Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

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Disclaimer: I have chosen to continue my weekly blog posts sharing our recent adventures exploring America. Our family has been safely quarantined for over a month and will continue to do so until it’s safe to head out on our next adventure. The travel tips and recommendations we share were current at the time of visitation in 2019-2020. We recommend helping our country (and world) by staying home and planning for future adventures. We hope these posts bring you inspiration and motivation to plan your next trip!

One of the oldest buildings in Washington DC and now a National Historic Landmark building, The Donald W. Reynold Center for American Art and Portraiture is home to both the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. The complex first opened to the public in 1968 and completed renovations in the early 2000s. Both institutions, overseen by the Smithsonian Institute, are housed in the same complex. The Portrait Gallery has over 23,000 pieces of art in its collection and officially began commissioning the portraits of presidents, starting with George H.W. Bush.  The American Art Museum is home to one of the largest collections of American art in the world and includes The Luce Foundation Center for American Art, which boasts more than 3,000 pieces of art in mediums from paintings to sculptures to medals to jewelry.

Traveling with Kids:

  • The museum and gallery are FREE to visit 364 days a year (closed on Christmas). Although it opens later than most museums (11:30am), it also closes later than many museums in the area. Make sure to pick up a daily or monthly schedule of special exhibitions.

  • Free, docent led tours are offered each day (with more options on the weekend) including joint tours of both the museum and portrait galleries. 

  • Limited, metered street parking is available and options for parking garages can be found here.  The closest Metro stop is the Gallery Place/ Chinatown stop on the green/blue/red lines. Information on the DC Circulator bus system can be found here

  • Small backpacks must be worn in the front or visitors can store their possessions in free lockers on the first floor. 

  • The entire museum is handicap accessible via elevators. The museum has a whole accessibility packet of information and guidelines which can be found here

  • Restrooms are located on every floor. Two museum shops are located on the main floor.

  • The Courtyard Cafe sells drinks, prepared sandwiches, and snacks in the atrium with plenty of tables. 

  • Check out daily activities such as Family Days, story hours, and Portrait Discovery Kits- more information here.  Children might also enjoy filling out this guide ahead of time. 

  • Plan on at least two to three hours to explore the galleries.

Things Kids Will Love:

  • Splashing their feet in the water scrims (water features)  in the Kogod Courtyard.

  • Taking a photo next to the current president (or any of their favorite presidents)  in the America’s Presidents gallery.

  • Navigating through the interactive touch screens of information in the America’s Presidents gallery.

  • Looking closely at the details in the “America Receiving the 9 Muses” oil and lacquer painted on a 1903 Steinway piano lid in the American Art Museum gallery.

  • Visiting Explore!, an entire room dedicated to kids under 8. Your little ones can have their own portrait done by a family member and create masterpieces with magnets. 

  • Choosing a favorite figurine in the collection made from bottle caps in the Experience America Folk Art gallery.

Things Adults Will Love:

  • Checking out the architecture and basking in the warm sunlight in the Kogod Courtyard. The 28,000 square foot space is one of the largest courtyards in Washington D.C.

  • Seeing the daguerreotypes from 1843 of John Quincy Adams, the earliest known photographic portrait of a president.

  • Finding the different sources in used “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation’s Millennium General” in the Experience America and Folk Art  gallery. It took artist James Hampton 14 years to craft the installation made from cardboard, plastic, and discarded trash. 

  • Searching for their home state license plate in “Preamble”, a creation by Mike Wilkins crafted out of license plates that spells out the preamble to the Constitution.

Things Everyone Will Love:

  • Seeing portraits of their favorite athlete in “Champions” and favorite entertainer and performer in “Bravo” exhibits on the 3rd floor mezzanine.

  • Reading the biographies and noteworthy accomplishments of every president in the America’s Presidents gallery.

  • Emulating the skills portrayed in the “Baseball” exhibit, a series of blurred subjects and moments in the game and “Barbie” a collection of portraits of the toy doll.

  • Guessing each state and television broadcast in the art installation Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii by Nam June Paik in the American Art Museum East Wing.

Looking for more fun in Washington DC? Start here with our post of 10 FREE things to do in DC. We also have posts on the International Spy Museum, and Mount Vernon.

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One Comment

  1. What an amazing place to visit! The more you write about Washington DC the more I realize it deserves another look after so many years away. The variety of so many experiences geared to every age level is astounding.
    Love the idea of a room for kids under age 8, th incredible amount of art, and the fun sports and television exhibits.

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