Newly renovated and opened in September 2014, The White House Visitor Museum is a simple indoor museum to visit with your children. Run by the National Park Service (not Smithsonian or Secret Service we learned) and part of President’s Park, it is the place to go to learn about the history of the White House.
Although not attached to the White House, it is located very close to the White House’s East side. Note: tours through the White House are handled separately from the Visitor Center and require much more planning.
We visited on a Friday morning because there is plenty of 2-hour street parking that begins at 9:30am on Constitution during weekdays. From Constitution, it is a short 2 block walk to the museum, located in the Department of Commerce building. I would suggest walking across the road in front of the White House lawn on your way to the Visitor Center so you can stop and view the White House.
My children love this because they can peer through the fence, look at the White House garden, bee hives, snipers on the roof, and occasionally see the First Dogs (Bo and Sunny) in the garden (like we did!). It also prompted many questions that we were able to ask the park rangers inside the Center.
We entered the Visitor’s Center and went through the security process. Having a stroller was very easy and my diaper bag was checked. The information desk is staffed by park rangers and located immediately after security. It is a great place to ask initial questions and get the two brochures for children. We were particularly interested in the “Scavenger hunt” book for children centered on President’s Park. Both were excellent and thorough.
The Center has 2 large replicas of the White House that were interesting to my children. Beyond those replicas, the museum has separate display cases for different interests of the White House. Each case has artifacts, large photographs, writing and some touchscreens. My children are too young to read, so as we went throughout the museum, I pointed out the photos to them and told them what was happening and answered their questions.
Of particular interest was the display that showed what various presidents liked to eat in the White House. They also liked to see the President’s children in photos (Obamas sledding on the hill, etc.)
The last part of the museum was a movie. The movie is about 15 minutes long and is well done and interesting. The benches to sit on were very kid-friendly (think plastic modern church pews) and it is hard to be disruptive because the movie is very loud and has close captioning.
The inside of the Center has a lot of open and wide space to push strollers. There is an area in front of the gift shop that was open and had benches (about the size of a mall play area).
This is a great place to stop with young children and let them move around. The gift shop has some really neat items for children including pencils with the President’s dogs ($.75), White House puzzles, coloring books and matching games.
- The White House Visitor Center is open daily from 7:30am to 4pm; closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
- Admission is free.
Photos by Andrea Verwys.