Every Day is Kids’ Day: Best summer road trips for kids in the DC area

Summertime means it’s time to hit the road, but finding the right destination can be tricky with a car full of kids. (Thinkstock)

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WASHINGTON Summertime means it’s time to hit the road, but finding the right destination can be tricky with a car full of kids. Parenting blogger and avid traveler Guiomar Ochoa has done her homework. Here are her top getaways that are sure to please parents and children, alike.

Before you pack, plan — or rather, don’t

We’ve all been there: You want to plan a fun and action-packed day for your family, only everyone ends up in tears. Ochoa says over-planning is a common mistake. Her biggest piece of advice? Relax and go with the flow. Even an out-of-town trip doesn’t need to be turned into a huge ordeal.

“Don’t feel like you have to do everything, because if you do, you’re going to be disappointed,” she said.

Instead, enjoy the little things — whether it’s just watching boats come in and out of the harbor or eating an ice cream cone in the park. Even the most simple of activities are fun for kids.

“Just don’t cram too much in because you’ll all be miserable,” Ochoa added.

Trip #1: Annapolis, Maryland

One of the best nearby towns to explore in the summer is our neighbor to the east, Annapolis. There are boats to see, crabs to eat and streets to explore for kids of all ages.

“I find that Annapolis is one of those places where you can just go, sit by the water — maybe grab a scoop of ice cream or a slice of pizza — nothing too fancy, and sit around and just watch the boats. Honestly, that’s a lot for kids, and they’ll love it” Ochoa said.

Have a pirate lover? Hop on board the Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake. If you have older kids, take a tour of the U.S. Naval Academy or the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

“It’s really a nice place to go when there’s a breeze out, when the skies are blue, and just enjoy the city,” Ochoa said.

Trip #2: Maryland’s Eastern Shore

Another water-focused destination in the area is Maryland’s Eastern Shore. If you’re planning an overnight trip, Ochoa recommends the waterfront Hyatt Chesapeake Resort for its kids activities.

One of her favorite things to do in the area is to ride on the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry.

“You can take your car on it, it’s adorable — kids love it,” said Ochoa, adding that there’s a great ice cream shop once you get to Oxford, called the Scottish Highland Creamery.

The Harriet Tubman Byway’s brand-new visitor center just opened in Dorchester County, Maryland, which Ochoa says is a great educational outing for the whole family, complete with interactive exhibits and tours.

You can also bike or hike parts of the 100-mile Byway for some extra outdoor time.

Trip #3: Staunton, Virginia

Nestled in the scenic Shenandoah Valley, less than 3 hours outside of D.C., is Staunton, Virginia, which houses one of the area’s most interesting museums: The Frontier Culture Museum.

“I can’t say enough about it,” Ochoa said, after returning from a recent trip to the museum.

The outdoor museum showcases 16th and 17th century farmhouses from families that immigrated to the U.S. from countries such as Ireland, England and Germany. 

“And it’s an actual living farm, so you go from farmhouse to farmhouse, and you see people in their attire as they were wearing it at the time. You have blacksmiths that are making tools that they’re still using on the farm, there’s a tentsmith .. there are animals that you can feed … there’s even a West African village that we visited as well,” said Ochoa, who took her 4-year-old and 7-year-old on the adventure.

When you’re done at the museum, Ochoa says to check out the town.

“Staunton, itself, is lovely. It has a great Main Street, they have the Blackfriars Playhouse and they’re big on Shakespeare productions. … It’s the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, so there’s a museum for him, and they have great restaurants,” she added.

Trip #4: Philadelphia

Heading north? Check out Philadelphia for a getaway that’s made for families.

“It’s a lot more manageable than D.C. — it’s smaller — and there are a lot of family-friendly restaurants, and believe it or not, just a lot of things for kids to do,” Ochoa said.

Here’s what makes her must-do list while there:

  • The Franklin Institute: She says this museum is focused on science and technology and has a lot of programming for kids of all ages.
  • The Hotel Monaco: This downtown hotel has both a happy hour for adults and a hot chocolate bar for kids.
  • Independence Hall: The park rangers give free tours, making it easy to walk out if your child loses interest.
  • The Ben Franklin Museum: Ochoa says this downtown museum has a “fantastic” children’s area. “Kids from toddlers to teenagers, there’s a lot for them to do there, a lot for them to learn there, and really interesting for adults too,” Ochoa added.

Trip #5: Charlottesville, Virginia

If you’re looking for historic, charming and funky, Charlottesville is the place to visit. Whether you’re there to stroll the open-air Downtown Mall, take a tour of Monticello or taste local wine at the surrounding vineyards, everyone will have a great time — yes, even the kids at the vineyards.

“Again, this is what I am trying to bring home is that it can be an enjoyable experience for everyone in the family,” Ochoa said.

On a recent trek to Barboursville, Ochoa says the family shopped for cheeses, meats and sandwiches ahead of time and packed a picnic. The adults got a bottle of wine at the vineyard and the kids played outside.

“A lot of the vineyards are family friendly … The kids just ran around, they had a great time, they released some energy. If you’re living in the city, this is a wonderful opportunity for them to experience nature,” Ochoa said.

For more expert travel tips, download the full podcast episode.

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