“Winter is coming” might be synonymous with foreboding and doom—but for parents staring down three months of school-free time to fill, “summer is coming” can sound a whole lot more ominous. And if you’ve lived in the DMV for more than a year, you’ve likely done the Smithsonian, Great Falls and Mount Vernon to death. It’s time to look farther afield at some of the day-trip options that will please the littles while pleasing your wallet. Bonus: After a day this awesome, the kids are sure to fall asleep on the drive home.
For beach bums
Staying a week—or even a few days—in Rehoboth Beach, Del., can really cut into the summer fun budget. Believe it or not, it’s totally doable as a day trip: Leave at 8 a.m. (you have kids, so you’ll obviously be up that early), and you’ll be parking the car around 10:30-ish. Hit the aptly named vintage amusement park Fun Land; Thrasher’s for bathing-suit-busting buckets of fries; Kohr Brothers for frozen custard; and Grotto Pizza when the serious hunger sets in. In between, bob and surf in the waves and people-watch on the boardwalk.
For fossil seekers
In less than two hours, you and the kidlets can spin back in time to the Miocene Age by heading to Calvert Cliffs State Park in Lusby, Md. There, you can hang out on the shores sifting through sand and pebbles to try your luck at uncovering such fossils as shark teeth deposited millions of years ago when prehistoric creatures lived in the warm sea that used to cover this area. The park also features a playground, picnic area and a long yet manageable hike to the beach. Your best bet for finding fossils is to go at low tide and after a storm. Bay Front Park in the nearby town of Chesapeake Beach is another good spot for fossil hunting.
For history buffs
Sitting about 2.5 hours west of DC, Charlottesville is a great destination for those who feel like education needn’t stop after the last school bell of the year. Hit Lampo Neapolitan Pizzeria for a lunch that both you and the kids will love, then make your way to Monticello. Thomas Jefferson’s famous Virginia home spent five years expanding its exhibits on slavery and Sally Hemings. Last summer saw the debut of such exhibits as “The Life of Sally Hemings,” “The Granger-Hemings Kitchen” and “The Textile Workshop,” a restored 1770s structure depicting slave life on Mulberry Row.
For outdoorsy types
When DC’s heat is making you feel a little bit nutty, cool down in the Catoctin Mountains with a visit to Cunningham Falls State Park. This perfect little spot about an hour and a half north of the city features a mile-long hike to a charming waterfall, with longer and more arduous hikes to be found for those who want more of a challenge. When you, the kids and the family dog have sufficiently worked up a sweat, make your way back to the parking lot where you had undoubtedly noticed the relaxed and picturesque William Houck Lake with its sliver of sand begging for you to dive in. Cap off the day with dinner in nearby Frederick, Md., perhaps at Firestone's Culinary Tavern or the family-friendly Brewer's Alley.
For farm friends
There’s not much that city kids love more than a day on the farm, and South Mountain Creamery—situated about an hour outside of DC in Middletown, Md.—is happy to oblige. Everyone in the family will pretty much freak out at the cuteness of bottle-feeding (and sneaking a snuggle with) the calves, a ritual that visitors can take part in daily at 4 p.m., as well as watching the cows being milked starting at 1:30 p.m. and even checking out the maternity ward. When you start feeling peckish, pop into the on-site country store for snacks, farm-fresh ice cream and drinks. If you like what you taste, ask if the creamery offers its popular home delivery service in your area.