[Paleopsych] NYT: Washington With Kids: First the Museums, Then the City

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Thu Nov 24 03:19:49 UTC 2005

Washington With Kids: First the Museums, Then the City

[Save this one permanently, even if you don't have children. Good advice for 
adults, too. I work right across from the Mall and have been going there on a 
lunch break every week for over twenty years. It's the greatest block in the 
world! Send me an e-mail if you plan to come to the area.]


    LIKE many major tourist destinations, the nation's capital has two
    faces: there's Washington, place of public lives and public monuments,
    which is where most visitors venture, and there's D.C. (as residents
    refer to it), the private city where inhabitants live and work, where
    families eat and amuse their kids often in ways - and places - far
    from the tourist realm. The ideal Washington weekend borrows a bit
    from each world.

    The Mall, for instance, is packed with museums, and they're free, but
    Washingtonians know that the Mall can be an extremely tiring place and
    have devised ways to concentrate their visits so that everyone - both
    parents and children - is enriched without being exhausted. The Air
    and Space Museum may be a perennial must-do for many kids, but the
    National Gallery (Constitution Avenue between Third and Ninth Streets
    NW; 202-737-4215) makes for an adult-pleasing alternative, and its
    children's programs are innovative and well thought out (go to
    www.nga.gov/kids to find out about drop-in workshops, story hours and

    The Sculpture Garden, at the museum's northern end, offers ice skating
    in winter and jazz concerts in summer, and the outsize Oldenburg
    eraser and Scott Burton chairs present great juvenile art history
    talking points. Try to visit around lunchtime, as the cafeteria's food
    is several steps above what you'll find at most of the other Mall
    museums, and the sublime gelato (with fall flavors including pumpkin
    and cider) will be popular with all ages .

    Another great lunchtime museum stop is the new National Museum of the
    American Indian (Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW, next to the
    Air and Space Museum; 202-633-1000), whose collection aims to present
    objects like cooking baskets and baby bonnets in context rather than
    as isolated art objects. The restaurant serves Indian foods from all
    over the Americas, and the fry bread ($2.75) is a carbo-loaded treat.

    A secret to making sense of the abundance of riches on the Mall is to
    edit well. At the National Museum of Natural History (10th Street and
    Constitution Avenue NW; 202-633-1000), head upstairs to the O. Orkin
    Insect Zoo to hold live insects in your hand or to see tarantulas
    being fed.

    At the National Museum of American History (14th Street and
    Constitution Avenue NW; 202-633-1000), a sure-fire winner is the
    downstairs transportation exhibition, where kids can see vintage
    subway and street cars, a steam locomotive and other items of interest
    to the wheel-obsessed set.

    For further forays into transportation, consider a visit to the Air
    and Space Museum's new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (14390 Air and
    Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, Va.; 202-633-1000) near Dulles
    Airport. It's centered on a palatial airplane hangar and covers in
    three-dimensional form the history of aviation from the Wright
    Brothers era to the space shuttle Enterprise.

    But Washington is not just about museums. The city and its immediate
    surroundings offer a surprisingly wide range of outdoor activities,
    from hiking in Rock Creek Park to biking, fishing or renting a
    rowboat. The possibilities even include a dramatic waterfall of
    surging power.

    The National Park Service offers a series of free guided bicycle rides
    around the Mall organized around such themes as nature, landmarks or
    history. For information, call Jason Martz at (202) 438-4391.

    A bike ride along the placid C & O Canal's towpath will take you far
    from the hustle and bustle of official Washington. The park service
    offers guided bike rides there, as well as hourlong mule-pulled boat
    rides; call (202) 653-5190.

    An outfit called Better Bikes (202-293-2080, www.betterbikesinc.com)
    will deliver a bike to your hotel room and even throw in a local trail
    map, helmet, lock and backpack. Rates are $38 a day for a mountain
    bike or $48 for a hybrid, and $25 for kids under four feet tall.

    For a truly surprising adventure, drive about 15 miles up the Potomac
    to the Great Falls, which can be viewed from either the Virginia or
    the Maryland side of the river. As the water crashes, you'll have to
    remind yourself that you're on the Eastern Seaboard and not in some
    isolated national park out west.

    On the Maryland side, a sturdy wooden walkway provides both stroller
    and wheelchair access; it takes you out over the water and over to
    Olmsted Island, a naturalist's delight. Teenagers with bravado might
    want to attempt the aptly named Billy Goat Trail nearby. (On the
    Maryland side, the visitors' center is in the historic Great Falls
    Tavern, 11710 MacArthur Boulevard, in Potomac, 301-767-3714; there is
    also a visitor's center on the Virginia side, 703-285-2965.)

    IT'S easy to find ways to spend an hour or so of downtime in
    Washington. For those with small children, the train table at Barstons
    Child's Play (5536 Connecticut Avenue NW, near Chevy Chase Circle;
    202-244-3602) will provide a welcome respite. The books section is
    stellar, a sort of minibookstore.

    If your children are in need of running-around time, head a few blocks
    west to Livingston Park (at the intersection of Livingston Street and
    Reno Road), an excellent neighborhood playground.

    And for some adult-child relaxation, Politics and Prose (5015
    Connecticut Avenue NW; 202-364-1919), a world-class independent
    bookstore, boasts a good children's section downstairs, with a cozy
    hidden-away nest called the Rabbit Hole, complete with pillows and a
    few prebattered you-don't-have-to-buy-'em books.

    Hungry? A little-known fact is that Washington is a great pizza town,
    which of course makes it a great eating destination for kids. Pizzeria
    Paradiso, with outposts in Dupont Circle and Georgetown (2029 P Street
    NW, 202-223-1245; and 3282 M Street NW, 202-337-1245), has what many
    devotees swear is the best pizza in the city. The lamb and pork
    sandwiches are also fairly addictive.

    Pizzeria Paradiso's former owner, Peter Pastan, opened Two Amys with a
    partner a few years ago in the shadow of the National Cathedral (3715
    Macomb Street; 202-885-5700). The name honors the owners' wives, and
    the pizza is outstanding. The appetizers are unlike any you'll find in
    most pizza joints, and include an unusual dish of deviled eggs in a
    Spanish-style green sauce, and suppli, a heart-stopping rendition of
    Italian fried rice balls. Meals at all these restaurants average $20 a

    For scrumptious blueberry pancakes on a Saturday morning or crab-cake
    sandwiches any day, head to Eastern Market (225 Seventh Street SE,
    202544-0083), a wonderful old city market in a handsome 19th-century
    red-brick building on Capitol Hill. Breakfast or lunch is well under
    $10 a person.

    After a stroll or bike ride on the Georgetown section of the C & O
    Canal towpath, you'll be near the elegant new Leopold's Kafe &
    Konditorei (3315 M Street; 202-965-6005). Its décor is in the
    super-streamlined Design Within Reach mode but its menu is straight
    out of old Vienna. The seductive pastry case is hard to bypass, and
    the other selections run the gamut from eggs with smoked ham for
    breakfast ("fruehstueck" on the menu) to a hearty veal schnitzel.
    Prices range from $10 for a snack to $30 and up for a meal.

    Hotels in all price ranges abound in and around Washington (check the
    Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation's Web site,
    www.washington.org, for options). A safe bet for families is the Hyatt
    Regency Washington (400 New Jersey Avenue NW, 202-737-1234), which has
    a pool in a health club available to guests for $12 a day at a
    convenient Capitol Hill location. Standard rooms are generally $179 to
    $219, but often less online or in packages.

    If you're on a budget or would like to stay in a residential
    neighborhood, try one of the two antiques-filled Kalorama Guest
    Houses. These B & B complexes are in the Woodley Park neighborhood
    (2700 Cathedral Avenue, 202-328-0860) near the National Zoo and in the
    restaurant-filled Adams Morgan area (1854 Mintwood Place NW,
    202-667-6369). Rooms are $55 to $135 a night (children must be at
    least 6).

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