TOP 5 D.C. Museums to Visit with Your Toddlers (Walkers/Runners)

Which museum should you visit with your (wobbly) walking toddler?

My favorite activity with my toddler in DC is definitely the visits to Smithsonian Museums. I feel like it is one of the best things about living on the Hill because all the museums are so accessible. We take full advantage of the public transportation system such as the Streetcar and Metro and enjoy the museums that are mostly free of charge! I’ve been taking her to the museums since she was about 6 months old. Our favorites changed as she grew older, but today I’m going to write about our most recent favorites at the age of 20 months, walkers/runners stage! 🙂

Here are my personal Top 5 D.C. museums to visit with my 20 months little one.

No.5 – National Building Museum

No.4 – National Portrait Gallery

No.3 – African American History and Culture Museum

No.2 – American Indian Museum

No.1 – Natural History Museum



No.5 – National Building Museum

First of all, I love how quiet this museum is compared to some other super popular museums. (Don’t get me wrong, popular spots like Air & Space Museum and American History Museum are great, but sometimes it’s hard to deal with the crowd.) This historic building from 1880’s has such a huge main hall and this carpeted space is literally a safe haven for my wobbly running toddler. I can set her free here, eat lunch together and just relax while enjoying the awesome architecture.

In addition to the Great Hall, their Building Zone and Play Work Build are perfect play zones for our little explorer. Building Zone on the 1st Floor is all about the introduction to the building arts. My toddler loves to play pretend with construction professionals’ vests and helmets. Play Work Build on the 2nd Floor is a very safe play area with big soft blocks. My toddler never gets bored here.

They also have a storytime on Tuesdays. Check their latest schedule on the calendar here. One downside of this museum is that there is a fee to enter these kids play areas ($10). But if you love the museum and want to come back regularly, you can obtain a Family Membership and that could a more economical option! You can bring your mom friends and they can get in for free with your membership 🙂

No.4 – National Portrait Gallery

This might not be the most kid-friendly museum in DC but I love coming here with my toddler. You can read about our experience at the National Portrait Gallery here. The art collection is absolutely beautiful here but the crowd and the size of the building are not as overwhelming as the National Gallery.

Your toddler can walk around in the big courtyard (water running on the floor, too!) and play in the kids’ room called the Explore! with artsy activities. I can easily spend half a day here with my toddler getting bored. Read more here.

No.3 – National Museum of African American History and Culture 

One of the newest museums in D.C. is not only beautiful inside and out, but super enjoyable by toddlers. History Galleries in the concourse level might be a bit difficult for toddlers to enjoy, but Culture Galleries upstairs has a lot of interesting items for toddlers to see. Cars, musical videos, instruments… it is full of stimulation! It is very entertaining and it made me happy that my toddler was able to experience such quality music.

Don’t forget to obtain advance tickets or same-day tickets in advance online at a website here. I’ve also written more about how much fun we had at NMAAHC here.


No.2 – American Indian Museum

The imagiNATIONS Activity Center for kids is definitely one of the biggest kids areas among all the Smithsonian Museums in DC. The whole area is carpeted, clean and totally toddler-friendly. It has so many interactive, hands-on activities that are not just another jungle gym, but actually a quality learning experience.

The main attractions are the real-life size tipi and igloo making model. The tipi has some buffalo materials inside for a learning experience of Native American life. Our little one’s absolute favorite is the Amazonian stilt house model with the local cooking materials for pretend play. It is different from the conventional modern kitchen set and could be an interesting experience.

There is also a fun storytime and a craft room which offers free programs. You can check their latest schedule on the calendar here.  Don’t forget to lunch at their cafeteria too, it’s super delicious! There are also areas where even crawling/cruising babies can enjoy.

No.1 – Natural History Museum

Hands-down our number one favorite is Natural History Museum. My little one loves coming here so much that she started to recognize the museum building from outside even when she was so young!

The main exhibitions such as Marine Hall and Mammal Hall are so stimulating. You can see so many different kinds of animals (even dinosaurs) so close to you. Butterfly Pavilion has beautiful live butterflies and they fly right around you!

And our favorite is Qrius Jr. Discovery Room. It is an awesome activity room for toddlers. It’s not big, but a perfect size for me to keep my eyes on my wandering little one.

Not only they have a lot of quality kids books about nature, they have tons of toddler-friendly educational objects and artifacts. Fossils, skulls, bugs… this is the place where my toddler first grew her interest in a magnifying glass.

There are also super cute butterfly wings for your toddler to wear. This is a really fun place to visit after the Butterfly Pavilion. There are even white coats that make your little ones look like mini scientists!

The museum is a free entrance, but the Butterfly Pavilion requires a timed ticket. Last time I checked, it was free on Tuesdays. The museum stores carry a great range of nature-related books and a collection of educational animal toys from Safari Ltd. Our little animal lover has been enjoying her animal toys and her first animal encyclopedia that we got from the store here.


Here are the links to the museum websites and addresses.

National Building Museum: 401 F St NW, Washington, DC 20001

National Portrait Gallery: 8th St NW & F St NW, Washington, DC 20001

African American History and Culture Museum: 1400 Constitution Ave NW, Washington DC 20560

American Indian Museum: 4th St SW & Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560

Natural History Museum: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560


I hope you have a wonderful time with your wobbly minions at these kid-friendly museums!

Read more about Portrait Gallery and African American Museum.

#CapitolHill #NEDC #DCwithKids #WashingtonDC #whattodowithkidsDC #Smithsonian #VisitDC

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