National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC

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We recently visited the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City (read about our adventures here) and less than a week later we were in Washington DC and spent a few hours (and a yummy lunch!) at the Washington Museum. You can also read about our adventures at several other Washington DC museums here.

Both museums are part of the Smithsonian Institute and feature the history of indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere. The DC museum is located on the National Mall and has four floors of exhibits including a massive family activity center on the third level. There are also several spots throughout the museum for presentations, musical performances, and seminars. The Mitsitam cafe is a must visit- several unique options for lunch and a great opportunity for children to try different foods from around the world. (and yes, they even have chicken fingers as a back up!)

Traveling with Kids:

  • The museum is FREE to visit 364 days a year (closed on Christmas)

  • Do NOT visit the museum with children on Mondays- the imagiNATIONS exhibit (which children will LOVE) is closed on Mondays. My children were so sad we missed the chance, especially since we loved the New York version

  • There is very limited metered street parking. A better option is to take a metro line to the L’Enfant Plaza stop. Walk two blocks towards the Smithsonian museums.

  • All visitors must pass through bag inspection and metal detectors.

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

  • The Roanoke Museum Store is located on the second floor and has many native themed souvenirs such as books, jewelry, and home decor.

  • The Mitsitam Cafe offers food from five regions of the Americans traditionally prepared (and chicken fingers and fries as a backup for kids) cafeteria style with a beautiful dining room looking out over the water features outside. There is an espresso coffee bar outside of the Cafe. 

Play “I Spy” in the Museum of the American Indian:

1. Start on the 4th floor with a 13 minute introductory video entitled Who We Are in a 360 projection Lelani Theater.

2. Look for tribal artifacts and attire and listen to folk tales in the Our Universe exhibit (4th floor)

3. Read about eight treaties signed between the United States and Indian Nations and pick a favorite calumet (which represents a sacred badge of friendship and is used in treaty meetings) in the Nation to Nation exhibit.  Each display shares the perspective of both the native nations and the United States. (4th Floor)

4. Locate information about the hundreds of commonly used items with ties to Native American tribes in the Americans exhibit. Items such as Land O Lakes butter are displayed and interactive touch screens provide more in depth background (use the call number displayed next to each item to research). Try the “surprise me” button for randomly selected information. 

5. Find out the true story of Pocahontas in the Americans exhibit (3rd floor).

6. Follow the massive timeline (starting in 1000 BC through AD 1600) of the Andean cultures from Colombia and Ecuador to Peru and Argentina in the The Great Inka Road exhibit. There are lots of interactive touch screens and maps and a massive replica suspension bridge in Peru.

7. Learn about Section 14, a square mile section of land that is considered the spiritual center of the Agua Caliente people, who have lived there since 1876.

8. Compare the features of four canoes in the Potomac Atrium lobby exhibit.

9. Eat at the Mitsitam Cafe and try the Pueblo taco or New Mexican Red Chile- our favorite dishes.

10. Spend at least an hour in the imagiNATIONS exhibit, where kids stamp a passport as they complete various activities including arts and crafts (which guests can take home), walking in snowshoes, and basket weaving. There is also a large reading nook with tons of beautifully illustrated books for all ages and reading levels. Grab an Our Universe Family Guide, which provides guidelines on what to look for in the exhibit and provides additional information on specific artifacts.

If you’re visiting Washington DC, check out our adventures at the National Building MuseumNational Postal Museum, International Spy Museum, Mount Vernon, and the National Museum of American History.

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