5 Lessons from 12 Years Living in the DMV

Washington DC Virginia Maryland

Our family has loved living in the DMV (Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area) for the past 12 years… 10 as a mom! As we move to our next chapter, I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned as a parent in the DC area. This is all from my personal perspective so please take it as just my opinion! I wrote it from the perspective of telling a friend who was moving to the area.

dc family

1. Making Parent Friends

My #1 recommendation for making parent friends in the DMV is to go to your neighborhood library storytime or local playground! And if you can, 'say hi first.' I can’t promise it will work 100% of the time but I did meet my closest local mom friend at a library Storytime and we've been friends the past 9 years! Our daughters were 18 months old and she said hi first and we swapped numbers. I learned from S’s example and when my son was little, I tried to say hi first at Storytimes. I made a close friend that way and we did a lot of play dates together. Local libraries have storytimes and activities for ALL ages of kids almost every day listed on their websites! And 60+ DMV Playgrounds here.

2. Use the free Museums! (and my best parking tip)

I’m like a broken record, but we are so lucky to live near world-class museums that are mostly all FREE! I just spent time in NYC where museums were $29-$40 per person. Most of the museums don't require timed passes which makes them easy drop-in locations on a rainy day or a scorching summer day. (I have a list of 20 for kids in DC, 17 are free!)

I feel like having access to free museums takes the pressure off parents that it has to be the “perfect outing.” If kids are having a bad day, you can just leave early.... if kids need to run around more, go out to the Mall and run a bit. Plus the educational aspect means you might learn something and you will definitely learn what your child is interested in!

Our Family's Favorite DC Museums:

  1. For babies and toddlers: National Postal Museum (My full free Guide) or American History Museum (Wegman's Wonderplace)
  2. Current family fav (esp. for out-of-town guests): Planet Word near Franklin Park in NW
  3. For teens: International Spy Museum is actually pretty cool (paid museum)

Best Arrival Time to the National Mall Smithsonians - 9:45 AM!

From my years of going to the National Mall Smithsonians, 9:45 is the sweet spot to avoid rush hour traffic if you are driving or on the Metro and get in line before more folks arrive at 9:55 AM. It may seem like a small thing to arrive 15 mins before the museums open at 10 AM, but it will make a world of difference! I’ve found parking right in front of the museums on Madison Ave. or Independence Ave. Even in the summer busy season on a weekday! From my experience, school groups and touring buses come a little later around 11 so you get the place relatively crowdless for an hour! My kids are usually happier in the morning and you can coax them with lunch after you visit a few exhibits!

dc National Postal Museum

National Postal Museum

3. Take advantage of the DC area's rich cultural diversity

One of the most rewarding aspects of living here is the opportunity to engage with people from various backgrounds and learn about different cultures. There are so many ways to introduce your kids to different cultures from amazing restaurants, food halls, cultural events, and festivals. Below are some ideas:

aj restaurant

A&J Restaurant!

4. Thrift Stores and Consignment Sales are the best:

I don’t have to tell you that the DC area is expensive! We’ve saved money through the baby and early elementary years by buying about 75% of my kids' clothes and shoes at thrift stores and consignment sales. Kids grow out of clothes so often that most used clothes are in great condition and so much cheaper at Thrift Stores. My 2 favs:

  1. Unique Thrift Storenear Mosaic in Falls Church/Merrifield: The size of a Walmart! Great shoes and kids section and women's section. I highly recommend not going on weekends or holidays because it can get crazy busy. If you bring a bag of donations, you receive a 20% off coupon you can use that day.
  2. Christ Church Consignment Sale in Fairfax Station (usually March and maybe a fall one?)

5. Experience the Big Events... at least once!

The DMV area is home to several iconic events that are worth experiencing, even if it's just once. Here are a few notable ones to add to your bucket list:

  1. Cherry Blossoms at Tidal Basin: Yes it's the biggest tourist event of the year in DC but for good reason! The Cherry Blossoms are truly beautiful and I wrote 10 places to see the blossoms on and off the tidal basin.
  2. Kite Festival in front of the Washington Monument: The annual Kite Festival during the Cherry Blossom Festival is such a colorful and unique DC event on the National Mall. All my tips including parking here.
  3. Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Sometime in June and July, the National Mall is filled with one of my favorite festivals. The Smithsonian's Folklife Festival highlights a couple of countries and areas of the US and usually is very interactive with performances, food, crafts, and cool displays. Check out their website to see more for this year. (and make sure you bring plenty of water because the Mall is usually scorching hot!)
  4. Tulips in Burnside Farm: The largest tulip fields on the East Coast, is one of our family's favorite traditions! All the details and tips from our trips are here.
  5. Holiday Light Displays: There are tons of great holiday light displays but our family's favorites are the Brookside Gardens Winter Walk of Lights in Wheaton Maryland and Meadowlark Botanical Garden's lights in Vienna, Virginia. Details for all 20 Holiday Lights in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
dc kite festival