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Entertaining on a Budget in Metro DC | Families

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Entertaining on a Budget in Metro DC
Entertaining on a Budget in Metro DC

It is possible to both entertain AND enrich your kids on a budget in the DC metro area. Living close to the nation's capitol offers a wide array of possibilities, including the always-popular Smithsonian Museums National Air and Space and the National Zoo are (or should be) at the top of your list. Here are five more for you to consider:

Manassas National Battlefield Park
12521 Lee Highway Manassas, VA 20109
Cost: Children 16 and under, free; Sixteen yrs. and up, $3 per person (good for three days)
This 5000-acre park consisting of meadows, woodlands, and streams is the site of the First and Second Battles of Manassas during the Civil War, a rich local history lesson for your child. Start at the Henry Hill Visitor Center where you can pick up a brochure, map, etc. Watch a 45-minute film covering the battles of Manassas; explore the museum exhibits including audio-visual displays and a fiberoptic battle map, civil war uniforms, weapons and field gear. Take a guided or self-guided scenic tour. There are 40 cannons (most with original parts) dispersed around the battlefield to delight young visitors.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing
4th and C Streets, SW, Washington, DC
202.874.2330 and 866.874.2330 (toll-free)
Cost: March-August: Free, but tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at Raoul Wallenberg Place (15th Street). September –February: No tickets are required. Line up at the Visitors’ Entrance on 14th Street.
Where else can you watch a million dollars being printed? Learn how U.S. paper currency is printed, stacked, cut and examined for defects. The 30-minute tours are every 15 minutes, Monday - Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Get there early as all of the tickets are usually gone by 9:00 a.m.

Clemyjontri Park
6317 Georgetown Pike McLean, VA 22101
Cost: Free; the carousel ride is only $1.50 On 18 acres, this unique playground can be enjoyed by children of all ages from toddlers to middle schoolers. Four outdoor "rooms" surround a carousel. The Rainbow Room opens with a rainbow archway and is filled with a variety of swings. It teaches the colors of the rainbow and integrates sign language, Braille, pictures and spoken language. The Schoolhouse Maze contains learning panels forming a re-configurable maze. It features educational games that emphasize reading, maps, a globe, clocks, and time zones. The Movin & Groovin Transportation Area will entice little daredevils with its race track, motorcycles, planes and trains. The Fitness and Fun Area includes a large set of play equipment and jungle gyms. The main attraction is the American Classic Carousel located in the middle of the park, sporting chariots, a spinning teacup, and 14 horses.

Hidden Pond Nature Center
8511 Greeley Boulevard Springfield, VA 22152
Cost: Free
Do your kids need a break from the electronic world of Wii and Xbox? Check out the natural wonders of Hidden Pond. There are 25 tranquil acres of trails, streams, a one-acre pond, and wildlife-filled woodland to discover. A 2000-foot trail and bridge connect it to the larger Pohick Stream Valley Park. The Nature Center features exhibits and live displays. Additionally, there are lighted tennis courts, a children's play area, and a picnic shelter. Several naturalist-led programs are available to children for a nominal fee ($4-$6 for Fairfax County residents and $6-$8 for non-county residents). These include wildlife tracking, animal calls and care, daytime and twilight hikes, campfire/night walks in search of wildlife, and education about fungi, seeds and local evergreens.

Mule Drawn Canal Boat Rides Along the C&O Canal
1057 Thomas Jefferson Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20007
Cost: Adults $7, seniors 62 and older $5,children 4 to 14 $5 (one hour trip) Available early April through the end of October: Ride along the historic C&O Canal aboard a reproduction of a 19th century canal boat pulled by a mule and experience rising 8 feet in a lock. Hear park rangers in historic clothing describe what life was like for the families that lived and worked on the canal.

SUZANNE RHODES is the author of The Little Embryo That Could: Conquering Genetic Termination, Secondary Infertility, and Other Injustices. She lives in South Riding, VA with her husband and three children.