A Parents' Guide to a Winter Break Staycation in Washington, DC

Posted by Robin Gellman and Jess Rosenbaum on 12/17/14 12:00 PM

Updated: 12-20-18

As we all hurtle toward winter break, you may be planning a "staycation" on the basis that there's no shortage of cultural and historical activities for your family in our nation's capital. After all, folks come from all over the world to avail themselves of DC's history, arts, and culture.

But hold on! What if your kid is just not wired for an all-day outing to see the original Declaration of Independence, the Van Goghs and Picassos at the National Gallery of Art, or Duke Ellington’s hangouts in DC?

If your kid is the one who, after 60 seconds in an art museum, says, “I’m done,” then we've got some great ideas for you. For those of you whose kids do better climbing, bouncing, and playing than touring museums or standing in line to visit The White House, we've got ideas. Compiled by Lowell parents with active kids, these places are tried and tested!

And, of course, culture and action are NOT mutually exclusive. Try mixing it up—a morning of climbing and an afternoon of museums, or an afternoon of swimming followed by an evening of theater. Consider your time, budget, and the “family-sanity quotient” and choose things that make the outing successful for everyone.

We’ve also included some winter break camps in case you are looking for multi-day options for the kids.

Holiday Light Shows

Brighten up the winter nights with some local holiday light shows. 

Garden of Lights at Brookside Garden

  • Location: 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 
  • Activity: A must see! Bundle up and take an evening walk through the woods to see hundreds of spectacular holiday light formations. (through Jan. 3)
  • Cost: $25 per car/van, Sunday–Thursday; $30 per car/van, Friday and Saturday
  • http://www.montgomeryparks.org/brookside-gardens/garden-of-lights/

 ZooLights at the National Zoo

The National Christmas Tree

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity: Visit the National Christmas Tree behind the White House—illuminated with hundreds of energy-saving LED lights to illuminate the night sky
  • Cost: Free
  • http://thenationaltree.org/plan-your-visit/


Nothing beats a classic family film or a live performance.

Home Movies

  • Location: The comfort of your couch!
  • Activity: Family movie marathon—Find recommendations and reviews organized by age on the Common Sense Media list. 
  • Cost: Rental Cost
  • Ages: Check ratings before watching.
  • https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews

Arena Stage Theatre

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity: Theater
  • Ages: Varies
  • Cost: Kids only pay their age! Adult tickets prices vary
  • http://www.arenastage.org

 Imagination Stage Theatre

  • Location: Bethesda, MD
  • Activity: Performances, workshops, break camps
  • Ages: Programming for children beginning at 1 year-year-old
  • Cost: Depends on performance or workshop
  • http://www.imaginationstage.org/


Get your ice-skating mojo back with these options that will give you terrific views of DC. 

National Gallery of Art Ice-Skating Rink

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity: Also known as the “Sculpture Garden Ice Rink,” this venue allows you to ice-skate feet away from some of the greatest modern and contemporary sculptures.
  • Cost: Children: $8; adults: $9.00; skate rental: $4.00
  • http://www.nga.gov/visit/ice-rink.html 

Washington Harbour Ice-Skating 

  • Location: Washington, DC; 202-706-7666
  • Activity: See beautiful views of the Potomac while ice-skating in the heart of Georgetown.
  • Cost: Children: $9.00; adults: $10.00; seniors and military: $9.00; skate rental: $6.00
  • http://www.thewashingtonharbour.com/ice-skating

Downtown Silver Spring Ice-Skating

  • Location: 8523 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, MD; 301-588-1221
  • Activity: After lunch and a little shopping, go for a skate in downtown Silver Spring’s outdoor
  • Cost: 12 and under: $8.00; 13 and older: $9,00; seniors: $5.00; skate rental (toddler 7 – adult 14)
  • http://www.silverspringiceskating.com

Canal Park Ice-Skating

  • Location: Washington, DC at 2nd& M Streets SE
  • Activity: This new park offers public skating and lessons.
  • Cost: Children: $8.00; adults: $9.00; skate rentals: $5.00
  • http://www.canalparkiceskating.com

Cabin John Ice Rink

Wheaton Ice Arena

Climbing • Trampolining • Bouncing

Earth Treks Climbing Centers

  • Location: Columbia and Rockville, MD
  • Activity: Indoor rock climbing
  • Ages: 5 and up
  • Cost: Entrance fees vary, depending on how often you're climbing
  • https://www.earthtreksclimbing.com


Bounce U


  • Location:  Sterling, VA (near Dulles)
  • Activity: Indoor trampoline park, open jump
  • Ages: All
  • Cost: $15 per half hour; $20 per hour
  • http://rebounderzsterling.com

Bowling—Mini-Golf—Laser Tag

Monster Mini-Golf

Shadowlands Laser Tag

Lucky Strike Bowling


White Oak Duck Pin Bowling

  • Location: Silver Spring, MD
  • Activity: Duck pin (small pins) bowling
  • Ages: All
  • Cost: $5.00 weekdays and $6.00 weekends (per game), plus $4.50 shoe rental
  • http://www.whiteoaklanes.com/

Arts and Crafts

All Fired Up

  • Location: Washington, DC; Bethesda, MD
  • Activity: Pottery making, mosaics, fused glass (DC location only)
  • Ages: All
  • Cost: Pottery ranges from $2-$60, depending on piece; no additional costs
  • http://allfiredupdc.com/fused-glass-2.html

Color Me Mine

A Day Out in Baltimore

Port Discovery

  • Location: Baltimore, MD (Inner Harbor)
  • Activity: Hands-on learning through play; huge indoor climbing frame
  • Ages: 0-10
  • Cost: 2 and up: $15.95
  • http://www.portdiscovery.org/

National Aquarium

  • Location: Baltimore, MD (Inner Harbor)
  • Activity: World-class aquarium
  • Ages: All
  • Cost: Under 3: free; ages 3-11: $24.95; adults: $39.95; 65+: $34.95
  • http://www.aqua.org/

Maryland Science Center

  • Location: Baltimore, MD (inner harbor)
  • Activity: A wide-variety of hands-on science exhibitions, from space to dinosaurs to the human body; cool bed of nails; terrific playroom for kids
  • Ages: All
  • Cost: Ages 3-12: $18.95; adult: $24.95; senior: 23.95
  • http://www.mdsci.org/

A Few Museums 

Smithsonian Udvar–Hazy Center

College Park Aviation Museum

International Spy Museum

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity:  largest collection of espionage-related artifacts plus interactive experiences and rotating exhibits (on now: “50 Years of Bond Villains”)
  • Ages: All
  • Cost: 7-11: $14.95; 12 and up: $22.95; seniors: $16.95
  • http://www.spymuseum.org

 National Building Museum

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity: Building room for kids and architecture exhibitions
  • Ages: All
  • Cost: Youth and seniors: $7; adults: $10
  • https://www.nbm.org/

National Geographic Museum

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity: Ongoing, kid-friendly exhibitions
  • Ages: All
  • Cost: Under 4: free; children: $10; adults: $15; students and seniors: $12
  • https://www.nationalgeographic.org/

Museums + Monuments Near the National Mall

Smithsonian Air & Space Museum

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity: History of flight and space travel w/ kids activity room and IMAX films
  • Ages: All
  • Cost: Free
  • http://airandspace.si.edu/

Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History

The Newseum

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity: Exhibits are designed with future journalists in mind. Do a weather forecast in front of a green screen or get your photo critiqued by a professional photojournalist.
  • Cost: Youth: $14.95; adults: $24.95; seniors: $19.95
  • www.newseum.org

National Museum of Women in the Arts

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity: View the work of remarkable women artists of the past and some of the best women artists working today.
  • Cost: Youth under 18: free; students and seniors $8; adults: $10
  • http://nmwa.org

National Gallery of Art

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Activity: Viewing world-class art collection—from Van Gogh to Jacob Lawrence and Mary Cassatt, it’s never too early to expose the kids! This year, special exhibitions include “Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940-1950” and “Sense of Humor.”
  • Cost: Free
  • http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb.html

Winter Mini-Break Camps

These engaging camps cater to many different personalities and passions.

Got a performer? Imagination Stage

Children age 3-1/2 to 12th grade can participate in creative dance, acting, visual art and more at Imagination Stage Winter Break Camps. Half and full day options available. 

Got a musician? Bach to Rock

 Try Bach to Rock World Tour Camp Program and Rock Band Winter Camp. Children ages 4–7 can explore music from around the world through musical and movement-based activities, exposure to instruments, and musically inspired story-time. Classes focus on foundational musical concepts and skill development. Children ages 4–17 can be part of a band experience.

  • Cost: Prices vary depending on program number of days and age of child
  • Location: 4819 Saint Elmo Avenue, Bethesda, MD
  • https://www.b2rmusic.com/camps

Got a dancer? Ballet Petite

Ballet Petite is offering a Winter Wonderland Camp; Children 3—7 years can choose from a half day or all-day session. 

Got a gymnast? Silver Star Gymnastics

Children ages 3 ½  to 15 can enjoy 18,000 square feet of gymnastics space and everything from monkey bars to ropes to trampoline at Silver Stars Gymnastics. Half and full day options available.

  • Dates: December 24, 26, 27, 28, 31
  • Cost: Check your location
  • Location: 2701 Pittman Drive, Silver Spring, MD
  • gosilverstars.com           

 Please share your ideas for the best winter break staycation ever!

Looking for a school for your child?

Lowell School is an independent school in the Colonial Village neighborhood of Washington, DC, that offers Pre-Primary, Primary, and Middle School programs. It offers a rigorous and hands-on curriculum that nurtures each child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, and supports the development of individual voice and self-reliance. For more information, please call 202-577-2000, email admissions@lowellschool.org, or follow Lowell on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Topics: Family Activities