Family Vacations: National Mall

More than twenty museums, galleries and monuments, including the Washington Monument, creating a lively environment for families.

The National Mall is a tree-lined stretch of parkland that runs for 2.5 miles from the banks of the Potomac River to the U.S. Capitol. It is the center of every visitor's trip to Washington, D.C. Families love visiting its grand monuments, memorials that stir the emotions, and world-class museums. Best of all: It's free.

The Mall is one of the easiest places to take kids for museum touring because the minute they get bored, you can take them outside to run around, ride a carousel, grab a hot dog, or head to yet another museum with a completely different focus.


The National Museum of American History is one of the best places to start. There's so much to see here that you can easily tailor your wanderings to your kids' interests. There are inaugural gowns of the first ladies; the original Kermit the Frog puppet said to be cut from Jim Henson's mother's coat; full-size American trains, trucks, and cars; and the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. When you tire of touring, stop in the Victorian-era ice cream parlor for a snack.

The National Museum of Natural History, another blue-ribbon museum for children, features a collection of dinosaur fossils; an insect zoo with live black widow spiders, ant colonies, beehives, and tarantulas; dioramas of African animals; and all kinds of exotic animal skeletons. Its Discovery Room has hands-on activities and touch tables for young children.

Most children's favorite exhibits at the National Gallery of Art are the paintings with children in them and the colossal Alexander Calder mobiles that seem to defy gravity as they hang suspended in space in perfect balance. Guidebooks are available for parents to use to direct their children to the art they're most likely to enjoy. The outdoor sculpture garden nearby is a favorite place for kids to burn off steam.

You also can view a diverse collection of art at the galleries located in the Mall. The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery are noted for their collections of fine Asian art. The National Museum of African Art features vivid exhibits of finely crafted masks, intricate wood carvings, imaginative musical instruments, and more.

Children of all ages enjoy climbing to the top of the Washington Monument. Inside are an elevator and an 897-step stairway, as well as an observation deck at 500 feet that offers 360-degree views. Other monuments and memorials are worth a visit as well.

The most rousing night out on the town is free. Pack a picnic dinner and arrive before the start of the 8:00 p.m. military band concert to claim your square of turf. The kids can run around in between bites while you enjoy the fine sounds of the Army, Navy, and Marine bands. The concerts are offered five nights a week during the summer on the Mall, the White House Green, or the Capitol Steps, and they're guaranteed to leave you in high spirits.


The National Mall

Address: 9th St. SW and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.

Phone: 202/426-6841


Hours of Operation: All Day

Admission: Free


To learn more about family vacations, see:

  • Family Vacations: Learn about hundreds of family vacations in destinations all over North America.


Laura Sutherland is a widely acknowledged authority on family travel and has published several books on the topic, including Best Family Ski Vacations In North America andTropical Family Vacations.