I’ve spent nine hours, between three visits, at the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Two of these visits were serendipitous; a friend had an extra pair of timed entry tickets to a late night opening where I then met a kind stranger who gave me two more timed entry tickets after overhearing me say to my husband that his mom would love the museum also. The only pre-planned visit was from a timed entry ticket I had been able to snag because I’m available at inconvenient times, like a Monday at 10:45AM. I’ve yet to try getting same day tickets, but you should know it’s an option.
I’m really looking forward to when I can waltz into the museum, have lunch and look around until the baby timer runs out, but it appears that the unprecedented popularity of the NMAAHC will not allow that to happen for some time. The museum is SO popular that if you want to guarantee a visit you’ve got to wait till April 2017! (skip to the bottom of this post for more info on visiting) So I knew that I had to make the most out of each visit.
The museum is meant to be explored from the ground up, you are literally and figuratively following along as the African American community in the United States is elevated by way of status, equality and opportunity into the future.
The History Galleries- C-C3
There’s only one entry point to the History Galleries on the bottom three floors, by elevator, and the line is long but speedy – after noon the line nearly doubles or triples in size. If at all possible get here early. (I’ve seen security fast track pregnant ladies and give seats to the elderly while they wait.)
Once you reach the elevator expect to ‘travel back in time’ and journey from the present day to the 1400’s. Each ascending floor brings you up through history with ample artifacts and examples of life for African Americans during the time. You’ll walk a mile if you see everything in these exhibits. If you need to take a break each floor has a private booth where you can record and share your thoughts on the history, or your personal story- these recordings are then archived within the museum. Additionally each floor has a sit down mini-theater playing a short movie which is representative of the floor it’s on.
I thought by the third visit that I would have been emotionally prepared for these first three floors, but the injustices especially towards children is too much for me to witness, so if you’re a sensitive soul like myself then, I recommend you bring tissues. (FYI slavery continues into the modern day) These first three floors neither sugar coat the history of African Americans in the United States nor do they fail to mention the ongoing struggles faced. Some galleries contain graphic images not suitable for children, but signs are posted giving you warning.
On exiting these floors stay to the right to visit the Contemplative Court. An easy to miss (for me, anyway) indoor water feature designed as a decompression space.
Sweet Home Cafe- Concourse Level
The Sweet Home Cafe, which is hard to miss, is on the concourse level and I highly recommend grabbing a bite to eat there. The food is organized by geographical region; the agricultural south, the creole coast, the north states, and the western range. So far I’ve had a personal favorite, shrimp and grits ($17) and also the oyster pan roast ($12) inspired by a recipe Thomas Downing used at his NYC restaurant. Both dishes were really good, albeit pricey. They also had coffee and an incredible selection of baked goods.
Explore More! Your Best Bet For The Kiddos- Level 2
For the smaller children I recommend the upper levels of the museum which are less somber and more vibrant, in particular level 2 which has the Explore More! exhibit. Explore More! has an interactive step dancing pad, an antique car one may ‘drive’ and touch screens one can use to find a sunken slave ship. Also on level 2 is an area where people are given the tools to explore their geneology.
Community Galleries- Level 3
The community galleries have exhibits on the athletic and military achievements of African Americans. Including short movies about basketball and baseball throughout history. The floor also has exhibits about activism, religion as well as spotlights on specific geographical areas where African Americans have relocated to after slavery and segregation.
Cultural Galleries- Level 4
My toddler’s favorite exhibits were the Cultural Galleries on level 4. Her shrieking, happy or otherwise, went unnoticed here. The music is playing, lights are glowing and people are oohing and ahhing at the amazing collection of artifacts that have been pulled together, my daughter especially liked Chuck Berry’s Cadillac and thought it was quite unreasonable that I wouldn’t let her up into it.
Plan Your Trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Plan Your Visit
How to Get In
- Same day tickets are available at 9:15 AM, up to four per visitor, only available in person
- Timed entry tickets guarantee entrance and they can be found here. They will soon release tickets for April through June 2017.
- Become a charter member, and have access to member only timed entry tickets. (this is a tip given to me by a charter member whom I met at the museum and she also graciously shared two of her tickets with me)
How to Get There
1400 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20560
Bus or Metro
- Federal Triangle Metro Station (orange, blue and silver lines)
- Bus routes:54, 52, 11Y, 13Y, 33, S2, S4 and Yellow Circulator
- Use the Metro trip planner to optimize your route, here
- Use Parking Panda to find a spot
Engage From Home
Will it be awhile before you can make it to the museum? Here are some ways to interact with the museum from home:
- Watch the video of the opening ceremony
Enjoy the museum and don’t forget to tag #APeoplesJourney for your museum shots!