Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Address: National Mall – Washington, DC
Gordie’s Review (3.5 years): “I liked the dinosaurs”
Nicky’s Review (11 months): (signing) “Fish!”
Day Pass Cost: Free!
Food Services: Cafeteria/Cafes that focus on focus on local, all-natural, organic, sustainable, made from scratch food.
Age Range: All ages.
Stay Length: Expect to spend at least 2 hours, depending on your level of interest you could easily spend all day.
Worth the Trip?: No question.
Overall: There are going to be few kids who aren’t going to find something they’d love to learn about at this museum. This was the museum I was really looking forward to seeing. This was the museum that to me was the Smithsonian. So my expectations were unrealistically high. This is a great museum, but it is not all the best museums ever of all time rolled into one. Ifi you are looking for a great museum to learn about dinosaurs, bones, early humans, animals and much much more, this is a great place to go.
Gordie was most excited to see the dinosaur bones. If you’ve been to the Tyrrell Museum or the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, you may find it a little underwhelming. There is absolutely no shortage of bones at the Natural History Museum but only one room features dinosaur bones.
There is a nice variety and Gordie was suitably impressed. We went through the entire museum and this was hands down Gordie’s favorite thing.
There is a number of other rooms featuring prehistoric animals though and even one featuring prehistoric plants.
My favorite exhibit was the Ocean Hall. It was really well done with lots to look at, tons of information if you had time to stop and read, but even if you are going through with small kids, you feel like you’re getting something out of seeing the displays. It was also beautiful to look at and had some interactive features that Gordie really liked.
This exhibit also had the wow factor for me – they have a giant squid on display! There is not many places that you are going to see one of those.
More giant squid!
I love the lighthearted approach to some of their information signs too – “Why Do So Many Larvae Look So Weird?”
Seeing the deep sea explorer robot was pretty cool too.
They have an aquarium that looks like it is right out of Finding Nemo with clown fish and… dory fish and sea anemones. The kids were both so captivated that we ended up taking them to the Baltimore Aquarium just before we went home.
The Human Origins section was well done too. Gordie realized that the displays had things on them that we could learn, and he loved that he could lift, roll or slide something at each display and then make me read what it said. It did make him worry about death and dying which I wasn’t really prepared for though.
Gordie wearing his new explorer hat and learning.
The Hall of Mammals is pretty but I could have skipped it. There animals are grouped by region and well displayed if you are interested in looking at that though. It kind of felt like going to a zoo where the animals don’t move.
Upstairs they have a whole hall of bones which we basically ran through. The displays are pretty minimal -it might have been interesting to look at if we didn’t have kids with us.
The Insect Zoo was really cool. They had lots of different insects that you could see and even a few that you could touch managed by volunteers. Nicole was enthralled by seeing the grasshopper on the man’s hand (shown in the picture above). Gordie was nervous about going into the exhibit but in the end he let a caterpillar crawl across his hand.
Although most of the museum is free, a tour through the Butterfly Pavilion is not. Timed tickets are $6 for adults and $5 for children. On Tuesdays (when we happened to be there), it’s free of charge but you still require a timed ticket. Nicole LOVED the butterflies. Gordie was a little nervous so I was carrying him, and a butterfly kept flying around and landing on my shirt. He thought that was pretty funny but a little scary too.
We didn’t see much of the Gems and Minerals halls but we did see the Hope Diamond.
The Discovery Room had a lot of hands on things for kids that is open for them to explore. There are boxes with shells and bones you can touch, costumes, books and more. This is one area I wish we had been able to spend more time in. If you have kids with you I definitely wouldn’t miss it.