2020 Babysitting Rates & Childcare Costs Study

Wondering how much to pay your babysitter in 2020? According to UrbanSitter and their 9th annual child care study of more than 25,000 families across the U.S., the average hourly babysitting rate is $17.73 for one child and $20.30 for two children. Read on for the average babysitting rates in your city, plus more fun facts. 2020-Rates-Infographic

How Much Does Babysitting Cost in 2019



As you prepare to hire a babysitter, the important question of pricing may be looming in the back of your mind. While this is not a service that you want to cut corners on or skimp on, you also do not want to pay more than you need to for quality childcare services. As you decide how much money to offer your babysitter, keep these important factors in mind.

Factors Influencing Babysitting Rates

Babysitting rates vary dramatically based on several factors. These include the experience of the babysitter and his or her credentials. Consider that a professional nanny with a lengthy list of references may understandably charge more than a teenage babysitter who picks up odd jobs on the weekends. Your location will also play a role in the rate for childcare services. The minimum wage in your area should serve as a starting point when setting a threshold. The demand for babysitters, your need for special services, the number of children who will be cared for, the children’s ages and many other factors all must be taken into consideration.

The Difference Between Full-Time and Part-Time Care

There is a difference in the process of hiring a full-time vs. part-time babysitter. Full-time typically means being salaried with paid time off, holidays, etc, written in a contract, while part-time is normally paid out hourly but with set days/times. So be sure you know the minimum wage laws, but also do your research to know what the average rates in your area are for full-time nannies. If you are looking for one-time or part-time care, a slightly lower hourly rate may be reasonable.
The National Average for 2019

The National Average for 2019

The average hourly rate for one child is $16.75 in the U.S. for 2019. The national average for two children is $19.26 per hour. Additional children will raise the average rate further. Before you decide how much to pay for childcare services, consider asking your friends and neighbors how much they pay for their preferred babysitter. By polling several parents and making adjustments for the various relevant factors, you can better determine how much you should pay for the services that you need.

Many babysitters and nannies have a minimum rate that they are willing to work for. While you should research local rates, you also should ask the individuals whom you are interested in hiring what they charge. Through your research, you can determine if their requested rate is reasonable for your needs and for the area.

2017 Babysitting Rates: How much should you pay your babysitter?

We surveyed over 20,000 families from all across the country to get the scoop on what parents are willing to pay forand what they’re willing to pay extra forwhen it comes to childcare in 2017!

  • San Francisco came in as the most expensive city for babysitters once again in 2017, with $17.34/hour for one child as the average rate. While Denver has the least expensive babysitters in the nation, at $12.22/hour for one child, on average.
  • 48% of parents said they spend over $1,000 a year on childcare.
  • Over 90% of parents say they require references, either some or all of the time, when hiring a new sitter.
  • Almost 1/3 of parents hire a sitter at least once a week. While only 5% say they hire a sitter once a year or less.




Meet the Silickis of Tenleytown, Washington, DC

Pleasance and Mel Silicki with kids Milo and Saylor at Lil Omm Yoga in Washington DC’s Tenleytown

By Dawn Van Osdell

On a recent brisk, snowy day in Tenleytown, Pleasance Silicki was watching out her window as her 3-year-old son, Milo, played in the newly fallen snow.  Preschool had been called off due to the weather. And since Milo’s big sister, Saylor’s, first grade class at Janney Elementary School was enjoying no such luck, Pleasance had only one kid and the family dog to keep her eye on as she chatted about the life she and husband Mel have built for themselves in this historic neighborhood on Washington, DC’s Red Line.

“We’re a real-life, modern day Dharma and Greg,” says Pleasance, born Pleasance Chyna Lowengard Darling, referring to the ‘90s sitcom about a married couple who’s a perfect match despite their night-and-day personalities and pursuits. She’s a self-described liberal, Jewish, sometimes-vegetarian who runs a family yoga studio. Mel is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican from Delaware, a CrossFit fanatic, and a builder by trade.

“Our home is the community, really. It’s our extended family.”

— Pleasance Silicki

The two lived for more than a decade in a modern townhouse Mel built for Pleasance in Grover Park. She used to call it her dream house, but once kids and a dog entered the picture, she realized they needed to swap sleek for homey. It took an unexpected business upheaval, self-reflection, and a stroke of luck to find just the right spot in family-friendly Tenleytown, which is just a short walk from the Lil Omm yoga studio Pleasance opened in 2010.

Originally, Pleasance, a former kindergarten and first grade teacher who also taught prenatal and Mommy & Me yoga in the Georgetown Lululemon store, opened her own studio in Palisades. The impetus was the frustration she’d experienced as a new mom to Saylor, on finding no integration between yoga and family in DC. “Yoga and spiritual connection are all about family, and kids and family are not parts I could leave out,” she says.

Pleasance lost the lease on her studio when she was weeks away from giving birth to Milo. “I was really pregnant and one hot mess!” she remembers, explaining how her “itsy-bitsy” yoga classes were deemed “too loud, too vibrant” for the upper-level office building space she was renting. She suddenly found herself with a community of dedicated families—a sort of broad family in its own right—and nowhere to teach them. The silver lining was a welcome four-month maternity leave and a chance to land a more kid-friendly space in Tenleytown, which turned out to be more accessible to her core community, anyway.

Saylor feels right at home at Lil Omm

Three and a half years after Lil Omm found a home in Tenleytown, the Silickis did, too. Pleasance wanted to be able to walk to the studio she had so painstakingly built. “I felt less vibrant, less connected when I was away,” she says. “It feeds my soul.” And Mel was more than game for a move. “I’m a builder,” he says. “I knew there’d be a time when we’d leave the home we built and find another.”

After journaling and creating her own vision boards about a house that would provide her family with a better mind and body connection, Pleasance says she wasn’t surprised when she found it— three bedrooms in a well-loved rental house—on Craig’s List.  “When you have faith and trust and you align it all with your values, it manifests. It all works out,” she says. The house also has the fenced-in yard they coveted for their Staffordshire bull terrier, Miller; an office and meditation space for Pleasance; and an open, flowing downstairs where the kids can play and run around circles, and everyone gathers around a big table in the kitchen for family dinners and “a lot of art projects,” says Mel.

“Our home is the community, really. It’s our extended family,” Pleasance says. The kids go to school with friends they know from Lil Omm, and spending time together at the studio is the life they know. “Yoga is their language,” Pleasance says. She recently heard Milo squeal, “Oh, I love that pose!” when he spotted a dog lifting a leg to do his business in the park.

Just as she’d once hoped, Pleasance can now throw on her shoes and run down to the studio to fill in for her instructors at a moment’s notice. Saylor often comes along to help moms with their babies. Pleasance and Mel rely on a nanny to help with their own childcare, but Mel happily ducks home from his nearby office whenever he’s needed. “I’m so proud of the business and community Plez has grown,” he boasts.


Having home, work and play in close proximity allows both Pleasance and Mel to be more flexible with their schedules. When Milo was repeatedly asking if tonight was family dinner night, they shuffled class schedules, work meetings, and personal workouts to add a second family dinner to the weekly calendar. Wednesdays are date night—usually dinner out—a ritual Pleasance and Mel have carefully guarded for the past two years. On weekends, they divide and conquer for morning workouts, meeting up in the afternoons for a swim at nearby Wilson High School, an outing at adjacent American University Park, or a movie. They often eat out as a family at neighborhood Mexican mainstay, Guapo’s, or at Masala Art for the kids’ favorite Indian dinner.

The family has two years left on their house lease and no plans to leave the neighborhood when it expires. “Everything happens for a reason,” says Pleasance. “Sometimes it just takes some time to get where you’re supposed to be.”

Photos by Jeffrey Morris

Corinne Cannon of the DC Diaper Bank is Making a Difference from the Botton Up

By Dawn Van Osdell

Corinne Cannon, an expert on the effects of care on infant brain development, is more skilled in handling babies than most people. But back in 2009, awake in the dead of night with her inconsolable, colicky first child, Jack, she felt as helpless and alone as every other mother in that desperate situation. She woke up her husband, Jay, asleep in the next room of their Capital Hill home, and handed over the wailing infant to get some relief. “The physical reality of parenthood is brutal, and that’s when it’s going absolutely perfectly,” says Cannon, now also mom to two-year-old Callie. But what happens to the women who have no one to wake when they’ve had enough, she wondered. And what happens to fussy babies when their mothers have reached their breaking point?

As a result of all those late-night, stress-induced thoughts and feelings, for the last five years Cannon has presided over a cinderblock warehouse in an industrial park in Silver Spring, Maryland, that’s marked with a small sign that reads DC Diaper Bank.  Despite the fact that Silver Spring is Cannon’s hometown, this is an unlikely workplace for a woman who graduated from London’s esteemed School of Economics with an advanced degree in cognitive anthropology. The entrance is crammed with donated packs of disposable diapers waiting to be sorted into piles beside ceiling-high stacks inside the 3,000 square foot space. Next to it, trucks pull up to the large dock, where volunteers load bundles of diapers that will be delivered all across the greater Washington area.

“The physical reality of parenthood is brutal, and that’s when it’s going absolutely perfectly”

— Corinne Cannon
Corinne Cannon is getting diapers to families who need them

For a mom who studied and rallied to make a difference in the lives of moms less fortunate than herself, the place is unlikely for another reason. Says Cannon, “I was surprised to hear, again and again, that diapers are the thing that mothers most need, not food or formula.”  This is because Safety Net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), don’t cover the cost of diapers. And as any family knows, diapers are expensive. The estimated daily need for infants adds up to about $100 a month—more for families living in poor areas, who have no access to big box stores like Costco. That means that low-income families often have to make a choice between diapers and food. “There are families making do with one or two diapers a day, or worse yet, they are wiping out [disposable] diapers and reusing them,” says Cannon.

So, getting diapers into the hands of families that need them provides greatly reduced stress levels for both mother and child, and proper hygiene and care for the infant. The former, explains Cannon, is especially critical during a baby’s first three years of life, when his brain develops at its most rapid pace. “It’s during this very short and very crucial timeframe when you literally build your brain,” she says.  “We know that the brains of babies who experience prolonged periods of stress, and who have caregivers who are under stress, do not grow in the same way.”

Diapers also open the door to getting even greater aid to families, from health and legal services they may have been previously unwilling to accept. “When a social worker shows up at a house and says, ‘I have diapers and formula,’ doors open ten times faster” than if a social services provider shows up empty handed; in the latter case, the perception can be that she’s come to judge and assess, rather than to help, says Cannon.

Cannon spent years dealing with similar maternal and family issues when she worked in health communications, helping to spread the word about HIV/AIDS prevention and programs and creating curriculum around environmental health for children, for management and policy consulting firm ICF International. She admits that as a working mom with a rewarding career, she had no intention of starting a non-profit. But, “There was a such a need for a region-wide solution for getting bare necessities to those who need them the most,” she says, that she couldn’t ignore the fact that her knowledge and expertise in infant development and family care could help affect a significant change.

She started DC Diaper Bank on Jack’s first birthday, in 2010, without any outside funding. She was still working full-time at ICF, piling cases of diapers in her basement that had been donated by families who had leftovers, or through diaper drives; or that she’d purchased wholesale with donations that typically came in $25 to $50 increments. “It was, and remains, a shoestring affair,” Cannon says. In 2011, she secured a corporate donation commitment from Huggies and became a member of the National Diaper Bank Network, a non-profit organization that provides local diaper banks with hundreds of thousands of diapers, in addition to support, technical assistance, and connections to similar non-profits all over the country. She also partnered with Capital Area Food Bank, one of the largest distributors of food and aid in the DC area, which agreed to store the diapers and distribute them to social service organizations and food banks that already helped families in need. She started out distributing about 5,000 diapers a month and within two and a half years, that number rose to 50,000. In 2013, DC Diaper Bank moved to Silver Spring and Cannon quit her job to fully commit to the work, pro bono.

Corinne Cannon and her kids at the DC Diaper Bank

Today, the DC Diaper Bank space is more than a warehouse. It’s a welcoming community hub of do-gooding for families throughout the DC area and beyond. Families, mothers’ groups, scouting troops, meet regularly to bundle and sort diapers, organize and clean the space. Toddlers whizz down the aisles between the stacks on ride-along toys while their mothers volunteer. There’s a colorful play space, too, where kids can spread out with snacks and juice boxes, scribble on an easel, chase balls down the aisles of diapers, and maybe even lend a hand.

“Families are hungry to volunteer and to talk about issues like poverty and need, but it’s a hard conversation to start with a child and there’s nowhere to comfortably do it,” says Cannon. The Diaper Bank provides a forum for that conversation, and a gentle place where children can begin to understand the meaning of need. “Kids remember when they wore diapers, they see their siblings wearing them, and they can understand how all babies need them,” says Cannon. “They just get it.”

Last summer, the Diaper Bank added a baby pantry to their space, to collect other non-essential baby care items that are not covered by federal aid, like baby wipes and diaper rash cream, as well as formula and baby food. In a star-studded ceremony, Cannon was named a 2014 a L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth and honored with $10,000 for her charity for her remarkable—and growing—legacy: To date, the DC Diaper Bank has distributed more than 1.5 million diapers and helped an estimated 2,600 families per month.

For more information about how you can help with the DC Diaper Bank or find a local diaper bank in your area, check out dcdiaperbank.org.

Photographs by Jeffrey Morris

Meet Belinda Garza, Matt Hartwig & Graciela, Petworth, Washington, DC

By Christina Bruce

The last “first” time that Belinda Garza and Matt Hartwig met, they were at an engagement party, seated at opposite ends of a large table. Noticing a tall and handsome stranger, Belinda elbowed her friend and whispered, “Who’s that?” She also noticed how much fun the guests on his side of the table seemed to be having. “I loved the people on my end but wanted in on that party!”

First impressions can count for a lot, but not in this case. Garza and Hartwig already met more than once over the years, but those meetings never quite registered until that fateful party. As Garza says more than five years later, “Timing is everything.”

Timing also turned out to be key in finding the airy, slate-grey row house in Northwest Washington D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood that they now share with 7-month-old daughter, Graciela and Spot, a three-year-old Bluetick/Coonhound mix (they think).

While living in Columbia Heights, a busy neighborhood about a mile south, they knew they wanted to find a place “that was big enough to allow us to grow,” says Harwig, an Iowa native who’s director of communications and external affairs at BP America (Garza, who hails from Texas, is vice president of government relations at the Spanish language cable network, Univision). The pair wasn’t initially familiar with Petworth, but after much searching, they finally settled on this four-bedroom house because it had a yard and was close to the Metro, which made for easier commuting. “It turned out to be a really good move,” Hartwig says, “because in the year and a half we’ve been here, it has really changed.”

“Each D.C. neighborhood is developing its own vibe. This one has a nice mix of new people with longtime residents.”




He means for the better. Petworth is one of several neighborhoods in D.C. that’s seen a transformation as a result of the city’s landmark growth in recent years. New restaurants and businesses (including “an actual bookstore that sells books,” Hartwig wrily notes) have popped up within walking distance—and for the couple, so has a community.

“The neighborhood is changing so much, and so quickly, that all the residents are really active in what’s going on,” Garza says. D.C.’s growth has led to the development of New York-style enclaves with their own identities. Says Hartwig, “Each neighborhood is developing its own vibe. This one feels very family-oriented. You still have a nice mix of new people with longtime residents, who have seen the neighborhood go through all kinds of transitions.”

The couple have come to rely on the neighborhood’s active listserv, which advertises everything from schools to goods for sale. But it was Hartwig’s love of basketball that led them to part ownership in a nearby diner. Coaching the son of entrepreneur Paul Ruppert, who owns the aforementioned bookstore as well as local haunts like the upscale pub Petworth Citizen, Hartwig got to know about his latest project, a diner called Slim’s, which is slated to open this August. Ruppert told Hartwig he’d be opening up 45 percent of the diner’s ownership to the community, and Hartwig and Garza decided to take a stake in it—they felt the neighborhood could use a place that was open late, something not common in early-to-close D.C.

Ruppert also owns one of the couple’s favorite new places for a date night, the cozy, popular Japanese-French restaurant, Crane & Turtle, four blocks away from their house. “Small seating, open kitchen, great menu, small plates, good wine,” enthuses Garza.

Homegrown ‘hood-within-‘hood events such as Grant Circle Social, a monthly outdoor gathering, help keep them connected with neighbors.  “People take their dogs, or take their kids,” Garza says. “We take them both,” says Hartwig, adding that the get-together is a nice way to meet neighbors, “because there are a lot of new, particularly young, families moving in.” Hartwig is also on the board of Petworth’s weekend market, featuring farm vendors, live music, and crafts,

Baby Graciela can also be seen about town at “many a happy hour, many a brunch,” Garza says. Hartwig jokes that he’s posted Graciela’s picture at Petworth Citizen on Instagram with the hashtag #babyinabar, a nod to the early after-work drinking scene where strollers are not uncommon.

It’s possible that Graciela’s active social calendar has contributed to what Hartwig calls her “baby FOMO”: Fear of Missing Out. Both Graciela and Spot—a rescue from local nonprofit Lucky Dog who also frequents the nearby dog run and has play dates with other local canines—like to socialize. Spot plunks himself in the middle of the group when visitors are around, while Graciela defies bedtime and makes baby-chat with new acquaintances.

Rock Creek Park, the four-square-mile urban oasis a short drive away, is a favorite for weekend mornings. “When it’s warm, we come back through the farmer’s market on Saturdays, get some coffee and some fruit and pastries, and then we get started with our day,” Garza says.

It wasn’t so long ago that she and Hartwig would have been just getting to the gym at that hour, she recalls. But Graciela and Spot aren’t on the same timetable: “They don’t know what a weekend is yet.”

Photographs by Jeffrey Morris

Ice Cream Jubilee’s Victoria Lai on Retooling the Five-Year Plan and the Importance of Pink Desserts

By Christina Bruce

Five years ago, Victoria Lai accepted what she thought was her dream job. She left a law career in New York City to work at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a presidential appointee working on immigration issues.

Even as a teenager in Houston, Lai, the daughter of first-generation Chinese parents, knew she wanted to make her mark in Washington. She picked Wellesley, the seedbed for women in leadership, for college. She worked on the John Kerry presidential campaign as director of outreach to Asian-American voters. She was, as she puts it, “Doing all the right things.”

Although it wasn’t on her resume, she also happened to have a talent for making ice cream.

But that side interest turned into a future she couldn’t have imagined for herself when she walked into the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services headquarters in downtown D.C. (USIS is a branch of the DHS). “I’m the type of person who always had a five-year and a ten-year plan,” Lai says, but “it was really deflating to find my dream job and then realize it wasn’t everything that I wanted it to be.”

Sitting for a chat a few weeks ago at a table in the airy D.C. riverfront store, Ice Cream Jubilee, that she opened just over a year ago, she reflects on how a home hobby morphed into a thriving business and a huge detour from the national policy career she’d always imagined.

Lai’s love of ice cream is attached to a warm childhood memory. Her father, a neurologist who often worked through dinnertime, would share ice cream with Victoria and her sister when he got home at night.  “It’s what brought our family together when my dad was really busy,” Lai says. “

Lai started making her own ice cream in her un-air-conditioned apartment in New York as a way of indulging her creative side, and continued the habit when she moved to D.C., featuring her creations on a blog that would eventually provide the name for her brand. Even though she had gone so far as to rent a commercial kitchen in D.C.’s NoMa district and was selling her ice cream to two local grocery stores, the pursuit remained firmly “on the side” in her mind.

Things changed when she entered the D.C. Scoop competition in 2013. Making more ice cream than she ever had before—13 gallons, double her usual weekly output—she toted it to D.C.’s Union Market and gave out samples to some 8,000 attendees in blazing July heat. In a field of more than 15 vendors, she won the people’s choice award. “I just didn’t think that I was in that league,” Lai says.

Weeks later, the developers of a waterfront site at Navy Yard, an area booming with new housing and restaurants just a short walk from the Nationals ballpark, asked her if she would be interested in opening an ice cream shop.

When she visited, she found the site fluorescent-lit, with papered-over windows. Even so, she could appreciate how much sunlight the towering floor-to-ceiling windows would bring in, and the beauty of the river view beyond. “If I’m going to dedicate myself to long hours every week, I might as well do it somewhere as beautiful as this,” she thought. “This is where I want to be. It was that conclusion that made me take the leap.” Today, she still feels that same sense of uncertainty about a five-year plan, but in a different way: “I’m sort of at a loss for what’s going to come, but only because there are many more directions to go,” she says.

The Navy Yard waterfront still has a bit of the empty, almost-too-clean feeling of a neighborhood that’s still being redeveloped. Modern glass-front apartments, a movie theater, and a winery/event space are all underway. On a sunny weekday afternoon, a group of construction workers from a site nearby comes into the store, and Lai pauses her conversation to make sure one of her employees hands out water.

In running her business, Lai has lots of emotional and practical support from her husband, Howard Yoon, and 10-year-old stepson, Ian. Yoon, a literary agent who has also blogged about food, helps develop Ice Cream Jubilee’s signature unusual flavors, such as maple rye pecan and salty apple pie. Ian puts stickers on pint lids, cleans the windows (at least, as far as he can reach), and recently opened a pop-up root beer float stand outside the shop.

“My relationship with Ian has grown as the store has grown,” says Lai, who married Yoon this past January after meeting him at a supper club event in 2011. And he’s learning plenty about hard work. “When a kid sees the line and hears the crowd and waits up till 11 p.m. for me to come home,” she says, “that’s a whole lot more tangible than me doing a really hard negotiation or being on an airplane all the time.”

Every week at Ice Cream Jubilee brings new challenges: Whole Foods has already upped its order from early July, and the store broke sales records when its first birthday celebration, National Ice Cream Day, and the arrival of Taylor Swift for two shows at Nationals Park all coincided during the week of July 12.

Meeting the demand is a challenge, given that production happens out of the store and storage is limited. Lai says she has already doubled staff from last year and rearranged the store to fit customers in a double-length line at the counter. Still, Lai is launching a mail order delivery option soon (“I joke that once we do that, then my mom can be a quarter of our sales”) and eyeing locations for a second store.

She’s also constantly coming up with new, sophisticated, and offbeat flavors—Dark and Stormy, based on the cocktail, was one of her recent favorites—and she’s dedicated to using high-quality, local cream. But Lai is also committed to keeping prices as low as possible, and being family-friendly.

“If a family comes here and there is no pink ice cream, somebody’s world is going to get destroyed,” she says. “We hear that all the time: ‘What do you have that’s pink?’”

That’s why a freezer full of cool, new flavors must always have room for good old vanilla and, of course, strawberry.

“Pink ice cream with rainbow sprinkles cures a lot of problems,” Lai says. “If life can be that easy, let’s smooth that over for people.”

Photographs by Jeffrey Morris

Last Minute Family Day Trips For the Dog Days of Summer

By Ilene Miller

My two boys, age 10 and 13, love to spend summer “chillaxing” and getting away from the grind of the school year. But typically, by the end of July, we are all burned out on the pool and looking for some family fun in the sun that doesn’t involve a three hour car ride to the beach or the lakes.

Luckily for us, metro DC has an abundance of activities that make for great family day trips. But no matter what age your kids are—and no matter what city you live in—zoos and other places that house animals are a surefire hit. If you live in DC, check out the Leesburg Animal Park in Northern Virginia. My son Max has taken selfies with a goat, a chicken, and a donkey and hopes to cover all farm animals by summer’s end.

The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve & Zoo in Thurmont, MD offers unique animal encounters where you can touch an exotic animal and learn all about it through their terrific education program. To make a day of it, we like to visit the Cunningham Falls for a short hike and picnic. And of course, in the middle of the nation’s capital we have the star gem of the Smithsonian in the National Zoo. Admission is free and you can literally spend an entire day exploring all of the exhibits!  Once you’re tuckered out, be sure to stop by Baked by Yael’s Cake Pops, a newly-opened, woman-founded cake poppery right across the street and tell her Urban Family and Activity Rocket sent you!

New Yorkers can make the drive (or take a scenic Hudson River train ride) to the Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills. A center for food and agriculture that’s built on part of the old Rockefeller estate, its 80 rolling acres of wood- and farmland are idyllic for families, even if you’ve got your dog in tow (Fido must be kept leashed at all times, though). You can sign up to collect eggs from the farm’s chickens, visit the pigs, the sheep, and the greenhouse, or just stroll around and take in a breath of fresh air. For lunch, sandwiches, salads and baked good made with the products from the farm are available in the Blue Hill Café. Or, if you feel like getting fancy, make a dinner reservation at Chef Dan Barber’s award-winning Blue Hill restaurant (you’ll also have to tote some snazzy duds—no shorts allowed in the dining room!).

In Chicago’s Brookfield suburb, the Chicago Zoological Park has been a Mecca for families for over 80 years. Built on 216 acres, and housing about 450 species of animals, this is an easy place to wile away the day. If you live in the LA area, the Santa Barbara Zoo is just 90 miles north of the city and is considered one of the most beautiful zoos in the world. Where else can you see more than 500 animals while overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Andree Clark Bird Refuge, and Santa Ynez Mountains? It’s right by the beach so it’s typically chilly—a bonus on a hot summer day. Not to miss: feeding the giraffes and riding the train, which goes all around the zoo.

When it’s downright boiling outside, we head for some water-bound relief. Harper’s Ferry is another short drive from downtown DC, and a great place to go whitewater rafting or tubing. Last summer, we had a blast leisurely tubing down the river and exploring the riverbeds, and the kids got a huge kick out of the floating cooler and waterproof camera.  In the District, at Key Bridge Boathouse, you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes. Afterwards, it’s fun to walk around Georgetown or people watch on the waterfront. We also love to rent sailboats at the Washington Sailing Marina and classes are available for kids, adults, and even families.

Across the country, on the San Diego Coast, San Elijo State Beach provides all the thrills of camping and a day at the beach, rolled into one easy-to-reach location. By day, families can build sand castles and play in the reef-protected waters. When the sun goes down, build a bonfire, roast marshmallows, and teach your kids some camp songs. If you need a break from nature, Wan Pizza has delicious pizzas and the waiters bring kids dough instead of crayons to play with while you wait for your food. If you’re looking for watery adventure from Los Angeles, try a kayaking daytrip with LA River Kayak Safari, led by local guides and featuring wildlife galore.

Both San Franciscans and Angelenos can take a family road trip on Highway 1 between Los Angeles and San Francisco to piddle around the tidal pools at Montaña de Oro State Park, and watch the gray whales migrate north from lookouts along the steep cliffs of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

This summer, my family adventure bucket list includes Trapeze School New York in Washington and the zip line at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring. I have done both with my girlfriends but have not experienced them with my sons and husband yet. I can’t wait to settle once and for all who is our family’s biggest daredevil! Adventure parks are hot right now and you’ll have no trouble locating one within striking distance of your own city.

My kids would shoot me if I didn’t mention amusement parks. We try to end every summer with a trip to one that’s nearby. We are a huge rollercoaster family and dare each other to sit in the front seat, not hold on, keep our eyes open.  It’s a great way to celebrate the end of summer and for us, it’s a short drive to Kings DominionHershey ParkDutch Wonderland, and Idlewild from the metro DC area.

New Yorkers with little kids in tow will find rides for tots at the world-famous Luna Park at Brooklyn’s Coney Island; and north of the city, in Westchester, historic Rye Playland on the Long Island Sound has something for all ages—including Kiddyland, with rides galore for the just-walking set. Knott’s Berry Farm is a great destination for families in SoCal looking for an alternative to Disney.

So, rather than sit at home in the air conditioning as the summer starts to feel like it’s overstayed its welcome, hop in the car and drive off to a little adventure!

Ilene Miller is co-founder of Activity Rocket in metro DC. 

DC Thrifty Mom Nicole Luke and her Family, North Petworth, Washington, DC

The Luke Family at DC's Takoma Park Recreation Center


By Dawn Van Osdell

Just a few short years ago, Nicole Luke was working for the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s now defunct Tutu Institute, where she organized pilgrimages to South Africa for those seeking spiritual renewal, and even met the Dalai Lama. Today, she’s the mom behind the popular community blog, DC Thrifty Mom, continuing what she calls her “civic responsibility” by helping parents find rewarding experiences to enjoy with their kids—without blowing the family budget or even leaving town. You’re likely to find her; her husband Orin, a local real estate agent; and their 9- and 4-year-old daughters, taking advantage of DC’s incredible parks or tinkering on a project at a free workshop. “It’s just about knowing how to find enriching family experiences,” she says.

Here, Luke talks to us about making the transition to a one-income household before starting her blog and discovering that kids don’t care about expensive stuff nearly as much as they care about spending time together as a family. She shares tips for stretching the family dollar in one of the country’s most expensive cites, and gives advice on where to look for inexpensive family fun no matter where you live.

Which DC neighborhood do you call home? We live in North Petworth, a gem of a neighborhood that borders Petworth and Takoma Park, in Northwest DC. It has a wonderful community feel in an urban environment. We truly know our neighbors, which is something we never expected when we moved here 15 years ago. We don’t have our own families here, but we have a lovely 90-year-old neighbor—Aunt Georgia, as my kids call her—who’s always available to help with the kids.

What else does North Petworth bring to family life? We live on the same block as the Takoma Park Recreation Center, which we visit often. We even held our daughter’s third birthday party there. Thanks to a DC initiative to get kids moving and encourage outdoor play, all city parks have been renovated, many with pools and spray grounds—outdoor play spaces with sprinklers and water features. They are beautiful and a lot of people have no idea just how much they offer. For instance, at Tacoma Park, this fall my daughters will take swim lessons, ballet, no-cook cooking classes, and art classes—and I’ve paid just $150 for it all.

Wow! What other local finds have you discovered? We’re between branches of the DC Public Library, so we’re able to enjoy programming—which is often free—at both. When my girls were younger, we attended story time. Now we take advantage of week-long programming. My oldest attended an amazing science camp held by Glaxo Smith Klein at the Georgetown library branch, and has also done make-and-tinker camps. We’ve also enjoyed free tickets to the Nationals game by each child logging just eight hours of reading over the summer. And we have the Smithsonian  in our backyard, which offers loads of incredible programming.

Did discovering all these incredible deals inspire you to start your blog? Yes, I started it two and a half years ago when I became a stay-at-home parent. My job as director of operations for the Tutu Institute was relocating, and while I had the opportunity to move with it to South Africa, I had a three-month-old infant and the time just wasn’t right; I decided to stay home with my children.

I had been used to simply writing a check without much thought when we wanted to do a family activity. When we moved to being a one-income household, I had to make an intentional effort to find and choose activities to fit our budget. I was amazed at what I found, and wanted to share it with others. I had a goal of acquiring 1,500 followers in the first year. I exceeded that goal in our first quarter, and today the blog has nearly 15,000 followers. People want to know what’s available, and I want them to share what they know, too. A thrifty friend—as I call my readers— recently told me that the National Park Service offers free roller skating. Wouldn’t you know—we went to Anacostia Park and found a skating pavilion that even offered free skate rentals!

Are you also thrifty travelers? We love going to Shenandoah Valley, which happens to have a lot to offer. We fish and go to the indoor/outdoor water park. We also love Bengie’s Drive-In Movie Theater outside of Baltimore, where my sister lives; and White Oak Duck Pin Bowling.

For our readers who live outside of DC and the surrounding area, what do you recommend for finding inexpensive family fun? There are tons of free family workshops at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and craft stores like Michael’s  and Lakeshore Learning, where each kid can make a craft. Barnes & Noble offers free story time and activities every Saturday. Lego stores offer mini-builds. The National Park Service is also an incredible resource for families. Right now, they are offering free park passes for all fourth graders.

And everyone—kids or no kids—loves annual free product days, including free ice cream cone days at Häagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, and Italian ice at Rita’s Italian Ice.

You tell your readers to find a balance. Where does your family balance out its thriftiness by making a splurge? I tell people to splurge on what your family thinks is fun and worth it. For us, it’s dining out, attending exhibits, such as the recent BEACH Exhibit—an awesome exhibit with an ocean made with a million plastic balls—at the National Building Museum; and taking the Boomerang Boat Tour in Georgetown. A lot of families will splurge on tickets to the circus or Disney on Ice, which is great because it’s all about the experience that kids will remember forever. It’s the time that really matters—that’s what makes kids the happiest. They really don’t care how much you’ve spent.

Photographs by Jeffrey Morris


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