Suns out, schools out, and you deserve a break: it’s time to take a much-needed vacation! If you’re looking to save money and precious travel time, why not opt for a staycation in your own backyard? Whether you’re a history buff, adrenaline lover or hardcore beach bum, here are the best ways to spend your staycation in D.C.
It doesn’t get much more historical than spending time in the nation’s capital. Since you’ve probably already visited the main historic landmarks in your backyard (shout-out to the White House), here are some other ways to get in touch with our history.
1. Take the most classified approach to our history at the International Spy Museum. Look through real artifacts of the espionage like poison gas pistols, learn how spies helped shape historic events, and get to know famous secret agents. Not convinced? You can actually become a spy for the day.
2. Enjoy a look at D.C.’s spookier side with a ghost tour of the city! As the website ominously says, “Our nation’s capital is rich in history and monumental democratic achievements, but behind its gates and within its corridors, a darker past is hidden.” Who knows which presidential ghosts might jump in on the tour.
3. Fully expand your knowledge to global history at the National Geographic Museum! Go on an adventure with Indiana Jones (and even have a drink with him), catch the latest 3-D film, and browse their extensive collection of global photography. You’ll come out feeling educated, excited, and definitely entertained.
Slather on some sunscreen and pack your cooler! While D.C. has its own waterfront, summer is the perfect time to escape to the beach. Here are nearby destinations for some fun in the sun.
4. Sandy Point State Park has a great combination of beach and park life: offering crabbing, boating, hiking, picnic shelters and more. Pack a lunch and plan to spend the whole day enjoying the water and local wildlife, since the park is only 40 minutes outside of the city.
5. If a more secluded beach destination is more your speed, you’ll want to spend the day at Chesapeake Beach. Delicious seafood, boat tours, fishing, and a beautiful coastline are all staples. Not ready to dive into the waves? Check out their water park!
6. It’s the farthest beach, but well worth the effort. Ocean City, Maryland is a top tourist destination for a reason: relax on the beach, stroll and shop on the boardwalk, gorge on crab cakes or have a blast on some carnival rides. Feels like an escape, and it’s only a few hours’ drive!
You don’t have to go far to enjoy some quality time outdoors. If you’re interested in getting in touch with nature, check out these spots for the full camping experience.
7. Family-owned and operated since the 1920’s, Cherry Hill Park is a peaceful place to camp. Take a dip in the pool, fill up at the snack bar, and spend the night cozying up in a variety of cabins and cottages (some are multi-level and sleep up to twelve!)
8. Just as it’s name would have you believe, the 218-acres of freshwater are the focus of Burke Lake Park. From bass fishing to boating, the tree-shrouded lake makes for a beautiful way to get close to nature. Land-dwellers can enjoy mini-golf, a carousel, hiking trails and ice cream, and everyone can gather around a campfire at night.
9. Take a break an hour from the city at Algonkian Regional Park. Their hiking trails, full-sized and mini golf courses, boat launch and waterpark all guarantee that everyone will be entertained. As a bonus for the less outdoorsy types, their rental cottages have all the amenities you’ll need to feel as comfortable as you are at home.
If you have kids to entertain (or are just a kid at heart), here are some fun theme parks, unique museums, and summer staples guaranteed to be a hit.
10. What kid hasn’t wished to be an astronaut? Relive that childhood dream at the Air and Space Museum: look at past flight relics, touch a moon rock, and get lost in the planetarium. It’s the perfect way to mix some educational lessons into pure fun.
11. Thrill rides usually need no introduction. Six Flags America has everything a kid could want: roller coasters, a waterpark, entertainment and junk food. Spend the day outside and flipping upside down.
12. Summer is prime zoo-season, and the National Zoo is pretty tough to beat. 300 animal species (the giant pandas are a hit), great dining options and kid-friendly learning centers all make for one great way to spend a summer day. 10-year-old me would head right over to the “How Does Pizza Grow?” exhibit.
Interested in something a little more sophisticated? Washington D.C. has a thriving cultural scene that rivals any other city. Here are your best bets:
13. From Rembrandt to Lichtenstein, you’ll experience all of the hard-hitters at the National Gallery of Art. Roam around solo, take a guided tour, or catch one of the free classic films playing every weekend.
14. A self-described “working theatre, historical monument, world-class museum and learning center,” Ford’s Theatre is best known for being the site of the Lincoln assassination. See re-enactments of Lincoln’s last day, enjoy a play, or take a guided tour through the space.
15. With 150 performances per year and almost 100 musicians in total, the National Symphony Orchestra is a D.C. cultural institution. From classical performances to some original arrangements of the Pokemon soundtrack, the orchestra is guaranteed to entertain.
16. Is alternative live music more your thing? Head over to the 9:30 Club! From mainstream acts to indie up-and-comers, this local favorite is the best place to enjoy an all-ages show while eating some pretty tasty sounding food.
Vacation time means exploring new foods in your area, and D.C. does not disappoint. Check out these delicious options for a new taste of local flavor.
17. Since you have more time on your staycation, why not make something fresh from your local farmer’s market? Eastern Market is not only D.C.’s oldest, but a consisent favorite for prepared food, fresh produce, and a full community experience. Get inspired to cook up something new!
18. Want to have a drink at D.C.’s first brewery opened after the Prohibition? You’ll want to get a taste of craftsmanship and history at the Captiol City Brewing Company. Whether you’re taking a tour, hosting a party with friends, or just relaxing and enjoying some drinks and bar snacks, this is a great way to cool off and unwind with some local flavor.
19. Dig into some deliciously responsible food at Founding Farmer’s. Their ingredients are all sourced directly from family farmers across the world, while still maintaining an ethical carbon footprint. You can feel good about eating at a place that’s 100% environmentally conscious, while supporting local agriculture. They’re sustainable, seasonal…and their menu looks mouth-watering.
20. Art and Soul also pairs with local farmers and producers to ensure top-quality meals that are prepared simply and sustainably. From fried chicken to beet salad, there’s a nice variety of summer favorites among these Southern-influenced dishes. You can spend warm nights at an oyster roast on their patio, or pick up a specially-made picnic lunch to take with you during the day.
Some people aren’t satisfied with your run-of-the-mill staycations. Here are the best D.C. activities to entertain even the biggest adrenaline lovers.
21. Satisfy your dream of running away with the circus at the TSNY trapeze school. From juggling to flying trapeze, you’ll get the thrill of performance life with the guarantee of safety. Keep coming back for classes to master your aerial flips!
22. If you’re ready to move the fun outdoors, check out Terrapin Adventures‘ zip lining and ropes course. Fly through the trees, climb tricky platforms, and just feel like an all-around wilderness explorer. The best part? Group parties let you challenge your friends.
23. Still not extreme enough? Jumping out of a plane might do the trick! The Washington Skydiving School’s professional instructors are ready to take you on an aerial tour of D.C. You’ll need to go through a quick hour-long course beforehand, and then you’re ready to get something awesome to brag to your friends about.
Who doesn’t like shopping on vacation? Skip the big-name retailers and get in touch with the smaller businesses in the city.
24. From a Masonic pitcher circa 1790 to secondhand wardrobe staples, digging through D.C. vintage shops is a great way to update your look without being wasteful. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite shops in the area so you know exactly where to go for a specific item or decade. With all these great stops, you’re gonna want to wear comfortable shoes.
25. Maybe you want to spend your staycation having a nice family game night. Stop by Labyrinth Games & Puzzles to stock up on the necessities for an evening of fun (and healthy competition). This family-owned store has handmade wooden classics, puzzles, strategy and travel games, and more. Just remember, they keep it old-school: no electronics!
26. After a few rounds of games you can still veg at home, but consider moving the festivities outside. Head to Miss Pixies Furnishings and Whatnot to score a great deal on some vintage and secondhand patio furniture. They get new inventory every Wednesday, so plan your D.C. travel wisely.
If you want to end your staycation by seeing D.C. with fresh eyes, check out these alternative destinations. Explore parts of your city you may have never known existed, while staying away from the crowds.
27. While you may have paid a visit to the Washington National Cathedral, you might have missed a special galactic addition: astronauts from the Apollo 11 moon landing brought back a piece of lunar rock, which is currently embedded in a glass panel in the church. Get up close and personal with 3.8 billion years of history (just don’t touch!).
28. If you’re a jokester who runs away from the thought of a history lesson, you’ll have a good time at the Museum of Unnatural History. An ode to our fake past, this mini gift shop is a fun and creative collection of pseudo-historical gags. Stock up on some Unicorn Tears, grab a can of Primordial Soup, and feel good about knowing the shop benefits of a local children’s tutoring center.
29. Take a spin at the outdoor rollerskating pavilion at Anacostia Park! Skate rentals are free during the summer, and it’s a great way to combine fresh air with some childhood nostalgia. And when you’re all tired out, just head over to the picnic areas to relax and refuel with some grilled goodies.
30. It’s hard to compare anything in D.C. to the kitschy fun of “The Mansion on O Street.” Thousands of artifacts fill its 100+ themed rooms, from Beatles memorabilia to a full hunting lodge. Whether you’re having brunch, spending the night, or just going on a treasure hunt through the rooms, you can definitely fill a lot of free time checking it out.
Hope you’re ready to head into vacation mode without traveling far! Do you have any other favorite activities for when you’re taking a break in D.C.? Let us know in the comments!