National Museum of American History in Washington DC

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Part of the Smithsonian Institute, the National Museum of American History originally opened in 1964 as the National Museum of History and Technology and was renamed in 1980. The museum, located on Washington DC’s National Mall, has almost 2 million objects in its collection and several galleries to explore. The museum has over a dozen engaging exhibits to explore and it will take the better part of a full day to see them all!


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Traveling with Kids

  • The museum is part of the Smithsonian Institute and is FREE to visit 364 days a year (closed on Christmas). Note: the SparkLab (geared towards children) is closed on Tuesdays. Check here for more information about audio tours and free docent led tours. 

  • Entrances are on the National Mall at Madison Drive NW (which is the 2nd floor) or on Constitution Avenue (which is the first floor) All visitors must go through security and have bags checked before entering the museum.

  • There is very limited three hour metered street parking or use ParkWhiz to look for local garages. For public transportation, take the Metro Blue/Orange lines to the Smithsonian station. 

  • The entire museum is handicap accessible and strollers are allowed.

  • A massive gift shop is located on the first floor, with smaller shops located on the 2nd and 3rd floors. All shops offer a variety of Smithsonian apparel, gift, housewares, jewelry and books. 

  • Warner Brothers Theater is a 250+ seat theater that has a variety of daily showings – check here for the schedule. Note: there is an additional ticket fee.

  • There are three options for eating at the museum: America’s Table Cafe has the widest variety with six different stations ranging from BBQ to Southwest specialities to a whole station devoted to dessert; LeRoy Neiman Jazz Cafe is open all day and includes drinks, snacks, salads/ sandwiches, and a mac and cheese bar (!!); 2 East Cafe has limited hours and offers grab and go snacks, drink, and salads/sandwiches. 

  • The museum is huge: plan on the better portion of a full day to fully see all exhibits. Younger children will be most interested in the Spark!Lab which closes an hour before the rest of the museum and the toddler crew will love Wonderplace located next to the Spark Lab Disclaimer: My family was only able to spend a couple of hours in the museum and focused on only some of the exhibits.

Kids Will Want to See:

  • A replica White House podium (stand behind it and give a speech!) in the American Presidency exhibit. The exhibit also has a gallery of hobbies of both presidents and first families, like Obama’s basketball and Clinton’s saxophone (and Chelsea’s pointe shoes). There are doll houses and board games, too!

  • The collection of marketing materials for candidate in the American Democracy exhibit. There’s everything from playing cards and pin to buttons, bookmarks, and toys.

  • Captain America’s shield and a collection of original comic books in the Superheroes exhibit.

  • Spark!Lab, with 10 stations of hands on invention creativity. Each activity is a combination of STEM, art, and creativity challenges and frequently change. NOTE: SparkLab is closed on Tuesdays and closes an hour earlier than the museum. Check here for more information.

  • Wegmans’ Wonderplace is the spot for the under six toddler crew.  There is plenty of room in the 1,700 square foot space to climb, pretend and explore. Check here for more information.

Adults Will Want to See:

  • Numerous authentic artifacts from every battle from the American Revolution through the Cold War in the Behring Hall of Military History’s exhibit  Americans at War. There’s Andrew Jackson’s uniform, battlefield relics from the Civil War, a Willy’s Jeep (hanging from the ceiling!), Congressional gold medals, aerial reconnaissance photos of the Cuban missile installation, television broadcasts from the 1960s and 1970s, a Bell UH-1 helicopter and pieces from the Berlin Wall and the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

  • Presidential Christmas cards and the collection of games advertising presidents (like Lincoln Logs) in the American Presidency exhibit.

  • Replica rooms of homes from a variety of decades in the Within These Walls  exhibits.

  • Julia Child’s kitchen in the Foods  exhibit.

  • The back stories to inventions such as batteries, cameras, bicycles, and computers in the American Enterprise  exhibit.

Everyone Will Want to See:

  • Collection of street names named for presidents

  • The collection of ballgowns and state china in the The First Ladies exhibit.

  • Dorothy’s red ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz in the  Oh My exhibit. Read the story behind the making of the movie and the choice to make the slippers ruby red (they were originally silver!)

  • John Bull locomotive from 1831

  • The Batmobile. Enough said. 

  • The massive America on the Move  exhibit, which has authentic wagons, trains, trolleys, cars, motorcycles, buses, tracker trucks, and electrics cars in chronological order. (Visitors will want to spend at least an hour in this exhibit alone!)

For more fun in Washington DC, check out our adventures at the National Building Museum, the International Spy Museum, the National Postal Museum, and Mount Vernon.

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3 Comments

  1. What fun! I love the idea of a separate section for the younger children in WonderPlace and the variety of other personal interests of the presidents Will catch the attention of older children. America On the move, superheroes in so many different ways will interest children of all ages. I think we need to go back to Washington very soon. Great job!

  2. What fun! I love the idea of a separate section for the younger children in WonderPlace and the variety of other personal interests of the presidents Will catch the attention of older children. America On the move, superheroes in so many different ways will interest children of all ages. I think we need to go back to Washington very soon. Great job!

  3. What fun! I love the idea of a separate section for the younger children in WonderPlace and the variety of other personal interests of the presidents Will catch the attention of older children. America On the move, superheroes in so many different ways will interest children of all ages. I think we need to go back to Washington very soon. Great job!

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