Visiting Washington DC With A Toddler

Author: Meredith Adkisson and Celine Brewer

Last Updated:

Planning a family adventure? If you’re considering visiting Washington, DC with a toddler, we’ve got you covered! Our tips for traveling with small children guarantee hassle-free metro rides and enjoyable dining experiences at family-oriented restaurants.

My husband and I have visited Washington D.C. many times before having kids. It really is an incredible city with so much to experience, you never run out of things to do. And so much of it is free! There’s a reason it tops so many lists of places to visit in the US.

When my husband told me he had a work trip to DC and asked if we wanted to join him, I jumped at the chance.

My girls would be seven, four, and 18 months at the time of the trip. Since my husband would be working, I knew I’d be on my own with the girls for most of the trip. So, I braced myself for the probable exhaustion and set out to plan an unforgettable week-long trip for our family.

couple standing in front of Lincoln memorial.

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Getting From the Airport to Our Accommodations in Washington DC

The girls and I flew out of DFW Airport and arrived at Ronald Reagan International Airport in the evening. 

Since we were planning to only use public transportation, we decided to not travel with a car seat and only brought our toddler travel stroller with us. My husband met us at the airport, and from there we took the Washington Metro to Mt. Vernon Square Station, just a short walk to our hotel.

girls on play airplane.

Where To Stay In Washington, DC

Since my husband was working at the DC Convention Center during our trip, we stayed across the street at the Marriott Marquis. It’s a very modern, hospitable hotel. The rooms were spacious enough for five people with the added toddler travel bed

3 young girls in bed reading a book.

We had access to the concierge lounge, which provided breakfast on weekdays and snacks and beverages every day. Even though the lounge is technically for two adult guests, the concierge team was very accommodating to my daughters.

The hotel was also convenient to a Metro station, making travel around DC easy.

2 girls standing by sidewalk.

Transportation In Washington DC With A Toddler

One of the things I love about Washington D.C. is how easy it is to get around. My three kids and I commuted all over DC on the Metro and walked where we couldn’t ride. I alternated between a lightweight stroller and toddler travel carrier for my toddler, while my four and seven-year-old walked.

Young girl in stroller.

I would be really hesitant to rent a car and drive. Washington DC is one of the worst US cities to drive in. The Metro is a lifesaver! If you do decide to rent a car, be sure to bring along some of my favorite toys for toddlers in the car to keep them occupied.

Tips For Traveling With Toddlers In Washington DC

Avoid Rush Hour on the Metro

Rush hour on the Metro is overwhelming and can be very difficult if you’re pushing a stroller.

young girl smiling.

Eating In Restaurants

We specifically looked for places that would be toddler friendly. In Washington DC, it’s easy to find family-friendly dining. Or you can choose a stroller-friendly patio or park and dine outdoors.

Changing A Toddler On The Go

It was easy to find places with a changing table. All the museums have changing tables, as do most restaurants and hotel lobby restrooms. Don’t forget to bring your travel changing mat for the trip!

Where To Buy Diapers And Food

There are CVS stores, as well as markets all over Washington DC, making it easy to find diapers and groceries.

family at a park.

Playgrounds

There are playgrounds and parks all over D.C. However, most of the playgrounds are away from the National Mall and museums, so we usually opted for nearby parks for picnics.

Where To Eat

There are so many incredible food options in Washington DC! However, dining with a toddler and two other little kids can be difficult.

We ate breakfast at our hotel almost every day. For lunch, we often took advantage of the beautiful spring weather and picnicked at one of the nearby parks.

3 girls sitting on a park bench.

I also loved the dining options at Union Station for a quick bite. There are lots of fast-casual options, which was super convenient when getting on or off the Metro.

Young girl standing outside ellas pizza restaurant.

My oldest daughter turned seven on our trip, so she got to pick one of the meals. She chose Ella’s Wood-Fired Pizza since it shares her name. The pizza was delicious and the restaurant was family-friendly.

We love an excellent diner-style breakfast, so we picked a morning my husband was free and ate at Lincoln’s Waffle Shop. It’s located next to Ford’s Theater in a charming building. It’s popular, so get there early!

4 Toddler Travel Essentials To Bring To Washington DC

If you are wondering which toddler travel essentials to pack, here are the top 4 things I would recommend bringing on your trip to Washington DC with a toddler:

  1. Travel Stroller and Carrier:
    If you’re taking the Metro, you’ll want a smaller-sized stroller to make it easier to get around with your baby or toddler. I love this lightweight and budget-friendly stroller option, with cup holders, a decent-sized storage basket, and a reclining seat. You could also opt for a baby carrier. I love the Ergobaby and used it all the time when traveling with my baby and toddler.
  2. Diaper Bag Backpack:
    A diaper bag backpack like this one is perfect for keeping everything on hand that you might need for your toddler when you’re out and about sightseeing all day. You can even clip your diaper bag backpack onto your stroller when your shoulders need a break.
  3. Travel High Chair:
    When a high chair isn’t available, this super compact travel high chair is perfect. It rolls up small, taking up little space in your backpack. If you want something a little sturdier, these other portable travel high chairs are a great choice.
  4. Picnic Blanket:
    If you’ll be picnicking in parks like we often did, a packable waterproof blanket is ideal. It easily folds up tiny and keeps you off the wet grass.

The 7 Best Things To Do In Washington DC With A Toddler

It seems like the list of things to do in Washington DC is never-ending. There is so much there to experience. That can be exhausting when you’re traveling with little ones. We did our best to narrow it down to activities that our toddler and young daughters would really enjoy.

White House

While we didn’t have a tour booked, I wanted to show the White House to my older two girls and stop for a photo op.

family standing in front of the White House.

In true toddler fashion, my daughter had a diaper blow-out on the Metro. Fortunately, there’s a gorgeous historic hotel, the Hay Adams, across the street from the White House with a restroom in the lobby we were able to use. After that, we snapped a few photos in front of the White House.

Washington Monument, Reflecting Pool, World War II Memorial, And Lincoln Memorial

We waited until my husband was available to visit these memorials with us. 

Washington Momument in the background.

The Washington Monument is directly across from the Lincoln Memorial with the World War II Memorial and the Reflecting Pool in between, so it’s ideal to visit them all at the same time.

Family sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Strollers aren’t allowed in the Lincoln Memorial, so plan to bring a carrier for your baby or toddler or be prepared to carry them around.

Air And Space Museum

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is one of the most visited museums in the United States. You can experience and explore artifacts from the first flights to outer space travel, like the command module and a recovered engine from the Apollo 11 first moon-landing mission. You can also see Neil Armstrong’s space suit he wore when he first stepped on the moon.

If you and your kids love planes, then you’ll love seeing all the fantastic aircraft like the 1903 Wright Flyer.

There is a baby care/nursing room located next to every restroom in the museum, which was awesome.

When you’re planning your visit, check their event page. We were able to catch a toddler-friendly story time when we visited. They also have family days and other free events!

National Postal Museum

This was my daughters’ favorite museum! We weren’t originally planning to visit, but we had an afternoon to fill and decided to try it. It was so much fun!

This Smithsonian Museum is free and does not require reservations. We visited around 3 pm on a weekday, and it wasn’t crowded. The museum has a free kids’ guide you can follow, so you don’t miss out on any of the fun exhibits.

kids playing in the front of a postal mail truck.

My girls’ favorite things to do were writing postcards to friends and family, making a stamp collection, and sorting packages like a postal worker. They also have a stagecoach and semi-truck that toddlers and bigger kids can climb around on.

I wish we’d planned more time for this museum because it was that much fun and very family-friendly!

young girl playing in postal museum truck.

Smithsonian National Museum Of Natural History

I visited the Smithsonian Natural History Museum before I had kids and just knew I had to bring them here! This stroller-friendly museum is free to enter and doesn’t require reserved tickets. Take note that a family restroom is located on the first floor, as well as a dedicated nursing room.

When you enter the museum you’ll meet the African bush elephant, Henry. From there you can explore all the incredible exhibits.

One of our favorites was the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals where you can see the Hope diamond and tons of other gorgeous gems and minerals. Another favorite is the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils where you’ll be amazed by the giant t-rex. Every exhibit there is top-notch and worth visiting.

If you plan ahead, you can visit the Butterfly Pavilion, which is open Tuesday- Saturday but closed on Sunday and Monday and requires timed entry tickets, which are available only on-site at the Butterfly Pavilion ticket desk.

Plan to spend at least half a day at the Natural History Museum, so you can experience as much as possible.

United States Botanic Garden

We decided to drop in the United States Botanic Garden on our last afternoon in DC. And I’m so glad we did! We were blown away by these gorgeous gardens and were surprised at the hands-on activities for kids.

Mom and girls in front of botanic garden.

We started indoors in the conservatory. You can explore different habitats in this multi-level sensory experience. It’s stroller friendly with easy-to-access elevators.

kids digging in a garden.

After that, we headed outside to the Children’s Garden, which was our absolute favorite thing we did with our kids in D.C! The Children’s Garden is a whole sensory experience with its climbing structures, tunnels to walk through, and the opportunity for kids to dig, water, and plant. It’s a beautiful garden with plenty of shade. The girls planted and replanted and replanted again and my toddler finally got her chance to play in the water.

The Children’s Garden is open seasonally from spring to fall, but check their website for opening dates.

young girl playing in water.

Smithsonian National Zoo

The National Zoo was the thing my girls were most excited about visiting! We’d been dying to see pandas in real life, and it did not disappoint!

Panda in its habitat at the zoo.

The National Zoo is one of three zoos in the United States to host giant pandas, making them the most popular animals at the zoo. Before our trip, we became acquainted with the zoo’s giant pandas via their Panda Cam. So when we arrived we made a beeline to Asia Trail first thing and waited in a 45-minute line at the Panda House. And it was so worth the wait!

When your kids are ready for a stroller and animal break, take them to the Prairie Playground near the prairie dogs or at the Kids Farm. They’ll also love the Speedwell Conservation Carousel, one of the only solar-powered carousels. If it’s warm weather when you’re visiting, you can take them to the Squirt Zone splash pad to play.

Outside food and drinks are allowed at the zoo and there are many dining options available. We packed a picnic lunch and bought ice cream cones that afternoon.

If you’re looking for a private, indoor space to breastfeed or pump, there’s only one in the zoo located inside the Think Tank. The National Zoo website says to expect 2-3 hours to see all the animals, but we made a day of it and spent closer to five hours there.

Final Thoughts On Visiting Washington DC With A Toddler

Washington DC is an incredibly family-friendly city. And since so many of the museums and attractions are free, it makes it an affordable place to visit. 

young girl smiling at the camera.

With so much to do, try not to over-plan, so you can take the time to really enjoy the museums, parks, and gardens that you do visit with your toddler in Washington DC!

Other USA Destinations with a Toddler

visiting Washington DC

This post was written & edited by:

Meredith Adkisson
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Meredith lives in Cowtown, aka Fort Worth, Texas with her husband Brian, three daughters, and three cats. When she isn't writing about travel and family fun, you might find her relaxing on a patio with an iced coffee, dreaming up her next trip.

info@babycantravel.com | Website | + posts

Celine Brewer is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's helped millions of new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has shared her expertise on traveling with a baby or toddler by contributing to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, USA Today, the Lonely Planet magazine and Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.

Celine also writes about family travel on the site FamilyCanTravel.com, which she co-owns with her husband. Being from the Canadian Rockies, she shares her passion about her home and travel to Banff National Park and area on their site TravelBanffCanada.com.

Read more about Celine Brewer.