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updated: 3/21/2013 11:02 AM

See more than cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. this spring

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  • National Cherry Blossom Festival parade draws visitors from far and wide.

    National Cherry Blossom Festival parade draws visitors from far and wide.

  • School For Spies Gallery shows the Bond car at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

    School For Spies Gallery shows the Bond car at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

  • The International Spy Museum entertains and informs.

    The International Spy Museum entertains and informs.

By Cindy Richards |

It seems like it's every American's required family vacation destination: Washington, D.C.

Fortunately for the kids, there's plenty to see and do there. Fortunately for the parents, lots of those things are free. And, if you can swing a trip in the spring, you'll be treated to a feast for the eyes: the Cherry Blossom Festival.

First, a few of the kid-friendly and freethings to do in Washington D.C.:

•Say hi to Tian Tian and Mei Xiang. The National Zoo is home to Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, two giant pandas that are the focus of an ambitious research, conservation, and breeding program designed to preserve this endangered species.

Walk around. DC by Foot offers free walking tours of the National Tuesday through Sunday. Tours cover about a mile and last about 90 minutes. Look for the guy in the baby blue shirt and check the Web site for tour times. Guides don't charge a fee, but they're happy to accept a tip.

•Take in a concert. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts offers free concerts or performances every night at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage.

•Make some money. Or at least watch while the government does with a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

•See the stars in Rock Creek Park at the only planetarium operated by the National Park Service.

•Explore an exhibition and create a related art project to take home through the Freer & Sackler Gallery's Imaginasia family programming.

•Play pilot in a mock cockpit at America by Air, an exhibition on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

•Go fly a kite next to the Washington Monument for a great family photo.

You can visit Washington, D.C. any time of the year, but it's never as beautiful as it is in early spring, when the cherry trees are in full bloom, their white petals decorating the streets of the city and properly welcoming another spring.

It's been 98 years since the people of Tokyo presented the people of Washington D.C. with the gift of beauty in the form of 3,000 cherry trees.

This year's National Cherry Blossom Festivalruns from March 20 through April 14. The city-wide event includes plenty of kid- and family-friendly events, including craft-making sessions, performances and lessons in Japanese art and culture.

In a city blooming with history and culture, the cherry blossom festival is merely an adornment to the adventures visitors will find there any time of year.

If you're visiting D.C. with slightly older kids, you won't want to miss the International Spy Museum. The Spy Museum talks about the wars behind the scenes -- fought with spies and secrets instead of soldiers and weapons.

It is the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage and the only one in the world to provide a global perspective on an all-but-invisible profession that has shaped history and continues to have a significant impact on world events. It is a fascinating look into the secret life of spies -- from the real, historic ones, to the TV variety.

And it's completely interactive, since the museum has you choose an identity at the beginning of your tour, learn some facts about the new you, and then tests you about your identity at different points throughout the exhibit, to see if you would pass the spy test.

You're taught spy skills such as keen observation, how to look for clues, and how to sharpen your memory. You see real life examples of spy equipment that looks like it came out of a movie. Kids and grown-ups alike can have fun testing their knowledge, learning new facts, and acting like spies.

Unlike the stunning Smithsonian Museums, the Spy Museum is not free. But it's worth the admission fee.

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