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WASHINGTON - AUGUST 5:  Two children look at a model of the Solar System at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum August 5, 2002 at the museum in Washington, DC. With hundreds of artifacts on display, the museum is one of the most visited sites in Washington.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Grand Vacations in Washington DC

Grand Vacations in Washington DC

A Destination Guide for Traveling with Grandchildren

iStock_000020639347_LargeloAs a grandparent, wouldn’t it be great to create lasting memories with your grandchildren? Now that you have more time to travel, it’s a great opportunity to share some special moments with your loved ones. In each issue of ideal-LIVING magazine, we’ll provide you with some great destinations to share with your children and grandchildren.

Today, The Smithsonian is one of the world’s great museums of cultural history and should be the centerpiece of any visit you and your grandchildren make to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 5: Two children look at a model of the Solar System at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum August 5, 2002 at the museum in Washington, DC. With hundreds of artifacts on display, the museum is one of the most visited sites in Washington. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)In fact, The Smithsonian is a collection of 19 museums and galleries, plus the National Zoo (see following). Start your tour at The Castle, which houses an information center to help you plan your adventure. Perhaps the most popular facility for wide-eyed kids of all ages is the nearby National Air and Space Museum, home to historic aircraft like the 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis and the command module Columbia from the Apollo 11 moon mission. In addition to thrilling shows on the five-story-high IMAX theater screen, there are daily science demonstrations, flight simulators and other hands-on activities designed to delight and inspire.

The National Museum of Natural History has its own IMAX theater where dinosaurs come to life, plus exhibits that range from the Butterfly Pavilion to interactive Discovery Stations to the awesome Sant Ocean Hall. The National Museum of American History includes historic and cultural exhibits that bring the story of our country’s heritage alive. The American Indian Museum highlights the culture of our continent’s original inhabitants and there are several Smithsonian art museums and galleries on the Mall with original works and interpretive exhibitions to help you and the grands appreciate that important part of our American experience.

Admission to most of The Smithsonian museums and galleries is free, but parking is very limited, so you’ll probably want to use the D.C. Metro to get there. Comfortable clothing and walking shoes are recommended because you’ve got a lot of ground to cover. For current exhibitions and special events, go to


The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is part of the venerable Institution and one of the most popular family attractions in Washington, D.C. It’s also an educational and research facility that specializes in protecting some of our planet’s most endangered species.

Without a doubt, the trio of giant pandas are the Zoo’s most famous residents, including two-year-old Bao Bao. In addition, the 163-acre park is home to about 1,800 animals representing more than 300 species from around the world. There are Asian elephants, Sumatran tigers and gorillas, and African lions and cheetahs. A pair of rescued bald eagles can be viewed close-up from an observation blind and the American Trail features species like beavers, otters, wolves and bears that are native to North America. The Bird House is a cornucopia of vivid colors and exotic calls, while the Reptile Discovery House offers creepy delights that include huge snakes and lizards.

Washington DC, USA - may 15, 2012. The entrance to the Smithsonian national Zoological Park

The National Zoo’s educational programs include animal training, feeding demonstrations and presentations by staff zookeepers. The schedule changes every day, so you and the grandkids will want to check in at the welcome center upon arrival to see the featured activities and special events taking place during your visit.

After viewing the wild animals from a safe distance, the Kid’s Farm at the Zoo offers the youngsters a more hands-on experience. From common American farm animals to less familiar species like the alpaca, kids can participate in supervised grooming and other activities as they learn before taking a romp on the Pizza Playground.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon (that’s the official name) is located on a beautiful stretch of the Potomac River about 15 miles south of the District of Columbia. The historic home of the Revolutionary War leader and first President of the United States, Mount Vernon offers daily attractions and special events to delight history lovers of all ages.

The Ford Orientation Center starts your visit with an action-packed movie and staff advice on the day’s featured activities. Be sure to get a Mount Vernon Adventure Map with its kid-centered tour of the estate and a puzzle the grands can solve to claim a prize.

The iconic Mount Vernon Mansion overlooking the Potomac is a must-see site on your tour, but the kids will also enjoy stretching their legs in the six acres of adjacent gardens or on the nearby forest trail. At the Reynolds Museum and Education Center, Washington’s life story from childhood to retirement is traced and the Hands-on-History Center offers interactive fun designed for ages three through eight.

The Pioneer Farm at Mount Vernon is one of the site’s most popular destinations. It’s a working 18th-century farm where you and the grandkids can learn about the lifestyle of the times with a variety of demonstrations and exhibits. The farm also hosts the annual Fall Harvest event (October 24-25) and the estate will again this year welcome kids of all ages to enjoy Halloween trick-or-treating on the grounds (October 30).

By JG Walker Previously published in the 2015 Fall Issue.

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