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Every March and April, families book spring break trips to Washington, D.C. , to tour museums and government buildings amid the blossoming cherry trees.
If your clients are reconsidering a tour of the nation’s capital due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reassure them that plenty of attractions in and around the district are welcoming families for fun, educational and outdoor activities.
Editor’s Note: Current tourism guidelines require visitors to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel if they are arriving from a state that has more than 10 daily cases per 100,000 people, and to get tested three to five days after arrival if visiting for more than three days. Face coverings are mandatory. Because the situation is constantly in flux, advisors are encouraged to confirm hours of operation, the availability of services and the most updated travel requirements before booking.
The Mall, Memorials and Tidal BasinThe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials — and all the outdoor memorials along the National Mall and Tidal Basin area — remain open to visitors. The Washington Monument, on the other hand, has a closed interior but presents the perfect backdrop for picnics and family photos.
Families will want to take advantage of warm, sunny days to tour the memorials on foot. (Suggest those visiting by car bring scooters to keep little legs — and attention spans — from tiring out.) Visitors can also get a lift, and some commentary, on Big Bus Tours’ hop-on, hop-off bus route around the Mall.
National Cherry Blossom Festival The Tidal Basin is also the premier spot for viewing D.C.’s iconic cherry trees. The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs March 20 through April 11 — during peak flower season — and a social distancing plan for the Tidal Basin area will be in place for this year’s festivities. Around the city, families should keep an eye out for 25 larger-than-life cherry blossom sculptures created by a team of artists, or grab a map and go on a Petal Porch Parade to see residents’ flower-themed decorations.
International Spy MuseumThe Smithsonian museums remain closed indefinitely, but the privately owned International Spy Museum is open Fridays and on weekends. Upon arrival, families are issued their own secret mission to pursue as they explore exhibits on spy gear, code-cracking and spies throughout history. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
City Parks and GardensD.C.’s urban parks are often skipped by tourists, but clients may prefer nature-based exploration to navigating indoor attractions during the pandemic. Visitors to the National Arboretum can picnic at the Grove of State Trees, meander through themed gardens or stop for a photo at the National Capitol Columns. (Yes, they really used to be part of the Capitol building!)
The Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, along the Anacostia River, is a metro-accessible marshland. It’s the perfect place for kids to stretch their legs on short hiking trails and spot birds, animals and wildflowers in the woods and wetlands.
On the Mall, the Hirshhorn Museum’s outdoor sculpture garden offers alfresco art appreciation, approved by kids who would rather use their outdoor voices while posing for photos with a Burgher of Calais sculpture. Meanwhile, down the block, the Enid A. Haupt Garden, by the Smithsonian Castle and Independence Ave., is an often-overlooked but pandemic-friendly attraction that’s normally bypassed by museum-goers in a hurry. Suggest clients use COVID-19 closures as an excuse to slow down and peruse the French, Chinese and Moorish gardens there.
Mount Vernon and Gunston HallHistory buffs and fans of “Hamilton” can tour the home and grounds of George Washington's Mount Vernon just outside D.C. Advance-purchase tickets are required to maintain social distancing, and certain buildings are closed. Families shouldn’t miss the historic outbuildings where Washington’s slaves lived and worked, along with the Pioneer Farm.
Clients wanting more Revolutionary-era education should head south along the Potomac River to Gunston Hall, the former home of lesser-known founding father George Mason. Guided tours take visitors into a few of the mansion’s rooms, the kitchen and outbuildings, and families are free to explore the grounds, hiking trails and visitor center exhibits on their own.
Outdoor National ParksFollow the locals to Great Falls, a National Park Service site where the Potomac River gets adventurous. The park is split into two by the river; the Maryland side is the better bet for its popular Billy Goat hiking trail and Chesapeake & Ohio Canal history.
Families with little kids might prefer a visit to Oxon Hill Farm while Smithsonian’s National Zoo is closed due to COVID-19. Here, they can make friends with animals and peek into historic farm buildings.
Farther afield, Prince William Forest Park is an under-appreciated national forest. The gorgeous spot for hiking is 30 miles out of town, but worth the trek for hikers and bikers who want to enjoy a wooded wonderland and creek-side trails.
Georgetown and AlexandriaFinally, families who feel comfortable shopping and visiting restaurants will want to spend an afternoon in D.C.’s historic Georgetown neighborhood or Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. These charming riverfront destinations feature cobblestone streets and Revolutionary-era architecture; boutiques and restaurants with patio seating; and convenient public transit access. (As of press time, D.C. allows indoor dining at 25% capacity.)
The DetailsDestination DC www.washington.org