astronomy clubs host events each month to give the public a closer look at space. You can peer in their fancy telescopes at Rock Creek Park in DC, or with the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club in The Plains, VA.

41) Berry-stained hands are the best summer look! Kids can pick their own berries at one of the many family-friendly farms near DC. Some of our favorites include Butlers Orchard in Maryland and Great Country Farms in Virginia. 

42) Can’t make it to the farm? You can still sink your teeth into summer with fresh produce at a local farmers market. Many feature free performances on market days.

43) Watch a puppet show and ride the historic carousel at Glen Echo Park.

44) Top tennis players will compete at the Legg-Mason tournament in DC early August. The tournament is at Carter Barron, tucked in the edge of the forest of Rock Creek Park. Check for family day discounts early in the tournament.

45) Enjoy free outdoor movies under the stars all summer! Check this schedule for lots of DC-area locations!

46) Grab a picnic and watch the planes fly into DCA from Gravelly Point. (Warning – it can be loud for babies!) If you have strong cyclists, you can take the bike path there. Parking is also free.

47) Climb the sleeping giant statue and enjoy some of the free family events at National Harbor! Check out summer Fridays & Family Movie Nights on Sundays. 

48) Our local public libraries have lots of fun, free programs over the summer.  Kids can also collect free prizes in the Summer Reading Programs in Washington, DC, Virginia (Arlington, AlexandriaFairfax County, Falls ChurchLoudon CountyPrince William County), and Maryland (Prince George’s CountyMontgomery County, and Anne Arundel County).

49) Set your summer soundtrack for the long summer nights with a free outdoor concert. Our favorites include the Friday night jazz at the Sculpture Gardens, family-friendly Friday concerts at Yards Park, and the longstanding tradition of summer concerts at Fort Dupont Park.

50) Take them out to the ball game! The Nationals have a new air-conditioned nursing lounge for mamas. Climbing kids can enjoy a fun outdoor play space. And most Sunday games conclude with a free opportunity for kids to run the bases.

Kids can run the bases at most Sunday home games at Nationals Park.

DC Area Moms Blog Contributors Allison Winter and Juliet Armerding created this bucket list. What are some of your favorite summer activities around DC?

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One Response to Epic DC Summer Adventure Bucket List: 50 Fun (free or cheap!) Outings for Kids and Families

  1. Angelle June 14, 2018 at 10:10 pm #

    Can’t wait to start crossing things off our list.

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