A Day Out in D.C.'s Glen Echo Park

by Miriam Chernick
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Originally an educational retreat, then an amusement park, Maryland's Glen Echo Park is now host to a variety of activities for kids and adults local to the Washington, D.C. area. There's a musical theater, a puppet theater, a carousel, a small nature center, a playground and café, and several historical points of interest. Just outside the main drag is an intriguing national monument -- the historical home of Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross.


Miriam and her children, Sydney (13) Hannah (11) and Ben (8)

Why families love it:

The wide open spaces, shaded walks and historical accents make Glen Echo Park a local favorite. On a nice day, it's a perfect place to stroll or run around. If it's too hot, you can sit inside one of several children's theaters for a show.

How to get there:

By car, from the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495), take exit 40 on the outer loop or exit 41 East on the inner loop. Take Clara Barton/Cabin John Parkway to the MacArthur Boulevard/Glen Echo exit. Make a left onto MacArthur Boulevard. Cross Goldsboro Road and then make a left onto Oxford Road where you will see the parking lot.

From downtown Washington, take Massachusetts Avenue in the northwest direction, to its end at Goldsboro Road, turn left, and continue to MacArthur Boulevard. Turn right on MacArthur Boulevard and take an immediate left onto Oxford Road where you will see the parking lot.

If you're taking public transportation, take Montgomery County Ride-On bus #29 operating daily from the Friendship Heights and Bethesda metro stations on the Red Line. From the parking lot, follow the path across the Minnehaha Creek bridge and enter the park.

Miriam's Glen Echo Park picks:

1. Dentzel Carousel

7300 MacArthur Blvd. 
Glen Echo, MD 20812

The centerpiece of Glen Echo Park is the Dentzel Carousel, which was originally installed in 1921. It's called a menagerie carousel because of its variety of animals. The 40 horses, 4 rabbits, 4 ostriches, giraffe, deer, lion, and tiger form three concentric circles, with their more decorated sides facing out and the plain sides facing in. The carousel also has 2 circus chariots, all to the delight of young children and their parents. 

2. The Puppet Company

7300 MacArthur Blvd. 
Glen Echo, MD 20812

This award-winning puppet theater created especially for children has built up a large repertoire of stories told using hand puppets, rod puppets, body puppets, marioneetes and shadow puppets. Performances scheduled in 2010 include "Rapunzel," "Beauty and the Beast," "Cinderella," "Sleeping Beauty" and Len Piper's "Pinocchio." 

3. The Ballroom Café and Playground

7300 MacArthur Blvd.
Glen Echo, MD 20812

Located in Glen Echo Park next to the Spanish Ballroom, the Ballroom Cafe is open seasonally from March to October, and offers a selection of sandwiches, fresh fruit, baked goods, snack foods and drinks. The hot dogs, pizza, and popcorn all get high marks from the kids and the service is good. Right outside are shaded picnic tables and a playground with swings, climbing and balancing equipment for kids. 

4. Adventure Theater

7300 MacArthur Blvd.
Glen Echo, MD 20812

Adventure Theatre is a local children's theater company that produces stage adaptations of traditional and popular children's stories. Selections from the 2009-2010 seaon include "Go, Dog, Go!," "The Little Engine That Could," "The New Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley," "The Red Balloon," and "If You Give a Kid a Pancake." While geared to the elementary school and under crowd, most older kids and adults find the shows to be entertaining, too. 

5. Clara Barton National Historic Site

711 Main St.
Evanston, IL 60202

Right outside Glen Echo Park is the house which Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, used as a warehouse for relief supplies during the Civil War. Later, Barton lived in the house, where, being very frugal, she used painted-over muslin to cover the ceilings. Equipped with ten bedrooms for use by Red Cross volunteers, the house also had a graphaphone for voice recording and old-style typewriters for record-keeping. 

Children's writer Miriam Chernick enjoys spending time with her family discovering new places in and around Washington, D.C.

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