Travel With Kids: Fairfax County, Virginia

Travel With Kids: Fairfax County, Virginia 1

Some places you vacation once and then blow a kiss good-bye, knowing you will likely never return again. Other places, like Fairfax County in Northern Virginia, have more sticking power. In fact, when our family pulled away after a 5-night vacation in Fairfax County, we couldn't help but wish we had at least five MORE nights to spend in the area.

To put it simply, you won't be bored in Fairfax County. On the contrary, you'll be inspired, educated, entertained, and delighted.

Fairfax County is the perfect intersection of rich history and modern amenities. On the one hand, you are walking in the footsteps of some of our country's greatest leaders and, on the other hand, you experience the very best in innovation in architecture, science, technology, and the arts. Fairfax County also offers breathtaking views and over 400 parks, gardens, and reserves so that you can enjoy all that nature offers while also having access to hotels, restaurants, and cultural venues.

WEATHER IN FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA

In terms of weather, the best months to visit Fairfax County are April, May, September, and October when highs are in the 60s and 70s and lows are in the 40s and 50s. July and August are the warmest months with average highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s. January and February tend to be the coldest with highs in the 40s and lows in the 20s.

GETTING TO AND AROUND FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA

Fairfax County is conveniently situated between Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which means you have flight options. Once inside the county, we found that driving around was a cinch with well-laid out freeways and streets (including options to skip tolls). During our visit, we experienced very little traffic, even during rush hour.

THINGS TO DO IN FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA

Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Here's a fun trivia fact! Did you know that there are TWO Smithsonian National Air & Space Museums? You probably are most familiar with the one in Washington DC (as were we prior to this trip), but there is a second Air & Space Museum in Fairfax County. The biggest surprise of all is that it is MASSIVE and, in typical Smithsonian fashion, very well-done. In fact, we would probably argue that we enjoyed it MORE than the one in DC! This gem-of-a-Smithsonian offers interesting exhibits, an impressive number of aircraft on-display (300+), and an observation desk where you can hear LIVE audio from the airport within view. One of the best things about the Steven Udvar-Hazy Center is that it tends to be less crowded than its sister museum, which makes for a more pleasant and personalized experience.

GOOD TO KNOW:

  • As is the case with all Smithsonian museums, admission to the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center is free.
  • Parking is convenient and plentiful, accommodating even large trucks and buses.
  • Be sure to marvel over the awe-inspiring Discovery Space Shuttle (which is on-site at the museum).
  • There are LIVE Video Docents on large screens where you can interact and ask questions with scientists and aeronautical experts (they are at home in their living rooms or in their offices - ready to chat with you about the aircraft in front of you).
  • Although IMAX tickets are an added expense, we found that The Dream is Alive film added much context to our visit because we were able to learn more about how astronauts trained and lived aboard the Discovery.

GENERAL INFORMATION:

  • HOURS: 10:00am-5:30pm, daily
  • COST: Admission is free. Parking is $15.
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Great Falls Park

DO go chasing waterfalls at Great Falls Park! At Great Falls, the Potomac River gradually builds up speed and force, cascading down steep rocks before eventually flowing into Chesapeake Bay.

Our family completed an easy, shady 1.5 mile riverside hike that began at Riverbend Park and linked us directly to the three lookout areas for an impressive view of the thundering waterfalls.

GOOD TO KNOW:

  • George Washington was born in and spent most of his life near the Potomac. Additionally, many of the Civil War battles were fought alongside or near the Potomac.
  • If you park at Riverbend park and hike in to the falls (approximately 1.5 miles each way), you can park for free. If you park at Great Falls, you will need either a Great Falls annual pass or an America the Beautiful pass.
  • Remember that if you have a fourth grader in your family, you can get a free annual Every Kid in a Park pass (which grants you access into hundreds of parks, lands, and waters across the USA).

GENERAL INFORMATION:

  • HOURS: 7:00am to 30 minutes after sunset, daily
  • COST: A vehicle permit is $20. Alternatively, you can purchase a Great Falls annual pass ($35/year) or an America the Beautiful Annual Pass ($80/year).
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Great Falls Centre

Located about 7 minutes from Great Falls Park, Great Falls Village Centre is an adorable business/retail area with a romantic gazebo, lush lawns, and quaint buildings. The center includes three restaurants, one coffee shop, one ice cream shop, two dentists, a hair salon, a nail spa, a dance studio, and a number of other offices.

GENERAL INFORMATION:

  • HOURS: Each store/restaurant has their own hours.
  • COST: Admission to the centre is free.
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George Washington's Mount Vernon

George Washington, the first President of the United States, lived at Mount Vernon for much of his childhood as well as his adulthood (when he wasn't away due to his presidency or the war). In fact, he even died in his home in December of 1799. Unsurprisingly due to the vast amount of rich history within its doors, Mount Vernon is the most visited historic home in the United States.

The 500-acre property, which is privately owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, includes the stunning mansion (which is right off the Potomac River), restored gardens, outbuildings, and a working 1700s farm. You'll see the slave quarters, the icebox, the salt house, a massive 16-sided barn, and the tomb of George Washington, among other things. Costumed docents sometimes make an appearance as well, giving you a glimpse of what it may have been like to live in the mid to late 1700s.

GOOD TO KNOW:

  • Parking is free and plentiful. There are also spaces for RVs in the east parking lot and overflow parking lot.
  • Don't miss the air-conditioned Education Center and Museum, which are wonderfully executed and well worth a visit. Be sure to catch one of the showings of the 4D Revolutionary War Film (one of our highlights!), where your kids will be enchanted by flurrying snowflakes inside the theatre. The Be Washington interactive theatre was also a thoughtfully curated experience wherein you consult various advisors of Washington's day and then decide a course of action as if you were Washington himself. You then compare your decision with other players in the room.

GENERAL INFORMATION:

  • HOURS: April through October - 9:00am-5:00pm. November through March - 9:00am-4:00pm.
  • COST: Adult (ages 12+) $28, Youth (ages 6-11) $15, Child (ages birth to 5) FREE
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Mosaic District

Mosaic District is an outdoor, upscale, picturesque shopping center with plentiful restaurants and adorable shops with appealing window displays. Enjoy this trendy and posh urban neighborhood where polo-clad men meander next to women and small children, who look like they are fresh out of Ralph Lauren catalogs.

GOOD TO KNOW:

  • All garage parking and street parking at Mosaic District is free!
  • Young children will enjoy going up and down the escalator to Target.

GENERAL INFORMATION:

  • HOURS: Each shop/restaurant has its own hours.
  • COST: It's free to window shop and walk around. The shops and restaurants tend to be high-end.
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Perch Putt at Capital One Center

Brand new at Capital One Center in 2022, you can now miniature golf on a rooftop (11 stories up!) at Perch Putt! I'm generally not one to spring at the chance to go miniature golfing, but I can unequivocally say that this is the best miniature golf experience our family has ever had. Imagine playing on a pristine course with the breeze in your hair, a drink in your hand, and sweeping views of the cityscape from atop a modern hotel!

Perch Putt is part of a larger area called The Perch, which is home to an amphitheater for live music, hip food trucks, and trendy seating under twinkling lights for a perfectly instagram-worthy experience. Well-dressed business people congregate here after work, but families are also more than welcome to enjoy the space. Even dogs are welcome at the rooftop dog park!

GOOD TO KNOW:

  • Kids will love playing miniature golf and oversized chess, rocking back and forth on the porch swings, and dancing along to live music.
  • At night, check in at the airstream entrance of Perch Putt and ask to play with a neon glow-in-the-dark golf ball for added swankiness.

GENERAL INFORMATION:

  • COST: It's free to go up to The Perch. There is a fee for dining, drinks, and miniature golf.
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DINING IN FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA

Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant

When you visit Mount Vernon, we highly recommend that you dine right on-property at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant. The experience is beautifully thematic (the interior looks much like the Mount Vernon mansion) and the food is delicious (Kudos to the chef!). Our family ordered Szechuan Salmon, 10 oz Tea Brined Pork Chop, Tavern Cobb Salad, and Triple Decker Club Sandwich - and we all remarked at the tastiness of the dishes. By the end of the meal, our palettes were very satisfied and the meal remains our favorite dining out experience from the Virginia/DC area. Note, too, that the gluten-free desserts are exceptional. I'm still dreaming about the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting!

GOOD TO KNOW:

  • If you have a preschooler, order the Loaded Baked Potato as a main entree - creamy, cheesy goodness at exactly the right serving size!
  • To keep costs down, consider having dessert and coffee at Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant instead of a full meal. Did I mention the carrot cake was delicious?
  • Brunch is only offered on Saturdays and Sundays. Menu items are in the $10-$16 range with two children's menu options for $6.

GENERAL INFORMATION:

  • HOURS: Sunday (10:00am-5:00pm), Monday (11:00am-5:00pm), Tuesday-Friday (11:00am-8:00pm), Saturday (10:00am-8:00pm)
  • COST: $10-$30 per entree
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WHERE TO STAY IN FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA

Bull Run Regional Park Campground

We stayed in our RV at Bull Run Regional Park Campground, which is a massive park, steeped in history, with a pristine campground that allows you to be out in nature while also being conveniently located to area attractions in Fairfax County. As an added bonus, If you stay in Fairfax County, you will be within 25-50 minutes of Washington DC. Click on the above link to read our full Campground Spotlight.

OUR NEXT TRIP TO FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA

It will come as no surprise to you that we are already dreaming up our next trip to Fairfax County! In fact, if I could snap my fingers and go back this very instant, I would!

On our next trip to the area, we hope to:

  • See a children's theatre or Broadway production at Wolf Trap, the country's only National Park dedicated to the performing arts.
  • Bike along Mount Vernon Trail.
  • Re-visit Mount Vernon. (P.S. Save 20% on admission with code FAIRFAX20)
  • Return to DC - where memorials, museums, and amazing attractions abound.

HAVE FUN IN FAIRFAX COUNTY, VA!

Watch this page for continued updates and top tips for planning a trip to Fairfax County, VA. For additional resources and sample itineraries, visit the Fairfax County website.

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