Welcome to America's front yard. That's the National Mall's nickname in Washington, D.C. This, huge, beautiful three-mile-long expanse bordered by the Potomac River and Capitol Hill is where you'll find the Smithsonian museums, the famous Reflecting Pool, memorials to U.S. presidents and those who've died in wars.
This is also where families often head first when visiting the nation's capital (www.washington.org) and where they relax when they're on museum overload. Did we mention it's a great place to ride a carousel, turn cartwheels, fly a kite or read a book?
Come to the Library of Congress 2012 National Book Festival (Sept. 22-23) on the National Mall (www.loc.gov/bookfest) and the kids can help Clifford the Big Red Dog celebrate his 50th birthday and get some of your favorite books signed by authors.
Twenty-seven EU embassies and cultural institutes host open houses, puppet and theater shows, dance and music concerts, films and more at the free Kids Euro Festival (http://www.kidseurofestival.org/) Oct. 17-Nov. 13.
Fall is a great time to visit Washington, D.C. Hotel rates are down as much as half, and the summer humidity has disappeared, along with the crowds. No wonder it's Travelzoo's featured destination right now. (For more fall getaway ideas, check out the TakingtheKids special favorite fall getaways section, http://www.takingthekids.com/travel-topics/fourteen-favorite-fall-getaways-2.)
Love football? A Gaylord National Resort (http://bit.ly/oqsnza) package just across the Potomac in Maryland includes accommodations and Washington Redskins tickets.
The Liaison Capitol Hill, an Affinia Hotel, (www.affinia.com/election, and mention promo code VOTE12), is touting a Swing into the Election deal for $159 a night this fall, complete with walking tour kit of political sites and first lady cookies and milk. Check out the "Presidential Campaigns and the Press" exhibit at the interactive Newseum (www.newseum.org), where kids especially love the exhibit on first dogs.
Explore the eclectic Dupont Circle neighborhood when you stay at the Carlyle Suites Hotel (www.carlylesuites.com/washington-dc-vacation-packages/index.cfm), which is also offering fall deals. Look for more hotel deals at www.washington.org.
Another plus: There's probably no city with more free attractions -- more than 30 of the city's 50-plus museums are free. "Frommer's Washington, D.C. with Kids" points out that there are plenty of fun things to do, from watering the plants in the Children's Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden to tracing your family tree at the National Archives to visiting the Smithsonian Institution's 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park.
Let's not forget the Smithsonian's wonderful National Zoo (http://nationalzoo.si.edu) with its resident pandas. The zoo has also just unveiled the new American Trail exhibit that was five years in the making and where you will be transported to the Pacific Northwest and meet California sea lions, beavers, bald eagles and even two American gray wolves.
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