Washington, D.C. is known as a hub of politics and knowledge, as well as museums and historic sites. When visiting the nation’s capital, you don’t have to worry about what to do with younger kids though; there are plenty of free things to do in DC with toddlers and babies.
Cover the basics with a trip to the National Zoo and the Washington Monument, but go a little deeper into what you can do with younger kids when you step into the National Portrait Gallery, U.S. Botanic Garden and so many more spots across the city.
National Zoo (Smithsonian National Zoological Park)
- Address: 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
Animals are pretty much a no-brainer when it comes to little kids. The National Zoo has several interactive exhibits for toddlers to touch, and more animals than we can count for them to find.
Babies will love the seals and sea lions. My boys always gravitated towards aquatic animals when they were little, probably because they could more easily see something swimming around nonstop, instead of a tiger sleeping in the shade of a tree.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
- Address: 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560
It may be weird to take a baby or toddler to the National Air and Space Museum, but trust me, this is your museum. My youngest only ever wanted to go see the “big rocket ships” and airplanes.
There is also a fun kid-friendly section of the museum where kids can touch things and even climb into the cockpit with a little help from mom and dad.
If your kid loves airplanes and space ships, this is most definitely the place for you. And don’t forget that the Udvar-Hazy is out by Dulles, where all of the really big planes and space craft are stored.
Have older kids? Grab our guide to Things to do in DC with Teens
National Museum of the American Indian
- Address: 4th St SW, Washington, DC 20560
The ImagiNations Activity Center is the biggest draw for families with young children at the National Museum of the American Indian.
While the “grown up” exhibits are filled with bright colors, shapes and history, the hands-on activities in ImagiNations gives parents a quick breather from stopping their toddler from touching everything.
Families can weave a giant basket, check out snowshoes and skateboards, sit in a full-size tipi and learn about the buffalo. Kids can also stamp their imagiNATIONS passport with the seals of the American tribes.
Events like the Story & Discovery reading times, allow toddlers to learn about Native Americans and indigenous people through story.
The craft room lets kids make a little piece of art to take home that will forever remind them of their trip to the museum.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
- Address: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560
Introduce your children to the history of our planet at the National Museum of Natural History. Or, you know, just go see the dinosaurs.
Either way, babies and toddlers will be enthralled by the African elephant on the first floor, before you move into the dinosaur exhibit. Head upstairs to see the gem collection and enter the Butterfly Pavilion to surround yourself with fluttering beauties.
Don’t miss Phoenix, a life-sized model of a North Atlantic right whale who scientists have been tracking since her birth in 1987, hanging from the ceiling in Sant Ocean Hall. You can also take a photo in the fossilized jaws of a megalodon.
National Children’s Museum
- Address: 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004
The National Children’s Museum in DC’s main goal is to spark imagination and minds through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) for young children under the age of 12.
Babies and toddlers can go mobile in “Little Movers,” a safe space for little ones to develop their gross and fine motor skills.
“Little Dreamers” was created for babies and toddlers to roam in a cloud-and flight-themed space, while older kids get to climb and slide through the three-story sister exhibit “Dreamers” for kids age 5 and up.
The exhibition hall features traveling exhibits, including Nickelodeon’s Dora and Diego: Let’s Explore!, an interactive exhibit for preschoolers presented in Spanish and English.
Special events include Movement classes for the whole family that incorporate Zumba and other dances, and Make it Fly, where families can explore aerodynamics, do flight experiments and make paper airplanes.
Wegmans Wonderplace at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
- Address: 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, Washington, DC 20560
Wonderplace was specifically designed for kids under 6 years old, giving them a 1700-square-feet interactive space to roam and learn about history in their own way.
It’s like a children’s museum within of a larger museum, making it easy for you and your baby to get a glimpse at one of the Washington, D.C. free museums.
Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum
- Address: 4th St SW, Washington, DC 20560
The National Postal Museum doesn’t seem like a great D.C. museum for babies and toddlers, but it is. When my neighbor told me it was her kids favorite museum, even as babies and toddlers, I was baffled, but it’s true.
“Moving the Mail” is the prime exhibit that little ones will want to explore. It’s filled with an airplane, mail truck, horse-drawn carriage and rail car showing how the mail has been delivered through the centuries.
Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art
- Address: Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20565
Explore the amazing art collection at the National Gallery of Art, particularly the East Building where larger installations are housed that babies and toddlers will love.
Don’t miss the giant blue rooster, (Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch, 2013) on the outdoor Terrace, which is just as much fun for parents as it is for kids.
Family-friendly events at the National Gallery of Art include story times, Art Investigators Tours and Family Day Celebrations.
Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
- Address: Constitution Ave NW &, 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20408
Stroll through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, seeing sculptures both big and small, by artists like Chagall, Miró, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Bourgeois and di Suvero.
In the winter months, an ice skating rink is set up, but in spring through fall, the fountain is on and the gardens are in bloom for babies and toddlers to explore.
Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery
- Address: 8th and G Streets, Washington, DC 20001
I have always loved the Kogod Courtyard, a glass-ceiling atrium in the National Portrait Gallery. You’ll see visitors resting their feet and grabbing a snack at the cafe, and locals catching up with friends, enjoying the light-filled space and even having brunch.
The public space is filled with trees, but also has a small water feature in the floor that toddlers will love. Be prepared for your kids to get wet. It’s OK. This trickle of water cascading down a few tiles in the floor will provide hours of fun for little toes.
The exhibits in the museums are incredible, especially the America’s Presidents exhibit, but for babies and toddlers, it might not be as enthralling as it is for older kids and adults.
Walk the National Mall
- Address: 2 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20024
Every parent knows that a good walk is what is needed when you are exploring around nap time. Check out all of the monuments and memorials around the National Mall, without ever having to pop inside and disturb the baby.
Gaze up at the Washington Monument together, stroll through the Vietnam memorial and say hello to Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.
Although, if you do want to go inside, the Mall has plenty of free museums to go into. Just remember, you will have to go through security.
If only one parent has to pop into the restroom, leave everyone else outside to speed things up and not wake up the baby.
Ducks at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
- Address: 2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW, Washington, DC 20002
If you have learned nothing as a parent yet, know that squirrels and ducks are just as exciting, if not more so, than the lions at the zoo.
Head down to the Lincoln Memorial to walk around the reflecting pool.
You can see ducks swimming around in this shallow body of water, as well as in Constitution Garden just north of the reflecting pool and east of the Vietnam War Memorial.
The Yards Park at the Capital Riverfront
- Address: 355 Water Street SE, Washington, DC 20003
Dancing fountains and a huge wading pool for the kids, which includes a waterfall you can walk behind, are what makes this one of the top places for babies and toddlers in Washington, D.C.
There is plenty of grass to spread out on for a picnic, or you can grab a chair at the few tables in the shade under the bridge at the end of the wading pool.
Pack a picnic or grab lunch at one of the many restaurants nearby. Just make sure you grab ice cream at Ice Cream Jubilee before you go home.
In winter, Light Yards takes over, which is fun for babies and toddlers to check out. This annual installation art exhibit centered around the winter holiday, brings a little light to those dark winter days.
Hot chocolate at Ice Cream Jubilee is close at hand to keep you warm too.
Georgetown Waterfront Park
- Address: 3303 Water St NW, Washington, DC 20007
Spash around in the fountains and feed the ducks when you take your baby to Georgetown.
In the winter, an ice skate rink takes over, but summer are meant to cool down in the water on a hot and humid day.
The REACH, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
- Address: 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566
Wander over to the REACH at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to see installation art exhibits, peruse the holiday market in December and experience live theater.
It was created to break down the walls between art and the audience, and quickly became a popular spot to gather.
Babies and toddlers will love “Blue” by Joel Shapiro, a huge blue stick figure in mid-kick surrounded by grass near the Video Wall.
Enjoy drinks and snacks at the Victura Park – A Pop-up Wine Garden and Café. This wine and beer garden at the River Pavillion is family friendly with picnic & café tables and patio heaters
U.S. Botanic Garden
- Address: 100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20001
If there is nature, there are kids there. The U.S. Botanic Garden is one of my favorite places to warm up during the winter months.
Even in summer it is a delight to see what is in bloom in the greenhouse and exterior gardens.
Keep a close eye on little walkers to make sure they don’t pull out any of the prized plants, representing regions across the country and around the world.
The Children’s Garden at the United State Botanic Garden is located outside and open seasonally, spring through fall. Kids can dig in the dirt and use watering cans while exploring a landscape built just for them.
Let your kids relax and not worry while climbing through the play set onsite, and sniffing the flowers that are beginning to pop.
During the holidays, pop back in to see the Christmas train, part of the Season’s Greenings exhibits. Each year there is a new theme.
Don’t be put off by the line. It moves quickly.
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
- Address: 1550 Anacostia Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20019
One of Washington, D.C.’s National Parks, Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is closed just three days a year.
Trails are short, the longest being a half-mile loop. Benches are available for snack breaks in between your walks and garden viewing. Dogs are allowed, so the whole family can enjoy this outing.
The aquatic gardens are the main draw, filled with water lilies and lotus flowers cultivated since William Shaw bought the land in the 1880s.
Birding is also big in the park, so keep an eye out while you wander.
United States National Arboretum
- Address: 3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002
Pop the baby in a baby carrier or stroller to see the National Arboretum gardens in bloom throughout the year.
Springtime brings cherry blossoms and azaleas, while summer shows off its fields of flowers and shade-providing trees, and autumn brings brilliant colors and fields of yellow to the landscape.
The Washington Children’s Garden inside the National Arboretum near Fern Valley along Crabtree Road connects kids to the food they eat. Family events get kids hands in the dirt, learning about food cycles, as well as why pollinators are so important when your kids wander through the butterfly garden.
While there is a fence around the garden, that is not to keep you out, just the deer from sneaking a snack out of the garden.
Hike around Rock Creek Park
- Address: Washington, DC 20008
Rock Creek Park is a massive, 1,754-acre city park filled with sports fields, horseback riding and trails.
Make it your own by piecing together a hike in the woods. There aren’t many marked trails, but the more popular areas to explore include the Nature Center, Peirce Mill, picnic areas 6-10 and Boundary Bridge.
Make sure you bring a map of the park so you don’t get lost as you hike through D.C.’s largest greenspace.
Rock Creek Park Hikes
- Milkhouse Ford Hike: 1.75-mile loop hike passing a Civil War fort, poet’s cabin and historic creek crossing.
- Three Mile Rolling Meadow: a paved trail perfect for families with kids in strollers that gives hikers creek and forest views.
- Rapids Bridge Hike: A beautiful 2-mile loop hike that parallels Rock Creek for part of the hike. This is unpaved, so babies should be held in hiking backpacks or baby carriers.
- Meridian Hill Park: Although not connected, this park popular for drum circles, is part of Rock Creek Park and worthy of wander, especially if the cascading waterfalls are active.
The Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium also offers nature walks for families to join.
C & O Canal National Historic Park – Georgetown
- Address: 1057 Thomas Jefferson St NW, Washington, DC 20007
The C&O Canal is 184.5 Miles long with a portion in Georgetown, D.C.
Restoration of Locks 3 and 4, along with a new boat for canal rides is in the works.
Work on the locks, towpath, plazas and street crossings are also planned, but for now, you can walk along the towpath and across the bridges in Georgetown.
It’s a great place to get the baby to sleep in your baby carrier before you pop into one of the many coffee shops and restaurants in Georgetown.
Story Times at DC Libraries
- Address: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library – Central Library, 901 G St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001 (and libraries across the District)
Libraries across Washington, D.C. offer storytime for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and families.
Baby Lap Time and Baby and Toddler Storytime include interactive story time through books, songs, rhymes and finger play. It’s the perfect activity for a rainy day in D.C.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
- Address: sits in the Potomac River near the Key Bridge
Strap your baby into a carrier or let your toddler hike with you on one of the three trails on Theodore Roosevelt Island. These are flat trails, ranging from ⅓ mile to 1 ½ milles.
Grab a Junior Ranger booklet to do activities with your baby or toddler. This national parks program is not just for big kids, but the whole family.
Mount Vernon Trail
- Address: 1198 George Washington Memorial Pkwy, Alexandria, VA 22314
Hop on your bike to traverse the Mount Vernon Trail, which winds 18-miles from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate to Theodore Roosevelt Island.
The entire trail is paved, creating a smooth ride for you and your little ones. Stop for a picnic along the way and take in the Potomac River views.
Watch the planes at Gravelly Point Park
- Address: Gravelly Point, Arlington, VA 22202 (north of Reagan Washington National Airport)
When my boys were little they were obsessed with airplanes. One still is and claims he will be a pilot.
If I needed a mental break, I’d pack the kids up in the car, grab a few snacks and head down to Gravelly Point Park to watch the airplanes take off and land at Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).
Even in the winter months my boys would marvel at the huge planes flying overhead from the warmth of our car.
When it was warm, I could get out and sit at a picnic table while they ran around pretending to be airplanes.
Walk the Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival
While it can get crowded, if you have an early riser, head down to the Tidal Basin to take a stroll around the Cherry blossoms. The light is beautiful and the crowds haven’t gathered quite yet.
If you do go during peak hours, strap your baby in a baby carrier and leave the stroller home. You will be able to maneuver around people much easier and won’t have to worry about the baby getting bumped as you navigate the crowds.