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Entries in DC with kids (15)

Tuesday
Jul142009

We Landed on the Moon? That's Great!

It somehow escaped my attention, but this week is the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing. As might be expected the National Air and Space Museum, will celebrate this historic event with a day of festivities this Thursday, the 16th.

Countdown to Moon Day kicks off at 10 am. This celebration, which temporarily replaces the Museum's Mars Day! family day, will have a wide array of hands-on items, lectures, discussions with experts, and other activities. For the younger kids (3-6) the NASM will host Lunar story-time at 11 and 1:30 in the Looking At Earth gallery on the first floor. And, as always, be sure to touch one of two moon rocks in Washington, DC. Can anyone tell me where the other is?

If you are unable to make it Thursday, Apollo Astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Alan Bean will be having a book signing at the Museum this Saturday, the 19th from 11 to 2.

Wednesday
Jun172009

Eastern Market - Before Markets Were "Super"

I've posted earlier this week about the importance of planning a Non-Federal Moment in your trip to DC, and I can't emphasize that enough. If you approach a trip to DC like a pilgrimage with obligatory sites that must be seen, you will suck the fun out of it for everybody. Break your visit into small chunks, and take some time away from the tourist hordes to recharge.

Fortunately for visitors is one of Washington, DC's great neighborhood institutions, Eastern Market. It's just a short walk from the Capitol, or a short Metro ride from just about anywhere else. The Market, in continuous use since 1873, is set to re-open June 26th after a devastating fire in 2007.

For those who might not be familiar with the Market, let's run through a little background. Once upon a time, in the days or yore, food came from mythical places known as "farms". Stories abound about such places, and hard data is difficult to come by, but it appears as if the "farmers" then sold their food to middlemen with such picturesque titles as "butchers"; "greengrocers"; "bakers"; and, my personal favorite, "fishmongers". Supposedly, folks used to go every day to buy food and even cooked it. Nowadays, we don't believe any of this crap and we understand that food is made in a factory, like ipods, and sold to us in supermarkets.

But if you want to indulge in such historical fantasy, head over to the eponymous Eastern Market Metro stop on the Blue/Orange line. The Market itself has been operating out of temporary structure for the last couple of years following a suspicious fire on April 30, 2007, but will formally re-open on the 26th. Between poking my head in last time I was there, and sneak peaks published here, it looks like the Market will be back, stronger than ever, without loosing it's historical character.

What I particularly like about a visit to the Market is that it's not some historical Williamsburg type recreation, nor is it a trendy new farmers market selling all organic stuff. This is a functioning urban market that's survived in this building since 1873 (and before that, since Thomas Jefferson's presidency), with long term vendors that have been there for decades. Even as urban life in America was under assault in post-War America, Eastern Market has held on while the rest of city's markets were torn down or boarded up. The Market isn't trying to "re-connect" to anything; it's been connected to the neighborhood about it for over a century and still going strong.

If you intend to be in town over a weekend, plan on spending a good chunk of the morning wandering about the flea market set up in the parking lot across 7th Street, finding a table at one of the many coffee shops in the area, or checking out one of the dozen or so shops in the area. If you have small kids, feel free to hang out at one of the local parks. I like Lincoln Park, up North Carolina Avenue where it intersects 11th, or Turtle Park (formally Marion Park) down South Carolina at 6th. It's always amazing to me that the same kid that can't walk another block somehow is magically revived by playground equipment.

The Market is closed Mondays and is already, in fact, closed as they move their stuff back into the original building. However, if you're in town this weekend, don't let that stop you. The outdoors market is open just like normal.

Now, if you'll excuse me; I have to go microwave a burrito for lunch...

Monday
Jun152009

Take me out to the ballgame! Please!

Alright folks, keep your Nats jokes to yourself. Actually, I'm always looking for good ones, but if I hear one more eighth grader tell me "You're a Nats fan? They suck!" I'll wrap his i-pod earphones around his neck and...

But I digress. You don't have to be a die hard Nats fan, or even a baseball fan, to enjoy a trip to Nationals Park. In fact, frankly, it might help if you don't know too much about the game.

Here's why I'm pushing it: you need a non-Federal moment when you come to DC. I'm serious. Too often I get the question: "I'm coming to DC and want to know the best way to see everything in 36 hours?" (Ans: stay home and use Wikipedia). Coming to our Nation's Capital is about the experience, not checking boxes. This stuff isn't going anywhere. Take your time. Smell the roses. Get often the beaten path a bit. And plan ahead to take a little time off in your time here to take in something that can't possibly be construed as educational, or historic, or Important.

This is where the Nationals come in. It's just a short Metro ride away. Tickets start at ten bucks and are almost never sold out. And at no point will you feel guilty about not remembering what your seeing or feeling that you should see one more exhibit. And, best of all, join us as we find out what new and exciting ways the Nationals can find to loose.

So, before you come to DC, take a quick look at the Nats schedule. I'm particularly partial to afternoon games. By the time it wraps up, you can still make it back to the Mall for an hour or two of checking out museums if you really haven't hit your quota yet.

As far as getting there, the ballpark is just two stops away from the L'Enfant Plaza Metro stop and the Air and Space Museum on the Green Line. Get on the Green Line in the direction of Branch Avenue and get off at the Navy Yard. The park is a block away to the left when you get out.

One warning though: tickets are almost never sold out, except every three years when interleague play brings the Yankees or Red Sox to town. Like next week, when the Red Sox are in town Tuesday through Thursday.

Monday
Mar302009

Dear God! It's 5 pm, the kids are restless, and I'm out of ideas!

I thought I had a pretty good idea of fun things to do in DC at night, but upon reflection, I'm afraid most of them aren't terribly kid friendly. Having small kids, it's pretty easy (put them to bed), but what to do with older kids who just won't go down at 7:30? As it would be irresponsible for me to suggest NyQuil, let's see what we can do for the reader who recently asked:

"What are the best night time activities for 10-12 year olds? I am planning on doing the DC by Foot and night tour of monuments. Any info on places open past 5:30 would be a big help."

Well, you're off to a good start with DC by Foot. These guys put on a good show, and have a lot of fun doing it. I think it's a great way to get to know the memorials on a personal level. The tour is free, but make sure you tip the guides. And to stay on topic, kids love them and they have a 6 pm tour most nights.

Some other options:

1. Museums: As a guide, I'm often faced with filling time between museums closing and a 8 pm dinner. Traditionally, that has been one of the reasons the Archive's busiest time seems to be after 5. Fortunately, other museums have steadily started to stay open until 7, which is a trend that I heartily support. The National Portrait Gallery and the Holocaust Memorial Museum (seasonally) have had extended hours for some time now and perhaps the most exciting thing that's happened to me in some time is this year several of the Smithsonians will be open until 7:30 (Air and Space, Natural History, and American History). Moving on from the sadness that is my life, many of the for-profit museums naturally will take your money into the evening. The new Crime and Punishment Museum is a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the Spy Museum, at least the first thirty times I saw it. Be sure to check ahead with your specific date in mind. Some of these hours are seasonal.

2. Theater: Washington, DC has a great selection of theaters to choose from, with a kid-friendly performance showing at least one of them generally at any given time. The Kennedy Center's Shear Madness has been playing for over twenty years and is a staple of my eighth grade tours. But I prefer the downtown theaters both for their ambiance as well as their Metro friendly locations. The National, the Warner, the Shakespeare, and Ford's all have been known to put on shows accessible to kids. I particularly recommend this as the best way to experience Ford's Theater, just like President Lincoln did. Well, almost. Heck, you've got to get a ticket anyway nowadays to get in, you might as well see a performance while you're there. If you're in town before May 24th, The Civil War is a musical tribute to the war that I would enjoy taking a twelve year old to. Not everyone is sucked into a love of history the way I was, and this performance is quite moving. It might even beat an i-pod for an hour or so. It's recommended for kids twelve and up, as it has some historical images of slavery and the war, so keep that in mind for kids a little younger.

3. Movies: Sure, you can do this at home, but sometimes it's nice to take a break from trudging through museums with something familiar. Gallery Place in Chinatown and the AMC Loews in Georgetown are both good multiplexes with plenty of dining and touring options in the near vicinity. But if you'd still like to take in some history, the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park is a historic, single screen movie theater that has hosted, among others, the world premier of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sadly, it has wilted those laurels by repeating the trick for some crappy Kevin Costner flicks. But it's still a great theater and my go to place for a movie that benefits from the big screen.

If anyone else has some ideas for things kids might enjoy in the evening, please leave them in the comments. I imagine this will become even more important to me in years to come, so let's all put our thinking caps on.

Wednesday
Mar252009

National Zoo, using the bus to sneak in the back

In a previous post, I laid out the best way to get to the National Zoo via Metro Rail. A friend of mine, Mike Showalter, suggested, in the comments, bus routes that drop off at or near the "rear" entrance to the zoo, off of Rock Creek Parkway. Intrigued by this, I checked it out the other day with my kids. As both were juiced on sugary goodies and overdue for naps, I feel it was a full and complete test.

The attraction to this is clear. The Zoo is built on a hillside, with it's main entrance at Connecticut Avenue on the highest point. Fortunately, the new Asia Trail is near this entrance, so if you are so inclined, you can hop off at Cleveland Park, see the Asia Trail with the requisite pandas (and perhaps the bird house), and continue on your merry way to the Woodley Park stop. A good hour and half to two hour visit; very concise.

But what if you want to see more? The reptile house is worth it for the architecture alone, you might want to see the orangutans on the O-line, check out the giant fish at Amazonia, and some might even desire to eat at the wretched Mane Restaurant. And for those with small kids, it's possible we just might want to visit the kids section. In perhaps the cruelest irony, this section, with farm animals and a giant pizza you can climb on, is the furthest exhibit at the zoo from the Metro. I guess the National Zoo simply assumes people with small children don't use the Metro. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn't it folks?

So Mike's suggestion of taking a bus route to the back entrance was worth examining in detail. I tried it the other day, and I can say that it has a lot of promise. The great part is that you start at the low end, and gradually work your way up. That way, when you're done, and exhausted from pushing strollers and carrying kids, you're at the top of the hill and the only thing left is to walk down to the Metro. I can't tell you how many times I've had a crying baby, whiny kid, tired legs, and end up staring at the damn lions. I swear they actually laugh at me and say "poor bastard, look at him. I may be stuck in this cage but he has to get those kids back up the hill."

So here's what I suggest. If you're near the H2 bus, you're in luck. There is a stop directly across Rock Creek from the entrance, right on Harvard Road. If not, don't despair, the X3, L2, 90, 92, 93, 96, and 98 buses are a fairly short, down hill walk away. Assuming you're coming from the downtown area, when the bus comes up 18th St and turns onto Calvert St, hop off at the Biltmore St stop. You will see the Calvert St Bridge ahead of you, with an Afghan restaurant, Mama Ayesha's, just to your right. Walk past the soccer field, through the small playground, down Adams Mill Road, and left on Harvard St. Keep the woods on your left and go downhill and you can't go far wrong. It's just about the same distance to the entrance as the Woodley Park or Cleveland Park stops are.

Sadly, the only help to figure out our Byzantine bus system I can give you is WMATA's Trip Planner. It's fine, I guess, if you know where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. Which doesn't always describe me, and I live here. But, while we wait for Google Transit to ride in on a white horse and save us, I guess it's all we've got. But don't let that stop you. With a little persistence, it is possible to see something at the zoo, besides the pandas, without a car.