Tuesday, May 30, 2017

25 fun things to do with kids in and around DC in the summer

It is amazing how many different things there are to do in Washington, D.C. with kids. The top-rate museums and the National Zoo are a given, but did you know there are a number of other things you can do in and around the District?

Here are some ideas for this summer:

1. See money get printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Tickets are free and are distributed early on Monday through Friday. First come, first serve. This is a cool tour.

2. Ride the historic carousel on the National Mall and then walk through some of the nearby outdoor museum exhibits and gardens.

3. Take a ghost tour in Old Town Alexandria and hear real-life stories from days gone by.

4. Before or after your ghost tour, stop for ice cream on King Street (Pop's is a favorite in our family).

Take in the beautiful scenery at Great Falls and have a picnic before or after you explore. Pack a frisbee too!

6. See the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives.

7. Explore the gardens and try to spot butterflies and hummingbirds at Mount Vernon (also check out the farm animals and take a walk through the wooded paths).

8. Enjoy the animals and kid-oriented fun at Frying Pan Farm Park and Kidwell Farm in Herndon, Va.

9. Watch the planes fly in and out of Reagan International Airport from the National Mall, Harbor or take the Metro to the airport and watch the planes from there.

10. Learn about Colonial farm life at Claude Moore Colonial Farm (originally Turkey Run Farm) in McLean, Va.

11. Enjoy all the year-round fun to be had at Ticonderoga Farms in Chantilly, Va.

12. Go swimming at one of Fairfax County’s many pools/waterparks.

13. Visit SplashDown Waterpark in Manassas, Va. for the day. If you're local, they offer season passes.

14. Enjoy the riverfront, play areas and scenery at the National Harbor.

15. Go hiking in Manassas Battlefield Park and count how many squirrels’ nests or see how many other butterflies, hawks or other critters you can spot.

16. Visit the Butterfly Pavilion at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (Tuesdays are free – but get there early, tickets often go fast!) 

17. Rent a paddle boat for an hour and ferry yourselves around the Tidal Basin (no more than 4 to a boat).

18. While down at the Tidal Basin, have a picnic while viewing the monuments or spotting wildlife.

19. Have fun at Clemyjontri Park in McLean, Va.

20. Take a day trip and drive over the Chesapeake Bridge to visit Maryland’s nature preserves, parks or beaches.

Scene at the Terrapin Nature Reserve

21. Visit 
President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldiers' Home, located in the District, and learn about this "home for brave ideas".

22. Head on over to Burke Lake Park and go on a hike, play mini-golf, ride the carousel, ride the train and simply enjoy the great outdoors.

23. Spend a few hours learning about dinosaurs with The Dinosaur Fund (this is something I'd like to check out).

24. Plan an evening out and check out one of the many free movie nights around the region.

25. Go on a pirate ship and be a buccaneer for a day.

26. OK, I know I said 25 but as I was winding this post down I realized I forgot to mention one of my favorite summer outings, especially if looking to get those special family pics. In mid to late summer, depending on the season, Burnside Farms out in Haymarket holds its annual Summer of Sunflowers. Seriously, great photo ops! After you're done taking photos and picking your sunflowers, there are some other fun things for the kids to do too.

There are so many things to do in and around the District, and these are just 25 of them. Most of the above we’ve done ourselves but there are a few on the list that we’re hoping to get to this summer (hello, pirate ship!)

[ Related reading: Fun indoor things to do with kids in the summer in the DC area (when it's too hot to be outside!)  ]

Monday, May 22, 2017

Interesting facts about the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial

The United States Marine Corps was established on November 10, 1775, and serves an important role in the U.S. Military. A national memorial is dedicated to the Marines and is located in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of the District and the National Mall. 

Iwo Jima Memorial Washington DC
Photo of the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial taken during an evening tour

10 facts about the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial


1. The Marine Corps Memorial is also known as the “Iwo Jima Memorial” because the statue itself is based on the famous Iwo Jima photograph taken on Feb. 23, 1945 as Marines from Company E, 2nd Battalion raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima after they captured the extinct volcano during World War II. The renowned photo was taken by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press. The image won a Pulitzer Prize.

By USMC Archives from Quantico, USA (Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, 1945) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

2. The statue signifies gratitude to all of the U.S. Marines and those who have fought beside them since the branch’s inception. 

3. The Memorial was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the 179th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. on Nov. 10, 1954.

4. Felix W. de Weldon, a U.S. Navy serviceman, sculpted the statue based on the iconic photograph,
 first with a small model, then a life-sized one. Three survivors of the flag raising posed for the sculpting session to capture their faces. The faces of the three who did not survive Iwo Jima were sculpted by de Weldon based on photographs that had been taken of them. The statue was then plastered and cast in bronze. The figures in the statue are positioned as they were in Rosenthal’s original photograph.

US Marine Corps Memorial Arlington Virginia

5. The names of the Marines are Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, John Bradley, Michael Strank, Rene Gagnon and Harlon Block.

6. The monument of the Marines are 32 feet high and are raising a 60-foot bronze flagpole. The M-I rifle is 16 feet long, the carbine is 12 feet long. The entire memorial is approximately 78 feet tall.

7. The memorial sits on a granite base; the granite came from Sweden. There is a flag at the top of the pole which flies 24/7 year-round by presidential proclamation.

8. It took three trucks to bring the memorial statue to D.C. The statue was transported in pieces and welded/bolted back together once reaching Washington.

9. According to NPS, “The names and dates of every principal Marine Corps engagement since the founding of the Corps form a gold ring around the base.”

10. The statue cost $850,000 and no public funds were used to build the memorial. The money was donated by U.S. Marines, friends of the Marine Corps and Naval Service members.

If you want to visit the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, it is actually in Virginia, located on Arlington Ridge and near to the Arlington Cemetery. It is open from 6 a.m. to midnight every day. You can take the Metro to Arlington Cemetery or Rosslyn (the memorial is about a 10 to 15-minute walk from these stops) or there is some limited parking at the memorial (if you plan to visit during June or July on a Tuesday, you won’t be able to park here). Many of the tour buses also stop at this memorial, if you plan to take a tour, ask the organizers if the Iwo Jima Memorial is one of the stops.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Photos on Friday: Meems Bottom Covered Bridge (Mount Jackson, Va.)

We like to take a lot of day trips from Northern Virginia and over the last couple of years we've been heading to points west and south of the District. About two years ago we'd spotted a sign on a side road off of I-81 that there was a covered bridge in the vicinity. Didn't find it on that trip but came home and turned to good friend Google to learn more about it. The bridge is called Meems Bottom Covered Bridge and is located in Mount Jackson, Virginia. The current bridge was built in the 1890s (there were predecessors) and is one of seven covered bridges left in Virginia.

Took another ride out there and, it turns out, the bridge couldn't have been easier to find! It's literally minutes off exit 269 on I-81. This one you can actually drive through. Here are some photos from my first visit (I did make a quick February stop, but don't believe I took photos on that visit).


Monday, May 15, 2017

10 fun facts about Great Falls Park (Virginia)

In April I finally took a ride over to Great Falls Park. It's been on my list of places I want to see for a long time now and it turns out it's a lot closer than I'd thought.  Located in Fairfax County, the park is run by the National Park Service (NPS) and is a wonderful place to visit. I plan to get back there sometime this year for sure. 

Want to know more about Great Falls Park? Here are some things I'd learned:

1. There are three lookout spots to see the falls. One is located very close to the Visitor's Center and the other two are not much further. Each lookout moves you a little bit further down the river so you see different vantage points. All are beautiful! The overlooks date back to the early 20th century.

2. The waterfall flows into Mather Gorge, named for the first NPS director, Stephen T. Mather.

3. The area where the park now is situated was once a trading place for American Indians and the early Colonists. The area itself dates back about 10,000, according to NPS, the first known people to live in the area were the Paleo-Indians. Later on the region was a meeting place for the Powhatan Confederacy and Iroquois Nation, along with other Native Americans. In the mid-17th century, England's King Charles II gave Great Falls and other local lands to seven Englishmen. About 20 years later Lord Fairfax designated 12,588 acres for himself. This would be passed on to other family members over the years, then eventually being sold off to others.

4. George Washington envisioned a series of canals to ease travel through the Potomac to open up trade with the Ohio Valley. The Patowmack Company was established in 1784 to construct this framework. It was completed in 1802. The canal system ran for 26 years and was 190+ miles long.

5. There is a plaque honoring George Washington at Great Falls Park. It was placed there in 1912 by the Fairfax County chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution.  


6. Railroads eventually replaced the canals and the land eventually became an amusement park, a private enterprise started by John McLean and Stephen Elkins. Visitors would take the trolley from Washington, D.C. to the park.

7. Carousels were a popular attraction at the amusement park at Great Falls, with the first one arriving in the early 1900s, a Dentzel. In the early 1950s, Fairfax County eventually acquired some of the park land and the owners took the carousel down. It would later be replaced by another due to popular demand. However, because of the flooding and damage to the attraction that would occasionally occur here, the carousel was eventually removed permanently. The last carousel located at the park was in 1972. Today there is a post that marks how high the water has risen over time. The river/falls are well beyond this sign and past the fence you see in this photo.

8. During the days of the canal, the town of Matildaville was chartered (1790) and became the headquarters for the Potowmack Company and workers lived in the town. Sponsored by "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, it seems this town was named for his first wife, who passed away the same year the town was chartered. He would later remarry, Ann Carter was his wife. Eventually, the couple would have children, one of which was a boy, Robert Edward, who most of us know as Robert E. Lee. 

9. The canal and Matildaville ruins are now designated as National Historic Landmarks.  

10. There are exhibits and storyboards at the Visitor's Center that highlight the history of the land and transformations over the years. There is also a small gift shop and some hands-on activities for the kids.

Great Falls is a great place to learn about history, enjoy a picnic, fish, hike or enjoy other recreational activities. The park is every day except Christmas Day from 7 a.m. until dark. Your admission fee is good for three days and, if you have one of the America the Beautiful NPS park passes, it can be used at Great Falls.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Photos on Friday: Old Post Office/Trump International Hotel (Washington D.C.)

I thought for today's Photos on Friday I'd post recent photos of the Old Post Office building/Trump International Hotel since I recently learned tours of the clock tower have recently resumed. They had been closed a couple of years ago due to the transformation of the Old Post Office Pavilion into the new hotel. Tours quietly resumed in February and I didn't find out until April when I was looking for the information.
View of the Old Post Office. The building is even much bigger than it looks here.

In the past I've taken the elevator to the top and it really does offer a fantastic view. 
The tower is currently one of the best options of getting a bird's eye view of the District since the Washington Monument elevator is closed until 2019 for repairs.

The National Park Service is still running the tours and they are free of charge. If you're in town and interested in going to the top of this historic building, it's said to use the 12th St. NW entrance, located just south of Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The clock tower is open every day, except Thanksgiving and Christmas, with hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry 4:30 p.m). 

This is an older photo taken from the top of the clock tower

Old Post Office
Front of the recently renovated Old Post Office which is now the Trump International Hotel

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Looking for summer family fun in Northern Virginia? Check out local annual fairs

As June rolls in, the area gears up for summer with many fun activities, including the annual fairs. In Northern Virginia, some of the biggest county fairs in the state are held.

Celebrate Fairfax

Each year Fairfax County puts on several great events, a popular one is “Celebrate Fairfax”. Now running for more than 35 years, it's an event that is fun for all ages. Celebrate Fairfax has the typical carnival attractions, such as rides and food, but it also offers several performances and special presentations. Usually, there are some big-name headliners for musical entertainment. And a whole lot more. The fair runs for three days, Friday to Sunday, it seems to always take place the first or second weekend in June.

Loudoun County Fair

The fair is a large annual event and usually runs in late July. There is plenty to see and do, including live entertainment contests, a Demolition Derby, concerts, performers, lots of animals, a Carnival Midway and more. Additionally, you'll find different daily events, fun for all ages listed, just check out the fair's website. The fairgrounds are located at 17558 Dry Mill Road, Leesburg, Va.

Fairfax County 4-H Fair and Frying Pan Farm Park Show

This fair and show typically run in late July to early August. Annual fair showcases include all kinds of entertainment, including animal shows, various exhibits, music, contests, rides and more. The fun takes place at Frying Pan Farm Park, located at 2709 West Ox Rd in Herndon. You can learn more about daily events everything else fair-related at the designated 4H website. This event has been running close to 70 years!

Photo taken at the4-H Fair horse show a few years back

Arlington County Fair

This annual fair takes place around mid-August. Admission to this fair is usually free and there is also a shuttle service priced at $2 per adult round trip (children under 12 and seniors are free) to get visitors to and from the fair. The fun includes entertainment, family-oriented events, sports, carnival rides, music, dancing and more, both indoor and outdoor events. The annual fair, running more than 40 years, takes place at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, located at 3501 South Second St., in Arlington.

Prince William County Fair

This is another August fair, one that has been running since 1949. Its origins were seeded by a group of WWII veterans who sought to promote Prince William's agricultural industry. The fair bills itself as Virginia's largest county fair. Every year the planners list lots of events on its calendar. The action takes place at 10624 Dumfries Rd, Rt. 234, Manassas, Va. You can visit the Prince William County Fair website for more information regarding admission, parking and more. While agriculture in the region has declined as the population and building growth continues to move west from the District, still, the history and popularity of this event live on.

If you're looking for some family fun as the summer arrives, these are some great events in Northern Virginia to consider. If you're looking for other types of events, don't forget there are also cultural festivals and air shows too.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A stroll through Smithsonian's Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden is located between the National Mall and Independence Avenue. It’s not a large garden and won’t take more than a few minutes, whether you’re touring the District or taking a walk on your lunch hour.

When walking downtown I often stumble across places I wasn’t familiar with. A few years ago, for me that was the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. I was walking along the mall and between the Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and noticed some beautiful flowers and paths.

The garden’s background

The Smithsonian website shares the garden was the inspiration of Mrs. S. Dillon Ripley, a "lifelong plant scholar-collector, active gardener, and wife of the Smithsonian Institution's eighth Secretary".

Originally, the garden was slated to become a parking lot, however, in 1978 Mrs. Ripley was able to win support for the garden space. Architect Architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen of Washington D.C. designed the garden. There is a fountain within the garden with a plaque that states, "Large Acanthus Fountain, ca 1850 - 1900, cast iron, manufacturer unknown".  

The garden is about a half-acre in size, according to the The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Run by the Smithsonian, the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden is open daily. It’s a nice quiet place to eat lunch or stop and take a breather while hitting the pavement when visiting downtown.