On October 11, 1776, nine American vessels, under the command of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, fought a better-armed British fleet in a naval battle on Lake Champlain.
Among the lost American vessels was the 54-foot gunboat Philadelphia, sunk by a 24-pound British cannonball. In 1935, she was found at the bottom of the Lake, surprisingly intact. Today she’s on display, along with the cannonball that sunk her, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
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The Museum offers a fascinating look at the political and cultural history of the United States. Other highlights include:
- the original Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore
- the kitchen from Julia Child‘s home in Cambridge
- the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz
- Archie Bunker’s chair from All in the Family
There are also fun interactive exhibits like historic-aircraft ride simulators and the chance to recite parts of historic addresses like Ronald Reagan‘s powerful “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!” speech from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
Nearly 3 million people visited the Museum in 2019, the last calendar year before lockdown. I go often with company from out of town and always find something that resonates in a new way.
Like most Smithsonian venues, the National Museum of American History is located on the National Mall. There are lots of suitable hotels within walking distance:
This luxury Hilton property is a four- to five-minute walk from the National Museum of American History. It is also within walking distance of eight other open Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. The closest Metro station is Federal Triangle on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. The Waldorf took over the Old Post Office Pavilion building that once housed the Trump International Hotel. It boasts spacious rooms, excellent service, and a spectacular lobby bar displaying an enviable collection of crystal decanters.
This Preferred boutique hotel is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the National Museum of American History. It is also close to Ford’s Theater, where you can see a show, take a guided tour, and view the flag-draped (no-longer-used) Presidential Box. The closest Metro stop is Gallery Place on the Yellow, Red, and Green lines. The hotel occupies one of the few remaining Romanesque Revival buildings in Washington. It offers elegant rooms and four suites named after former First Ladies. It used to house a leading bank, and several presidents and embassies conducted their financial business there.
This upscale hotel is a five- to ten-minute walk to the National Museum of American History. It is also steps away from the International Spy Museum. The closest Metro station is L’Enfant Plaza on the Yellow, Blue, Orange, Green, and Silver lines. The hotel features an outdoor pool and a regional restaurant and bar. Its building formerly housed the Loews L’Enfant Plaza Hotel (where my parents used to stay when they came to visit me in college).
This historic IHG property is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the National Museum of American History. It’s also catty-cornered from the Capital One Arena. The closest Metro stop is Gallery Place. The hotel occupies a 19th-century building that once housed the General Post Office. It features high ceilings, grand hallways, and a stunning lobby with complementary coffee in the morning and wine in the evening.
This business hotel is a 10- to 15-minute walk to the National Museum of American History. It is also within walking distance of several art museums, including the National Gallery of Art. The closest Metro stop is Metro Center on the Red, Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. The hotel features spacious rooms and several restaurants.
This midscale hotel is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the National Museum of American History. It is also close to the White House. It is across the street from McPherson Square Metro Station on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. The hotel offers a full-service American restaurant and bar, an indoor pool, and rooms and suites with microwaves and mini-fridges.
This extended-stay hotel is a 15- to 20-minute walk to the National Museum of American History. The closest Metro station is L’Enfant Plaza. The hotel features a great location on the Wharf, and many suites boast beautiful views of the Potomac River. It offers a complementary breakfast, and food at the bar in the evenings. It has ample outdoor lounge space, including a roof-top pool.
This select-service hotel is a 15- to 20-minute walk from the National Museum of American History. The closest Metro stop is McPherson Square. The hotel boasts a roof-top bar with nice views of the city, complementary breakfast, and modern rooms with mini-fridges.
What to Know before You Go
to the Smithsonian’s
National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History is located at Constitution Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets NW in Washington, D.C. It stands between the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The closest Metro stations are Smithsonian and Federal Triangle on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. Parking on the National Mall is limited, and I don’t recommend it; last time I was at the Museum, an unfortunate fellow visitor left to discover that his car had been towed well before the posted cut-off time of 4 p.m. I usually ride-share.
As a Smithsonian venue, the National Museum of American History is free of charge to explore.
There are three shops, including the enormous Main Museum Store, whose items include home goods, jewelry, and clothing including lots of socks depicting famous figures from Amelia Earhart to The Beatles.
The Museum’s Eat at America’s Table Café offers a changing cafeteria menu of regional foods like fried chicken, ratatouille, and beer-battered cod. The smaller Jazz Café has a limited selection of lunch items.
Wear loose layers and comfortable walking shoes. Allow three to six hours.
I fell in love with travel on a trip to Mexico when I was nine years old. Since then, I’ve travelled the globe from Israel to El Salvador. I’ve skied the Swiss Alps and hiked national parks like Acadia, Zion, Shenandoah, and Virgin Islands. I’ve marvelled at masterpieces in the Prado, the Uffizi, the Huntington, and the National Gallery of Art. I’ve stayed in a cabin on a mountaintop in Norway and on a kibbutz along the Sea of Galilee, and been kicked out of the Ritz at the Place Vendôme. I’ve taken cooking classes from New England to the Caribbean, and watched a chef prepare traditional shakshuka in the kitchen of his restaurant in Tel Aviv. I weave historical research and my personal experiences together in writing this blog. I hope you find it helpful. Read more …