Tips for visiting The National Museum of African American History

Back in August I requested tickets to the newest Smithsonian museum on the mall, The National Museum of African American History. The earliest I could get passes was for October. I didn’t realize (or maybe I did but didn’t really give it much thought) that it would be Columbus Day weekend, a holiday of sorts. The grand opening for the museum was a few weeks ago and my intention was to go to it,  but I have been taking on extra work responsibilities so I can progress in my field. Needless to say, I was either sick or exhausted that weekend. I knew that if I didn’t go this weekend that I would miss my chance until next year.

I spent about three hours exploring the two top levels of the museum, which were packed tight. The museum really needs to be two to three times the size it is. I would have loved to have see a whole room dedicated to pioneers like Madam C.J. Walker with a working salon and Oprah Winfrey with a recreated Harpo Studios set. In any event, it was a nice experience. Not to the point where I learned history that I didn’t already know about, but more so a celebration of the accomplishments of African Americans. I edited a short video and took over a hundred photographs. I didn’t even see the entire museum. I will go back to see the most popular exhibit which was the slavery exhibit. Below are some tips if you plan to visit the museum.

Tips:

You can get same day tickets but there is a huge line you have to wait in so you should probably opt to go early. I think the requested tickets are gone through March (Spring.) 

If you have a designated time you can go anytime AFTER your reservation but you will have have to wait in a shorter line until your designated time if you arrive early. DO NOT wait in the first line that you see. That is for the non-ticket holders. Walk to the backside of the Museum to wait in THAT line instead. It moves quickly (note, you still have to enter from the same side.)

The slavery exhibit had yet another line, as did the gift shop. Plan accordingly. The exhibits go from bottom to top – so slavery is in the basement (as well as the restaurant – the food was bland!) and the other exhibits are on the 3rd and 4th floor. The 2nd floor is a good place to just sit or to meet up with your group if you separate. ETA: I did not see the slavery exhibit, just the top two floors. I will save the intense stuff for when my head can wrap around it better.

If you don’t want to eat in the restaurant (entrees range from $12-15 on average) there are a plethora of food trucks parked along the avenue out front.

Speaking of parking, should you decide to drive you should download the ParkMobile app so you can replenish your parking right from your phone if you park on a meter.

Finally, leave the younger children home. They don’t get the significance of it yet and it really isn’t a kid-friendly type of museum. They have some computer interactive exhibits, but not enough to keep little kids engaged.

The museum is definitely worth a visit but if you can I recommend going during the week on a non-holiday or waiting until some time next year when the crowds have died down. The space is very tight.

 

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