Rejoice! Old Man Winter must be on vacation in Florida. With temperatures hovering around 50 degrees and no end in sight, there is family fun to be had. Take advantage of mild temperatures to get the kids out of the house.
1) THE ZOO IS STILL AWESOME
The National Zoo is fantastic in the off season. There are fewer tourists, so visitors can enjoy short food lines and plenty of parking.
Over the weekend, a small tribe of boys and I spent six hours tramping around, and were delighted to find many animals out and active. Animals that slump in the shade during our wretched summer heat were romping with joy—and your kids have not lived until they’ve seen spectacled bears wrestle.
Animals usually associated with summer heat, such as lions, flamingos and elephants, venture outside when temperatures are mild. Even the notoriously cold-hating lemurs were out over the weekend, lined up to catch the afternoon sun on their furry white bellies. They looked old men in black socks snoozing on deck chairs.
If you want to enjoy some really warm weather, park in lots “D” or “E” and head for Amazonia. This enclosed habitat is TROPICAL, so take off your coat and enjoy the 80-plus degrees. As you enter, huge tanks echoing the Amazon River Basin house sinister rays and mammoth fish. Wind through the jungle as monkeys, colorful birds and a two-toed sloth navigate the lush canopy above your head. Small tanks feature close-up views of frogs, spiders and snakes, and there’s a terrific education center featuring hands-on activities.
Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
2) GO ICE SKATING
It’s not cold enough to ice the driveway, so get your skate on at Cabin John Ice Rink. There are open sessions every day for all levels. While you’re there, register in-person for classes. Register Feb. 18 through 23 (Montgomery County residents may register on Feb. 17) for ice skating classes that begin Feb. 24.
, 10610 Westlake Dr. , Bethesda.
3) GO CRAZY IN THE BOOKSTORE
What, you’re not Midas? OK, take a walk to your local library’s used book section. and both have a good selection with lots of books for kids (any maybe a little something for mommy). If you want more books than you can shake a stick at, try one of the BIG used Montgomery County used book stores in Rockville, Wheaton or Gaithersburg. Go to www.folmc.org for hours, information and directions.
4) SURVIVE AN INSECT ATTACK
Bah on tourists. This time of year is the best for visiting the National Mall—and for kids, the Insect Zoo on the second floor of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is a must. Volunteers feed tarantulas while you watch. They’ll let you hold hissing roaches and other creepy things. The best part? Winter means you can find parking on the mall if you go a bit early.
On Saturday, Feb. 11, celebrate the fourth anniversary of the exhibit Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution. Enjoy free special arts and crafts activities from 1 to 3 p.m. for children of all ages. Meet museum educators and learn about metamorphosis and native butterfly species of our region.
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, 10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC.
5) TAKE A HIKE
Drag the kids on a cold-weather walk and enjoy spectacular Great Falls in the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The park offers exciting views as the Potomac River pours through steep, jagged crevices into a narrow gorge. Kids of all ages and skill levels will find trails with plenty of rocks to scramble over, as well as safe and gentle paved trails. Near the parking lot, the C&O Canal and Great Falls Tavern offer a glimpse into the early history of this country.
Great Falls Park, 11710 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac.
How are you taking advantage of the warm weather before Old Man Winter comes to stay? Tell us in the comments.