It’s been a family dream to go to Washington D.C. We love museums and D.C. has the best in America. We had an opportunity over Thanksgiving break and began the difficult decision of choosing which museums we could manage in the three days we had. We flew on a red eye overnight and hit DC early in the morning, ready to explore museums and try out some key foodie stops. We stayed again at a Hyatt hotel right at the National Mall, so we could walk to the museums quickly and maximize the time we had.
Our museum recap:
- Smithsonian Natural History Museum: This entire place is perfect for kids. Little’s teacher had told us to be sure to spend lots of time in the Hall of Human Origin and we did! There are great displays on the ocean (Ocean Hall), Dinos, Mammals, mummies, geology. We easily breezed through in 3-4 hours but skipped some areas like the butterfly pavilion. They have a special program for kids called Q?rius, but the programs were closed while we were there.
- National Gallery: The National Gallery of Art is a piece of heaven on earth. I was most looking forward to the special exhibit of Vermeer paintings. From renaissance works to impressionism, classics, masters, pop art, modern – it’s a must-do in D.C. for kids. They provide free kids hour long programs and a museum guide for families/kids. We spent about 4 hours there and only saw half the museum.
- Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: This museum was our first stop on a cold weekday morning and we were surprised to find not only a very long line but tons of kids, there for a field trip. Busloads of middle school kids. The space displays are amazing, including the Hubble Space telescope test vehicle. However, the historical aircraft sections (WW1, WW2, etc.) were not as impressive as we had hoped, but we are used to the amazing local Boeing Air and Space museum in Seattle, so our bar is set pretty darn high.
- Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian: The Museum of the American Indian was very fascinating for the kiddo, especially because there were rooms dedicated to the lives of specific indigenous cultures. For example, there may be a room for Alutiq people, with their music, dance, religion, food, clothing all explained, and then you duck into the next room that focuses on the Inca. The museum has over almost one million items in collection. There was a dedicated kid’s room to explore but the museum itself was interesting enough for a seven year old. We stuck to the collections and not the exhibits as there were even more busloads of middle school kids than the air and space museum.
- Smithsonian National Museum of American History: The Museum of American History does a lot for kids; they have regular programs and a play/learn space called “Wegmans Wonderplace” which were geared for kids up to 6. We’ve passed that age now and our guy is more interested in the regular museum content. Favorite collections included the transportation area – trains and cars and even a life size street scene from Portland that hubby recognized right away – and the clothing display, which featured dresses from most of the first ladies.
- National Portrait Gallery: The National Portrait Gallery was a surprise. We weren’t expecting too much but it was so much more than portraits. The presidential portrait hall is a must but surprise – it’s actually fun! There were portraits of tudors and queens, of important American historical figures, authors, artists. We spent time in an exhibit about Sylvia Plath. And it had a small but engaging kid’s program/space. You can draw a portrait – little had a blast being drawn by others and drawing others. Hack: This museum stays open late on Thursdays and Fridays, until 9! So you can visit after the other museums have closed early.
We need a whole week to see everything in DC. But that’s reason to go back! We also visited the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. We chose to visit the Lincoln memorial at night, which is another great tip – it’s beautiful, well lit, parking wasn’t a problem and the crowds were much smaller.
- &pizza: My brother had joined us so we were looking for something fast, with vegan options and kid friendly. &pizza is a craft-your-own personal pizza place that had something for everyone.
- Ben’s Chili Bowl: an iconic spot in DC, loaded with celebrity photos and DC civil rights history, this a tasty and inexpensive option. And because they offered vegetarian options, I had my first chili dog!
- Old Ebbitt Grill: another historical spot, but a different kind of history. This sit-down, almost fancy one-time saloon is across from the white house and was frequented by many a president. They have a solid kid’s menu, great service, and a wonderful crab cake.
- Mitsitam Café: this Native Foods café in the Museum of the American Indian serves indigenous foods. For us, that meant a fry bread taco. But the museum serves foods from the great plains, south American, northern woodlands (salmon! Clam soup!) so there is something for everyone. Like most Smithsonian cafes, it’s overpriced and busy, but very convenient if you are in between museums.
We aren’t sure when we will visit again, but we already have the list started of new museums and places to check out.