Natural History Museum

elephant at Natural History Museum DC

The elephant in the rotunda at the Natural History Museum

Something about walking into museums makes my kids tired. And I have to admit there is something about museums that makes me tired, too. Maybe it’s the slow pace of walking. Maybe it’s carrying a bag or coat. Or it could be the mental energy we’re using as we soak up the exhibits. Or maybe we lock our knees as we stand on the hard museum floors. Maybe it’s just all the standing. Whatever it is, I know that museums can be tiring and so I’ve tried to figure out how to keep everyone going in a museum.

Even the Natural History Museum, which is one of our favorites, can be tiring. There are lots of great exhibits that interest kids (and adults), so you’ve got to have a plan when you head into the museum to know which exhibits you’re going to visit. When I have a plan, we walk faster and have a purpose—so there is less complaining about how tired everyone is.

One of the last times we visited the Natural History Museum, we decided that we’d come up with our favorite three exhibits—we’ve been there so many times, we are familiar with all of the exhibits. And that way, when friends ask us which exhibits to visit, we’d have an answer.

So, here are our top three (ok, four) of the permanent exhibits:

The Hall of Mammals
The Insect Zoo
The Butterfly House (there is a charge to go in this)
The Hope Diamond

I know for some of you the dinosaur exhibit may be a must see. With all girls, I never had a dinosaur lover. Some of my all time favorites have been the temporary exhibits—so check them all out before you go. Here’s a link that lists the current exhibits (permanent and temporary).

The IMAX at the Natural History Museum has some great movies, with many in 3-D. Plan your IMAX movie for the end of your visit to the museum. Usually by that time, we are tired and just about ready to be done. An interesting movie is a fun way to rest, but also wrap up a visit to a great museum.

National Gallery of Art (West Building)

National Gallery of Art rotunda DC

Natalie and me in the Rotunda

I’m always surprised when people tell me what they are planning to see and do in DC, that National Gallery of Art isn’t on their list. Maybe it’s because I talk to a lot of families with kids, and they think it wouldn’t interest them, or maybe it’s because there are so many other things to do and see in DC.

I always do my best to try to encourage people to go to the National Gallery. I’ve been taking my kids there for years. And my advice is always the same—you don’t need to spend too much time there. Just pop in (meaning for about an hour or even less) and at least look at the da Vinci (the only one in America) and some Impressionist paintings (my favorite paintings—but it could be some other paintings). I think it’s so important to expose kids (and adults) to art so they can gain an appreciation for it.

When you enter on the main floor from the Mall Entrance, the da Vinci is to the left in Gallery 6, and the Impressionist paintings are to the right in the galleries with numbers in the upper 80s. If you have a little bit more time, and want to see some of the better-known paintings (12 in all, including the da Vinci), ask for the West Building Highlights guide at the Information Desk just to the left when you enter from the Mall entrance. This guide is great because, in about an hour, you can see some pretty cool paintings and get an overall feel for the museum. The kids and the adults can take turns being the tour guide to the next painting using the map on the guide.

One of my favorite things that I have done with my kids is for me to research a bit beforehand some of the art pieces in the museum, tell them what I’ve learned about the paintings, and then search for them when we get to the museum. Probably our favorite painting that we’ve done that with is Copley’s, Watson and the Shark. I think they liked it so much because it’s got a story behind it that is kind of thrilling for kids. We still hunt that one down every time we go. In case you’re interested, that painting is in Gallery M60. To learn more about the painting, go to this link: Maybe you’ll understand why my kids were fascinated with this picture at a young age. ☺

National Gallery of Art DC man with a shark

Sterling in front of “Watson and the Shark”