Smithsonian Museum Washington DC – Packed with Family Attractions

Genie Davis December 9, 2010 1 Comment


Washington D.C. is packed with attractions for the whole family. There are as many outings as there are families who visit, with free museums, great parks, amazing historical sites, and cultural icons like the Washington Monument and the Nation’s Capital building itself to bring out the oohs and ahhs among travelers of all ages.

Finding the right accommodation for your family can be more problematic than locating all those fabulous attractions, with many choices taking you either outside the city center or featuring a business-first environment. We were thrilled with the Hotel Palomar Washington DC, a clean, modern, interesting spot in trendy Dupont Circle. Just because Dupont Circle is trendy, never fear, it’s a great location for the kids with restaurants of all kinds a few steps away and an easy access subway ride to all the DC landmarks. Best of all, it’s a short walk to Georgetown, Washington’s premier shopping and strolling enclave with brick side walks and old fashioned brick and stone row houses, capacious trees, and the pleasant campus of Georgetown University, all strung out near the picturesque Potomac River.

It’s an easy trip from the hotel to the National Zoo part of a scenic, shaded National Park and administered by the Smithsonian Institution. In case you didn’t know it, the Smithsonian is the world’s single largest museum complex, with nineteen museums, the zoo, and a variety of research facilities under its umbrella. Every Smithsonian run venue, including the zoo, is free. With one hundred and sixty-three acres set in lush Rock Creek National Park, seeing all of the animals in the zoo will take hours. There are lions and tigers and bears, oh my, plus giant pandas, white tigers, and extensive simian exhibits. We loved the baby animals, including tiger and cheetah cubs, and the beautiful spots for picnicking and resting between wildlife sightings.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum DC

The Natural History Museum – a great part of the Smithsonian complex.

The National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum are also part of the Smithsonian complex. The National Museum of Natural History is great fun for kids with its extensive displays of dinosaur skeletons, natural gems and minerals – including the reputedly cursed Hope Diamond, dioramas of early man, an insect zoo, and a coral reef. There’s an IMAX movie theater too. Our favorite exhibits are the gems and minerals. There’s not a more impressive collection of geologic wonders in the US, in our slightly biased opinion.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum offers another enormous collection – this one containing historic air and spacecraft spread out over twenty-two exhibition galleries. Here you’ll see the original Wright Brother’s plane, the 1903 Flyer, as well as the “Spirit of St. Louis.”And kids can get a look inside the Apollo 11 command module.

The Smithsonian’s Discovery Theater offers great kid-friendly performances in their main location next to the Smithsonian Castle at Riley Center on the National Mall as well as at the Natural History Museum and at the Round House Theater in suburban Silver Spring, Maryland. The theater has frequent showings of fairy stories and folk tales like Rumplestilskin and Hansel and Gretel, as well as Native American and Afro-American tales. The theater uses puppet shows, storytellers, dance and music. The programs are always imaginatively presented and professionally mounted.

Smithsonian Castle DC

The Smithsonian castle – an icon in the Smithsonian complex

More museum wonders await children at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Here you’ll find literally over three million American historical and cultural artifacts from the present back to the War of Independence. We loved how spiffy this museum looks since its 2008 renovation. Highlights include the fashions worn by this country’s First Ladies, a stunning exhibit of the original Star-Spangled Banner, and President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. We liked the carriages, stage coaches, ships, and a Chicago Transit Car among other forms of transport exhibited too, and the interactive America on the Move exhibit which explores the history of U.S. transportation from 1870 to the present.

The children will really enjoy  the Spark! Lab, another interactive exhibit allowing a hands-on approach to science and invention. This museum also frequently sponsors free public programs ranging from gospel choir performances to story-telling festivals. We saw a great performance of folk and blues artists, taking a much needed sit-down break to listen to songs written by Woody Guthrie and Muddy Waters.

This brings me to a caveat about enjoying the free museums, exhibits, and culture offered throughout Washington DC: pace yourselves. The cultural offerings are so extensive, and the price – free – always right, and it’s tempting to pack in as many museums, exhibits, and shows as you fit in a day. It’s much more relaxing to stick with one or two museums in a day, take a stroll around Dupont Circle or Georgetown, and call it a day. Washington DC often requires more time than a family would think, in order to enjoy all it has to offer. While the museums and attractions are clustered closely together, your little ones will get tired and cranky and be unable to appreciate the wonders assembled for their enjoyment if you try to pack too much in.

Likewise, I’ll save more information about the Washington area in my next article: Washington DC Museums and Monuments – Beyond the Smithsonian. Until then, enjoy the monuments and monumental collections of Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian museums.

avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

Tags: , Reviews, Travel Excursions
One Comments to “Smithsonian Museum Washington DC – Packed with Family Attractions”
  1. avatar Washington DC Museums and Attractions - Beyond the Smithsonian says:

    [...] you’ve perused all the wonderful exhibits and artifacts in the Smithsonian Museum’s vast collection and enjoyed the Smithsonian sponsored National Zoo, there are still many, many more [...]