14 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Washington DC

Boy opening hidden door in bookstore

A library with a literal secret door and a grocery store with a fleet of classic pinball machines are just a few of the hidden gems in the DMV area

DC is home to some of the most famous landmarks in the world. From the monuments on the National Mall to the president’s home, the White House, you don’t have to be a local to be in-the-know about the city’s most popular tourist spots. But what if you want to venture off the beaten path? Where do you go when you want to bypass the tourist traps and skip the crowds?


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If you think you’ve covered everything the District has to offer, think again. We found 14 under-the-radar places to explore, including hidden doors (hint: the Mansion on O St. isn’t the only one with secret passages) and  a new historical tour (that floats!). We’re willing to bet that even native Washingtonians and their families will find some new places to discover on this list of hidden gems!

The Old Post Office Tower
A little known local secret; after being closed for years, the Old Post Office Tower is open again for (almost) daily tours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From an observation tower 270 ft. above the city, guests can view the famous landmarks of Pennsylvania Ave. including the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument and, on a clear day, as far as the Pentagon. The tower is free to visit and does not require advanced tickets.

Editor’s Note: The tower is closed on Sept. 1, Oct. 4, Nov. 1 and Dec. 1 for cleaning. 

Old Post Office Tower
12th St. & Pennsylvania Ave.
Downtown
Online: nps.gov

The Corpse Flower
A unique treat for Oscar the Grouch-types, the corpse flower is a rare-blooming plant at the U.S. Botanic Garden that, when open, gives off the stench of rotting garbage. So far, it has bloomed twice this year. The flower stays open for a short window (2-3 days), so you need to make a b-line to the garden when this hidden gem is revealed.

U.S. Botanic Garden
100 Maryland Ave. SW
National Mall
Online: usbg.gov

 

Planet Word’s Secret Door
You’ll find a literal hidden gem within this museum! Head to the Schwarzman Family Library on the second floor where a secret door reveals a hidden screening room (or a secret hideout. You decide!). This magical library is a treasure trove of surprises. You’ll also find a number of hidden dioramas of famous books that can only be revealed when you read a passage from the book aloud in front of the secret picture frames.

Planet Word
925 13th St. NW
Penn Quarter
Online: planetwordmuseum.org

Related: 12 Day Trips That Will Make Your Kids Smarter

C&O Canal Boat Rides
If you haven’t heard, Georgetown’s has a new attraction and it will take you back in time! After more than a decade, canal rides are back in Georgetown whisking visitors along the historic transportation route envisioned by George Washington. Tours are available five days f a week from TK to TK during the inaugural season. This boat is a near-exact replica of an 1880 boat with one important distinction: this one has a modern bathroom!

C&O Canal Lock 3
Thomas Jefferson & 30th St. NW
Georgetown
Online: georgetownheritage.org

 

MOM’s Pinball Club
If you have a little gamer, introduce them to the original console, the pinball machine. Mom’s founder Scott Nash has shared his personal collection of pinball machines in an arcade lounge at the College Park grocery store. You’ll find almost 30 restored classics like “Flash Gordon” alongside newer models, like “The Simpsons.” There is an onsite change-making machine and a seating area for those that just want to cheer from the sidelines.

MOM’s Pinball Club
9801 Rhode Island Ave.
College Park, MD
Online: facebook.com/MOMsPinball/

Anderson House
Anderson House was built in the spring of 1905 as the stateside home of American diplomat Lars Anderson and his wife, Isabel. Today, the 50-room mansion on Embassy Row is a museum and library featuring most of the original furniture and artwork. You’ll learn about the significance of the American Revolution while touring this historic property. Docent-led tours are available Tues.-Sun. and last about an hour. Admission to this stately home is free.

Anderson House
2118 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Embassy Row
Online: societyofthecincinnati.org

The Rooftop at the Kennedy Center
Watching the sun set over our nation’s capital is a must-do at least once. There are a number of pricey restaurants and rooftop bars where you can pay handsomely for the view or you can head over to the Kennedy Center where the rooftop is open to the public and allows outside food. Family picnic, anyone?

The Kennedy Center
2700 F St. NW
Foggy Bottom
Online: kennedy-center.org

Gravelly Point Park
Pint-size aviation buffs will love hanging out at Gravelly Point Park, which is conveniently situated just off of the George Washington Parkway. It’s there where they’re able to watch planes take off (right above their heads!) from Reagan National Airport. Pack a picnic or bring popcorn to make plane watching a serious spectator sport.

Gravelly Point Park
George Washington Pkwy.
Arlington, VA
Online: virginia.org

Related: 20 Easy Day Trips to Sneak into Your Schedule

Summerhouse
This secret hideaway on the Capitol Grounds was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1800s to create a much-needed space for visitors to sit and rest. Inside this open-air building you can still enjoy a break from the elements on the shaded benches or refill your water bottle at one of the three drinking fountains. Summerhouse is a great place to play a quick game of hide-and-seek on your way to a near-by tour or activity.

Insider tip: Peek out the window into the grotto for some birdwatching!

U.S. Capitol Building
E Capitol Cir. NW
West Front Lawn of the Capitol
Online: aoc.gov/capitol-grounds/summerhouse

Fort Stevens
This one-time battlefield is now an oasis of peace in the middle of urban bustle. Rich with history, it even includes a plaque to commemorate the spot where President Lincoln stood and came under enemy fire. It’s a beautiful place for a picnic and a couple of hours of learning and play. Make sure you check out the cannons, ramparts, and moat before you leave. The park is open every day from sunrise to sunset.

Insider tip: There are no bathrooms at Fort Stevens, so make sure everyone goes before you get there! If you do need to use one while you’re there, the nearest one is at the Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium two miles to the west (but it’s only open Wed.-Sun., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.).

Fort Stevens
1339 Fort Stevens Dr.
Brightwood
Online: nps.gov/places/fort-stevens.htm

The Heurich House Gardens
The Heurich House Museum only offers tours for ages 10 & up, but you can still take your younger explorers to the Castle Garden (the public entrance is in the back). This secret garden is the perfect place for a picnic or spend an hour or two on a bench with a good book in the shadow of the castle. There is no fee to enjoy the grounds which is open to the public Mon.-Fri. from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Castle Garden
1921 Sunderland Pl. NW
Dupont Circle
Online: heurichhouse.org/visit/castlegarden

Related: 19 Sensational Hotel Rooms That Are Worth the Trip

National Capital Trolley Museum
“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley.” Does your little one like to ring the bell? The National Capital Trolley Museum is a must-do day trip into a bygone era of transportation. Hop aboard a street car for a quick journey into the woods or enjoy a tour on an authentic tram. You can also explore the barn that houses several restored trollies. Admission includes the museum displays, a docent-led tour, and unlimited trolley rides.

Insider tip: Make sure you check the website for the hours before you go. Hours are extremely limited and vary by season. You can reserve your timeslot online.

National Capital Trolley Museum
1313 Bonifant Road
Colesville, MD
Online: dctrolley.org

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothocary Museum
You don’t need to be a Harry Potter fan to enjoy this small museum filled with antique vials and mysterious glass bottles.  You’ll find an authentically-restored 18th century apothecary on the first floor, but the real fun is upstairs where little drawers hold a treasure-trove of seeds, plants, and other goodies displayed  exactly as they were when the apothecary was in full operation. Tours are available on the half-hour every Sun. and Mon.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothocary Museum
105-107 South Fairfax St.
Alexandria, VA
Online: alexandriava.gov/Apothecary

 

 

Smokey Bear at the National Zoo

Smokey Bear via National Zoo

Pose next to the beloved Smokey Bear, the poster animal for preventing forest fires, at the National Zoo. Along the commemorative trail, you will also see reproductions of vintage Smokey Bear posters and photos of the real Smokey Bear that once called this zoo home. Want to learn more about preventing forest fires? Check out smokeybear.com where kids can print out hands-on activities. 

Editor’s Note: The zoo is free, but due to COVID-19, entry passes are required. Get yours here.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park
3001 Connecticut Ave. NW
Woodley Park
Online: nationalzoo.si.edu

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