The Navy Museum -- Building 76 at the Washington Navy Yard -- was once part of the old Naval Gun Factory. A cavernous structure opened in 1963 and packed with artifacts, exhibits and models, the museum chronicles the Navy's history from its early years in the American Revolution to the space age.
Don't miss the fully rigged top and gun deck of the frigate U.S.S. Constitution (you can check out the original ship on the docks at Baltimore Harbor); guns from World War II, which visitors can elevate and aim; or the submarine room, where periscopes peer out onto the visitor parking lot.
A large model of a Corsair airplane from World War II is also placed prominently in the center of the floor. Other exhibits recount the Navy's long history of exploration and technological innovation: Commodore Matthew Perry's voyage to Japan, which opened up the island nation to the Western world; the first submarine, built in 1776 and known as Turtle; and the Navy's role in helping Americans achieve the first moon landing. As you leave, check out the Display Ship Barry, a destroyer located across the street and open to visitors.
-- Eric Carroll
The area's most impressive and kid-friendly collection of militaribilia is isolated in this compound in Southeast Washington, and it's worth the trip. The museum, which is housed in a former gun factory, offers a robust mixture of artwork (heroic seascapes of U.S. naval adventures), miniatures (ship models, some in bottles, some in glass cases, some out on a table) and full-size artifacts (a climbable, World War II-vintage antiaircraft gun, a replica of the Apollo space capsule). While it tells the story of the U.S. Navy from its creation to fight pirates through Operation Desert Storm, there's no fierce chronology or imposing text for kids to deal with. The collection is eclectic enough to sustain interest from toddlers and teens. Children also love the retired missiles and weaponry poised for display in the front yard. Afterwards, be sure to take a tour of the U.S.S. Barry.
-- John Kelly and Craig Stoltz
Words to the wise: The Marine Corps Museum and Combat Art Gallery also are within the Navy Yard complex, but the Navy Museum is the real draw for kids.
Notes: There's an on-campus McDonald's, but few other amenities are available in the neighborhood.