An occasional series on cool places to take your kids in and around DC to run off their winter wiggles.
“Getting there is half the battle,” said the museum docent when we finally found our way to the U.S. Navy Museum. That’s because this museum sits on a working naval base and security is pretty tight. You’ll have to show your ID at the Visitor Center (passport or driver’s license) to obtain passes. If you’re driving and need a parking pass, bring your car registration and proof of insurance to the Visitor Center for a parking pass.
The entrance rigmarole is well worth it, though. Kids love this museum. It has lots of space for wandering and they will love the miniature ship models, some in bottles, and the climbable WW II antiaircraft gun, as well as the weaponry displayed in the front yard. Ask for a scavenger hunt pamphlet to fill out during your visit.
Located in Navy Yard, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy chronicles the history of the U.S. Navy from the American Revolution to the present. Once part of the U.S. Naval Gun Factory, the building is chock full of model ships, exhibits and artifacts, including a fully rigged top and gun deck of the frigate U.S.S. Constitution; guns from World War II; a fascinating display of nearly 1,500 years of underwater exploration devices; and a submarine room. Also on display are exhibits of the navy’s long history of exploration, including an interesting exhibit on polar exploration, Commodore Perry’s voyage to Japan, which opened up Japan to the rest of the world; and the Turtle, the first submarine built in 1776.
The museum holds a great exhibit about the important role the Navy played in ending slavery. Slave trade was declared by Congress in 1819 to be piracy, and as such, punishable by death. The Navy’s African Slave Trade Patrol was established to search for and bring to justice the dealers in human misery. Never exceeding a few ships in number, the Patrol, which included the U.S.S. Constitution, plied the waters off West Africa, South America, and the Cuban coast, a principle area for slave disembarkation. By the start of the Civil War more than 100 suspected slave traders had been captured.
Definitely make time to climb aboard Destroyer Barry which is docked a few hundred feet away. On a recent visit with my three boys, the sailor on board told us “not to worry about breaking anything.” We were all stunned into silence—I don’t think we had ever heard those words during a museum visit before and doubt we’ll hear them again!
Destroyer Barry is a decommissioned Cold-War-era destroyer, which is permanently moored at Pier 2, a few hundred feet from the museum. We visited on a cold winter day and had full run of the place. Commissioned in 1956, the Barry served 26 years in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. It is generally open for tours Monday through Saturday but follows a different schedule from the Navy Museum and is sometimes closed for maintenance so be sure to call first.
736 Sicard Street