Fall is my favorite time of year in DC with all the great Halloween events and fall festivals and pumpkin patches. This year, though, I would like to propose a new addition to the family fun agenda and suggest that Fall is the BEST time to visit a Smithsonian museum with your kids!
When I bring up our family’s love for the Smithsonians, I get a lot of varied responses from other moms from “we love them too!” to “aren’t they too crowded/boring/where do you park??” all the way to “I didn’t know you could bring a baby to the museums!”
Our Family’s Smithsonian Bucketlist Challenge:
A year ago, I attempted to take my then 2 and 5-year-old to all the 12 Smithsonians and Zoo in DC in one summer. I wanted to get into the city more with my kids and explore these free (and air-conditioned!) national treasures. We made a passing grade of 8 out of the 12 that summer but then over the last school year, we kept going back! As I started going to each museum multiple times, my friends started texting me their questions. I started writing down my tips for each museum which turned from texts to emails to Family Trip Guides for each of the top 5 museums.
After dozens of museum visits in all four seasons, I want to share why Fall is the best time to visit museums with kids and my top 3 Survival Tips for a great family visit!
3 Reasons Why Fall is a Great Time to Visit the Smithsonians with Kids:
1. Less crowds:
Did you know that there were over 28 million visits to the Smithsonians last year? The Air and Space Museum is the most visited museum in America with over 6 million visits alone. But in the Fall those crowds are at some of their lowest! Fall is the sweet spot between the swarms of tourists in the Summer and the school trips in the Spring.
2. Weather doesn’t matter!
The Fall weather in Washington, D.C. is definitely unpredictable. The Smithsonian museums have such beautiful spaces inside that are so fun to explore whatever the weather!
3. Great family programs:
The museums start their fall routines of great free storytimes and activities during this season. Below are some of our favorites:
- National African American Museum of History and Culture: Cultural Cuddles Tuesdays at 10:30 AM and Toddling Treasures on Thursdays at 10:30 AM. (Reservations are sometimes required so check links)
- Postal Museum: Story Time every Monday at 10:30 (drop in no registration!) and repeated at 11 AM.
- American Indian Museum: Spontaneous Performance (Most days at 1PM and check out their Mitsitam Food Court too!)
- Air and Space: Flights of Fancy Storytime every weekday at 11 and 11:30 AM (but recommend getting there a little early as it fills up!)
My 3 Top Survival Tips for visiting the Smithsonians with Kids
1. Arrive at 9:45 AM:
I have found arriving just 15 minutes before all the museums open at 10 AM saves loads of time and stress! At this time, I’ve often found parking right in front of the museums on the National Mall. School groups and tour buses arrive around 11 or 12. I’ve tried arriving earlier and later but 9:45 is the sweet spot to avoid rush hour traffic and get in line before more folks arrive at 9:55am.
2. Avoid the gift shop:
Confession time, my kids don’t actually know that the Smithsonians have Gift Shops inside! There’s nothing like trying to negotiate with your son at the end of an otherwise fun museum trip. Instead, I look for fun treats that we can incorporate in our visit. I put ideas in the Family Trip Guides for each of the age groups at each museum but some of our favorites include 1) Ride on the Smithsonian Carousel in front of the Smithsonian Castle and 2) Bakery Treat at Union Station after the Postal Museum.
3. Ask the Security Guard their favorite art/artifact!
We have had incredible conversations with security guards at many museums. They often spend more time in these exhibit rooms than anyone else! For example, Ms. Faith at the National African Art Museum was one of the very best! She spent time and talked TO the kids and asked them questions about what they saw. We stayed here for probably half of our visit because Faith was so excited to show us around. A seriously magical moment in an unlikely place!
I hope this is helpful and maybe encourages you to find some time this fall to check out these amazing places with your kids!
Have you been to a Smithsonian with your kid? Let me know your favorite in the comments!