Oxon Hill, Md., across the river from Alexandria, Va., and Washington D.C., and just over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, offers families a variety of activities in and around the new National Harbor Center. Fun opportunities range from modern and new to revisiting local heritage and exploring nature-all 10 minutes or less from the center of National Harbor.
National Harbor Center
The National Children's Museum recently opened in the heart of National Harbor as a destination that inspires children and their families to learn about-and improve-the world. This airy, light-filled museum encourages open-ended play and invites children to explore the world and its many cultures. Along the journey, families learn the importance of global citizenship and personal responsibility. Exhibits and programs are geared for infants to age 10 with large, bright displays, hands-on props and costumes that allow children to become a part of the interactive exhibits. The main public areas comprise 3 & Under, Our World galleries, a theater and three program rooms. Sesame Workshop partnered with the museum to create a 3 and Under Gallery, with Sesame Street themes that include an infant crawlers' area with tactile experiences to encourage hand-eye coordination, a climbing structure, "Cookie Monster's International Yum Yum Lunch Truck" and other motor-skills development play areas. Our World features a Map Zone, My Town and World Cultures. These galleries include many working exhibits, such as a large fire engine with lights and sounds that children can initiate, a moving crane, a kitchen area, a marketplace and a clothing store with traditional dress from many cultures. The My Town exhibit begins in Prince George's County, where the museum is located.
With focus on child- directed play, it is tempting for parents to think of the museum as a drop-off site for their children where they can sit on the sidelines with laptop or cell. However, it is an opportunity for family fun, as all children must be accompanied by an adult throughout the exhibits. Tom Berger, the museum's executive vice president wants families to know, "The National Children's Museum is designed as an invitation for parents and caregivers to engage with children in exploring the themes in each exhibit. It is not meant to be a passive experience but one that engages the whole family to make connections to their local community and the world."
Peter van Roden, vice president for themed entertainment at Sesame Workshop echoes this invitation. "Sesame Workshop and NCM Museum staff worked carefully to encourage the concept of co-play in the exhibits like the infant/toddler area. It is purposefully designed for children to explore in the middle while surrounded by parents seated on benches. Discovery through play-based learning is where children invent themselves and create connections to the world around them." This invitation to family-shared fun is extended through monthly Free Family Nights sponsored by GEICO that will feature a unique theme with hands-on activities and interactive play in the National Children's Museum theater and galleries. Check the website ncm.museum for the calendar of Free Family Nights, promotional packages with National Harbor hotels, restaurants and retailers, and other special events being developed for 2013. Standard museum admission is $10 adult or child, with no charge for children 1 year or younger. In addition, National Harbor Center will offer Movies on the Potomac starting May 2013, a number of 5K races and other festivals throughout the spring and summer. Check the National Harbor website for yearlong calendar of family events.
Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor offers something for every member of the family, including fine and casual dining experiences, an indoor pool, shopping and the DreamWorks Experience. Vacation along with the beloved characters from such DreamWorks Animation films as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Puss in Boots and Madagascar featuring seasonal interactive experiences that include special character breakfasts, newly themed and unique Christmas time experiences during the holidays and fun activities during the summer. This Spring, join Puss in Boots and his friends at the "Purrrrfect Pajama Party" family experience at Gaylord National Resort. Available on select weekend dates in March, guests will enjoy overnight accommodations and fun activities with Puss in Boots and his friends. Visit gaylordnational.com for more details.
Dining at National Harbor
There are numerous restaurants to try, many new to the D.C. metropolitan area. Kid-friendly fast food options include, ChiDogO, Potbelly, Baja Fresh, Elevation Burger and Subway. Freshii and Nature's Table offer green, healthy options and choices for those with dietary restrictions. A variety of dessert and yogurt bars are scattered throughout the restaurant area.
In addition, National Harbor has many fine dining venues. McLoone's Pier House Restaurant makes a visible effort to be a family-friendly dining option, with a kids menu and children's rates for their Sunday brunch.
Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm
Want to show your kids what the Potomac waterfront looked like before large highways and developments arrived? Step back in time by traveling only 5 minutes north of National Harbor to Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm. Near the intersections of Oxon Hill and Bald Eagle roads, just on the other side of the Beltway, is an amazingly quiet pastoral setting with hands-on farm and nature opportunities for families. Bald eagles can be seen soaring directly over the park. In addition, the park is a nesting or foraging habitat for at least 58 species of waterfowl, songbirds and raptors. Oxon Cove Park offers two trails that allow visitors to walk at their own pace to explore some of the natural features.
Within the park, in the shadow of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, is Oxon Hill Farm, the nearest working farm to the heart of Washington, D.C. Families can meet the farm animals, take a scenic wagon ride and participate in living history programs about Native Americans, the Underground Railway, and 18th- -
century farm and plantation life. Junior Ranger and Nature Explorer activities are also available. Programs vary throughout the year based on staffing resources and seasonal themes. Contact the park to see what is available for your visit at nps.gov/oxhi or 301-839-1176.
Fort Washington National Park
Traveling 10 minutes south of National Harbor Center along the Potomac shoreline, you will leave behind suburbia and be amazed to discover a fully intact 1800's fort, rivaling the size of Fort McHenry, looming before you at the end of Fort Washington Road. This park, with stunning vistas of the river, protects more than 900 acres of varied habitat from the Potomac shore to meadows and forest. Children of all ages will enjoy crossing the fort's drawbridge and entering the main gateway onto a parade ground surrounded by high walls that evoke a castle courtyard. Inside the fort, looking back toward the Wilson Bridge, you'll discover an exceptional panoramic view of Old Town Alexandria, the Washington Monument and, on a clear day, the towers of the National Cathedral.
The first Sunday of each month, April through October, Civil War artillery demonstrations occur when the fort fires its cannon at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Families are encouraged to picnic around the grounds, visit the still-working lighthouse and fish (in accordance with State of Maryland fishing laws). The wide expanse of grass areas and breezes from the Potomac are great for kite flying. There is a 3-mile trail that follows the perimeter of the park boundary, offering the opportunity for wildlife viewing. There is a small playground near wooded picnic glens that can be reserved by groups. The grounds are open year-round 8 a.m. to sunset, with an entrance fee May through October. The visitor center and historic fort are open daily, 9 a.m. 4 p.m. The bookstore sells period hats, toys and books about nature, the Civil War and the War of 1812. A 10-minute video gives greater detail about how George Washington identified this point on the Potomac as key defense to the city of Washington in 1790s. An earlier earthen wall structure, Fort Warburton, was built there in 1808 but destroyed so as not to fall into the hands of the British warships advancing during the War of 1812. The new more technologically advanced Fort Washington was built and completed by 1824. For many years prior to the Civil War, it was the only defense guarding our Nation's Capital. Call 301-763-4600 during the spring and summer to hear a calendar of living history reenactment programs, or visit nps.gov/fowa/planyourvisit.