Ideas for summer fun with kids in the D.C. area

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For many families, especially those with young kids, the last two summers were washouts. Traditions upended, outings canceled, fun in the sun snuffed out. Zero stars. Would not recommend.

Well, now it’s time to make up for lost time. Take a day trip to a charming small town; visit one of the museum exhibitions or restaurants that opened during the pandemic; explore the great outdoors; challenge yourself with something new.

Consider this your to-do list for an unforgettable summer.

‘One With Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection’

This is undoubtedly the most Instagrammable museum exhibition in town. Get up close to (but don’t touch!) the oversized, polka-dot pumpkin and marvel at the iconoclastic Japanese artist’s rose-bedazzled gold metallic overcoat. The crowning elements are 30-second visits inside the pair of “Infinity Mirror” rooms — one filled with a field of wavy red and white phalli, the other with floating, color-morphing balls. Sure, get a picture while you’re in them — but don’t forget to marvel for a moment, too. Note: Visitors older than 12 need free, timed-entry passes, which are distributed first-come, first-served starting at 9:30 a.m. Open daily; exhibition on view through Nov. 27. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and Seventh Street SW. hirshhorn.si.edu. Free.

Yayoi Kusama is back at the Hirshhorn. Here’s what you need to know.

At this downtown museum, which opened in October 2020, kids can explore language in a way that’s interactive and immersive. Stop in the library to watch classic books come to life (don’t forget to find the hidden room while you’re there); step up to the mic to belt out a classic tune while also learning how the songwriter crafted it; or “paint” by dipping your brush into buckets of words such as “luminous” and “surreal,” which transform the digital mural with every brushstroke. Words have never been so colorful, so visually striking, so alive. Open Wednesday through Sunday. Planet Word, 925 13th St. NW. planetwordmuseum.org. Free, with a suggested donation of $15 per person.

‘Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience’

Step into Egypt’s Valley of the Kings at this riveting exhibit that brings to life the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb. Floor-to-ceiling video projections and sound experiences make visitors feel like they’re in the pharaoh’s final resting place, before traveling back three millennia to see what his rule looked like during the 18th dynasty and then back to the present day to learn how National Geographic explorers continue to study his astonishing reign. Open daily; exhibition on view through February. National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th St. NW. nationalgeographic.org. $20 for adults; $16 for students, seniors, military and educators; $12 for ages 5-12; free for children 4 and younger.

Immersive King Tut exhibit looks beyond the gold mask

Explore the great outdoors

Kayak out to the Mallows Bay ‘ghost fleet’

The haunting outlines of World War I-era wooden steamships — protruding from the Potomac River in Charles County, Md., like the giant ribs of sea monster skeletons — make up this “ghost fleet,” one of the largest shipwreck graveyards in the world. Even beginners should be able to kayak around and over the roughly 100 ship carcasses, which teem with marine life taking advantage of the innumerable nooks and crannies. Guided kayak tours are offered by Charles County (ages 8 and up; $55-$75) and REI (ages 12 and up; $105-$135). Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary, 1440 Wilson Landing Rd., Nanjemoy, Md. charlescountyparks.com/parks/kayak-tours; rei.com/events.

In Mallows Bay, a “ghost fleet” of wrecked ships is very much alive

Stroll through Ladew Topiary Gardens

More than 100 oversize topiaries sprout across these 22-acre gardens in Harford County, Md., including myriad geometric forms and an iconic scene of a horse-riding hunter and his hounds in hot pursuit of a fox. Step into the Butterfly House, an outdoor garden where you can admire and learn about the winged wonders, or take a leisurely stroll on the mile-long Nature Walk populated by a variety of birds. Open Thursday through Tuesday through Oct. 31. Ladew Topiary Gardens, 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton, Md. ladewgardens.com. $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, $4 for children ages 2-12, free for children younger than 2.

Go birdwatching in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Spread across 20,000 acres of verdant forests, marshes and quiet shallows, this epic refuge is a haven for bird life, including a large population of American bald eagles. Over the summer, expect to see goslings learning how to fly, blue-winged teals migrating south, and kingbirds and flycatchers gorging on insects. It will be buggy, so pack industrial-strength repellent powered by picaridin or DEET. Open daily. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, 2145 Key Wallace Dr., Cambridge, Md. fws.gov/refuge/blackwater. $3 per vehicle.

Break from a playground rut with one of these parks, brimming with things to do

Chef Michael Rafidi recently earned a Michelin star for Albi, his wood-fired homage to the Levant in Navy Yard, but his daytime cafe next door is equally praiseworthy. Start the day with ras el hanout-dusted morning buns and labne-filled, za’atar-speckled croissants, plus creative coffee, such as a baklava mocha latte. At lunch, puffy pitas come stuffed with your choice of chargrilled chicken, smoked lamb, fluffy falafel or barbecued cauliflower (veg-friendly options abound), all complemented by a vibrant bouquet of fresh herbs and clever schmears ($16-$17). Beat the heat by ordering swirls of fixin’s-dotted soft-serve, such as labne-baklava decorated with orange blossom honey, and tahini-chocolate pumped up with crumbled halvah and chocolate caramel. Open Tuesday-Sunday. Yellow, 1346 Fourth St. SE. yellowthecafe.com.

This feisty sub shop with a die-hard following recently moved from 14th Street into new digs off Dupont Circle. Don’t worry; the classic menu of sandwiches ($11.50-$18) is still available, including its take on an OG Italian hoagie (the Teamster) and the Crunchy Boi, featuring turkey, provolone, “shredduce,” garlic mayo and potato chips. There are two new additions, including the “Sopranos”-riffing Vesuvio II, a pork and beef meatball-packed beast lavished with vodka sauce and melted mozzarella. If you’re heading out for lunch on the go, grab one of the picnic kits ($15), which include a blanket, color-changing cups and a Frisbee emblazoned with the shop’s cheeky catchphrase, “No negative feedback.” Open daily. Compliments Only, 2029 P St. NW. complimentsonlysubs.com.

What began as a pandemic pop-up has morphed into one of the city’s best Mexican restaurants. Founded by Oyamel alum Christian Irabién, this slender spot with plenty of patio space down the block from Politics & Prose has something for everyone (entrees $23-$29). There are top-tier tacos, of course — including uber-indulgent short rib birria, citrus-laced pork carnitas and saucy chicken tingas — as well as an epic blue corn tortilla chip platter with salsas and dips galore; rich chocolate mole; best-in-show garlic rice; and tender, soaked-to-the-core tres leches cake. Open Tuesday-Sunday. ¡Muchas Gracias!, 5029 Connecticut Ave. NW. muchasgraciasdc.com.

The 25 best tacos in the D.C. area

Do a ropes course at Go Ape

The treetop adventure package at this aerial obstacle course, with locations in Derwood, Md., and Springfield, Va., takes you up to 50 feet into the canopy, where you’ll have dozens of obstacles to overcome, including a thrilling zip line through the trees. Kids can get some summer school done as they’re flying through the greenery and clambering up ropes by completing the course’s STEM-focused activity sheets on geometry, physics and biology. Note: Participants must be at least 4 feet 7 inches tall, and children 15 and younger must be supervised by an adult. The Derwood location also has a minimum age of 10. Go Ape Springfield: Open Wednesday through Sunday. 7550 Reservation Dr., Springfield, Va. $64.95 for ages 16 and older, $59.95 for ages 15 and younger. Go Ape Rockville: Open Wednesday through Monday. 6129 Needwood Lake Dr., Derwood, Md. $64.95. goape.com.

Find your inner ninja warrior at these obstacle courses

Crack codes and solve puzzles at Escape Quest

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get out of this escape room in 60 minutes. To be successful, you will have to crack codes, put together puzzles and decipher clues — which means working well as a team. Depending on the challenge you choose, you must find a missing archaeologist (“Expedition Unknown”), unearth hidden gold while saving a monarch (“The King’s Ransom”) or solve the mystery of the disappearing husbands (“The Black Widow”). This message will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck. Open Thursday through Monday. Escape Quest, 1127 King St., Alexandria, Va.; 4936 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda, Md. escapequestdc.com. $36-$54 per player, depending on number of participants.

Take a lesson at the Trapeze School

This is for the families who went to one of Cirque du Soleil’s highflying aerial shows and walked out thinking, “We want to do that!” Kids 6 and older and adults can start their circus training with intense but fun sessions focusing on trapeze, tumbling, trampoline and more, taking place indoors or on the outdoor trapeze, where you’ll feel like you’re soaring in the clouds. First-timers on the trapeze get safety training and takeoff lessons and learn to hang by their knees before spending the last 30 minutes of the two-hour class getting caught. TSNY-DC, 520 Tingey St. SE. Go to washingtondc.trapezeschool.com for class schedule and prices.

Take an unforgettable day trip

Tucked away in Rappahannock County, under the watchful eye of the Blue Ridge Mountains close to Shenandoah National Park and only a 1.5-hour drive from the city, this charming town is a prime destination for outdoor enthusiasts and foodies. Fuel up in the morning with baked goodies and spine-tingling espresso at Before & After (31 Main St.) before heading into the park to tackle the three-mile out-and-back Whiteoak Canyon Trail to the scenic lower falls ($30 per vehicle). On the weekend, grab a sourdough crusted pizza for lunch at Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen (3710 Sperryville Pike) before taking an easygoing walk along the Thornton River, then make your way to Pen Druid brewery (3863 Sperryville Pike), which has all outdoor seating and plenty of space for picnics. Finish the day with dinner at Headmaster’s Pub (12018 Lee Hwy.), which offers comfort food alongside plenty of classic arcade games and pinball machines. sperryville.com.

Less than two hours by car from D.C. on the picturesque Eastern Shore, this Norman Rockwell-esque town is packed full of great eating, fun shopping, and a vibrant arts and culture scene. The historic Avalon Theatre (40 E. Dover St.) hosts a genre-skipping array of performances, while the Academy Art Museum (106 South St.) is home to works from European and American masters, including American color field painter Gene Davis and minimalist sculptor Anne Truitt. Pop into Flying Cloud Booksellers (26 W. Dover St.) to pick up some summer reading, and hit Frugalicious (218 N. Washington St.) to do some chic thrifting. At mealtime, pizzas at Out of the Fire (22 Goldsborough St.) or seafood bursting with Maryland pride at Doc’s Downtown Grille (14 N. Washington St.) are your best bets. For a tasty treat, stop at Bonheur (5 Goldsborough St.), an Instagram-friendly sweet shop specializing in ice cream and pies. eastonmd.org.

The last couple of years felt like a roller-coaster ride no one asked to be on. Now is the opportunity to get on roller coasters you can’t wait to ride again and again. Thrill seekers will head for the Dominator and Intimidator 305, while those with littles (or more timid parents) will appreciate the milder Great Pumpkin Coaster and Snoopy’s Rocket Express. Plus, there are Ferris wheels, carousels, tower drops, go-karts, bumper cars and a new jungle-inspired musical show, “Let’s Get Wild.” If you want to stay cool, head to the Soak City water park for splashing, sliding and swimming, as well as a topsy-turvy river ride and mellower inner tubing. Open daily. Kings Dominion, 16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, Va. kingsdominion.com. $49.99-$59.99 online.

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