101 Smithsonian must sees

My favorite Smithsonian exhibits


As a Washington tour guide, the most common question I receive is, “What do you suggest we see at the Smithsonians?”

Well, that question is as wide open as the night sky. “What are you interested in?” I ask. “Art, natural history, aviation?”

And there’s always a vacant look from the requestor before saying, “I don’t know.”

That’s why I compiled this list. It’s 101 great exhibits scattered throughout museums along the National Mall plus the Udvar Hazy museum in Chantilly, Va.

These are not necessarily the biggest names, most popular exhibits or the brainiest things to see. It’s more of a highlights tour and some personal favorites for those who have only a couple hours or days to see the museums. Sure, you should see other things along the way, but for those who love a game plan, here are exhibits you shouldn’t miss.

Amelia Earhart/Air & Space Museum

People get hungry, too, so I’ve added a couple cafes to grab a bite. The macaroni and cheese at the Museum of African American History and Culture is the absolute best you’ll ever eat, but I also love the salmon at the America Indian museum.

I don’t give the full scholarly or Wikipedia version of each item. That’s because this list is meant to provide a quick glance of items so I won’t bog you down with every detail. You want to have fun looking at cool items, not prepare a doctoral thesis.

Also, I didn’t divide the number equally among museums. Instead, the number in each is loosely based on the percentage of overall visitors that venue receives of the total amount of Smithsonian visitors annually.

So have some fun and Google the details later. And if you want to see more of Washington, visit the private tours section above for my many tours.

— Rick Snider

Before You Go

Bill Clinton’s sax/American History

All Smithsonian museums require visitors to pass through security scans. It’s just life after 9/11.

Most of the year, screening may only take a few minutes. In the springtime with many students in town, however, it can create a lengthy delay. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Don’t bring a backpack if possible. It slows things down. Without a bag, you might enter a quicker, speedier line.
  • Visit busier museums like Air and Space and Natural History in the late afternoon.
  • Enter museums from Constitutional or Independence Aves. rather than the National Mall sides. Large groups often enter on the Mall sides because of bus drop-offs.

Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (Smithsonian American Art Museum and The National Portrait Gallery)

  1. John Wayne


    Adams Memorial

  2. Kevin Spacey House of Cards
  3. Bob Hope
  4. The Recital portrait of Denyce Graves
  5. Electronic Superhighway
  6. John Wayne sculpture
  7. Abe Lincoln portrait
  8. Liberty sculpture
  9. The Dying Tecumseh
  10. Douglas MacArthur
  11. John Brown

National Air and Space Museum

Space Station/Air&Space

12. Apollo 11 Columbia command module
13. Skylab orbital workshop
14. Hubble Space Telescope
15. Spirit of St. Louis
16. Moon rock
17. Hughes H1 racer
18. Red Baron display
19.  Amelia Earhart display
20. Black Wings
21. Wright Brothers display
22. How Things Fly interactive
23. Exterior planetarium
24. Starship

National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

25. Space Shuttle Discovery
26. B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay
27. Stealth bomber
28. Air France Concorde

Museum of American History

Rosie the Riveter/American History

29. Star Spangled Banner
30. Winchester horse
31. Ike’s golf clubs
32. First Lady’s dress collection
33. Prince’s guitar
34. Babe Ruth’s bat
35. Rosie the Riveter
36. World Trade girders
37. Julia Child’s kitchen
38. Dorothy’s red slippers in Wizard of Oz
39. Presidents assassination and mourning
40. Bill Clinton’s sax
41. John Quincy Adams chess set
42. George Washington statue
43. Archie and Edith Bunker’s chairs

National Museum of the American Indian

Allies in War

44. Lobby canoes
45. Allies in War
46. Walking Stick paintings
47. ImagiNations Activity Center
48. Cafeteria (salmon and bison)
49. Buffalo Dancer 2 and exterior

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

50. Burgers of Calais
51. Whispering tree

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

52. Silver tree
53. Pyramid
54. House

Museum of Natural History

55. T-Rex
56. Elephant
57. Marie Antoinette’s ear rings
58. Easter Island heads
59. Butterfly pavilion
60. Giant Great White Shark teeth
61. Triceratops
62. Mummies
63. Giraffe
64. Hippopotamus
65. Human evolution skulls
66. Human family tree
67. Savanna waterhole
68. Blue whale
69. Iceland exhibit

Smithsonian Institution Building, “The Castle”

(Interior closed until 2028)

70. James Smithson’s remains
71. Gardens

National Galleries of Art East-West

72. Ginevra de Benci
73. Colonial furniture
74. Saint Jerome and the Angel
75. Tunnel lights between buildings
76. Napoleon
77. Rotunda
78. Louis XIV bust
79. The Concert
80. Daniel in the Lions Den
81. Ill Matched Lovers
82. The Rebuke of Adam and Eve
83. St. Francis in Prayer
84. Saint Celia and an angel
85. Portrait of a man in a tall hat
86. Warhol’s A Boy for Meg

Museum of African American History and Culture

Chuck Berry’s Cadillac/MAAHC

87. Design in Harmony
88. Slave shackles
89. Harriet Tubman shaw and hymnal
90. Point of pines cabin
91. U.S. colored troops
92. Jones Hall Aims House
93. Greensboro lunch counter
94. Southern Railway Company coach 1200
95. MLK display
96. Mexico City protest and sports
97. Chuck Berry red Cadillac

National Zoo

98. Pandas
99. Tigers
100. Gorillas
101. Elephants