Planning to visit this museum with your toddler(s)? You will LOVE it because this is one of the most kid-friendly museums in Washington D.C. (See my other post about toddler-friendly museums in D.C.) and this museum surely has so much to offer. But it could be a bit overwhelming if you try to see EVERYTHING, especially if you’re with your little ones.
In order to have a happy, boredom/tantrum-free, fun museum experience, the key is to keep it quick and interesting! Usually, I try to keep our stay under 2-2.5 hours. So, I am going to suggest my top 5 must-see spots in this museum with your toddler from our experience.
Have a toddler who wants to touch everything in the museum? Visit the Discovery Room
Want to immerse yourself in the beautiful world of butterflies? Meet them at Butterfly Pavilion
Enjoy the mini aquarium in a city without an aquarium – Live Coral Reef in the Sant Ocean Hall
Meet the wild animals right in front of your face at Hall of Mammals
Don’t underestimate the awesomeness at the Museum Shops
I would say the most frustrating thing about visiting a museum is my 2-year-old is when she wants to touch something that she is not supposed to touch, which leads to a full-round of a tantrum. But fear no more, mamas!! Visit the Discovery Room on the 1st Floor and let them touch EVERYTHING they find in the room.
We’ve been loving this little room ever since we visited for the first time when our little was about 16-months-old. This super educational room is full of museum artifacts that you can touch. This is a safe space for play & learn for little ones with very helpful museum docents.
The “biodiversity wall” of the room is filled with local plants and animals. It looks astonishing and you can observe them with a binocular or a magnifying glass. There is a number of super interesting objects such as minerals, insects, shells, bones etc. you can study with a microscope. My little one loves putting on a white coat. It makes her look like a tiny biologist in the room.
You can also wear butterfly wings on your back and have a perfect toddler photo shoot moment. I love to let her explore the mystery drawers with artifacts in them. They also carry musical instruments from all over the world that are made out of natural materials. And of course, they have lots of books and crayons/papers for fun coloring sessions. We can literally spend hours here.
Check the link for hours. Reservations are not required and all activities are self-directed. But there are always a couple of nice docents who are willing to help your kids navigate through the room, which I am always so thankful for. Discovery Room is on the 1st floor next to the Oceans Hall and the stroller parking is right outside of the room.
Butterfly Pavilion is literally full of live butterflies. I actually have a butterfly-phobia, and the thought of being stuck in a room full of butterflies really used to give me chills. If you are the same, I want to encourage you to just give it a try because the butterflies in here are so colorful, beautiful and even feel friendly 🙂 You can see them up-close and they might actually rest on you if you’re lucky. You can observe them on a feeding stand and they also have moths in a cage.
The room is constantly kept at 80 °F, and 80% humidity, so it feels tropical (this means it could be super hot to be holding a baby/toddler, so dress accordingly if you can!)
You need a timed-ticket to enjoy this area and you can purchase the ticket right across from the Butterfly Pavilion. On weekdays, I’ve never had an issue buying a ticket for the next time slot. They also have a free of charge day, which is Tuesday. (But make sure to check their calendar before your visit!)
3. Live Coral Reef in the Sant Ocean Hall
This massive exhibition of sea life called the Sant Ocean Hall is one of the unquestionable highlights in this museum. The size of the sea animals hanging from the ceiling is so striking and definitely wow your little ones.
Our favorite is a real live coral reef in a small tank in the corner of this hall. It’s not big, but the corals in the tank are absolutely gorgeous, and you can see a lot of “Nemo”s living there! It’s such a great experience for our DC toddlers who don’t have an aquarium in the city.
Hall of Mammals on the 1st floor is probably the most overwhelming and breathtaking permanent exhibition in this museum. There’s just so much to see. The popular ones are probably the big giraffe, lions, tigers and things like that, but I love finding some unique ones such as sloth and pangolin. This is one interesting part about learning about mammals in this museum because you get to see rare, special animals that you don’t usually get to meet in the city zoos.
There are a lot of interactive panels that little ones can feel and touch. I love that a lot of the exhibits are floor-height and easy for our little ones to see. And the whole floor is full of light, which never scares my toddler. (This used to be our issue when we first visited the Natural History Museum in New York City. It is so dark there.)
You really don’t need any introduction of instruction to enjoy this space. Just let them be nature explorers!!
5. Museum Shops
I know how silly this might sound to include the gift shop in one of the must-see spots… But I’m telling you, this is not just a gift shop with overpriced stuffed animals and keychains! They actually carry a lot of educational items that you won’t regret buying. There are several different shops inside the museum, but I recommend the Mammal Store on the 1st Floor, near the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall.
Their collection of books is wonderful. Animal encyclopedias that could be the first encyclopedia for your tots, super entertaining interactive animal books, pocket mammals dictionary that is perfect for stroller rides… you name it. I always want to buy all the books I find here.
They also carry a good range of animal figurines from Safari Ltd. I am a big collector of real-life animal figurines, which used to be an honorable effort as a mother to educate my 2-year-old. But I have to say I enjoy them as much as my little one does… They could be perfect educational souvenirs for your kids.
Lastly, they have a stinking cute collection of the museum original apparel items, such as monkey hats and tiger socks. I don’t need to go into details here because I know you’ll fall in love with them anyway.
A few more notes…
*Be sure to check their museum calendar and don’t miss their special events! out the museum calendar and don’t miss their special events!
*Museum Map – the museum has a Ground Floor, which means its 1st Floor is actually located on the 2nd Floor.
*Still not sure if this museum is for you and your tots? Try their Online Virtual Tour to see if you like it!
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW
Stroller-accessible entrance is on the Constitution Avenue side. Use the ramp and be ready for a line if you are going to be there at opening.
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