National Museum of the American Indian in New York City

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The Smithsonian Institute encompassed 17 museums (and a zoo!) located in Washington DC- check out the list here- and two locations in New York City: Cooper Hewitt, a design museum, and the National Museum of the Native American. Located in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, the National Museum of the American Indian chronicles the history of indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere. 

Traveling with Kids:

  • The museum is FREE to visit, 364 days a year (closed on Christmas)
  • The museum is located in the lower east side of Manhattan. Take the subway, 4 or 5 lines, to the Bowling Green Station. The main entrance is up the stairs on 1 Bowling Green; the handicap entrance is to the right of the main staircase. More details on parking garages here.
  • All visitors must pass through metal detectors. Small backpacks are allowed.
  • Restrooms are located on both the first and second floors.
  • The entire museum is handicap accessible via elevators and the exhibits have plenty of room for strollers and wheelchairs.
  • A gift shop is located on the 2nd floor (near the main entrance)
  • Plan to spend an hour for the 2nd floor exhibits and 30-60 minutes in the imagiNATIONS exhibit on the first floor- although some children might want to spend all day there!

Five Can’t Miss Spots at the Museum:

1. Read some of the poetry that complements the artwork in the TC Cannon: AT the Edge of America exhibit. (temporary exhibit through September 2019) The exhibit showcases the art work (displayed alongside poetry) of the 20th century Native American and Vietnam Veteran artist who died unexpectedly in a car accident in the 1970s.  The exhibit was organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts. (See our post about visiting the Peabody Essex Museum here)

2. Choose a favorite headdress in the Infinity of Nations exhibit. There are over a dozen headdresses on display throughout the museum. The exhibit is organized into 10 geographic regions and includes items such as wedding dresses, a baby carrier from 1920, “ear ornaments”, and duck decoys that are over 2,000 years old. Some items in the exhibit date back to 11,000 B.C.! Make sure kids grab a scavenger hunt to complete.

3. Look for the names of dozens of Native American poets written on scraps of loose leaf paper that collectively make a dress designed by Maria Hupfield in the Taino Exhibit: Native Heritage and Identity in the Caribbean. There is also a display of “Conuco” plants, used for harvests, that will intrigue children. The Taino (meaning “good people”) are Arawak speaking peoples from South American who began settling in Caribbean islands more than 2,000 years ago. Make sure children grab an activity booklet that accompanies the exhibit. 

4. Pay attention to the details of the art work in the Ancestral Connections collection in the Diker Pavillion on the first floor. The room has plenty of space to sit and reflect. Contemporary artists will showcase their personal works with connections to their own ancestry starting with a Hawaiian papercut artist in October.

5. Explore the more than a dozen interactive exhibits in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center on the first floor This is THE spot for kids. The center has daily programming- check here. Some of our favorite activities included:

  • Guessing how many kernels of corn are in one ear
  • Practicing your balance in a kayak without “tipping over”
  • Compare which bridge will survive an earthquake: a stone bridge or suspension bridge
  • Making your own rope
  • Listening- through a canoe paddle!- for the sound of a seal
  • Planting a healthy garden in the “cropetition” challenge
  • Decoding the codex to find the most powerful medicine
  • Seeing what’s behind commonly used items like shampoo and cough drops
  • Building an igloo

For more downtown Manhattan fun, check out our post on the Fraunces Tavern Museum, Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island, and Eataly.


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  1. A museum needed to share such important history! Thank you for the blog, hope many enjoy the museum.

  2. A museum needed to share such important history! Thank you for the blog, hope many enjoy the museum.

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