Lonely Planet review
The Smithsonian’s second-most popular museum clogs with kids, but adults will find lots to love here too. Say hello to the famous African-elephant statue dominating the entrance rotunda and the nearby carcass of a giant squid (in the Ocean Hall) and get ready to explore one of the most eclectic collections of, well, stuff, anywhere. The exhibits are a bit oddly mashed up – what exactly do Javanese shadow puppets have to do with birds of northern Europe?
Traipse past the Hall of Dinosaurs (1st floor) to the supposedly cursed Hope Diamond (2nd floor, Hall of Gems and Minerals) and Easter Island heads (lobby at the Constitution Ave entrance). Watch tarantula feedings at the insect zoo (2nd floor); ask at the front desk for the schedule. The museum adds new displays constantly, yet it manages to maintain the old-school charm that caused many a metro-area school kid to fall in love with it back in the day.
Almost 200 scientists work here, which the museum claims is the largest concentration of experts in natural history and cultures in the world. In a somewhat political statement, which is uncommon for the Smithsonian, the museum has heavily promoted its Darwin and evolution exhibits as a counter to creationism proponents.
The Johnson IMAX Theater (per ticket $9) shows nature extravaganzas like Bugs! in 3D daily. Movies sell out so buy tickets as soon as you arrive, or online in advance.