Our time at Fort Belvoir, Virginia will clock in at a couple of months shy of three years. We have loved living in the Washington DC area. While we didn’t have the opportunity to see everything the area has to offer, we were able to experience quite a bit. My number one piece of advice for those stationed here is to take a road trip from DC to Maine. Don’t fly – drive. Our New England adventure (check out blog posts about Newport, Cape Cod, and Ogunquit) has been our favorite family vacation thus far and we’re terribly disappointed that the timing of our PCS prevents us from doing it again this summer. The words “there is nothing to do” should never be uttered within the vicinity of Washington DC – there are so many family-friendly activities that we often found it difficult to choose among all the offerings.
The following is a list of 10 family-friendly outings for those stationed at Fort Belvoir. The list is just a sampling of our favorite local outings and offers a cross-sampling of what there is to do in the area. The list should not be considered exhaustive and if you’re looking for such websites, check out Fairfax Family Fun, DullesMoms.com, and Washington.org.
1. The National Mall – No surprise, being so close to the National Mall is one of the best things about being stationed at Fort Belvoir. I am lumping all of the Memorial Parks and the Smithsonian Institution in with the National Mall because they’re so intertwined with each other. During the warmer months, we tended to limit our time on the National Mall because of tourists, typically only going when we had guests in town. But during the cooler parts of the year, we spent many afternoons walking around and popping into museums when we needed a quick warm-up. During peak-travel times, we always found it easier to metro in but during the winter months we usually had no issue finding parking (free or inexpensive) along the Mall.
2. Great Falls National Park – Where the mighty Potomac ‘builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge’ is truly one of the most astonishing natural sights in the Washington DC area. Great Falls National Park offers a number of hiking trails, rock climbing opportunities (sadly we did not get to take part in such an activity because we had young children in tow), and spectacular views. A plus for young families – real bathrooms on site! Check out this blog post for more pictures from one of our many adventures in Great Falls.
3. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – Seriously, where else can you see a Space Shuttle, a Concorde, an SR-71, and the Enola Gay in one giant hanger? Hands down our favorite museum to visit with our children. Located near Dulles International Airport, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is a companion to the Air & Space Museum located on the National Mall. Aside from a $15 parking fee, admission is free and if you get there right when it opens (10am), there is more than enough room for young children to roam and take in the truly amazing sights. Unfortunately, the only food option on site is McDonalds so I do recommend planning to eat afterward. Our go-to place to eat lunch after visiting the museum is Dogfish Head Alehouse in Fairfax (kid-friendly and a great beer selection).
4. Burke Lake Park (or any Fairfax County Park) – Fairfax County has an absolutely phenomenal public park system. There are no shortage of playgrounds (check out Clemyjontri Park) in the area and multiple small recreational lakes. Burke Lake Park has plenty of wooded running/walking trails, canoe/rowboat rentals, a miniature train ride, a carousel, mini-golf, playgrounds, and plenty of open grassy areas to eat a picnic, play catch, or a kick a soccer ball. Also check out canoe rentals at the Fort Belvoir Marina, located right on the Potomac.
5. Skyline Caverns – Closer than the famed Luray Caverns and less expensive, Skyline Caverns is a series of geological caves in Front Royal, Virginia. Discovered in 1937, it quickly become a popular tourist attraction and retains the kitschy and wholesome vibe still to this day. The caverns can accommodate strollers but there are areas where it may need to be carried and some ninja-like maneuvering is required. However, it is nothing that we found too difficult to do with our Chicco Liteway stroller. Our children absolutely loved pretending to be little spelunkers and the tour was the perfect length for the younger crowed (about 45 minutes).
6. Winery at Bull Run – We are seriously kicking ourselves that it took us so long to finally check out the Winery at Bull Run with the kids. Oh my goodness – what a treasure. Located in Centerville, Virginia, the the Winery at Bull Run is adjacent to the Manassas Civil War Battlefield Park and features the Norton grape. Children are allowed in the tasting room and the outdoor picnic area (there is even a play area!). Outside food is permitted in the outdoor area so what better excuse for a family picnic?
7. Old Town Alexandria Farmer’s Market – Old Town Alexandria is my favorite place in Northern Virginia. When we first arrived, we casually looked to see what was available in our price-range and quickly realized that we were priced-out of townhouses that were fit for a family. Clay and Karen before kids? We would have been all over Old Town. It’s hard to beat a better way to spend a Saturday morning than strolling through the streets of Old Town Alexandria and checking out the Farmer’s Market. And now that Sugar Shack Donuts is within walking distance of Old Town, there isn’t really an excuse not to check it out.
8. A Nationals Game – It doesn’t really get more American than a family outing to the ballpark and Nationals Park is one of the more family-friendly stadiums/ballparks that we’ve been too. Great food options (there is even a Shake Shack!), a playground, and it doesn’t get much better than the Presidents Race during the fourth inning. We always metro-ed in for games but many friends have reported no issues with parking in nearby garages.
9. Annapolis, Maryland – Being an Army family, we have absolutely no affiliation with Annapolis, other than thinking it is an absolutely gorgeous and quaint seaside town. We spent many Saturdays in Annapolis – it was even the first out-of-town adventure for our daughter (pictured above at 10 days old). A quick trip from Northern Virginia, Annapolis was our go-to place for when we wanted to escape and be on the water for a little bit.
10. Reagan National Airport/Gravelly Point Park/JBAB – I love flying in and out of Reagan National Airport because it is easy, efficient, and offers great views of planes taking off and landing. Due to the design of the airport, non-traveling patrons have access to a variety of shops, restaurants, and huge picture windows that showcase the bustling airplane activity taking place outside. Our children always loved going to the airport to pick-up Clay and out-of-town guests because we were able to see their specific plane land. Gravelly Point Park is another great place to watch airport activity, but I prefer to go to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB), which is from where I took the above picture. I just park at the BX and then walk down to the grassy area along the Potomac. The kids love watching the planes and when they need a change of pace, there are plenty of nearby playgrounds to help them burn some energy.