The National Museum of Natural History, located on the National Mall just across from the Smithsonian castle, is America’s most visited museum for good reason. Its 126 million specimens and cultural artifacts are a treasure trove for anyone interested in nature, science or anthropology, and kids absolutely love the place. Begin your visit in the domed rotunda marveling at the museum’s official greeter — an 8-ton African elephant named Henry.
Then wander over to the Sant Ocean Hall, a 23,000-square-foot exhibition space re-opened in September 2008 after a long renovation. It’s the largest exhibit of marine life and systems in the world. Here, you’ll see a replica of a 45-foot-long North Atlantic right whale suspended from the ceiling, and a giant squid so rarely seen that its species wasn’t caught on camera until 2004. “Ocean Odyssey,” a high-definition film that wraps the walls above the exhibit space, creates a unique underwater atmosphere. If you’re visiting with kids, they’ll be drawn immediately to the 1,500-gallon living coral reef, swarming with brightly colored tropical fish, hermit crabs and coral. Museum educators are always on hand to answer kids’ questions about the reef (and they ask a lot of questions).
You’ll find another family favorite upstairs at the O. Orkin Insect Zoo, where visitors can get their creepy-crawly fix by watching tarantulas, termites and cockroaches at work and play. Next door, the 1,400-square-foot Butterfly Pavilion provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity to surround yourself with more than 400 free-ranging, live butterflies. (Note: The Butterfly Pavilion charges a $6.00 admission fee for adults ($5 for children, 2-12) and operates on a slightly different schedule from the museum. Visit www.butterflies.si.edu for more.)
Adults will get a kick out of seeing the renowned — and supposedly cursed — 45.52-carat Hope Diamond on the museum’s second floor in the Geology, Gems and Minerals Hall. Alternatively, don a pair of 3D glasses and spend an hour in the museum’s super cool Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theatre watching movies such as “Dinosaurs 3D” and “Deep Sea 3D” on the six-story screen. Check www.si.edu/imax for current features and schedules.
For more, visit: www.mnh.si.edu.
Photos of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian)
Hours: Open daily, 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., every day except Christmas. During the spring and summer of 2009, the museum will extend its hours until 7:30 PM on certain dates (check web site for specifics).
Parking: Public parking is limited to the surrounding streets and commercial garages.
Metrorail: Orange and Blue Line stops for Smithsonian or Federal Triangle.