Old Town Alexandria is a great day trip with lots of FREE things to do for kids of all ages. My kids like to walk the brick sidewalks and see the old homes, many of which have plaques telling you who lived or visited there (like George Washington). They love the big water fountain on King Street, and we always spend some time in our favorite toy store (Why Not?) and ice cream parlor (The Creamery, with the animatronic bear in the window). Rather than pay to park in a city lot or worry about the meter running out on the 2-hour limited street parking, we go a few blocks north and park on a residential street, then walk towards the waterfront.
At the waterfront, it's a bevy of birds, boats, and planes! Since it's just north of National Airport, planes are low and easy to see. Everything from small sailboats to large tourist boats go by, and you can take a close look at the huge steamboat docked in the harbor while you walk along the boardwalk. My kids love to spend time near the rocks, watching geese, ducks, seagulls and more living along the shoreline.
The King Street Trolley runs up and down King Street every fifteen minutes; just look for the trolley signs on the street corners to see where to jump on, or get it at the bottom of the block near the waterfront. It's FREE! This was a big favorite of my kids as preschoolers, and they enjoyed it just as much at ages 7, 7 and 9. We rode it up and down the street just for fun, and then again to get back to our car at the end of our afternoon out.
Now that the kids are older, it was time to visit the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, which is located on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory Art Center, right on the waterfront at King Street. It's a little precarious getting up to the third floor; since Torpedo is a working art center, each room is a studio for a working artist. It was really cool to see all the different types of art–stained glass, sculpture, painting, etc.–happening all around us. Some of the artists were friendly and stopped working to chat with us or answer the kids' questions, but it was tough to keep the kids' hands down and off the $3,000 pieces of art on the walls! The Archaeology Museum itself is quite small, but we enjoyed seeing the artifacts from colonial times that were pulled from an excavation site nearby and learning more about the history of the area.
Since my kids are interested in George Washington and colonial times, we picked up the Old Town Scavenger Hunt for $4 from a store called The Christmas Attic. Just a note–this is NOT a child-safe store! I should have left them outside, since there were glass ornaments hanging from the ceiling and on every available surface. It's a very cute store with lots to look at, but the whole time we were in there, I was convinced my kids were going to knock over a display. If you have a stroller or very young kids, I definitely recommend that you leave them outside with another adult. You'll breathe easier.
Even with the scavenger hunt and some ice cream out, it was a very inexpensive day trip!
Read about other Day Trips from DC.