We had a wonderful opportunity while visiting D.C. to sneak away for a few days to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My brother’s significant other’s family lives there in a beach front community in Corolla and invited us along for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is always best with friends and family, so we drove the 5-6 hours through Virginia to the Outer Banks barrier islands.
First off, it was a wonderful home with wonderful hosts. I can’t say enough about the hospitality of our new friends. And her parents’ house was simply beautiful – the beds were super comfortable, each room had access to the sea breeze outside, I didn’t have to share a bathroom with a 7 year old boy – it was a very relaxing time. And when we travel, we very seldom relax. There was much book reading and hammock napping and slow dinners on our agenda.
But of course, we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t explore. Here are some of the great family-friendly, little-guy-approved things:
- Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk: Where would we be without airplanes? The flight line, Wright Brothers Monument and camp buildings are available to explore. Being a National Park, there was an EXCELLENT ranger talk on the history and a fun junior ranger program to join. Another badge!
- Currituck Beach Lighthouse: There is a 220-step winding staircase that leads to the top of the lighthouse, where there is an incredible view of the sound and Atlantic Ocean. Inside the lighthouse are two exhibits on shipwrecks and coastal lighthouse history.
- Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education: The sweet visitor center had a solid movie about the history of the area, specifically about how hunting changed it. There is a nice exhibit on the different birds and animals and a note-worthy collection of decoys.
And of course, the beautiful beaches of Corolla. Beachcombing, horseshoe crab singing, bird watching and we even saw the famous Corolla wild horses. And the beaches were practically empty because it was November yet the weather was good. Off season is still our favorite time to travel.
It’s been a family dream to go to Washington D.C. We love museums and D.C. has the best in America. We had an opportunity over Thanksgiving break and began the difficult decision of choosing which museums we could manage in the three days we had. We flew on a red eye overnight and hit DC early in the morning, ready to explore museums and try out some key foodie stops. We stayed again at a Hyatt hotel right at the National Mall, so we could walk to the museums quickly and maximize the time we had.
Our museum recap:
- Smithsonian Natural History Museum: This entire place is perfect for kids. Little’s teacher had told us to be sure to spend lots of time in the Hall of Human Origin and we did! There are great displays on the ocean (Ocean Hall), Dinos, Mammals, mummies, geology. We easily breezed through in 3-4 hours but skipped some areas like the butterfly pavilion. They have a special program for kids called Q?rius, but the programs were closed while we were there.
- National Gallery: The National Gallery of Art is a piece of heaven on earth. I was most looking forward to the special exhibit of Vermeer paintings. From renaissance works to impressionism, classics, masters, pop art, modern – it’s a must-do in D.C. for kids. They provide free kids hour long programs and a museum guide for families/kids. We spent about 4 hours there and only saw half the museum.
- Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: This museum was our first stop on a cold weekday morning and we were surprised to find not only a very long line but tons of kids, there for a field trip. Busloads of middle school kids. The space displays are amazing, including the Hubble Space telescope test vehicle. However, the historical aircraft sections (WW1, WW2, etc.) were not as impressive as we had hoped, but we are used to the amazing local Boeing Air and Space museum in Seattle, so our bar is set pretty darn high.
- Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian: The Museum of the American Indian was very fascinating for the kiddo, especially because there were rooms dedicated to the lives of specific indigenous cultures. For example, there may be a room for Alutiq people, with their music, dance, religion, food, clothing all explained, and then you duck into the next room that focuses on the Inca. The museum has over almost one million items in collection. There was a dedicated kid’s room to explore but the museum itself was interesting enough for a seven year old. We stuck to the collections and not the exhibits as there were even more busloads of middle school kids than the air and space museum.
- Smithsonian National Museum of American History: The Museum of American History does a lot for kids; they have regular programs and a play/learn space called “Wegmans Wonderplace” which were geared for kids up to 6. We’ve passed that age now and our guy is more interested in the regular museum content. Favorite collections included the transportation area – trains and cars and even a life size street scene from Portland that hubby recognized right away – and the clothing display, which featured dresses from most of the first ladies.
- National Portrait Gallery: The National Portrait Gallery was a surprise. We weren’t expecting too much but it was so much more than portraits. The presidential portrait hall is a must but surprise – it’s actually fun! There were portraits of tudors and queens, of important American historical figures, authors, artists. We spent time in an exhibit about Sylvia Plath. And it had a small but engaging kid’s program/space. You can draw a portrait – little had a blast being drawn by others and drawing others. Hack: This museum stays open late on Thursdays and Fridays, until 9! So you can visit after the other museums have closed early.
We need a whole week to see everything in DC. But that’s reason to go back! We also visited the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. We chose to visit the Lincoln memorial at night, which is another great tip – it’s beautiful, well lit, parking wasn’t a problem and the crowds were much smaller.
- &pizza: My brother had joined us so we were looking for something fast, with vegan options and kid friendly. &pizza is a craft-your-own personal pizza place that had something for everyone.
- Ben’s Chili Bowl: an iconic spot in DC, loaded with celebrity photos and DC civil rights history, this a tasty and inexpensive option. And because they offered vegetarian options, I had my first chili dog!
- Old Ebbitt Grill: another historical spot, but a different kind of history. This sit-down, almost fancy one-time saloon is across from the white house and was frequented by many a president. They have a solid kid’s menu, great service, and a wonderful crab cake.
- Mitsitam Café: this Native Foods café in the Museum of the American Indian serves indigenous foods. For us, that meant a fry bread taco. But the museum serves foods from the great plains, south American, northern woodlands (salmon! Clam soup!) so there is something for everyone. Like most Smithsonian cafes, it’s overpriced and busy, but very convenient if you are in between museums.
We aren’t sure when we will visit again, but we already have the list started of new museums and places to check out.
How does one – as someone who loves travelling and German culture – live this close to Leavenworth (Washington’s Christmas Village) and I never visited until now? We loved Leavenworth and it will be an annual trip from now on! It’s only 2.5 hours away, over snowy Stevens Pass.
Those wonderful friends we like to travel and camp with are back in for this adventure. We rented a log A-frame near Leavenworth and packed up the snow pants. And thank goodness, as it turned out we needed them. The A-frame rental was quite reasonable and an Airbnb find. We spent the first night playing board games and making dinner together and heading to bed so we could have a proper adventure Saturday.
Things that we did (little approved):
1. The fish hatchery so the kids could explore and learn a little. The hatchery has been there for more than 75 years and at one time was the largest salmon hatchery in the world. They currently raise 1.2 million salmon fry and release them into Icicle Creek. There is a cute visitor center there, activities for kids and of course the fish viewing.
2. Next stop was to Leavenworth’s main drag. It’s adorable! Faux-Bavarian everywhere. First stop was exploring the Christmas shops and coffee.
3. The Nutcracker Museum. There are so many nutcrackers – more than you could ever think a nutcracker museum could have. There is a scavenger hunt for kids and the history and displays are enjoyable (but slightly creepy) for adults.
4. We did the Aplets and Cotlets tour. If you are from Washington, you will be familiar with the strange candy (?) that is made here. I’m not sure if “tour” is the right word, but it was a hit with the kids for the free samples and machines.
5. We came back to town at night and enjoyed the Christmas lights in the town center, which were just being put up.
Places to eat: Of course there were tons of German options and I can’t wait to try more!
- We were on the lookout for an authentic German sausage stop that would include veggie options. We found a great one in Munchen Haus. The food was great, we sat outside in the beer garden (family friendly, at least during the day). The only thing missing was Gluhwien! Get on that, Leavenworth!
- Looking for a place to pick up something to bring home (bratwurst and currywurst), we checked out Cured. We found what we wanted in their tiny shop plus they had lots of samples to try.
- Sunday we had planned on more but we woke to a good snow coverage and the passes closing. We were out the door when the sun came up and over the pass, stopping at the Maltby Café for a famous cinnamon roll on the way back.