D.C.: Play It Cool with Indoor Activities

Spots for vintage board games, bocce and other air-conditioned diversions

Summer temperatures in Washington, D.C., average in the 80s and 90s with humidity levels to match. Though locals love outdoor amusements—Nationals baseball games, kayaking on the Potomac River—the idea of slipping into a chilly, air-conditioned place other than a museum or movie theater for fun and games seems like the ultimate summer activity.

Whether you’re looking for table tennis, arcade games or mini golf, here are a few of our favorite family-friendly and over-21 only spots to cool down while having fun.

Escape Clause

Escape Room Live DC's decor

A team of two to 12 people gathering at Escape Room Live DC in an upper-Georgetown basement and actually pay to get locked into one of three rooms and solve mysteries involving framed work colleagues, espionage-gone-wrong and more.

In hip, confined spaces that resemble Wes Anderson sets (think a curvy yellow sofa, chevron wallpaper and a wry poster of Bill Murray), sleuths have 45 minutes to dig up clues locked in old suitcases, tucked in books or hidden in plain sight. A game master moderates it all, giving hints as the time ticks away.

It’s all based on similar games popular in Europe and Japan and on smartphones. Kids—particularly tweens—love the "Clue-come-to-life" experience, too. After tapping into their inner Sherlock, players pose for photos wearing whimsical cowboy hats and Viking helmets while clutching signs like “But Mom said I was smart” and “Winner, winner, chicken dinner.”

Have a (Bocce) Ball

Bocce balls on an indoor court

Rolling hard, 4-inch balls closest to a tiny target isn’t easy, particularly if it’s attempted on an indoor bocce court in one of D.C.’s popular bars. (Do cocktails help or hinder your aim?) The traditional Italian game draws competitive revelers to Logan Circle’s Black Jack where an inventive highball menu and 19 courtside stadium seats add to the buzz. Dolce vita drinks such as Negronis and prosecco on draft fuel action at H Street’s Vendetta with its two indoor bocce courts amid exposed brick walls and vintage posters.

Get a “Clue”

The Board Room menu

Rent new and old board games (Jenga, Hungry Hungry Hippos) while sipping draft beers, from 24 lines, at Dupont Circle’s lively The Board Room, where exposed brick walls and soaring ceilings play up the winning vibe.

Nearby, the 1980s-themed Thomas Foolery appeals to kids and adults with mini Skee-Ball and Etch-a-Sketches alongside warm grilled-cheese sandwiches, bottled sodas and a long beer list. Once a month, play vintage games in the 1920s grandeur of the Woodrow Wilson House, the last home of the 28th U.S. president.

Strike!

Lucky Strike lanes

These days, bowling alleys zoom way beyond pitchers of Miller beer and worn-out lanes. D.C. boasts two such boutique strike zones.

In Georgetown, Pinstripes offers 14 lanes, six bocce courts and a Med-American menu in a space filled with leather sofas and vintage photos, plus live music on weekends.

Chinatown’s Lucky Strike rolls out 14 lanes and three pool tables in a cavernous, neon-lit space with a 50-foot-long bar.

Pinball Wizards

H Street Country Club Skee-Ball

Play amid whimsical D.C.-themed decor including King Kong climbing the Washington Monument and an oversized sculpture of former mayor Marion Barry at the H Street Country Club. This Atlas District hotspot that also features Skee-Ball, video games and air hockey tables plus a Mexican-American comfort-food menu.

On the first floor of legendary indie music club Black Cat, the Lucky Cat room stars pinball machines and arcade games like Crisis Zone. Five pinball machines are also featured at Petworth dive Lyman’s Tavern, where quirky decor (taxidermy, vintage cameras) sets the scene for local beers and comfort food like Frito pie.

Paddle Sports

Ping pong paddles and ball

Like its name suggests, upper Northwest’s Comet Ping Pong holds two tables in a rustic-chic space. There’s a menu of thin-crust pies (try the clam-loaded Yalie) and live music several times a month, too.

Ice, Ice Baby

Inside Kettler Iceplex in Arlington's Ballston neighborhood

Perhaps the coolest way to escape a scorching day, the Kettler Capitals Iceplex offers skating sessions and broomball in the same state-of-the-art facility in Arlington’s Ballston neighborhood where D.C.’s pro hockey team practices.

Public rink times take place most afternoons with skate rentals available. Broomball games, a hockey-like contest where players wear shoes to slide across the ice instead of skates, also take place frequently.

A Day at the “Beach”

National Building Museum's indoor beach exhibit

Through September 7, the massive atrium of the National Building Museum is transformed into a “beach” of nearly a million recyclable, translucent plastic balls.

Visitors can dive into the pit (think a mod update on those McDonald’s playground attractions) or play paddleball along the “shoreline.” A pier and snack bar complete the arty, faux seaside experience. Admission $16. 

Jennifer Barger
About the author

 

Jennifer Barger is a Washington, D.C.-based travel and design writer who spe...