From Smithsonian museums to sightseeing tours, to blue crabs and to countless historical landmarks, the DMV has plenty of places to check off your family bucket list. But sometimes, your most prized memories and experiences as a family could come from hidden gems throughout the area you may not have heard about. I’ve mined three precious gems in the D, M and V (get it?) that I think would be worth paying a visit to.
D – Planet Word
When you think of museums, you probably think of canvases against clean white walls with no explanation as to their meanings, or overwhelming pieces of history you end up forgetting as you move to the next exhibit. While these have their lovers who take the time to appreciate everything behind them, it’s hard for everyone to leave a museum feeling fulfilled or passionate about something new. Especially for your kids, a more interactive and hands-on experience is needed – Planet Word does just that.
Planet Word is not your typical museum like I described above. When I came across it, the concept combined with free admission and its mission had me wondering why I had never heard of it before. Since its opening in October 2020, it’s no wonder that it hasn’t got the recognition it deserves. Shocking considering its overall 4.8 stars on Google, with one reviewer saying it’s a must-visit “if you have kids or just love books and language.”
“Planet Word is the only museum in the country dedicated to renewing and inspiring a love of words and language,” the website says.
From the wondrous Speaking Willow tree to a talking word wall, to fun yet educational karaoke, and of course, the new full-out puzzle room called Lexicon Lane, the excitement never stops as you move through the exhibits, as recommended from the top floor to the bottom.
Constructed from a historic school connects to its mission as well. It’s known that at the ages of 10-12, children begin to lose interest in reading for fun. It becomes a chore for school. I personally began to have that experience myself. Planet Word wants to change that and mostly caters to that audience (perfect for a family trip). As NYTimes author Deb Amlen states, “It’s not just about being able to pass an exam” for Ms. Ann B. Friedman, a former teacher and founder of the place. But that does not in any way mean all ages can’t be immersed in the museum experience and fall in love with reading once again.
M – Way Off Broadway
Imagine seeing a fantastic quality (off) Broadway show with the ones you love, including a full dinner buffet without the long trip to NYC and hurting your wallet. It’s a good thing you actually didn’t have to imagine, because Way Off Broadway is mid-Maryland’s greatest overlooked treasure. Did I mention the included buffet?
From interactive plays, to hit musicals, to extra-kid-friendly productions for your little ones, Way Off Broadway has something for the whole family all year long. I mean it when I say all year, as they are the Frederick area’s only year-round producing theatre.
From March 3rd-5th, don’t miss a WOB special event, A Fairytale Storybook Who Dunnit?: An Interactive Murder Mystery Event. See if your family has what it takes to solve a fairytale gone wrong and unmask a murderer by calling (301) 662-6600 to get your tickets today.
I have a feeling this place won’t be way off Broadway for long, so experience the feeling of finding a hidden gem before it shines.
V – Eden Center
Personally, this one hits close to home. I’ve been going here since I remember and there has never been a dull moment. Located right off of Arlington Boulevard in Falls Church, Eden Center has been the heart of Vietnamese culture (mostly food) for over 4 decades. Though it might not be much of a hidden gem for Asian locals on the east coast, most others have yet to step in.
The one place that always seems to have a line out the door, and the one place my family always visits first is Thanh Son [pronounced like tahn suhn] Tofu. From freshly fried different varieties of house made savory tofu & soymilk to countless options of Vietnamese sticky rice, desserts called chè, drinks, spring rolls, and endless others in the tiny space it occupies, there’s no wonder it’s a must-visit when you’re at Eden. Personally, my basics are the Onion Mushroom Fried Tofu,
Pandan Tofu Pudding, xôi sầu riêng and a free pandan soymilk if I spend a certain amount of money. View their menu here. Not to mention, in the years I have visited you start to notice the passionate chosen family business that runs the small but big-hearted store.
Now that I’ve talked your ear off about just one shop out of the over 115 family-owned stores and 230,000 feet of retail space, I highly recommend this piece by dcist’s Matt Blitz that talks about the past, present and future of Eden Center.
If you’re looking for a small piece of history:
“The Eden Center Clock Tower, an exact replica of downtown Saigon, was erected as a reminder of the home away from home for the thousands of immigrants who settled in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.” – fxva.com
All in all, I could’ve gate kept these gems, hidden them away to be “our little secret,” but these places deserve to thrive, and I genuinely hope you’ve discovered your new favorite spot in the DMV.