100 Must-Do Activities for DC Kids This Fall

Now that outdoor pools and splashgrounds have closed and temperatures teeter on cooler, it’s time to take advantage of all the DC area has to offer in the fall. At the top of our list – literally – is checking out the area’s gorgeous fall foliage, but there are also pumpkin festivals, Halloween-themed events, orchards for picking your own apples and new shows to see. We did the research so you don’t have to. In no particular order, here are our picks for the best things to do with kids in and around the DMV this fall.

photo: Toddlin’ Across America

1. It’s not eleventy billion degrees! Take to the great outdoors to admire the colorful fall foliage. Or hop on a train if that’s more your speed.

2. Better yet, become part of the color at an area treetop adventure.

3. Find all things pumpkin at your local grocery store, but for the real deal – plus fun slides, petting zoos and gourds gone wild – check out an area pumpkin patch.

4. Doctors aren’t the only things apples can keep at bay. A trip to a pick-your-own orchard can be a great way to stave off the ever-charming “I’m booooored” blues.

photo: Carolyn Ross

5. The Kennedy Center unveiled the REACH this month with almost 500 activities to check out – many of them free. The opening festival is over, but beloved children’s author Mo Willems is hanging out at the KenCen for a bit as an artist-in-residence. Tickets are available now for “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical),” opening Nov. 23. Plus, every evening at 6 p.m., the Kennedy Center opens its doors for visitors to check out local, national and international talent for free.

6. Head to a drive-in movie and score Halloween loot from the trunks of the parked cars Oct. 26.

7. Get thee back in time at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, through Oct. 20.

8. Go back farther in time at dinosaur-centric destinations.

9. Check out a new bilingual story time at the National Gallery of Art. No advanced registration required and it’s free.

photo: iStock

10. Or head to check out plenty of other story time options.

11. Another arty option: Inspire budding artists among the established ones at the National Gallery of Art’s Drop-in Art Making. New activities are offered weekly.

12. Once a year, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute opens to the public for a glimpse at its work in protecting and preserving wildlife.

13. Get lost in a corn maze.

14. Save on airfare to Florida or California and go see Mickey and Minnie in “Disney on Ice: Road Trip Adventures” at EagleBank Arena.

15. Attention foodies of all ages: Gobble up specialties at Emporiyum, an annual event at Dock 5 at Union Market.

16. Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month at Fiesta DC.

17. Expose young ones to European culture at the Kids Euro Festival, which features the continent’s most talented children’s entertainers.

18. Channel your inner police officer or FBI agent at the National Law Enforcement Museum’s Family Fun Day.

photo: Strasburg Rail Road

19. Buy tickets for the 2019 Santa Railway Express Train. They go on sale Oct. 1 and sell out every year.

20. Try out for the National Children’s Chorus of the United States of America on Oct. 18. There’s a Junior Division for beginners, ages 5-12, and a Senior Division for singers 10-18.

21. Go see a live show. For the youngest among us, there’s “Elephant and Piggie’s We are in a Play!” at Adventure Theatre, from Sept. 20-Oct. 27.

22. Learn about fire safety, meet firefighters, use a fire extinguisher and fire hose, and check out emergency vehicles at the Ashburn Volunteer & Fire Rescue’s Open House or the Vienna Fire Department’s Annual Open House.

23. Attend a Family Day event at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. On Oct. 5, check out Semper Force, where families can interact with the Empire and Rebel Alliance.

photo: Socola Chocolatier

24. National Cocoa Day is coming on Oct. 13! Grab a cup of hot chocolate to celebrate.

25. Start thinking about those holiday cards, people. Snap a family pic in front of one of D.C.’s coolest backdrops.

26. Outdoor movies aren’t just for summer. Arlington’s new Ballston Quarter is showing kid-friendly classics on the plaza. Bonus: Grab a bite from the new food hall. There’s a District Doughnut. Just sayin’.

27. Of course, if you’d prefer to sit in a movie theater, Angelika Film Center shows classics such as “Hook” and “The Dark Crystal” on the first Saturday of the month. Here are some other kid-friendly theaters.

28. Take a break from screen time to see an animated show of a different kind. The Puppet Co. has “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” “Len Piper’s Pinocchio,” and “The Nutcracker” on stage this fall.

29, Spend a Saturday morning at the National Theater, which offers free family-friendly performances.

photo: Meghan Yudes Meyers

30. Go where the wild things roam at the National Zoo or the Reston Petting Zoo. Remember: During Boo at the Zoo, which runs Oct. 18-20 from 5:30-8:30 p.m., kids can dress up and trick-or-treat at more than 40 spots.

31. Put your feet up and let the kids handle dinner after they take a class at a local Cookology or Wegmans

32. Make way for holiday gifts. Organize a family donation day, and clean out clothes and toys.

photo: Meghan Yudes Meyers

33. Take a ride on the wild side at a nearby theme park. Watch for themed events for Halloween and the winter holidays.

34. Find out exactly what’s up with the Grinch at “ICE! featuring Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” It opens Nov. 15, but tickets are available now.

35. Stretch your vocal chords – see what we did there? – with kid-friendly sing-alongs at Bobby McKey’s.

36. Waterside fun isn’t just for summer. Check out all the options at District Wharf.

37. But if it is too chilly – or cold or rainy or windy because Washington – to be outside, there’s plenty to do indoors, too.

38. Enjoy dinner and a show – and we aren’t talking “Peppa Pig” on an iPad.

39. Find yourself stuck with nothing to do on a Friday? No problem.

40. Get a new look. (See previous statement about holiday cards!)

41. Unwind at a family-friendly winery.

photo: La Mesa Oktoberfest 

42. More of a beer fan? Family-friendly breweries are also a thing. And Oktoberfest is coming!

43. Step away from the pots and pans, and let someone else take care of the dishes.

44. Got a history buff in the house? Take them to a storied abode, such as Mount Vernon, where George Washington hung his hat.

45. Take to the streets with DC by Foot, a walking tour company that gives free, kid-friendly tours of the National Mall, Capitol Hill and U Street.

46. Pack a picnic basket – or toss an extra applesauce pouch into the diaper bag – and chow down next to a towering statue of Teddy Roosevelt or between zip lines at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School.

47. Build a Halloween costume.

photo: Rawpixel

48. And then map out a plan for trick-or-treating.

49. Paint your own pottery.

50. Take them out to the ballgame at Nationals Park or Camden Yards.

51. Reach for the stars from the comfort of a cool reclining chair at the David M. Brown Planetarium in Arlington, the Planetarium at Rock Creek Park, or the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Albert Einstein Planetarium.

photo: picjumbo.com via Pexels

52. Go for a spin on DC’s best carousels.

53. Fore! Play a round on a mini golf course that’s really up to par.

54. Get to know Northern Virginia by exploring Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun County.

55. Or branch out and take an awesome day trip.

56. Find more than monuments at the National Mall.

57. Mule-drawn boat rides return to Georgetown next year. In the meantime, tour, eat and play your way through the historic neighborhood.

58. Explore DC’s cultural side at museums that aren’t necessarily Smithsonians.

59. But if you do want to check out a Smithsonian, there are kid-friendly exhibits

photo: Oleksandr Pidvalnyi via Pexels

60. Ready to take a hike? Here’s where to go with a stroller.

61. Throw a ball and knock stuff over on purpose? Sold! Lace up at a bowling alley.

62. Take to the rink. Strap on ice skates and head to Fort Dupont, Cabin John or Fairfax.

63. Enjoy the scenery at an outdoor ice rink, many of which open in November.

64. Prefer wheels to blades? Head to Skate N Fun Zoneor Temple Hills Skate Palace

65. While you’re out admiring the fall foliage, head underground to spelunk at nearby caverns.

photo: Renata C. via Yelp

66. Families that learn together, grow together. Take a parent-and-me class in cooking, yoga, art or French.

67. Climb, swing and slide at a playground. There are plenty of options for kiddos with special needs, too.

68. OK, so money doesn’t grow on trees. That much is clear. Go see where it really comes from.

69. Food halls are all the rage – and an easy to get kids to try something new.

70. Spend time at Glen Echo Park by taking in a puppet show and sticking your hands in the touch tank at the Glen Echo Park Aquarium.

71. Which reminds us, there’s no time like the present to start brushing up on sea life-savvy for next summer at the National Aquarium.

photo: iStock

72. Take your little fishes to an indoor pool.

73. Practice parkour, swing from the rafters, climb warped walls and play dodgeball on trampolines at these obstacle courses.

74. Do good and get children involved in volunteering from a young age.

75. Skip the sitter and go on a family date night.

76. Get your steps in and support local artisans at one of DC’s classic markets, including Eastern Marketor Union Market.

77. Bouncing off the walls? There’s a place for that.

78. Let the kids loose at the mall – the indoor kind with stores and restaurants. No, really!

79. Location is everything, and we are lucky to be close to so much American history. Head down I-95 to Colonial Williamsburg. Take a detour to Great Wolf Lodge – a hotel and water park in one – to earn extra points with the kids. Stay the night or get a day pass.

photo: iStock

80. Take comfort in a bowl of soup as the mercury slowly falls.

81. You’ve got to respect Trader Joe’s dedication to all things pumpkin. Peruse the selections and expand palates.

82. Dance, karate, yoga, parkour. Not sure what kind of class your child would like? Let them try before you buy with ClassPass’s KidPass.

83. While you’re driving around admiring the leaves of autumn, keep kids entertained with car games.

84. DC isn’t the only place for museums. Hop on I-95 north to Baltimore to check out the Maryland Science Center, which offers tons of hands-on activities that are so much fun, kids won’t realize they’re learning. Plus, there’s a planetarium and an IMAX theater. Nearby is the Port Discovery Children’s Museum, which has a massive climbing structure, where kids can burn off steam between STEAM activities.

photo: Tomasina R. via Yelp

85. Get up close and personal with animals and insects.

86. Discover that libraries offer more than books.

87. Take the museum experience outside and head to an art show in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood, Bethesda and Occoquan.

photo: iStock

88. Take the kids out for dinner. They don’t have to know their meal is free.

89. Another money-saving or -earning option: Buy and sell kids’ clothes, toys, strollers and more at consignment shops.

90. Got a train buff itching to ride the rails? Chug along the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.

91. Stretch imaginations at a fairy garden.

92. Go where climbing the walls won’t end with someone in time out: rock climbing gyms.

photo: Meghan Yudes Meyers

93. Live out a real-life “How It’s Made” episode at factory tours for kids.

94. Attend a campfire program and snack on s’mores in Fairfax.

95. Lambs and llamas and horses – oh, my! While away an afternoon at a petting zoo.

96. Put your game face on and head to a haunted house.

97. Get moving on the squash court.

98. Experience history beyond museums at destinations like Abe Lincoln’s assassination site in the District or the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson or the USS Constellation Civil War sailing ship in Maryland.

photo: Gina S. via Yelp

99. You know how the best things in life are free? In DC, that may be true!

100. Take a tour of the Capitol or White House. This is the nation’s capital, after all!

—Stephanie Kanowitz


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