RIO Washingtonian Center

Just as indoor shopping malls often offer a play area and other kid-friendly diversions from, well, shopping, the open-air RIO Washingtonian Center has a handful of ways to show kids a good time as you check off errands. A trackless train, a playground, paddle boats, and a recently-debuted carousel are all set around a boardwalk-ringed lake.

The 30 creatures on the classic-style carousel rotate right next to the lake, making for a nice view. They all seem to move up and down (a big concern for my younger son who recently got stuck on a stationary animal at Glen Echo’s carousel).

My older son loved trying to identify the animals — lots of horses, of course, but also dolphin, dragon, rooster, deer, zebra, elephant, fishing cat, gorilla, bald eagle, and ostrich. A pair of chariots that don’t move are also on board (and include wheelchair spots). The rides last two-and-a-half minutes. Picnic tables in the shade are in a grassy area near the carousel.

A fenced-in playground, similar to typical ones at local parks, includes two play structures (one for littles, one for big kids) above a rubber mulch surface. The large structure includes three slides and multiple climbing choices. The smaller structure has a slide and hands-on features. A small table topped with a checkerboard (bring your own checkers) and several benches are also here.

On our visit, my boys were excited when we got to a gazebo jutting out over the lake and they got to drop a quarter into a gumball machine and get a handful of fish food. It could have been called “duck and goose food” since our feathered friends gobbled it all up and we didn’t spot any fish!

Chugging on the boardwalk is a trackless train (just like those at some area malls). The ticket area for the train is near California Pizza Kitchen. My boys have been on many a train ride so we skipped that in favor of the other attractions.

Paddle boats to rent are at the far end of the lake (outside the movie theater) and come in swans, pirate ships, dragons, and flamingos. My older son was dying to take one for a spin but my younger son was tuckered out so we saved it for another visit.

A fence that’s a bit taller than my 4-year-old surrounds most of the lake, adding peace of mind for keeping kids safe. But there are areas close to the playground and beyond the carousel that have low posts linked by chains instead of fence, so a closer eye is needed in those sections. The lake area is stroller-friendly, with a boardwalk/sidewalk path running around the entire lake.

With all the attractions for kids I almost felt like we were in Disney World for a second. But truly RIO is a shopping center with more than a dozen restaurants, some big-name stores (Target, Kohl’s, Dick’s), a movie theater, a Barnes & Noble, and some smaller shops. Its open-air concept means that weather can play a big part in RIO’s outdoor offerings, which may be closed in poor weather (or too hot to enjoy on sweltering days).

More Info

  • The carousel is $3 per ride (credit or debit card only). Kids under 42 inches must ride with an adult. All riders need a ticket. Hours are 11AM-8PM daily; the carousel will stay open year-round but will have more limited hours in colder weather.
  • The train is $3 per ride. The train runs Monday to Friday from 5pm to dusk and Saturday and Sunday from 11AM to dusk until school is out.  Starting June 16 to September 1, 2014, the train will run from 11am to dusk daily.
  • Paddle boat rentals are $20 per half hour (per boat). Life jackets are free and required. Hours and more info are online at
  • RIO hosts Little Tots performances for kids on Wednesdays as well as live music on Friday nights (details: www.riowashingtonian/events).


Photos by Kathleen Seiler Neary.

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OK Editorial Team

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