The museum collects all kinds of artifacts of the American experience. The centerpiece is the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812 – the same flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen The Star-Spangled Banner. Other highlights include Julia Child's kitchen (1st floor, Food exhibition), George Washington's sword (3rd floor, Price of Freedom exhibition), Dorothy’s ruby slippers and a piece of Plymouth Rock (both on the 2nd floor, American Stories exhibition).

In general, this is a better museum for children than adults; displays tend to be bright and interactive, perhaps a little too much so for those seeking a more serious engagement with the nation’s history. It is one of the Smithsonian's most popular sights and typically quite crowded. The building continues to undergo significant renovations, so prime exhibits often disappear. Check the website for updates.

On select days, usually in spring and summer, the museum extends its hours and stays open until 7:30pm.