Washington -- Smithsonian

We hit several of the Smithsonian Museums during our trip.


Washington -- Smithsonian

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by grannola on September 28, 2006

There are so many great things to see at the Smithsonian, it's impossible to see them all. We picked out museums that we thought our kids would enjoy the most.

The Air & Space Museum: We had to see the Enterprise (the original model from Star Trek). It's hiding in the gift shop on the lower floor. I also recommend the video explaining why Star Trek physics are impossible (narrated by an animated Albert Einstein).

American History Museum: Kermit the frog original puppet was there, this museum is now closed mostly for renovations. Gotta love the Julia Child kitchen. A must do for my kids was the Hands on Science exhibit (ages 5 & up). Also, make sure to see Old Glory in the restoration room.

Natural History Museum: The Hope Diamond is on the upper level, with lots of signs pointing the way. I really liked the view out the window with the description of the building materials used in the room before the gems. Lots of great dinosaur stuff of course. And, there is an IMAX theatre.

National Zoo: The big attraction is the panda viewing area. But for us, it was the hippos. The hippos have 2 spots, outside and inside the elephant house. We loved the big Nile Hippo, but we also liked the little Pygmy Hippo.${QuickSuggestions} Check out the website before you go. They have lots of suggestions on travelling with kids, lots of info to make the trip more enjoyable.

Plan to spend several hours in any museum you go to. We thought we'd get through at least 3 or 4 on the first day and barely made it through 2. (We could have spent more time in either the American History Museum or the Natural History Museum). But remember that your kids might want to go much faster or slower than mine did.

It is possible to see things quickly if you just hit the highlights. Since the museums don't charge an entrance fee, you don't feel like your wasting money at least. Had I realized how much my kids were going to like it, we would have spent a few more days in DC.

Be prepared to go through a metal detector on the way into any of the museums. They all have security to check bags and metal detectors.

Strollers are fine, but sometimes it's hard to find the elevator (at least at the Natural History Museum). An umbrella-style stroller works fairly well since you can always carry it if you have to.

${BestWay} I recommend the metro for getting into and out of city center. For $18 my whole family got a round trip from Tyson's Corner, VA to the Smithsonian. It was an adventure. We got a day pass for the metro which covers unlimited rides after 9:30am.

The trip to downtown was uneventful and took about 1/2 hour. The way back to the hotel...not so great. It took 3 hours to get home thanks to Ernesto. The hurricane blew a tree down over the metro. We had to switch trains twice on what should have been a one train trip.

You do need to be careful about the park and ride spots. We needed to pay $3.75 to park for the day, but the only way to pay was with a smart card that cost $10 and included $5 worth of money to spend on parking/metro rides.

Once you are in the right area (the metro stops right across the street from the American History Museum), it is easy to walk to several other museums and sites (the White House, the Washington Monument etc) are all within walking distance (even with little kids).

On the weekend, Saturday and Sunday, we took the car. It was late in the season and slightly overcast, but we had no problem getting a great spot at 9:30am. We parked directly between the Washington monument and the White House. Made it easy to find the car too :)

We drove up to some of the other sites and it took a bit more time to find a parking spot later in the day. On Sunday, it was a really nice day and parking was harder to find again, but still not worth paying $10 to park in a garage. You just have to be patient and someone will leave eventually. Or, take the subway :)

Washington also has a great tour-mobile, which costs about $20 a head, but it stops at all the main sights and you don't have to worry about parking. Its' a great way to see everything if you have a limited amount of time.

Smithsonian Institution: Museum of Natural History

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by grannola on October 8, 2006

The highlight was the Hope Diamond for the 8-year-old. The 4-year-old liked touching a piece of Mars. The baby liked any time we would let him touch anything.

We looked up the Natural History museum on the Smithsonian website before we left home. The 8-year-old was really looking forward to seeing the Hope Diamond. He was not disappointed. He had to wait until we made it to the right room, and then we had to get past a crowd to get a glimpse. We did not stay long enough for him to read up on it, but we did that a bit at home anyway.

The 4-year-old was a bit scared of the dinosaur exhibit on the main floor, but she doesn't do well with costumes either. She loved getting to touch buttons, and especially loved getting to touch a piece of Mars.

At one point Mom took the two big kids to see some exhibits while I looked after trying to get the baby to have a nap. As soon as we split up, the 4-year-old needed a potty break. It took a lot of looking to meet up again. Finally, we saw each other; but I was on the second floor and they were on the main floor in the rotunda. I told them to stay put (using gestures) and that I would find them. That was easier gestured than done. Because I had the baby with me, I also had the stroller so we needed to find an elevator. It took a lot of wandering about to find the elevator, then even more to find the rotunda from the elevator. Oh well.

There was a temporary exhibit on the Ice Age when we were there, which was kind of interesting, but the video was out of order. This gave me a nice quiet place to sit with the baby for a little while. This was really important, since the rotunda area on both floors is really noisy.

I really liked the exhibit where you could look out the window and see the other museums and landmarks and see what materials they were built with. They also had a really neat replica of the top pyramid from the Washington Memorial. The top bit is actually tiny, only a few inches high.

They have several different gift shops with different themes. Near the mammals exhibit there is an animal themed shop. On the second floor near the gems there is a rock shop. There are also a couple of cafes, one near the dinosaurs and a larger one near the elevator that goes up to the IMAX theatre.

The museum was open until 7pm, but we left around 5 to go in search of dinner. We did spend at least 3 hours in the museum, and did not see everything by any means, but we got to see some cool stuff and learn a few things along the way.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, DC
(202) 633-1000

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by grannola on October 9, 2006

We went here because the 4-year-old studied rocket ships last year at pre-school. OK, I'm lying, we went so I could see the Enterprise from Star Trek. I had gone to the museum with my Mom when I was a teenager. We split up so we could both see what we were interested in, and met up at the door after an hour. When we met, she said "Did you see the Enterprise?", and I had not, so I've been waiting to get back ever since.

I had looked on the smithsonian.org website before we left to make sure the Enterprise was still there (which it is), and where to find it. There had been a Star Trek display a few years ago, but it is gone now. The Enterprise though is hiding in the basement of the gift shop. Knowing where it was allowed us to enjoy looking around at the rest of the museum. The Air & Space Museum did not interest my kids nearly as much as I thought it would. They loved the American History museum, but this one was just OK.

There were not as many hands-on exhibits as some other museums. There are a lot of airplanes hanging from the ceiling, but they did not hold much interest for my kids. The spaceflight section was a bit more engaging, but still not the kids favorite. They did enjoy the space section a bit better. We got there less than a month after Pluto's demotion to dwarf planet, but the Smithsonian had already started fixing things to reflect that. There was a really neat "In Memoriam" sign that explained what happened.

Another highlight was the video narrated by 'Albert Einstein' in animation form explaining how Star Trek and Star Wars could not really happen because they break the laws of physics. They also have an IMAX theatre and a space simulator that have admission fees. One of our first stops was the rest room. There was a huge line that went all the way out the door for the women's washroom on the main floor. The 4-year-old had to go, so we waited. When we got to the second floor a few minutes later, there was no lineup at all.

At the end of the visit we made a trip to the gift shop to see the Enterprise. We also bought some Space Ice Cream for the kids to take home as a souvenir. By this time, we were all getting hungry so we decided to go to the food court. They have McDonald's and Boston Pizza in a large room attached to the museum. We walked in and the noise was so overwhelming we left. We decided that a hot dog from the vendor outside made more sense. It was a beautiful day and the hot dogs were $3.50 each.
Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
Independence Avenue At 4th Street SW
Washington, DC

Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by grannola on October 9, 2006

We had to go here so the 4-year-old could see a hippopotamus. She is fascinated with them, and that was the thing she wanted to see the most on this trip.

We started off by driving right through the park and having to circle around to find it again. We went to Parking Lot A, which was full, and then the next thing we knew we were back on Constitution Avenue.

We finally got parked, and when we got out of the car, the first thing we saw were the giraffes. Okay, awesome, we'll be able to find the car.

We went to visit the pandas, a major attraction after the birth of a baby panda last year. We spent a lot of time looking at birds, and then came back to see the hippos.

We found a Nile hippopotamus just outside the Elephant House. The 4-year-old was happy. We also found a pygmy hippo inside the elephant house.

We didn't have a map because we couldn't find any place to get one, but then we stumbled across one that someone had dropped. We later realized that we could have bought one for $1 just inside the park at the info desk.

We took the kids to the children's area, which had some farm animals and a "pizza garden," which explained where pizza ingredients like tomatoes, cheese, and wheat come from. It also had a big foam pizza for the baby to play on, by far his favourite bit of the zoo.

We got to see a octopus feeding in the invertebrates house. We went through the butterfly garden. We saw the monkeys. All very interesting stuff.

Mom had been to South Africa only a week before, so she wanted to show the kids all the animals she'd seen there. The lions and elephants were high on her to do list.

We stopped for an ice cream at the cafe. The ice cream was chocolate/vanilla swirl soft serve. The kids loved it. We also got a kid's meal for the baby and me to share. It came in a cute panda-shaped lunch box. It had fries, chicken nuggets shaped like zoo animals, applesauce, and a drink for about $7.

We stopped at the gift shop to try to find the 4-year-old a hippo souvenir. After much searching, we found some stickers with a cartoonish hippo included.

The kids were also working on sheets that we'd printed off the smithsonian.org website for most of the visit. The plan was to take them to the education centre when they were done to redeem them for a sticker. We ended up getting to the center about 5 minutes after they closed (at 6pm).

Smithsonian National Zoological Park (The National Zoo)
3001 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, D.C., 20008
(202) 673-4800

The National Museum of American History

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by grannola on October 9, 2006

The 4-year-old again dictated where we should go. We had to go here to see Kermit the Frog. Of course, this museum kept us going much longer than we had anticipated.

As Canadian's we didn't realize how interesting the American History Museum was going to be. The kids liked the transportation exhibit that started from ships, to the first car to travel across the US, to buses, to airplanes. There were lots of things to see and touch. They liked the transportation of food display and the Chicago El Train. This took up a full wing of the main floor.

Downstairs we found Julia Child's kitchen, where there was a video playing with Julia's wit and wisdom. It was conveniently located across the hall from the hands-on science exhibit where the kids got to do real science experiments (about food additives in our case). They had to get tickets (which were free) to reserve a spot. This meant waiting for about 1/2hour. That was fine with them because there were lots of self-serve experiments there too.

The polio exhibit was interesting, especially when we learned that Candy Land had been invented by someone who was in an iron lung at the time. Up on the top floor we found Kermit and his friends, and lots of other TV memorabilia (like Fonzie's jacket and Archie Bunker's Chair).

The flags on display were very impressive. Inside the main hall on the 2nd floor is the Pentagon Flag. That's the flag that was draped over the outside of the Pentagon the day after September 11th. Also, in a restoration chamber is Old Glory. It is huge and has undergone major restoration. It is not 'repaired' per se, but it has been restored so it does not further deteriorate. There were also displays on science, computers, and chess that the 8-year-old enjoyed.

We skipped several exhibits because we just didn't have time to see everything. We were at the museum for over 4 hours and could have stayed longer, but we wanted to see more than one museum on our trip. I bought a sweater in the gift shop and we realized that the zipper was stuck on it. We exchanged it for another sweater without a problem.

The museum was open from 10am to 6pm (winter hours are 10am to 5pm). There were several exhibits that were closed when we were there because they were getting ready to renovate. There were several places where you could tell renovations were due (cracked ceilings etc). The whole museum closed for renovations just after our visit and it is scheduled to reopen in 2008.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
14th Street And Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC
(202) 357-1300

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