Happy Places: Favorite Outdoor Places to Play and Explore

The weather has been absolutely beautiful this week. Spring has definitely sprung but is summertime upon us already?! I’m no meteorologist but I’m willing to bet Mother Nature will let winter show face one more time just for fun! Nonetheless, with the temperature outside going up, I’m super excited to spend more time with the girls playing and exploring outdoors. Play is a crucial component in the growth and development of the brain, body and intellect and promotes early language and social development. Outdoor play allows little ones to explore their environment, develop muscle strength and coordination, and gain self-confidence. With that being said, we will be spending as much time outdoors as our allergies will allow. The Washington, D.C. metropolitan area is home to some expansive outdoor spaces and beautiful places to play and these are some of our absolute favorites. 

Clemyjontri Park (McLean, VA) opened in 2006 and is one of the most amazing parks I have ever been to in my entire life. The land was generously donated by a generous donor and the name Clemyjontri is derived from her four children's names: Carolyn (CL), Emily (EMY), John (Jon), and Petrina (Tri). I love that she named it after her children! Clemyjontri is the most colorful, expansive outdoor park I’ve ever visited and I’ve been to a quite a few parks in D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia. I get bored going to the same parks so we're always exploring a new one! There is no entry fee, ample parking, a pavilion area with tables for lunch or snack time and plenty of green space for blankets. The beautiful carousel is open on weekends and the park features interactive musical instruments for children of all ages. The park is fully accessible for children in wheelchairs and perfect for little ones of all ages including even new walkers. If you are bringing more than one child (especially toddlers and younger), I would recommend bringing a friend or additional caregiver to tag team and keep track of the littles. I went with a friend and our four children ONCE. Never again, lmao. There is a serious lack of shade so don't forget hats and sunscreen on sunny days. Definitely opt to visit earlier in the morning or evening to beat the unforgiving heat midday. For more about the park visit Friends of Clemy

The Yards Park (Navy Yard, Southeast Washington, D.C.) is one of our favorite neighborhood hangouts because it offers premier waterfront green space and water features along the Anacostia River that are ideal for warm spring and summer days. The park, which is a part of the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, hosts special events, festivals, and a summer concert series every Friday night from 7 to 9 pm. Bring a friend, the little ones, a blanket, and your dancing feet. Ongoing construction combined with weekly Washington Nationals baseball games makes parking difficult but not impossible. Consider taking the Metro Green Line to Navy Yard station for easy and convenient access to The Yards Park.  

The centerpiece of the The Yards Park is undoubtedly the water features that include a shallow wading pool (about a foot deep), numerous dancing spray fountains, and a cascading waterfall that you can cool off in or hide behind on a landing that will keep you perfectly dry. Your littles will enjoy the water features so much they’ll be begging not to leave. Fear not Mamas! I have the solution to those ‘I don’t wanna go’ tantrums! Who can resist ice cream?! Wrap up your visit to The Yards Park with a visit to Ice Cream Jubilee for some of the yummiest ice cream in the city.

The National Mall (Downtown Washington, D.C.) is such a beautiful, historic, green space that we recommend for a picturesque lunch, running around and admiring the surrounding monuments and Smithsonian museums. 

While you’re on the mall take a walk through the Smithsonian Gardens, gaze at the artistry displayed in the Hirshorn Sculpture Garden and don’t forget to ride the Carousel on The National Mall. Carousel rides are free for children under one and require a small admission fee for all other riders. If your visiting the Smithsonian museums, The National Mall provides the perfect backdrop for a picturesque lunch or lunch and memories to last a lifetime.  

Gravelly Point (Arlington, VA) is extraordinary park located on the west side of the Potomac River, just minutes north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and is one of the best spots in the country to see airplanes landing. There is also a boat launch and the paved Mount Vernon Trail travels through Gravelly Point which is why, on the weekends, this park plays host to skaters, cyclists, boaters, and airplane spotters. Take in views of the monuments along the Potomac River, fly a kite in the breeze, lay on a blanket whilst taking in the beauty of nature around you, and enjoy the thrill of watching airplanes takeoff and land. There is ample parking and too much open green space for it to ever feel crowded. Visit just before sunset for some unbelievably beautiful pictures of you and your little ones.

The U.S. National Arboretum (Northeast Washington, D.C.) is a 446 acre public garden, research facility, and oasis of urban green space maintained by the USDA. The Arboretum maintains many one-of-a-kind collections, from distinct native plants to exotic rarities and through ongoing plant research, the Arboretum has released over 650 new plant introductions. One of the most visited areas of the Arboretum, the Capitol Columns, is an arrangement of Corinthian columns that were originally part of the Capitol building. The columns now stand in the middle of Ellipse Meadow and provide a backdrop for some spectacular photographs. 

Next to Capitol Columns is the one-acre Children's Garden and a natural play area with xylophones, sand boxes and a stage for your littles to perform on in the midst of the natural beauty of the Arboretum. The Children's Garden gives little ones the opportunity to explore the courtyard garden, see plants in bloom and play with gardening tools to learn about plants. The Arboretum hosts a range of events from lectures, workshops, children and family programs, and special tours to free theater, concerts, and cooking demonstrations. Check the Arboretum calendar for more information and schedule of events. The Arboretum grounds are open every day from 8 am to 5 pm except December 25. There is no fee for admission and ample free parking. Download the U.S. National Arboretum mobile app to help navigate the vast grounds of the Arboretum with a digital map. For more information visit Friends of the National Arboretum.

Watkins Mill Regional Park (Prince George’s County, Maryland) is the most whimsical park we have ever seen! The park features a yellow brick road which leads to the Wizard of Oz-themed playground. Other activities on the grounds of the park include the Chesapeake Carousel, Miniature train, 18-hole Miniature golf, Watkins Nature Center, Old Maryland Farm, miles of walking trails, and plenty of open space for kids to run and play freely. The carousel is open seasonally and is wheelchair accessible. While I love the Wizard of Oz theme and design of the playground, the play structure is very tall and intimidating. Definitely visit once your little one is a solid walker and if you fear heights, be sure to have a big kid present to accompany your little one to the top of the play structures. The park is open daily with no admission fee and there is ample centrally-located parking. Meet us somewhere over the rainbow!

Outdoor play in open spaces allows little ones the freedom to be physically active and challenge themselves so they sleep well, eat well and form healthy habits that will shape habits for the rest of their lives. The littles will sleep better at night if they’ve had some fresh air and sunshine during the day and it's amazing how spending time outside can brighten up their day. If you see us out and about, don't hesitate to say 'hello'!