Whether you’re local to Northern Virginia or on family vacation to Washington, DC, take an easy day trip to Fairfax County, Virginia for something totally different! There are so many unique and fun things to do in Fairfax County for families, it’s hard to believe this place is only 30 minutes from the nation’s capital!
Fairfax County, Virginia is located just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC, one of the five counties that make up the region of Northern Virginia. There are lots of kid-friendly things to do in Fairfax, VA like shops, restaurants, museums, parks and even the brand new LEGO Discovery Center.
Here’s our round up of the most fun things to do in Fairfax County for families! For more fun day trips from Washington, DC, check out our list of things to do in Loudoun County with kids, our round up of the best parks in Northern Virginia for families, and our guide to visiting Mount Vernon with kids.
Free things to do in Fairfax County, VA
The greater Washington, DC area is one of the more expensive places to live or to visit in the United States. It might be a surprise to learn that there are lots of free things to do in Fairfax County, VA!
We at Family Travels on a Budget are always happy to learn about great vacation budget stretchers… and we like to share them!
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center ( Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum)
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the lesser-known sister-site of the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Some, myself included, think the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is more amazing than the main site in DC.
Well…. there’s the Space Shuttle Discovery, for starters. Yep! The real thing!
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is home to nearly 3,000 artifacts, memorabilia and materials chronicling the history of aviation, Wartime aircraft and space flight.
Some highlights are the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, the speed record setting SR-71 Blackbird and several NASA space capsules, including John Glenn’s Mercury Friendship 7.
But really, what could be a more kid-friendly thing to do in Fairfax County, VA than checking out all these cool planes! Kids and kids at heart will love it.
Another cool feature, which draws quite a crowd, is the flight observation tower at the museum. Watch planes take off and land at Dulles International Airport as you listen to the chatter between pilots and the flight control tower.
Admission to this incredible museum is free, though there is a fee for parking.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located at14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy, near Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, VA.
If you use the DC Metro, take the Fairfax Connector bus from the Innovation Center Metrorail station to the Air and Space Museum.
Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, High Point Rd, Lorton, VA
Near Mason Neck State Park, there’s a hidden gem of a park called the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge.
The beautiful trail in this park is easy to navigate, and leads to the Eagle’s Nest overlook near the Potomac River. When looking for kid friendly things to do in Northern Virginia, this is not a hard trail, though it is a little long. The views at the end are well worth the trek.
Parking at Elizabeth Hartwell Wildlife Refuge is free. The address is High Point Road, Lorton, Virginia.
NAVIGATION NOTE: My GPS directions indicated that the parking lot was to the right, but it is to the left. The location is correct except for the entrance direction.
Washington & Old Dominion Trail
The Washington & Old Dominion Trail stretches 45 miles from Shirlington in Arlington County to Loudoun County, passing right through Fairfax County. Built on an old rail bed, this paved trail is popular for biking and walking.
The W&OD Trail passes by the remnants of historic mills, wildflower gardens planted for birds and butterflies, There are several playgrounds along the route, too. The W&OD Trail is quite popular with locals and visitors alike.
Frying Pan Farm Park
One of the best free things to do in Fairfax, VA with kids is to spend a day at Frying Pan Farm Park.
Frying Pan Farm Park preserves and interprets Fairfax County farm life of the 1920s to the 1950s.
The park features dairy farming exhibits, equestrian facilities, a 1920s era carousel (fee to ride), country store, barns, a farm house and farm animals. Beyond the farm area, enjoy wooded hiking trails near Frying Pan Branch Creek.
Throughout the year, the park hosts wagon rides, special events and activities. Some have a fee to participate.
Frying Pan Farm Park is located at 2739 West Ox Road Herndon, Virginia. The park is open from 9:00-5:00 each day.
Free Movies on the Lawn in the Mosaic District
Another one of the fun, free things to do in Farifax, VA with the kids is to catch a free movie!
The new Mosaic District, near I-66 and I-495, is an upscale shopping and dining complex with a weekly farmers market and a theater.
Just outside the Angelika Film Center, on the giant screen at Strawberry Park, movies are shown throughout the spring, summer and early fall. Called Films in the Park at Mosaic, these free movies draw a huge crowd.
Bring a picnic blanket, get dinner to go at one of the nearby restaurants and enjoy the film. Save some room for popcorn, sold by local vendors in the park!
Fun things to do in Fairfax County, VA for families that are totally worth it!
We love free activities to stretch the budget, but some things are worth the price of admission!
These attractions top our list of fun things to do in Fairfax County, VA for families! Whether you’re a NOVA local or visiting the area on vacation, these are the best kid-friendly things to do in Fairfax, VA.
Pohick Bay Regional Park
Pohick Bay Regional Park is my favorite park in Fairfax! I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been to lots of parks in Northern Virginia.
Pohick Bay is one of several parks managed by NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority). It offers a lot of kid friendly things to do in Fairfax County, VA, and can easily serve as a weekend getaway whether you live nearby or are looking for someplace fun to stay in the region.
For fun things to do in Fairfax County, head to the bay of the Mason Neck peninsula, following the clear signage in the parks. The Mason Neck peninsula area at Pohick Bay Regional Park offers boating, kayaking, a playground and a couple of park trailheads for easy hiking.
It’s also a great spot for bird watching. It’s hard to believe this peaceful spot is just a few miles from the DC Metro area.
The park also has an 18-hole golf course, a campground, a seasonal waterpark (summer), boat rentals, a fishing pier, miniature golf course, frisbee golf course (with easy and hard “tee” boxes), horse trails, nature trails and playgrounds.
During the busy season, expect to pay an $8 entrance fee, with an extra fee for some activities. As one of the most kid-friendly things to do in Fairfax County, VA, it’s worth every penny.
The park is located at 6501 Pohick Bay Dr, Lorton, VA. Open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Great Falls Park
Great Falls Park, owned and managed by the National Park Service, is an 800-acre park just 15 miles from Washington, DC.
The Potomac River’s Mather Gorge gives the park its name for the Class V whitewater rapids in some areas.
The trails lead to overlooks along the river that provide great views of the river and falls. There are picnic areas throughout the park as well.
NOTE: Entrance into Great Falls Park is $20/vehicle unless you have a National Parks Pass.
PRO TIP: This popular park often fills. Plan to go early to ensure a parking spot.
Great Falls Park is located at 9200 Old Dominion Dr, McLean, VA. The park opens daily at 7:00 a.m. and closes 30 minutes after sunset. The park is closed on December 25.
Mason Neck State Park
Mason Neck State Park sits on a peninsula formed by Pohick Bay, Belmont Bay and the Potomac River. This quiet park is one of the best parks in Northern Virginia to watch bald eagles.
If you’re looking for kids activities in Northern Virginia for wilderness lovers, this is one of the best places to see whistling swans, ducks, and herons. There’s even a heron rookery, so look up!
For kid friendly things to do in Northern Virginia, the park also has biking and hiking trails which are not too strenuous, picnic areas, and boating and fishing (permit required).
Admission to Mason Neck State Park is $10 per vehicle year round. If the ranger station is not manned, there is a drop box to pay your entrance fee.
Mason Neck State Park is located at 7301 High Point Rd, Lorton, VA. It is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to dusk, and closed on Virginia State Holidays.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon
A couple years ago, my son and I visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We planned to stay just a short while before driving home, but we liked it so much we stayed all afternoon. George Washington’s Mount Vernon is both an educational AND fun things to do in Fairfax County, VA for families!
Mount Vernon is located at 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, in Fairfax County, VA.
Tour George Mason’s Gunston Hall
Gunston Hall, completed in 1759, was the plantation home of George Mason, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Mason wrote the Virginia Constitution and the Virginia Declaration of Rights which is the basis of the U.S. Bill of Rights. If you didn’t know that, it’s okay. He’s often considered our “forgotten” founding father.
When you visit Gunston Hall, the tour starts in the museum where exhibits share what life was like when George Mason lived here. Many exhibits challenge you to think about issues of civil rights, equality and representation. These issues, which still cause our nation to stumble from time to time, were major issues even back in the 1700s.
After the museum, walk over to Gunston Hall and gardens to learn more about the family’s life here.
The home itself is an outstanding example of Georgian architecture and is highly regarded for its elegant interiors. The elaborate interior carvings, designed by indentured servant William Buckland and carved by William Bernard Sears, provide an impressive backdrop for guided tours of the 18th-century plantation household.
Museum staff have developed interactive elements to make it easier to think about life in the late 1700s as it was. One example is a table with everyday items to consider whether they are locally made or imported.
Another example shows playing cards as they looked in the late 1700s. On the back of the cards, read some of the issues that were debated over card games, much like happens today.
Behind the house, the family’s gardens are recently rehabbed to be more consistent with how they would have looked when the Mason family lived here. The staff has also taken the time to research and grow crops that enslaved families would have grown so that visitors learn the full story of everyone who lived at Gunston Hall.
I tour historic homes all over the country, and some stand out — Biltmore in North Carolina, and Monticello in Virginia to name two. Gunston Hall is a smaller property, but it is amazing. The museum team’s creativity has made history easier to understand than many places I visit.
It’s part history education, for sure. But, it’s also high on my list of kid-friendly things to do in Fairfax, VA because the presentation is interactive, not dry.
Gunston Hall is located at 10709 Gunston Rd, Mason Neck. Gunston Hall is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and the first two weeks of January.
LEGO Discovery Center Washington DC
LEGO Discovery Center Washington, D.C. is a next-generation play space, reimagined with a brand-new look and design. And, for fun things to do in Fairfax County, VA for families, this one is high on our list!
The bright, open space allow many people to visit without it feeling crowded. There’s even an area just for preschoolers called Duplo Park.
I was surprised to learn that there’s more than just LEGOs here. Kids — and their parents — can also enjoy the Imagination Express ride, the 4D theater, the climbing area and the space blaster game.
I found myself grinning on the Imagination Express ride, despite being really bad at hitting the targets. If you’re familiar with Walt Disney World, it’s not unlike Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
Other amenities include the cafe, sensory bags for kids who need them (ask at check-in), and the Lego Masters who work there. They may be the best part of the whole place! They don’t just play with LEGOs, but they are there to help everyone who visits to have fun!
LEGO Discovery Center is located at 6563 Springfield Mall, Suite 12004, Springfield, VA. Check the website for current hours.
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
Longtime blog readers know that I am a big fan of botanical gardens. I could spend hours at places like Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is just as great!
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens spans 95 acres with trails that wind throughout the park. With lakes, forests and wide open spaces, there’s a lot to see here.
One of my favorite places was the interactive children’s play garden, with bright flowers to attract butterflies and birds.
Speaking of kids, Meadowlark has special activities throughout the year making the gardens more approachable for younger visitors. These activities make the gardens one of the most kid-friendly things to do in Fairfax County, VA.
There are so many gardens to see at Meadowlark, that it’s hard to choose favorites. But, the Korean totem poles, called “jangseung,” are really interesting. Traditionally, jangseung were built in pairs to guard Korean villages against evil spirits, fire or other disasters.
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is located at 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Ct, Vienna, VA.
Hours from April-October are 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and in winter from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, or when weather requires it. If you want to see everything, allow at least three hours to visit.
For local residents of Northern Virginia and families vacationing in Washington, DC, check out Fairfax County, Virginia for something totally different! There are so many unique and fun things to do in Fairfax County, VA for families, it’s hard to believe this place is only 30 minutes from the nation’s capital! For kid-friendly things to do in Fairfax County, VA these parks, museums and attractions really fit the bill.