Hidden Gems in DC – 15 Free & Outdoor

If you are looking to get off the beaten path, check out one of these hidden gems in DC. All spots are outdoor, kid-friendly, and free! I’ve organized them by Hidden Gems and Off the Beaten Path Memorials and Google Map at the end.

Hidden Gems in DC

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Outdoor Hidden Gems in DC

DC Alley Museum – Northwest DC

Kids will love the bright colors at the DC Alley Museum and parents will love all the photo ops! The DC Alley Museum is always open and an outdoor collective of public art. There are between 5-10 art pieces up with tags for the artists’ social media to view more.

Tip for Families: We stopped at La Colombe coffee shop in the alley for a snack, great coffee, and restrooms.

Location: Blagden Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001

Website

hidden gems in dc alley museum

‘Secret’ Walking Museum of Transportation, Southeast DC

Do you know there’s a Walking Museum of Transportation outside the Department of Transportation in Southeast DC? My kids love this spot and it was so interesting! There are about 10 different displays in front and in the alleyway behind DOT’s headquarters. They follow the history of transportation in America starting with covered wagons, submarines, cars, boats, and airplanes.

Tip for Families: The museum is only 2 blocks from The Yards Park and Canal Park. Two great spots in the summer with splash pads as well as great any time of year to run around with kids.

Location: 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE DC

Website

transportation museum dc hidden gems

Kingman and Heritage Islands, Northeast DC

Kingman Island and Heritage Island are man-made islands in the Anacostia River. They were completed in 1916 and are now owned by the city of DC and are designated as a State Conservation Area and the southern area of Kingman Island as a Critical Wildlife Area. There are lovely boardwalks, bridges, public art, and even sometimes a boat you can borrow.

You can walk from the parking lot across the two bridges to both islands in 15 minutes with kids or you could spend hours exploring both islands! ⁣

Tip for Families: The Fields at RFK Stadium has an amazing playground just a block away from the islands… and permanent restrooms!

Location: 575 Oklahoma Ave NE, Washington, DC⁣

Website


Franciscan Monastery, Northeast DC

The Gardens are so much more extensive than what I thought based on pictures! We were first greeted by a very friendly security guard. Then, you enter the arched walkways around the main garden of the monastery. When you turn right and left, you enter an archway to the beautiful Gardens. This was my favorite part with surprises around each bend: little chapels, fish pond, statues, and even replicas of religious sites from the Holy Lands. ⁣They have beautiful roses in the summer and it was also beautifully serene in the winter snow.

Open every day from 9 AM to 4:45 PM and FREE to enter. ⁣⁣

Tip for Families: Free parking in a large lot right across the street but note, no public restrooms. We went 2 blocks away to Yes! Organic Market to get ice cream afterward.

Location: 1400 Quincy St. NE, Washington DC ⁣

Website

Franciscan monastery off the beaten path dc

Tudor Place – One of the Georgetown DC Hidden Gems

This is an incredible hidden gem tucked into 5 acres in Georgetown. Tudor Place is beautiful, historical, free, fun for kids and visitors of all ages, and has clean restrooms! It was the home to Martha Washington’s descendants, enslaved workers, and servants for 178 years. It sits on 5.5 acres of beautiful gardens 2 blocks from Wisconsin Ave. ⁣⁣

The building is sometimes open to the public for self-guided tours but check their website for opening times and if you need to reserve free tickets ahead of time.

Tip for Families: You can usually see friendly bunnies on the east lawn, learn about the sundial, and free kids maps to explore the formal gardens!

Location: 1644 31st St NW, Washington, DC 20007

Website

off the beaten path dc tudor place georgetown

Fort Lincoln, Northeast DC

My kids and I love Fort Lincoln! It has a lot of history as it was built to defend DC during the Civil War. And it’s great for imaginative and creative play! There are brick pyramids, bridges, pathways for kids to explore. There are towers and benches and is a great spot for a picnic. It is located in the far northeast corner of DC close to the Arboretum and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. There is also a small playground at the bottom of the hill.

Tip for Families: Fort Lincoln is just a minute away from a huge shopping center with Costco and Chick-Fil-A among other stores for a quick meal on your way to or from the Fort.

Location: 3201 Fort Lincoln Dr. NE, Washington, DC 20018 (park here and go up the hill).

I wrote more about this spot at Social Distancing Activities in DC.

Fort Lincoln hidden gems of washington dc

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Northeast DC

This is the only National Park Service site that is dedicated to aquatic gardens. There are 45 ponds filled with beautiful flowers, plants, and tons of turtles!⁣

They are famous for the water lilies and lotus festival which is in July.

Tip for Families: The parking lot gate closes at 4 PM so you must leave by 4 PM. ⁣The bookstore is closed but they had an info table outside with Jr. Ranger Booklets and stamps. Pick up the activity books before you explore as some of the activities relate to the gardens (See pics in stories! we picked up on our way out but fun to do in our car too)⁣

Location: 1550 Anacostia Ave NE, Washington, DC⁣

Website

kenilworth aquatic gardens off the beaten path dc

Congressional Cemetary, Northeast DC

While a cemetery might not come to mind when you think of Hidden Gems, let me introduce you to “America’s Hippest Cemetary!” The Congressional Cemetary is located in northeast DC it includes 35 acres, tons of history, and stunning cherry blossoms in the spring.

The Cemetery is open from dawn to dusk daily. 

Tip for Families: Lots of dogs are off-leash which can be so fun to watch but also heads up for little ones!

Location: 1801 E St SE, Washington, DC 20003

Website

congressional cemetery hidden gems of washington dc

Bishop’s Garden (and Beuvoir Playground) at the National Cathedral, Northwest DC

This lovely “secret garden” is on the south side of the Washington National Cathedral in northwest DC. My kids and I love coming here in all seasons to explore the little stone pathways, pavilion, small fish pond, and open grass lawn. It is open from dawn to dusk.

Tip for Families: A lovely addition to your garden visit is to check out one of the coolest playgrounds in DC at the next-door National Cathedral Elementary school, Beauvoir. All the details here.

Location: Pilgrim Rd, Washington, DC 20016

Website

national cathedral dc bishop's garden off the beaten path dc

Off the Beaten Path Memorials as Hidden Gems in Washington, D.C.

  1. Albert Einstein Memorial, 2191 Constitution Ave. NW DC
  2. Titanic Memorial, Southwest Waterfront Park, SW DC
  3. Japanese American Memorial to patriotism During World War II, Lower Senate Park on D St. NE and New Jersey Ave. NW (My first boss in DC took me here one day because she wanted to show me the responsibilities of power and how those in power can wield it unjustly.)
  4. Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden, 3100 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
  5. Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac, George Washington Memorial Pkwy, Washington, DC 20037
  6. Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, 2100-2120 Q St NW, Washington, DC 20008

Map of Hidden Gems in DC

Finally, if you’re visiting or local to DC, I’ve created a list of Unique DC Kids Gifts that you might find interesting! Includes a DC-specific sticker book and my current favorite gift to give new moms, Washington DC ABCs board book.