The National Mall is home to three science museums, including The National Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History, two of the most iconic Smithsonian Institutions. At the East end of the Mall, next to the Capitol, is the United States Botanic Garden. From the Smithsonian Metro station, you can easily get to the Zoo with just one switch to the Red Line at Metro Center station.
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History houses collections ranging from dinosaur fossils to precious gems. The largest exhibit halls include the Ocean Hall, the Hall of Fossils, and the Hall of Mammals (mainly taxidermy). The Hall of Human origins extensively explains the timeline of human evolution with interactive exhibits. The Hall of Gems (or what I call the sparkly object galleries) displays an overwhelming number of both uncut and cut gems and minerals, including the Hope Diamond. The “Insect Zoo” offers few living insects, with the exception of a live butterfly house (which requires an additional ticket and fee).
United States Botanic Garden
The US Botanic Garden is a multi-room conservatory that takes you through spaces with plants displayed by various themes, including a desert, orchid display, and medicinal plant collection. The large Rainforest Conservatory includes a canopy walk. In the central Garden Court we usually find bananas, chocolate, papayas and other edible plants. Outside the conservatory is a small area of display gardens. In 2019, artist Patrick Dougherty installed the temporary “O Say Can You See.”
Two galleries hold rotating exhibitions, including the annual train display, our family Thanksgiving tradition. Artists use natural items to make miniature displays around the train track using one central theme (in past years they have included “National Parks,” “Pollinators,” and “US Roadside Attractions.”)
Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
I’m going to be honest, as a natural sciences girl, Air and Space isn’t really my thing. The National Air and Space Museum has been under a huge renovation, and I look forward to seeing how they may be making the static exhibits more interactive when they reopen this summer. Admittedly, I am always impressed by the scale of the museum and the aircrafts and spacecrafts displayed inside. An interactive children’s area introduces them to physics and aerodynamics concepts. It’s also a great place to introduce your child to the space museum gift shop rite of passage; the Astronaut Ice Cream.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo
The National Zoo is in the hilly Woodley Park section of Washington DC. The Zoo itself (like other Smithsonian Museums) is free to enter, but there is a (currently $30) parking fee. The DC Metro’s Woodley Park stop gets you within a mile walk from the main pedestrian entrance. The Zoo’s main attraction is the Pandas, so expect crowds at both the indoor and outdoor viewing areas. One of our favorite sections is the Amazon exhibit; the volts generated by the electric eels are actually used to power lights, and they flash as the eels become more animated in the aquarium. We also enjoyed the new bee themed playground, adjacent to the farm exhibits.
Let me help plan your trip to Washington DC
American History Tour
Library of Congress, National Archives, Lincoln Memorial, War Memorials, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
American Culture Tour
National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, National Cathedral.
Smithsonian Art Museums: The Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, The National Museum of African Art, National Museum of Asian Art, Portrait Gallery , American Art Museum Renwick Gallery, The National Gallery of Art
In & Around Waschington DC
Cherry Blossom Festival (Spring), Chinatown, Georgetown, Arlington, Mount Vernon, Alexandria