After touring history museums from Gettysburg to Williamsburg, I wasn’t sure how enthusiastic my kids would be to check out the National Museum of American History in DC. As usual, they surprised me. As did this museum. It should definitely be on your itinerary while in Washington DC with kids.
Think of the National Museum of American History is part history museum, but also part pop culture museum and part attic, storing all of America’s eclectic treasures. There’s too many exhibits to list here, but among our favorites in the permanent exhibits were America on the Move, chronicling the history of transportation in the States, and On the Water, highlighting Americans’ use of waterways and nautical history. The food exhibition on the first floor also surprised us: it documents various trends and historical markers with the way Americans eat and get and produce food, from Julia Childs to the school lunch system.
We came specifically to see the Star Spangled Banner, the very flag that inspired Francis Scott Key’s anthem, and it didn’t disappoint. The size of this flag may be what makes it impressive at first sight, but the degree of weathering and the accompanying exhibits on Key add to the overall impression a great deal. We also sought out Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and I was happy to see Ferlinghetti’s typewriter from the Beatnik era, too.
The American Presidency section is worth seeing, especially after a tour of the White House, and some may enjoy the collection of First Ladies’ dresses. Upcoming exhibits that will open in the next few years include Within these Walls, a replica of a real home in MA, showing 200 years of inhabitants and how they lived, their stories, etc.
Date last visited:
Distance from the interstate:
Close to I-66 and I-395. Within 45 minutes to I-95.
Hours of operation:
Daily from 10 am to 5:30 pm, with extended summer hours.
Two cafes are on-site. We did not eat at either on this visit. There is also a food court in the tunnel between the two art museums nearby on the Mall.
The museum is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, DC. Stop at the Smithsonian station on the Metro, or walk from most points on the Mall.
Wondering where to stay in DC? Check out our review of Grand Hyatt Washington.
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