Kid Friendly Guide: National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History is one of the most popular and noteworthy Smithsonian museums on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Located between the Museum of Natural History and National Museum of African American History and Culture, the American History Museum is massive.
You could easily spend most of the day taking in all the of exhibits. But is this Smithsonian Museum kid friendly? YES! We think it is really kid friendly; especially for older kids (ages 9 and up). But even if you have really young kids, there are enough fun and hands on exhibits to keep them engaged for a few hours. Read on for our Kid Friendly Guide to the National Museum of American History.
Washington D.C. Activity Pack for Kids (Click to buy!)
The Star-Spangled Banner
If you only have time to see one thing at the Museum of American History you MUST see The Star-Spangled Banner exhibit.
This flag is THE Star-Spangled Banner. It is the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem during the Battle of Baltimore. So, if you start humming about the broad strips and bright stars… you won’t be the only one.
The exhibit is incredibly moving and the flag is beautifully preserved. Note: You are not allowed to take any photos or videos inside this exhibit. The walk through itself won’t take you very long. However, take the time to read about the events that led to Francis Scott Key being inspired to write about the flag.
And then read about how the flag was made, the legacy of the flag and the National Anthem, and how it has served a truly American symbol throughout our history.
Related: 40+ FREE Things to do with kids in Washington DC
America On The Move
The transportation exhibit at the Museum of American History might be one of the most kid-friendly exhibits. It’s really interesting because it traces the development of transportation in the U.S from horse and buggy all the way up to the present day.
It’s not incredibly hands-on per se, but it has a ton of big things to look at. Your kids will probably enjoy it. When I say big things to look at, I mean– they have brought in full size train cars, trolley cars, boats, etc…
You can get a sense of what it was like to cruise Route 66 or wait in a segregated train station waiting area. There is an actual subway car you can sit in and you can walk onto the platform of a steam engine train.
Related: Guide to the National Air and Space Museum in DC
Places of Invention
Places of Invention is actually one of the coolest and most hands-on exhibits inside the Museum of American History. It covers the rise of the personal computer, the development of hip-hop, medical innovation, clean energy, and more!
You can create your own icon, take a turn at a mixing table, and learn how engineering helped develop heart friendly treatments.
Related: Guide to the National Building Museum with Kids
This fantastic pop culture exhibit opened in December 2022 and honestly, this exhibit is worth a visit to the Museum of American History on its own!
The entire exhibit space is sensory overload, nostalgia, and fun on steroids. There are tons of video and music deep dives, great pop culture tidbits you probably didn’t know, and more nostalgic artifacts that you can possibly absorb.
Some of the highlights include:
- Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers
- C3PO and R2D2
- Kermit the Frog
- Oscar the Grouch
- Mister Rogers’ red sweater
- Costumes from Black Panther and Walking Dead
- Props and costumes from Superman, the lone ranger
- Muhammed Ali’s robe
Some of my personal favorite parts of this exhibit included the video on how Broadway musicals have shaped our pop culture, as well as a look back on children’s television show (from Electric Company to Dora the Explorer to Doc McStuffins and more!)
Related: The US National Arboretum is a great place for a DC day trip!
American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith
I loved this exhibit so much because it talks about voting, why it’s important to vote, and how voting rights have changed over the years. Even younger kids will appreciate the notion that throughout much of our nation’s history, only white males could actually vote.
There are some interactive voting polls you can take. And really, just seeing how voting has evolved really underscores just how important this process is for our freedoms in America.
The American Presidency
The American Presidency (and don’t forget the First Ladies exhibit that’s right next to it!) walks you through how the presidency developed from George Washington until now.
There are really interesting exhibits that cover all of the presidents– the good parts and the bad. And there are some really uniquely American relics, like Abraham Lincoln’s hat.
Related: Tips for visiting the US Botanic Garden in DC
FOOD: The Transforming of the American Table
FOOD doesn’t seem like it would be an interesting concept for a museum exhibit, but it is.
The centerpiece of this exhibit is a complete recreation of Julia Childs’ kitchen.
There is an interactive dinner table that would engage kids, but otherwise this exhibit is more for adults. Still, it’s really interesting to see how America’s eating habits have changed over the years!
The Price of Freedom: Americans at War
There is so much to the Price of Freedom exhibit. It is a large exhibit space but not ginormous. The museum does a great job to jamming as many artifacts and facets of America at war as it can.
The tour starts with the French and Indian War, moves through the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, and into the 20th century with WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
I really appreciated the discussion about key figures in the conflicts like Abraham vs. Jefferson Davis, Hitler, Mussolini, and more.
Don’t miss the Rosie the Riveter exhibit! You can test your riveting skills with a hands on riveter demonstration.
The Price of Freedom exhibit ends with a walk through the Cold War and the War on Terror.
There are relics from the World Trade Center. And even though most kids now are still too young to have been born on 9/11 (that is really crazy to type.. just in case you were wondering), it is recent enough that it will likely resonate with them more than say… the Civil War.
Note: The Price of Freedom is not a comprehensive look at America at war. It is meant to hit the wave top and give a general overview. If you want in-depth museums about these wars, there are a few American Revolution museums (our favorites are in Philadelphia and Williamsburg), as well as the military service museums like the United States Army Museum and the Marine Corps Museum. These museums are much more in-depth.
Spark!Lab is designed for kids and adults who love to tinker, engineer, and invent. The space is set up with a number of inventing and engineering challenges.
When we visited you could create a pinball machine, engineer a bridge, manipulate a laser, play with snap circuits and more!
The challenges are designed for kids ages 6-12. However, adults will enjoy the activities too. For younger kids there are age appropriate dress up activities, books, and creative prompts.
Currently Spark!Lab is open Wednesday-Saturday from 10am-4pm. Admission is free and on a walk-in basis.
If you have older and younger kids and are worried that the younger kids will get bored at Spark!Lab, have no fear! Wegman’s Wonderplace is located next door and was designed for kids ages 0-6.
Wegman’s Wonderplace is essentially a hands-on play exhibit. There is a toy version of Julia Child’s kitchen, a big boat to climb aboard, and more!
Note: The hours for Wegman’s Wonderplace differ slightly from Spark!Lab. Currently it is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 11am-4pm.
In order to reduce wait times, Wegmans Wonderplace uses a free, timed ticketing system on days when the exhibit is busier than usual. If it’s busy, your timed-entry ticket will give you 30 minutes of play time.
Food options at the Museum of American History
America’s Table Cafe
America’s Table Cafe is the main restaurant at the Museum of American History. We think it is one of the better cafe’s on the National Mall and if you are need a decent place to sit down, get out of the sweltering DC heat, and have a decent meal… this is our top pick.
They have a rotating special menu, as well as the regular menu of burgers, buttermilk fried chicken, chili dogs, salads, sandwiches, and desserts.
The America’s Table Cafe is open 11am-3pm.
LeRoy Neiman Jazz Cafe
The menu here focuses more on specialty drinks and pastries. However, you can also grab a light bite to eat. It’s open 11am-4pm. This is important to note if you miss the timing for the main cafe.
As with pretty much everywhere in the National Mall area, there are food trucks lined up outside the Museum of American History on Constitution Avenue.
FAQ/Know Before You Go
The museum is open every day, except December 25, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
No. There are no tickets required and the museum is FREE to visit.
If you are just with adults and you are taking your time to read everything, this museum will take you most of the day. Kids over the age of about 8 or 9, plan to spend 2-3 hours. If you are visiting with kids under 8 plan to spend 1-2 hours (with part of that time at either Wegman’s Wonderplace or Spark!Lab).
The Museum of American History in DC has Dorothy’s slippers from the Wizard of Oz on display in the Entertainment Nation Pop Culture exhibit.
The museum is located on the National Mall.
Address: 1300 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.
Public Transportation: Use either the Smithsonian or Federal Triangle Metro Stops
Google Map Directions
Click here for the American History Museum website.