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What to do with the family in Washington after Thanksgiving?

By Lavanya Ramanathan
Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; T22

If you're reading this, the following statements are likely true:

All the milk, toilet paper and the remnants of last night's pumpkin pie have vanished mysteriously overnight.

Black Friday sale papers are already strewn across your living room, and you haven't even brewed the coffee yet.

Your entire brood - your kids, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, all of them - are looking at you expectantly, because for the next three days, you're in charge of all the entertainment and sightseeing plus feeding them every few hours.

All of this might make you want to hide in a bathroom. That, however, will only serve as fodder for your mother-in-law, who never liked you anyway.

Instead, follow this handy guide to surviving Thanksgiving weekend with the fam, on the days when there isn't any turkey to eat or football to watch. We've got four itineraries to undertake together, whether your holiday houseguests want to shop, eat or lay their eyes on something they can see only here. Plus: Seven spots where you, the siblings, the in-laws and friends can rendezvous as a group.

See "Ice!" - and snow - at National Harbor

This weekend, consider the megapolis on the shores of the Potomac your salvation. It's home to all sorts of over-the-top holiday extravaganzas, from "Ice!" to a major Christmas tree lighting, fireworks and even an indoor snowfall. And that's not even counting all the shopping and eating you can get in while you're there.

What to see: The Gaylord National hotel's show "Ice!" made its debut last winter, and once word got out about the strange frozen temple at National Harbor, thousands flocked to see it. This year, Chinese carvers sculpted "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," from its nasty Grinch to grand roast beast dinner, not to mention a few bonuses, including a handful of 20-foot frozen slides guests can ride down. The exhibit is beyond cold, so be sure to layer, and bring mittens, scarves and hats to keep your extremities warm.

In fact, it'll feel like there's a nip in the air across National Harbor this weekend; duck into the Gaylord National hotel, and twice a night through the holidays, it will snow indoors. If that weren't spectacle enough, a fountain will also erupt in lighted water shows several times a day. And Friday at 8 p.m., see the lighting of the 65-foot National Harbor Christmas Tree on the shores of the Potomac, after which the sky will light up with a fireworks show.

Where to play: If you've got little ones, a stop at the National Children's Museum Launch Zone is a must; the real museum is in the planning stages, but the launch zone hosts regular hands-on activities, such as Friday's art day, where kids can make holiday decorations to take home (free; 2-7 p.m.). You can get a bit of shopping done before the tree lighting, too; stop at the holiday market (noon-9 p.m.), pick up something for your favorite sweet tooth at Peeps & Co. or Godiva, or find the perfect Tory Burch boots for winter at SimplySoles.

In the "Ice!" welcome area, you don't need a ticket to the exhibit to go for a whirl on the ice rink. (Unlimited skating is $12 a person.)

If you want to make the trek Saturday, the whole family can sing along to their favorite songs at dueling piano bar Bobby McKey's, which hosts a rare, all-ages, family-friendly show (reservations are recommended; call 301-567-1488).

Where to eat: National Harbor has a fair number of mega-restaurants with space for the whole brood; if it's spicy global cuisine you seek, go in for the made-at-your-table guacamole at Rosa Mexicano, or sup at Thai Pavilion, a quiet, airy nook serving heaping plates of surprisingly authentic Thai. For an ultra-special Italian meal that doesn't skimp on luxury, New York export Bond 45 delivers (be sure to make reservations; 301-839-1445). For dessert, the kids will love picking from the colorful gelato options at Aromi d'Italia Cafe.

If you go: National Harbor is at 100 Waterfront St., Oxon Hill. www.nationalharbor.com. Get timed tickets for Ice! ($18-$29 for adults; $13-$18 for ages 4-12; free for age 3 and younger) in advance at www.wefrozethegrinch.com or 301-965-4000. If tickets appear sold out, come first thing when the exhibit opens to snap up tickets sold only at the door. Indoor snowfall is nightly at 6:15 and 9:15, and the Brightest Star Fountain Show is at 7, 8 and 9 p.m. at the Gaylord National. Public parking is available (but expect to pay).

Eat your way across Penn Quarter

If Thanksgiving is a strictly adult affair this year - just a few siblings, spouses, maybe Mom and Dad - after the feast consider showing them how Washingtonians dine. Pricey, shareable small plates are part of the culture here, so why not share a few different plates at a few different hot spots? Penn Quarter offers some of the city's best - and busiest - eateries for such dining; the relatively slow nights after Thanksgiving are perfect for attempting such a feat.

Where to eat: Start with a cocktail at the cozy lounge at PS 7's (777 I St. NW; www.ps7restaurant.com). "Mixtress" of ceremonies Gina Chersevani maintains a drink menu that's long on creativity and flavor; the Gnome's Water blends light-as-air cucumber water, lime and gin, while the new Sav U'R is made with Cap'n Crunch cereal, milk and rye bourbon ( trust her).

Next, make a beeline for Rasika (633 D St. NW; www.rasikarestaurant.com), where Indian food is elevated to high art. Head to the bar to order a couple of rounds of one of the city's most memorable dishes: palak chaat, a spicy salad of flash-fried spinach drizzled in sweet and savory chutney. (If you decide to stay for dinner, time it so you take advantage of the restaurant's three-course pre-theater dinner menu, which rings up at just $30 a head before 6:30 p.m.)

Finish out your meal with more small plates at Jaleo (480 Seventh St. NW; www.jaleo.com), which, even after all these years, is a mainstay of the Washington dining scene. Again, head for the bar; if you go Friday before 7 p.m., you can indulge in sangria and some of the staples of Jaleo's menu - figs wrapped in bacon, crunchy potatoes topped with spicy aioli - for $4 apiece. You would be remiss, however, if you didn't veer from the happy hour menu to order the dreamy apple-manchego salad.

Finally, end the evening at Co Co. Sala (929 F St. NW; www.cocosala.com), where dessert can be a five-course meal in and of itself. It'll set you back $30 for such an indulgence; for $20, you can trim some calories with a mere three courses of sweets such as strawberry shortcake with basil foam and cocoa nibs, or an oh-so-trendy whoopie pie duo laced with the flavors of bourbon and passion fruit.

Where to play: If you need a break from the gorging, make a stop at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Eighth and F streets NW; www.americanart.si.edu, free), which stays open till 7 p.m. and extends its morning hours this weekend. There, the big attraction is the major exhibition "Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg."On the silly side, Madame Tussauds (1001 F St. NW; www.madametussauds.com, $18-$20 for adults; $15 for kids) lets you shake hands with the presidents, put your arm around Rihanna and get a close-up look at Kim Kardashian's famous posterior (perfect Christmas Card photo op, we think). Get tickets online before you go to save 15 percent, and through Saturday, veterans with ID get into the museum free.

If you go: Take Metro if you can (Green Line to Archives or Red Line to Gallery Place). Friday and Saturday may feel like holidays, but you'll have to pay D.C. parking meters as usual till 10 p.m.

Eat, drink, be merry - and shop

Malls have a way of sucking all of the fun out of holiday shopping. They're cramped, your kids hate them, and only middle-schoolers actually enjoy lunching at the food court. All you have to do is wander the outdoor shopping haven at Reston Town Center to understand that it is Mall 2.0.

What to see: The walkable outdoor shopping complex has all the necessary stops for satisfying holiday demands, from Williams-Sonoma to Sephora to a sprawling Apple store. At Edibles Incredible Desserts, you can pick up boxed truffles or a bacon-peanut butter cupcake, while Dandelion Patch stocks paper goods and that ultimate preppy accessory, Vera Bradley floral bags.

Where to play: In the middle of all the shops is an ice rink . If you've got small children, check out Saturday for Cartoon Skate, which features characters such as Scooby-Doo and the Cat in the Hat (11 a.m.-1 p.m.); for older kids, Fridays are Rock 'n' Skate events with DJs and prizes (8-11 p.m.). On Friday, the center will also host a splashy holiday parade at 11 a.m., with oversize balloons, antique cards and, yes, Santa; a singalong at 6 p.m. with the Reston Chorale and brass quintet; and horse-drawn carriage rides.

Where to eat: There's a mix of high and low eats, but the quickest way to impress your guests is to stick to the local chains and offbeat offerings. D.C.-born chainlets Red Velvet Cupcakery and Pitango Gelato bring a raging sugar high and the local-food ethos to NoVa. And there's a reason the tables at the contemporary burger-joint the Counter are packed with 20-something couples as well as families. Servers are friendly, and you really can't quibble when you're handed a checklist that includes options for beef, turkey, and even vegan veggie burgers that you can pile with as many as six toppings, ranging from goat cheese spread to grilled pineapple to hard-boiled eggs (most without an upcharge). Finally, if it's just adults on this shopping trip, make a stop at the Tasting Room, where you can get something not unlike a SmartTrip card for wine, which you insert into wine-dispensing machines to serve yourself.

If you go: Reston Town Center is at 11900 Market St., Reston. www.restontowncenter.com. Ice skating (703-709-6300) is $9, $7 for seniors and children younger than 12; skate rental is $4. Friday's parade, at 11 a.m. on Market Street, is free; the free singalong begins at 6 p.m.; and carriage rides are offered for $5 per person from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Parking is free.

Take a road trip

If, over the course of the past few Thanksgivings, you've managed to visit all the museums on the Mall at least three times, it's time to look farther afield. Pile in the car and set your GPS to Baltimore.

What to see: If you've got kids in tow (or even if you don't) the National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.; www.aqua.org) is one of Charm City's most popular attractions, mostly because under its angled glass roof live thousands of creatures of the deep - including stingrays, sharks and a green sea turtle missing a front flipper. As a bonus, on Fridays after 5 p.m. through the end of the year, the museum slashes admission to $5 (you can get tickets in advance online). Another destination to consider: Port Discovery Children's Museum (35 Market Pl.; www.portdiscovery.org), which is great for little ones because nothing feels "under glass." Exhibits encourage kids to swing from ropes, solve mysteries and touch everything.

Where to play: Minutes from Inner Harbor and the National Aquarium is a popular new wine bar, Vino Rosina (507 S. Exeter St; www.vinorosina.com), that thumbs its nose at Baltimore's famous dive-bar scene with an extensive wine list and - gasp - cheese plates. Or get shopping done at the Bazaart craft market, where local artisans will show off homemade wares from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at American Visionary Museum (800 Key Hwy.; www.avam.org). You don't have to go far to find a holiday extravaganza, either; venture a handful of miles north of the city to the state fairgrounds in Timonium, where the Festival of Trees kicks off Friday and continues through the weekend (2200 York Rd., Timonium; www.festivaloftrees.kennedykrieger.org). Perfect for kids, the event features performances by kiddie rock band Milkshake, magic acts and storytelling, carnival games, crafts and gingerbread house displays.

Where to eat: The hours at Miss Shirley's Cafe (750 E. Pratt St., www.missshirleyscafe.com) are, in their own way, a velvet rope. This homestyle diner - think chicken and waffles, sandwiches, sweet potato souffle pancakes - closes at 3 p.m. on a Saturday or Sunday, but it shouldn't deter you; the Inner Harbor location is a Baltimore institution. On the waterfront, the chain M & S Grill (201 E. Pratt St.; www.mccormickandschmicks.com) also attracts crowds, probably because, well, seafood and a view of the harbor are a perfect pairing.

If you go: The National Aquarium's museum and dolphin show is $20-$25 for children and $25-$30 for adults. Port Discovery is $13 for adults and children 2 and older. Port Discovery visitors can park at the Harbor Park garage next door for $7 with validation on Saturdays and Sundays. Festival of Trees tickets are $5 for children and $10 for adults, with discounts available online.

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