The Buzz: Relive elementary school field trips with one step into this Smithsonian museum. Geology, anthropology and biology are the focus here, where stories are told with meticulous collections, interactive games and somewhat dated dioramas.
Background: One of the oldest Smithsonian museums, the National Museum of Natural History opened its doors in 1910. Since original research is a huge part of the museum's mission, the facility houses labs and collections in addition to 325,000 square feet of exhibition space.
The Collection: A massive, stuffed African elephant greets visitors as they enter the museum. From there, visitors can venture off into the Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals, which features stuffed specimens from 274 species. Exhibitions of fossils and dinosaurs are also highlights of this floor.
The second floor is home to the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, a dazzling display that includes the Hope Diamond.
Extras: The Discovery Room, a family- and student-friendly hands-on activity room, is also on the first floor. It is open from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. The museum is also home to an IMAX theater, shop and cafe.
Programs: Films, lectures and performances are occasionally on this museum's calendar, but its real strengths are the hands-on activities available in the Discovery Room.
Directions/Parking: Street parking is rare, but may be available on Madison Drive. The closest Metro Stop is Smithsonian (Orange, Blue lines). The Circulator bus stops nearby.
--Julia Beizer (Friday, March 9, 2012)