I hope you’re enjoying our “See the USA” series. Hopefully you caught the best of Eugene, Oregon last week and Denver the week before. We’re continuing on alphabetically with letter F and Fairfax County, Virginia. I’m thrilled to have Patricia from Fairfax Family Fun sharing the top 5 family friendly things to do in Fairfax County, Virginia. If you’re looking for fun right on the doorstep of Washington, D.C., you’ll want to read on!
Top Five Family-friendly Places in Fairfax County, Virginia
Visitors to Washington, DC, never run out of things to do. With so much to see in the nation’s capital, you may not venture out much beyond that. But if you do not, you are missing out! Right in the DC suburbs is Fairfax County in Northern Virginia, which offers great options for family fun. Here are five of the most unique or beloved places in Fairfax County, all of which offer enough activities for everyone to enjoy.
It’s tough to narrow down the options, when the county’s parks alone offer so much (such as Burke Lake Park, with its carousel, miniature train, mini golf, disc golf, hiking, and boating, or Lake Fairfax Park with its carousel, boat tours, and large water park), so we’ve selected places that would be a good mix. Whether you are a history buff or a nature lover, looking for fun on the farm or looking up to the sky, here are some ways to make the most of your visit to Fairfax County.
1. George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Gardens, and Museum
George Washington slept here. He also farmed, ran a nearby distillery, and more. While everyone knows about George Washington the general and president, here at Mount Vernon, his beautiful riverfront home, you’ll learn about the many other things he did. You can tour the 21-room mansion he shared with Martha, plus see outbuildings, the slave memorial and burial grounds, Washington’s tomb, the pioneer farm, beautiful gardens, and more. Your admission includes a visit to the modern museum and education center with dozens of exhibits. Kids will enjoy the hands-on history center, forensics laboratory, and fun activities. Mount Vernon also hosts special events, including “daytime fireworks” during the Fourth of July, military reenactments, wine festivals, and special tours at Christmas.
2. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
The Udvar-Hazy Center, near Washington-Dulles International Airport, is part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Its hangars display thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including huge aircraft such as the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, and the space shuttle Discovery. From the earliest days of manned flight to the latest in aeronautical science and engineering, it’s covered here. The museum also has an observation tower, flight simulators, hands-on activities for kids, and an IMAX theatre. Big special events include antique airplane fly-ins, aviation family days, and the “Air & Scare” event around Halloween.
3. Frying Pan Farm Park
In the heart of the suburbs, Frying Pan Farm Park preserves and interprets a 1920s-1950s farm, agricultural process, and rural community life. This county facility (free admission) includes Kidwell Farm, a working demonstration farm where guests of all ages may milk a cow or sometimes see a blacksmith at work. You also can visit horses, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, and other animals. Special programs abound throughout the year. The park, on the National Register of Historic Places, also hosts equestrian events, seasonal festivals, free summer concerts, and the county’s 4-H fair. Families with young kids will love its carousel, playground, and hayrides.
4. Great Falls Park
You’ve seen the mild side of the Potomac River along DC. Now see the wild side of the Potomac at this popular U.S. National Park where the river races down the rocky waterfalls, offering stunning views. The park, just 15 miles from the nation’s capital, has a nice visitor center with educational activities and ranger-led programs. There are 15 miles of trails, including many easy, kid- and stroller-friendly paths and wheelchair-accessible lookout points, and plenty of picnic areas. Bird-watching, bicycling, and horseback riding are popular activities.
5. Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
For some tranquil sightseeing, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, a regional park on 95 acres, offers a beautiful escape with a unique collection of native plants and flowers. As you stroll through easy paths, you will pass by ponds and may spot some local fauna; at times you may be able to participate in a special tour or nature program. The park also is home to the Korean Bell Garden, the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, housing a traditional Korean bell, made of bronze and weighing three tons. “Walking in a winter wonderland” takes on a different meaning here during the park’s Winter Walk of Lights, a spectacularly beautiful walk-through holiday lights display with a nature theme.
Doesn’t Fairfax County look amazing? Have you been?
Patricia Lee Hall is a communications consultant and freelance writer who began her journalism career at The Miami Herald. She now runs the Fairfax Family Fun blog, a site about kid-friendly activities and family travel in Northern Virginia and beyond. She lives in Fairfax County with her husband and young son.