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Adventure | Washington D.C. with Kids
Adventure | A Guide to Washington D.C. with Kids by Swell Made Co.

Adventure | A Guide to Washington D.C. with Kids by Swell Made Co.

In May, we took a much needed break and headed to New York City and Washington D.C. as a family (auntie + uncle included). New York City is always fun; but never having been to Washington D.C. as a family, we really enjoyed our time together in a new city. Washington D.C. is beautiful and family-friendly with so much to see and do. And eat! The best part, so many things are free! Known as the Capitol of Free, which is reassuring when traveling as a family. We'll be back again soon. Here is a quick guide to some of our favourite family spots in D.C.


Washington D.C. is known for its food and restaurants. As of late (past decade), the scene has changed dramatically and it shows. Read more about that here. During the week, you'll find food trucks lining the streets around the downtown core, high-end and diverse dining is abundant, and you'll easily find everything in between. Here are a few of our favourite family-friendly choices. My sister-in-law is an expert at finding fun restaurants, so I give her all the credit for helping us track these down. Most of these are (by coincidence) "chainlets". Meaning, you'll find multiple locations throughout the city and surrounding area.

EAT + DRINK

Busboys & Poets
Described as a haven for writers, thinkers and performers from America's progressive social and political movements, Busboys & Poets is a restaurant, lounge, theatre and book/gift shop. This casual spot offers southern comfort food (and more) and drinks in a relaxed atmosphere.
busboysandpoets.com

Founding Farmers
A love for local, seasonal food fuels this farm-to-table American restaurant. Rustic-chic, you'll find brunch to dinner at this busy spot. Try the beignets and sausage at breakfast and a cauliflower steak for dinner. 
wearefoundingfarmers.com

We, The Pizza
Need to nosh on the go. Kids love pizza, am I right? We, The Pizza has NYC style pizza by the slice or pie. Wash it down with homemade sodas.
wethepizza.com

Ted's Bulletin
Ted’s Bulletin is an American classic with a bit of style, complete with savoury homemade food and a family friendly atmosphere. Try the homemade pop tarts, pies, and cakes. Kids and adults will love the shaketenders and baristas who can whip up a custom milkshake — with or without alcohol (seen below).
tedsbulletin.com

District Doughnut
Handcrafted daily, District Doughnuts offers delicious pastries with signatures flavours: Brown Butter and Salted Dulce de Leche. They serve the nation's capital with a penchant for classic and internationally-inspired flavours and a commitment to Washington's history and creative spirit.
districtdoughnut.com

Adventures with Kids in Washington D.C. | Smithsonian National Gallery of Art

Adventures with Kids in Washington D.C. | Smithsonian National Gallery of Art

As mentioned above, Washington D.C. is the "Capitol of Free", so don't worry about breaking the bank. And for Canadians, this makes the current exchange rate easier to swallow. From concerts, festivals/events, renowned galleries and museums, there are so many things to do as family for free. Or, almost nothing. This stands true for anytime of year.

SEE + DO

Smithsonian Museums, Galleries & Zoo
Come to Washington D.C. to see the Smithsonian museums, galleries and zoo and you pretty much have your trip planned. There are so many intriguing properties and collections to see. Kids will especially love the Museums of Natural History, Air and Space and American History. Parents will love a little quiet time in the American Botanical Gardens and National Art Galleries (including the outdoor sculpture garden) and the Renwick Gallery (seen below), which are also great for kids.

While not downtown, don't forget to take trip to the zoo and explore the animals and park system. The best part of all, everything is FREE! Giving you a chance to visit them all, not once, but as many times as you like.
si.edu

International Spy Museum
Not free like the Smithsonian museums, but high on entertainment value, this museum guides you through an exciting look at the history of spies. Our kids are 7 and 4 and they thoroughly enjoyed this museum; although I'm sure older kids would get more out if it. Be sure to let staff know you're a family and you'll be given a special task with a surprise at the end. My 7 year old daughter loved solving puzzles and deciphering secret messages as we learned about spies. It had an "escape room" vibe which is fun (not scary).
spymuseum.org

The Newseum
The Newseum promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. Considered one of the most interactive museums in the world, the Newseum experience also traces the evolution of electronic communication from the birth of radio, to the technologies of the present and the future. I'd recommend this museum for "bigger kids" (10 and up).
newseum.org

Playgrounds, Parks & The Potomac
Take a break from the tourist spots and explore the neighbourhoods of Washington D.C. where you'll be delighted by "epic" playgrounds (Palisades Playground seen below). See a list of the best ones here. D.C. is lush and green and full of parks, trail systems and gorgeous neighbourhoods to enjoy the outdoors and be active. This is the best way to live like a local and explore. If you want to get wet, check out the Yards Park at the Capitol Riverfront in the summer (or skate in the winter). You can certainly walk the parks; and if you're so inclined, see the outdoors from a kayak or paddle boat along the scenic (a tidal basin) Potomac River.

Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts
When you visit Washington D.C. be sure to see what's on at the "Ken Cen". There are free performances on the Millennial Stage every night at 6 pm! Regular performances start shortly after and tickets are reasonably priced. The types of performances vary from folk music to orchestra and so much more. There's something for everyone.
kennedy-center.org

The Mall
You can't visit Washington D.C. without a trip to The Mall. Take a walk among the monuments and visit the galleries and museums that line it. There's lots of room to move about as a family, and so much to learn about American history. Use the Circulator to get around easily from site to site. It's a bus system designed for those touring the sites with regular frequency. It's a $1 to ride each time (kids are free). The routes also extend beyond the mall.

I didn't get into accommodations, but there are plenty of places to stay in Washington D.C. As a group of six, we found it best to rent an apartment through Airbnb to give everyone a bit of space. It also allowed us to explore neighbourhoods like Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights away from downtown, which I'd highly recommend. We just happened to be steps from one of the zoo entrances which was a huge bonus with kids.

That's it! Just a quick and easy guide to Washington D.C. If you have suggestions for family-friendly things to see, do or eat in D.C. I'd love to hear them. Feel free to comment below as we'll definitely make a trip to Washington D.C. again. Politics aside, there truly is something for everyone and it's a fascinating place to see where history has taken place for generations. Not to mention, it makes watching House of Cards so much more intriguing ;)

Thanks for reading. Enjoy!

Adventures with Kids in Washington D.C. | Lincoln Memorial. Martin Luther King Jr. Quote.

Adventures with Kids in Washington D.C. | Lincoln Memorial. Martin Luther King Jr. Quote.

Adventure | Top 5 Tips for Iceland
Skogafoss

Skogafoss

There's no denying Iceland is having a moment right now. It seems everyone I know is going to, or has been to the land of fire and ice recently. We spent 2 weeks in Iceland this past August and it was nothing short of spectacular. While we didn't make it around the entire ring road, we certainly packed in a lot of adventure with two littles (6yo and 3yo) in tow. We all had a grand time.

Time away from the regular grind should be awe-inspiring (read about the science behind that claim) and there is no shortage in Iceland. At every turn you'll find something wild and beautiful. Nothing like you've ever seen, because there really is nowhere on earth that compares (geologically speaking). I'm no expert, but I thought I'd share a few of my top 5 tips for travelling in Iceland, just in case you're making the journey yourself for the first time.

It's a bit of a mish-mash, and I'm not going to tell you about the top sights or restaurants - there are tons of other great posts about those things (see resources way down below). Instead, here are a few tips that are a little different. 

1 - GET OFF THE BEATEN PATH

There are countless places to seen off the beaten path. Iceland is fascinatingly full of natural wonder and "secret" places you can have to yourself. At least, for a little while. You'll need a vehicle (likely a 4x4), but it's worth the trek. Don't be afraid to veer off the Golden Circle route and explore some little known gems in the area. Bring a picnic too! 

The same goes for any part of the country. Whether you head to the south or east coasts, or around the entire island, wonders are yours to discover. Definitely, go west (see tip 4). Just be sure you don't take F-Roads unless authorized by your car rental provider.


  • Brurafoss Falls - These elusive icy blue falls are tricky to find, but worth the trek and just minutes off the Golden Circle. This short hike was one of the highlights of our trip because we were the only ones there. Here are the best directions. 
     
  • Gjain Valley + Haifoss Falls - Past Fludir, head east to the magical land of Gjain. Another tricky spot to find. It's named one of the most beautiful spots in Iceland. Here are the best directions. If you've made it this far, you may as well visit the jaw-dropping Haifoss falls as well. Here are more directions!
     
  • Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon - Heading east? After you pass the curious and mossy Eldhraun lava fields, be sure to make a stop at this majestic canyon with a calm river that meanders through it. This otherworldly sight is a must visit. 
     
  • Gljúfrabúi Falls - You'll no doubt visit Seljalandsfoss as you drive the ring road, but don't overlook Gljúfrabúi falls. Just a mere 600m from Seljalandsfoss, it's slightly hidden and often missed. Do the extra walk and you won't be disappointed. How often do you get to enter a cave and walk directly under a cascade of water?
     
  • Vestmannaeyjar Islands - Do you have an extra day or two to relax? If so, head to the Vestmannaeyjar islands for a slow-paced visit to a beautiful collection of volcanic islands with an intriguing history. Some of the country's most idyllic hikes, best restaurants and friendliest people can be found here. 
Brurafoss

Brurafoss

2 - EMBRACE WATER

In Iceland, there is water, water everywhere. For us, it became a consistent theme throughout our trip. Whether we were chasing waterfalls (too many to count) or bathing in the the country's warm community pools or lagoons. Much of Iceland's water comes from natural geothermal sources and it's as pure as you'll ever find.

Don't buy bottled water! You can drink from the tap the entire time you're there. Just bring a re-useable bottle. 


The choice is yours, you can wade in natural hot pots and rivers, old lagoons or brand-new community pools with plenty of room to wallow and even slide. They're inviting and warm all year round. The pool is to Iceland, as the pub is to Britain - a place to de-stress and enjoy conversation with your neighbours and friends. Here is a great list of top swimming experiences Iceland. And more specifically with kids, here is another list.

Just remember, you're required to have a full shower with soap (naked), unless you want to be stared at in the pool. It's a huge faux-pas to not shower beforehand. Chlorine is almost non-existent in Iceland. Do your part and keep the water clean. 


  • Blue Lagoon - While it's the largest (busiest) attraction in Iceland, you can't come to Iceland without taking a dip in the Blaa Lonid. The images of serene blue water are probably what peeked your interest in Iceland in the first place. Go! Enjoy. It's as dreamy as it looks.
     
  • Secret Lagoon - Just off the Golden Circle route in Fludir you'll find one of Iceland's oldest and original community pools. Taking pride in providing a natural experience, Gamla Laugin, still has all the amenities you would find at a posh pool. Float around looking for natural hot spots while watching bubbling geysirs. There's also a wonderful bakery in town for a treat after (just look for the signs).
     
  • Seljavellir - Nestled in a narrow valley in the shadow of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, this is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. Take a short hike through a valley where you'll be treated with this humble warm pool tucked amongst the mountains. Here are directions
     
  • Reykjadalur Hot River - Take a short hike and wade in a hot river. Yes, that's right! Pack your suit and towel and experience the real Iceland. Here are directions
     
  • Community Pools - From Reykjavik to Hofn and every small town in between, you'll find some of the loveliest community pools. It's a civic right to have a well-appointed pool in your community in Iceland. They're warm, clean, and fun (slides!). It's the best way to experience Icelandic life. Not sure where to go? Just look for a sign with a head above wavy lines in any town, and you've found the pool. 

    Laugardalslaug is the largest pool in Reykjavik and worth a visit. It's also part of the city's largest park complete with botanical gardens and a dreamy cafe. And a zoo with epic playground! Make an afternoon of it. Here is a complete list of pools in the Reykjavik area. The one in the Vestmannaeyjar islands was our favourite, complete with various slides and a climbing wall. Here is another great list of the best community pools across the country.
swellmadeco-reykjavik.jpg

3 - LIVE LIKE A LOCAL

While staying in Iceland, live like a local and rent apartments or rooms through booking sites like AirBnb. This will undoubtedly give you a peek into local life and provide a comfortable stay. Places are available across the country. From cabins to farmstays, you'll experience the real Iceland and meet friendly locals. 

You've probably heard, Iceland is expensive. It's true. You'll feel the pinch most when eating out, which you should definitely do (it's worth it). However, if your accommodation has cooking facilities you can save some money by shopping locally at grocery stores like Kronan. Buy local seafood, lamb, cheese/dairy and other goodies so you don't feel like you're missing out. Bakeries are tremendous with loads of local sweet treats. They also offer very reasonably priced sandwiches to pack for road trips or picnics. For wine and beer, head to the Vínbúðin shops for the best prices. We're Canadian and didn't find the prices of groceries and liquor to be that much more than home. You'll notice a lack of fresh produce though. Remember how far north you really are!

As mentioned above in tip 2, one of the best ways to experience Iceland is through its pools. To understand Iceland's water culture, read here.


  • Bakeries - Delicious and resonably priced. Bakeries are the best way to stay on a budget and treat yourself to something local. Try the kleinur (twisted donuts) and cakes. Just try it all. Sandwiches for picnics are a "steal" at local bakeries.
     
  • Hot Dogs - When in Iceland, do as the locals do and try pylsur with everything on it. These aren't your typical North American hot dogs. Local, free-range lamb and pork hot dogs are served with ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade and crispy onions. One isn't enough (they're small), so save yourself lining up twice and get two. You might want to pick up Icelandic mustard to take home from Kronan. It's so tasty!
     
  • Dairy - Icelander's are proud of their dairy, and rightfully so. Try the skyr (yogurt) and ice cream. It's the best you'll ever have. Well-crafted and pure, Icelandic dairy farms are still small and it shows in the outstanding products.
     
  • Seafood - Iceland is surrounded by the sea making it an ideal place to try seafood. Salmon, cured fish, lobster and langoustine. Seek what your heart desires and you'll not be disappointed.
     
  • Music - Sure, you know Bjork is from Iceland; but did you know that Of Monsters of Men, Kaleo and Sigur Rios are products of this proudly creative country as well? Listen local.  
     
  • Design - Like other Nordic countries, Icelanders have an innate sense of design which I can only assume comes from a culture that has boundless inspiration from its natural surroundings. Of course, they also greatly support the arts and design.

    Just look at the Harpa Concert Hall and Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik, where inspiration comes from the basalt columns found throughout Iceland. Visit the country's many sculpture gardens, galleries and design shops. They are well-curated and inspiring. You might even find something to take home.
Kirkjufell

Kirkjufell

4 - GO WEST

Many travellers arriving in Iceland head straight for the Golden Circle (after the Blue Lagoon). In keeping with tip 1; why not head the other direction and go West to the Snaelfellsnes Pensisula, or even further to the West Fjords? Visit a glacier, see charming fishing towns, countless waterfalls, secret hot pots, and take in coastal views (dramatic cliffs to rolling beaches). All in one day. 

The paths are less traveled, but equally stunning. It's a nice quiet way to ease into your time in Iceland if you have more than a few days. Some of these sights are only one hour from Reykjavik. It's easy to explore something different even if you're short on time. Here's a a great guide.


Must See:

  • Glymur - Iceland's second tallest waterfall is within reach with this quick, but stunning hike. Here is a guide
     
  • Kirkjufell - Iceland's most photographed mountain is on the Snaelfellsnes Pensisula. Complete with waterfalls that have a remarkable view of the mountain, it's postcard perfect. Plus, the drive to the falls is breathtaking. You'll spot waterfalls dropping off nearly every cliff in sight. It's magical.
     
  • Branafoss + Hraunfossar - Take a detour to see this set of famous falls near Husafell. A collection of countless creeks and cascades small and big streaming out of the lava over a distance of about 900 metres. 
Basalt Comuns at Reynisfjara Beach (Black Sands Beach)

Basalt Comuns at Reynisfjara Beach (Black Sands Beach)

5 - STAY CONNECTED

It's fun to get lost, but you don't have to! Stay connected with wireless spots (including IN your car rental provider) to find directions and stay connected with hosts and friends.

If you plan to venture to the back country, always register with Safe Travel. Even in the best conditions, Iceland can be unpredictable so it's a good idea. Plus, it's a great place to stay up-to-date with any alerts that may affect your adventurous plans.

That's all, swell friends. Simply put, it was a dream come true. We'd been dreaming of a visit for years and we finally had a chance. I could go on and on about Iceland. Perhaps, I'll do another post in the future and break some spots down in more detail.

Thanks to great resources like Unlocking Kiki, Guide to Iceland, I Heart Reykjavik and the Reyjavik Grapevine for guiding us through our trip full of spontaneous adventures. 

Adventure | A Guide to Savannah
Beautiful architecture in the Historic District of Savannah, Georgia.

Beautiful architecture in the Historic District of Savannah, Georgia.

Back in November, we took a break and headed to Florida to catch up with family. Not before stopping in Savannah, Georgia on the way. We're so glad we did. Not only was it a great way to break up the drive from Toronto, but we were instantly charmed by this sweet and romantic city. We only had 2 days, but we'll be back again (when can I move?). It's just too lovely not to. Plus, it's home to SCAD, which I love (being a designer, myself). Here's a quick guide to the city if you have the chance to visit. Hopefully, you'll have more time!

Southern hospitality will welcome you with open arms as you get lost in this historical city. After all it is the "Hostess City of the South". Talk about warmth. From the people to the sunshine. This city just embraces you in a way that's truly unique. It's a little city, with big heart.


WHAT TO EAT

MRS. WILKE'S DINING ROOOM
I don't think a first visit to Savannah would be complete without a visit to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room for good old-fashioned Southern cooking. Be warned, you'll likely have to wait in line for at least an hour, but it is WELL worth the wait. Bring $20 cash per person and you'll enjoy the best fried chicken dinner (all you can eat) of your life amongst the company of others (happy, but hungry strangers) family style. Sides include cornbread, mac n' cheese, collard greens, squash, sweet potato, multiple types of beans, mashed potatoes, creamed corn... it goes on, and on. It's deliciously overwhelming.

You may not be able to eat everything, but you can certainly try. Wash it down with sweet tea and top it off with banana cream pie or a peach cobbler. Forsyth Park is a few blocks away, and the Downtown Design District is around the corner. So, wander the streets and walk it off. mrswilkes.com

LEOPOLD'S ICE CREAM
If you're shopping along Broughton Street, be sure to pop into Leopold's Ice Cream for a sweet treat. It's a Savannah tradition since 1919. This lovely soda shop is a pleasant stop on a warm day. Or, any day for that matter. Treats can be topped with Georgia's famous pecans amongst other goodies. Yum! leopoldsicecream.com

GRYPHON TEA ROOM
A former apothecary turned tea room, is a magical place to spend an afternoon. It's quaint and warm, and offers a mosaic of loose teas. They offer a traditional tea service in the afternoon, but you can also visit for brunch and lunch. Operated by SCAD, you'll often be welcomed by students who are carrying on the tradition of Southern hospitality in this beautiful and historic space. When you're on the move again, visit the Shop SCAD boutique across the street! http://web.scad.edu/experience/gryphon/

ANGEL'S BBQ
You are down south, so you have to try some Southern BBQ while you're in Savannah. Head to Angels BBQ for traditional, but casual fare including pulled pork, chicken and brisket with mouthwatering and memorable (you can take them home) BBQ sauces. There are veggie options too. Get messy and enjoy! angels-bbq.com


Fountain at Forsyth Park.

Fountain at Forsyth Park.

WHAT TO DO

BIKE TOURS
Get familiar with the city quickly with a bike tour of Savannah. Sit back in a bicycle powered rickshaw as your guide gives you an informal, but informative tour of the city that's design has been acclaimed since it's inception. Or, you can grab your own set of wheels to take to the streets. If you're looking for a themed bike tour, they have those too! From haunted, historical, art to pub crawls. There's something for everyone. The city is definitely a manageable size to see by bicycle, or even foot.

CITY SQUARES & FORSYTH PARK
The city is comprised of 24 squares carefully planned by the city’s founder, General James Oglethorpe (you'll hear his name often). The squares are surrounded by historic homes, churches and buildings. Visit as many as you can as you meander through the streets of the Historic District. You'll be in awe with the beauty and abundance of architecture (second to Chicago in the US) and history of this loveable city. And yes, it's true. One of the squares appeared in the movie, Forrest Gump.

Forsyth Park is a beautiful green spot to enjoy with its live oak and Spanish moss trees. Stroll past the fountain as you listen to musicians playing, and as your peer at students' sketchbooks while they practice drawing. There are two new, lovely playgrounds if you're traveling with kids. Ours had a grand time in this park.

RIVER STREET
River Street, paved with 200-year-old cobblestones, runs along the length of the Savannah River. Once lined with warehouses, it is now a hub for tourism hosting restaurants, shops, galleries and inns. Head down the original staircases from Bay Street and you'll feel like you've stepped into the past. There's also an elevator for accessibility. A lovely street that's worth a stroll. Stop into River Street Sweets and Savannah Bee Company.

CITY MARKET
Since the early 1700’s, City Market has been the commercial and social centre of historic Savannah. Located on the original site of the market used by farmers and traders, City Market offers the best of old and new. Comprised a four-block area of restored warehouses, you'll find an array of restaurants and shops to enjoy. It's also adjacent to the newly restored Ellis Square. 


Postcard from the Paris Market.

Postcard from the Paris Market.

WHERE TO SHOP

THE PARIS MARKET
This shop on Broughton Street (shopping district) is gorgeous and eclectic. A passion for world travel is combined with a whimsical and nuanced design style. It houses a large collection of vintage and new finds from markets around the world (Paris to Cairo). You can also grab an espresso at their lovely cafe to enjoy inside or out. theparismarket.com

ONE FISH, TWO FISH
Located in the Downtown Design District amongst a handful of adorable shops (and around the corner from Mrs. Wilkes), One Fish, Two Fish is a fun shop to visit. Filled with delightful and unique home decor, jewelry and furniture as well as stationery. onefishstore.com

Right near by on Whitaker Street, you can also take a look at La Paperie and the Custard Boutique.


Live oak-lined drive at Wormsloe Plantation.

Live oak-lined drive at Wormsloe Plantation.

AROUND THE CITY

WORMSLOE PLANTATION
The live oak-lined drive (longest in the world) to this 1700s-era plantation is definitely worth a visit. As you head down the drive you can stop at the interpretive centre and walk the grounds through a system of beautiful and serene trails. 

SKIDAWAY ISLAND STATE PARK
Hike this breathtaking barrier island on Moon River, made famous by the song. It's right by Wormsloe Plantation, so enjoy both outdoors beauties in one trip. There's much to discover so close to the centre of Savannah. 

TYBEE ISLAND
Head 20 minutes east of Savannah and you will find a beautiful little barrier island community with relaxing sandy beaches. Tybee is a fun spot to get away and enjoy great food, shopping and beach life. It really deserves its own guide.