In June of 2017, I had the opportunity to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., with my four lovely sisters. We drove to D.C. that morning and arrived at the museum around 10:30 am where we stayed until it closed at 5:30 pm. I had such a great time with my sisters as we toured the various exhibits in the museum. The museum is quite big, and there’s so much to see. I was quite surprised that we were able to walk all five floors and go through all 12 exhibitions. For the sake of time, some exhibits we had to just take a quick look and move on. We already knew that we would have to visit again to observe everything on display, view more videos, and experience all the inter-actives and stations. But for our first visit, we were able to see and learn so much about our amazing history.
My visit to the museum was very pleasant, and I would like Larry and the kids to experience it as well. I’m in the process of planning my family’s day trip to Washington, D. C., in early summer. School will have ended, and we need some things to do before the kids head to their six-week summer programs. As I began to think about our trip to this grand museum, I started jotting down some notes which led me to create a list of tips that I thought you could benefit from as well, just in case you’re also planning to visit the museum.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan your trip to the museum:
- There wasn’t a coat room in the museum, so in the winter, it’s best to leave big coats home or in the car if you drove. Stick to wearing a lighter jacket and layer your clothes if you will be outside for an extended period of time. You probably wouldn’t like carrying a big coat around while you’re trying to enjoy the museum. And if you have kids with you, they would have to carry coats, too, and that’s not much fun. And if you kept your coat on for too long, you’d most likely become overheated.
- Wear the most comfortable shoes you can possibly wear because it’s a big museum and lots of walking. My shoes were quite comfortable, but by the late afternoon, my feet were worn out. I will make sure to wear something even more comfortable next time!
- I found it easier to carry a crossover purse because it allowed my hands to be free. I didn’t want to be bothered with a purse dangling from the arm and falling off my shoulder. A crossover purse is more manageable. A big purse would be in the way, and my shoulders would get tired of carrying it. I wore my “mommy crossover,” what I wear when I’m out and about with my kids.
- Park in a nearby lot. There’s also street parking a few blocks down, but you will have to leave to feed the meter.
- Pack a light snack and water, though you will have to step outside to eat it because you can’t eat in the museum. Bottled water is permitted and there are water fountains in the museum.
- I don’t recommend bringing babies unless you will be carrying them on your body. I don’t recommend bringing very young children at all because of the stroller. Because of the crowd, a stroller would be hard to maneuver. Dealing with the stroller alone can dampen your experience. If you have no other choice but to bring a small child, visit on a weekday when it’s less crowded, as opposed to the weekends.
- Based on my experience, the museum is not geared towards younger children. The exhibits may not interest a young child and some are not appropriate for very young children. My youngest will be five by the time we go, and based on what I know about him, I don’t think he’s ready for this type of museum. He will not be interested and will probably give me a challenge while I try to enjoy the museum. I need to start working on securing a babysitter for that day!
- It’s not a touch-and-feel museum, and kids can’t play. I think it would be difficult to hold a child’s hand all day and, therefore, a child could easily get lost in the crowd if you don’t. I “lost” my sisters a few times and they are grown. Can you imagine a toddler or preschooler?
- If visiting with school-age children, plan to stay together at all times. But have an emergency plan just in case your family somehow separates (cell phones would be best to get in touch). I highly recommend children remaining with a parent or an older sibling at all times.
- Admission to the museum is free and it’s open every day except Christmas. In order to enter the museum, you must have a timed entry pass, which you can reserve online. They have a limited amount of same-day timed passes that you can reserve starting at 6:30 am the morning of the day you want to go. I tried to obtain same-day timed passes for a Saturday recently, and my attempts were unsuccessful. I could not get in at all. I’m assuming it was due to high visitation during the weekends. I may have had better luck if I’d tried for a weekday.
- Keep in mind that arriving prior to the time on your pass will not speed up entry.
- If for some reason you arrive after the time on your pass, you can still enter the museum. See their website for further details on timed passes.
- Be prepared to wait when entering the museum and keep in mind that you will have to go through a security screening. The security check-in is required for everyone’s safety. Security personnel will check your bags, purses, briefcases, strollers, and containers. All visitors will need to walk through a metal detector, but those who are unable will be hand-screened. To save you hassle, I suggest you check the website for the list of items not permitted into the museum.
- The museum is accessible for wheelchairs, walkers, scooters, strollers, and mobility devices. There are elevators on each floor of the museum for the visitors’ comfort.
- Grab a map to keep track of where you are and where you want to go next. The map helped from missing anything, and we managed to check out every floor of the museum, plus take an hour lunch break at the cafe where we enjoyed a very tasty meal.
- Take pictures, but be warned, there’s so much to see and you will want to capture all of it. Every time I turned around, I saw something I wanted to snap a picture of, such as various objects, inspiring quotes, pieces of art, and displays. If you’re using your phone for taking pictures, make sure you have a portable charger with you.
- I highly recommend eating at the Sweet Home Cafe that is conveniently located inside the museum. The cafe has a menu that includes family-friendly options. There are four food stations that boast African American cuisine from the Northern States, the Creole Coast, the West Range, and the Agricultural South. My sisters and I enjoyed our meals as well as the desserts. When my family visits the museum, we plan to eat there as well because the meal compliments what the museum stands for, a full African American experience.
- Save time to visit the museum’s gift shop. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to check out the store because we ran out of time. I will need to put some money aside for my family because I would like to go when we visit the museum. I’m sure we will be able to find something meaningful to take back with us that will reflect our culture and perhaps be a conversational piece for those who enter our home.
- Make your visit to the museum a two-day trip if you can, especially if you don’t live close by or are planning to visit anytime soon.
- Consider staying the night before, if you plan to visit the museum early and just for one day. Or you can just leave home very early that morning. Plan for rush hour traffic, and know that D.C. streets can be very busy. When I went with my sisters, we were in some traffic, so when we arrived at the museum we were about 30 minutes past the time on our passes but were still able to get in.
- Another idea is to stay the night of your trip, so you don’t have to worry about driving back home, which is what my sisters and I opted for. After the museum, we took a walk to check out the surrounding areas. Depending on the day you go, other museums may be closed by then. Check with the museums on their operating hours when planning.
I hope you found these tips helpful! I am looking forward to visiting with my family soon and look forward to sharing our experience with you!