The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened with great fanfare on September 24, 2016. The purpose of the museum is to document African American life, history, and culture. Like so many others, I could hardly wait to visit this 19th addition to the Smithsonian institution. My visit left me beyond impressed, moved, and greatly inspired! I am sharing practical tips to help you make the most of your visit…
First of all, GAIN ACCESS
It took an act of Congress to establish the museum in 2003. Now that this national treasure is finally open to the public, the response has been so great that free, timed passes are required as reservations in order to gain access to the museum. Be sure to plan months in advance and click here to reserve your entry date and time. The passes do an excellent job of ensuring that the lines are manageable and that the building capacity feels comfortable. There is a sense of community, not chaos!
Where To Stay & Eat
Many people opt to book rooms in Arlington, VA or other area cities to avoid DC’s pricey hotel market. It is preferable to secure the lowest possible rate for the JW Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue, in walking distance to the National Mall. Call to see if you can book the less advertised rate that includes their pricey mandatory valet parking. The main benefit is that if you arrive even as early as 9:30am, if your room is ready, they will check you in for the entire day! It is quite a benefit to gain an additional seven hours of access to the luxury hotel without additional expense! This JW brand hotel also features a large whirlpool, a fitness center with sauna, and a full service Starbucks!
If you are like me and enjoy eating like “the locals”, try District Taco…just a few blocks from the hotel.
Parking Close To NMAAHC
Unless you are traveling on a tour bus or public transportation, it is important to note that there is no parking directly on the National Mall. I recommend parking at the Ronald Reagan building just a few blocks walk away. It is well worth the cost which is comparable with area city garages. There is a security check to gain access into the garage and for anyone who enters the building. This provides peace of mind for folks traveling from out of town who may have luggage and other valuables stowed away in their trunks. There are several entrances/exits to the Ronald Reagan building, so you do not have to line up behind the group at the main door when returning for your car. Use a less populated entrance for efficient security screening.
Like No Other Museum You Have Seen
One of the ways that I feed my inner nerd is by visiting museums. This one took my breath away!
Thoughtful care and value are woven into the details of this experience. People from all backgrounds walk this journey together and there is a beautiful sense of community. I enjoyed watching the different generations in families communicate as they walked through the exhibits…a joy to behold!
And then there are the exhibits!!! The museum was designed to begin at the bottom level through the middle passage and slavery, and then progress through history to experience interactive exhibits and displays related to community and culture. I recommend that you begin with modern day culture and work your way backwards. The lines are shorter if you begin on the upper levels of the museum in the cultural exhibits. I also found that seeing the value placed on my culture as a starting point, helped me to mentally process the horrors of slavery in the levels below, as well as exhibits such as Emmett Till in his casket.
Such creativity was employed when designing the cultural exhibits! You can learn to interactively “step” with a life-size video of an instructor and step team, and flip through “albums” at a record store featuring the different genres of music.
I really appreciated the Rosenwald Schools exhibit. My grandfather, the late Reverend W.D. Lassiter, lead one of them. There are so many exhibits that I will have to plan many more visits! I gained a vision of one day hopefully bringing my grandchildren to the museum. NMAAHC is a wonderland of information complete with a restaurant featuring soul food and cultural cuisine. The museum store sells unique items that you will not want to leave behind. I am most excited about the upcoming Explore Your Family History Center that will allow visitors to research their ancestors and build a family tree!
Who says you can’t be comfortable and cute? Since I visited in the cold season, it was nice to be able to peel off my layers as I navigated the crowds and as the day progressed. You will need at least four hours to see most of the museum, so of course you will want to wear your walking shoes! Outside food is not allowed but I never travel without a water bottle, which is permitted! There is seating on each level and ample restrooms. I saw many visitors pushing family members in wheelchairs. See the lobby photo below. There is plenty of space for those with mobility challenges to navigate the expansive museum.
What are you waiting for? Get going!
Circle back to this post and comment after you visit to share your museum experience!