How To Plan for a Great Smithsonian Museum Trip with Kids

Museums Washington DC

Have you heard the phrase "the battle is won in training"?  May be a little extreme connection to museum trip planning but then again, it might not be too far off!  A great day at the museum with your kids can be won or lost in the prep. I'm all for a spontaneous family trip, but Smithsonians with kids often take a little more planning. 

Below are my 4 Tips on how to plan for a great trip with your kids! 

Smithsonian Museum Trip with Kids

1) Smithsonian Museum Prep WITH Kids: 

This is probably the tip with the biggest payoff. By investing a little time (I'm talking 5-20 mins tops!) by talking with your kids the day or two before your visit, you will really see the results! 

  • Start by sharing why you're going to this museum. Maybe go on the museum's specific website and check out the floor plan so they can see some fun things. (Or better, check out my Museum Guides for each of the top museums with Can't-Miss exhibits for 3 different age groups: 1) Babies and Toddlers 2) Elementary Age, and 3) Teens)
  • Go to the Library and pick out books on the topic! Last summer, my kids and I would go to the Library on Mondays and then a Smithsonian on Thursdays for our Smithsonian Bucket List Challenge. It was a fun rhythm! 
  • Talk & Draw the 3 Museum Rules:  I tried to simplify our rules during a museum trip into the most important ones. You can ask what they think are good rules first and then make a list or have them draw them. Below are ours!
  1. Stay with adult
  2. No touching anything (unless the adult says yes!)
  3. Inside voices 

2) Smithsonian Museum Timing is Everything

As a parent or caregiver, you already know this universal truth: timing is everything! If kids reach their hungry, tired, overstimulated phase, there's not much you can enjoy until that's taken care of! 

So, try to plan your museum trip at the best optimal time. That's definitely in the morning for younger kids. I try to sketch out a very brief schedule for our day including driving into DC, parking, a couple of exhibits and a run on the National Mall when they are done to get the final energy out!

Also, check out the websites for the museum (or my Museum Guides!) for free activities like the paper plane contest at Air and Space Museum or Tarantula Feeding at Natural History!

3) Bring the Essentials

I don't need to tell you what your kids need for a successful trip but I will share the do's and don'ts of Smithsonians in particular. There is a security checkpoint with metal detectors and a bag check. 

DO: Water is allowed and so is food in a sealed container

DON'T: Full list here of Prohibited Items. Make sure you don't bring sunscreen in an aerosol can or a large butter knife for your picnic :) 

2 other items are also fun to bring include: 

  • Sketchbook and colored pencils to draw something interesting!
  • Snacks for the way home :) 

4) Check your Transportation Options

Final and probably the most obvious is to check the transportation options before the day of your travel. You might be surprised what is the easiest way to travel after comparing a couple. Bus or Metro might be best or if driving, I've had great luck at arriving at 9:45 AM and finding street parking near the museums before they open at 10 AM.

If all else fails, I have the best Parking Garages for each museum listed in my Guides as well as the closest metros. 

Below are some helpful links!

- WMATA Metro and Trip Planner (Tip: You can select what time you want to arrive)

- Free DC Connector Bus Schedule (Loops around the National Mall)

Park Mobile App for paying for street parking in DC

Spot Hero App for comparing and reserving parking garage prices. 

Well there you have it! I hope these are helpful in planning for your next adventure! 

Happy exploring!


All the best Museums for Children in DC are at the link below. 17 of the 20 are free!