A novel idea came the other day after a wrong turn on the Beltway: Why not take the kids into town on the weekend? Here are some favorite places to go and things to do in the District. SE HABLA ESPANOL -- Walk in Adams-Morgan, the 18th and Columbia Road area where "Bienvenidos" is painted over a doorway and bilingual street signs show how to say in Spanish, "Do not cross the yellow line to park." It can be painless learning reinforcement for kids taking the language. On your discovery walk, you may hear Latin music swelling from inside a record store; you can pick up Spanish groceries, or buy a paper at Editorial El Mundo, an international newsstand. There are many Latin restaurants, reasonably priced -- The Omega, La Plaza, El Rincon and Churreria-Madrid among them. Or you can sit and soak in the neighborhood's international flavor over tea at the outdoor cafe of Avignone Freres. SNAKE-RUBBINGS, ETC. -- If the Adams- Morgan vein doesn't pan out, the back door to the Zoo is a few blocks away down Adams-Mill Road. No matter how big your family is, Zoolab is a place where you can handle things: for example, the world's largest egg, from an ostrich. You can rub the skin of a big snake -- a python or an anaconda -- with crayon and paper. Zoolab is just past the hippopotamus skull inside the Education Building. The lab is open from noon to 3 every day except Monday, and yes, the hippo used to live in the Zoo. JUMPING JACKS -- Rock Creek Park in the springtime beckons. Some will see it as the call to work up some sweat. Take the kids with you this time. Most will only endure a block of jogging, but you can challenge the stalwart to a series of chinups and legovers on a Perrier Parcourse. To get to the parcourse off Connecticut, take Cathedral Avenue southbound into the park: You can leave your car by the old stable on Beach Drive directly under Taft Bridge, just before the Zoo tunnel, and walk the bike path south to the exercise trail.
Another parcourse is an able-bodied/handicapped trail which circuits the recreation field at 16th and Kennedy NW, near the Carter Barron. SLOWING DOWN -- There are more restful ways to pass the hours in Rock Creek Park. Parents can sit and read under the trees, when, most Saturday mornings, the Art Barn holds classes for kids 6 to 12. They're drawing Western images these days. Reservations are required for the class, which meets from 10 to 12. Call 426-6719. Then, to learn about what's in the sky these nights, stop by Rock Creek Nature Center on Glover Road for a planetarium show Saturday or Sunday. The show at 1 is for age 4 to 7 with an adult; the show at 4 focuses on "The Hidden World of Venus," for people age 7 and up. And there's a guided nature walk at 3. YOUNG GEORGETOWNERS -- For the little entrepreneurs, Georgetown Park mall on M Street near Wisconsin gives more than the feeling of climbing stairs in an M.C. Escher print. After all, FAO Schwarz is there, as is Wild Cats, a tiny shop devoted entirely to kitty things, and the Georgetown Zoo, where all the animals are stuffed. Afterwards, lunching at Clyde's on M Street makes young teenagers feel grownup. Kids also enjoy eating their way through nearby the Markethouse, starting with tempura or fried shrimp, a hot-dog main course and strudel for dessert. FIRST FAMILY FUN -- This is an embarrassing question for Washington residents, but one that must be asked: Has your child ever been invited to the White House? What are you waiting for? Tours happen Saturday mornings from 10 to 12:30; you can compete with the tourists for tickets by queueing up at 8 a.m. at the Park Service Kiosk on the Ellipse. Has the kid seen the Capitol? Meet in the main rotunda for a tour, between 9 and 3:45 daily. The Library of Congress? Shall we continue? STROLL & SPIN -- We all know about the Smithsonian, but few know that the National Gallery offers strollers and the Hirshhorn will lend a baby-backpack in exchange for your own stroller. Natural History offers "Discovery Room," where kids can touch rocks, minerals and feathers and look through microscopes at whatever. Across the Mall, take a spin on the carousel: Revolving every day but Monday, it's 50 cents a ride. SIP & FLIP -- Then rest, rest, in the National Museum of American History's old-time Ice Cream Parlor. Kids under 10 can order a Clown Sundae, but adults will have to content themselves with the 1906-style banana split, or the old-fashioned ice-cream soda, or the wicked Double Devil, or the Tab. Hours are 10 to 5 daily, but try to go before 2 to avoid long lines. Just outside the parlor, an exhibit explores the lingo of the sodajerk, and huge belts operate an ice-cream freezer. If running around all day with kids makes you feel you've lost your marbles, you'll find some in the marble show on the first floor; there are 340 of them, in glass, ceramic, porcelain, and so forth. PEDALS, PADDLES & SOMETHING FISHY -- You can tootle around the Tidal Basin in a paddleboat from 11 to 8 on Saturdays and Sundays. Bring lunch and wear pedalpushers. It's $3.35 an hour for two. If this should work up an appetite (it will), the municipal fish wharf is just down Maine Avenue.
The child will become aware that real people catch these fish, and that leads naturally to another possibility. You don't even have to own a bamboo pole to take a kid fishing in Washington; Fletcher's Boat House off Canal Road has rental rods, bait, and the best advice in town. With the simplest kind of equipment of your own, and some garden worms, cheese or breadballs, you can have a fine time at several other intown spots: Hains Point (ask the regulars for tips); the seawall by the Kennedy Center; the Tidal Basin (yes!) and Roosevelt Island, around which lurk some sizable bass. This is serious fishing, if you want it to be, because the river quality has improved so much in recent years that the fish are swarming. No license is required to fish in Washington. ENDLESS SUBWAY -- At any subway station, stand your child in front of a map of the Metro system, for the start of Endless Subway. The object of the game is to find your way to the new Woodley Park station, right near the Uptown Theater where "Fantasia" is playing. Without any help from adults, the child guides the way. If you miss one matinee there's always another: on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:45, 3 and 5:15. If more reward is needed, there's a Swenson's in that block of Connecticut Avenue.