Life’s a BEACH at the National Building Museum


You guys. If there is one thing you must do in DC this summer, The BEACH at the National Building Museum is it.


By now you’ve probably read about it in the Summer in DC guide, caught a glimpse on Facebook or Instagram, or heard about it elsewhere. But in case not, the museum’s just-opened installation is the highlight of this year’s “Summer Block Party,” the NBM’s annual slate of special exhibits and programs during the season.



Past years have been pretty great — Indoor Mini Golf and The BIG Maze were featured exhibits — but The BEACH is especially fantastic. The interactive installation takes up almost the entire Great Hall, and it does so with style. The all-white enclosure designed by Snarkitecture is an architectural simulation of a beach. There is a beach chair lined seashore that slopes gently into the ocean. And the “water” consists of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic balls. It’s pretty cool just to view — but even better to experience.



The best part of The BEACH is that visitors are welcome to enjoy all of it. You can sit at the shore’s edge, wade in the shallow water, or go for a swim in the deeper parts. And it is a blast! Yes, essentially it is a giant ball pit, but there’s a reason why kids love playing in them so much. Something about immersing in them is so enjoyable — it’s soft but not squishy, you can move but you don’t sink. You might get a little stuck, since it’s hard to get traction as the balls move around, but that’s part of the fun.



Some things to note:
– There’s no timed entry, so it can get crowded.
– It can be tough to judge where others’ limbs are beneath the balls, so there could be “underwater” tangles.
– The balls are about a foot deep in the shallow area, and up to about four feet in the deep end.
– Be careful bringing items in the water; you could easily lose a phone or anything not attached to you.
– There are cubbies for stashing shoes and belongings, but they’re accessible to anyone, so plan accordingly.
– The BEACH is open late on Wednesdays, until 9pm, with food and drinks for sale, plus beach games — corn hole, bocce, and few others — to play just outside in the Great Hall.
– I advise keeping little ones supervised at all times!



And in case you were wondering, I asked staff what the protocol would be if, say, a kid threw up in there (because something like that is bound to happen at some point), and they do have a sanitation plan: They cordon off the area, extract any affected balls, and use a sanitizing spray on nearby areas. They also have been using it on the whole ocean every other day, but said they will likely start doing it every day as more people engage in the exhibit.


So, now that you have the scoop and a glimpse, get yourself over to The BEACH – sunblock and swimsuit not necessary.

The BEACH will be at the National Building Museum through September 12. Admission is $5/youth member, $10/adult member and $13/youth non-member, $16/adult non-member. Tickets can be purchased online or at the NBM. Museum hours are 10am – 5pm Monday – Saturday and 11am – 5pm Sunday, and The BEACH is open until 9pm Wednesday.


Filed under All ages, Annual, Art, DC, Exhibit, Indoor Play, Museums, Seasonal, Summer, Weekdays, Weekend

10 Responses to Life’s a BEACH at the National Building Museum

  1. Rachel

    What are the food options like? Enough to find something for the kids’ lunch?

    • There’s a small Firehook bakery at the Building Museum, but we usually bring our own snacks if we plan to eat there.

    • Amy

      Definitely bring your own lunch. Options were not kid friendly last summer but the museum was awesome!

    • Linda @ KidFriendly DC

      As Katie mentioned, there’s a Firehook in the museum. Union Kitchen also has a snack shop set up in the BEACH exhibit, but I’m not sure if it’s open all times or just Wednesday evenings (that’s when we were there). There were also some other food options — sandwiches and salads just outside the exhibit in the Great Hall, but again, that may have just been for an event that evening.

  2. jackie B

    Since I’m not a member I would be looking at $29 for me and my daughter to attend this….my question it worth $29? That just seems like a lot to me 🙁 It looks like a blast and my daughter (almost 3) would love it! But I can see my husband getting upset at that cost 🙁

    • I.F.

      Kids under 3 are free!!!

    • Linda @ KidFriendly DC

      It does seem like a lot, but it IS a unique experience — and one that is really fun. You could make more of your visit and walk around the museum to check out the free exhibits; there are currently really cool architectural models on display around the second floor. And after 4 on weekdays, admission to the House & Home exhibit is free.

  3. jane

    thank you for including the sanitizing information… Wondering about that was one of my first thoughts!

  4. Darla

    We went yesterday. It was expensive for the three ( mom, 5 and 8 year old) but we spent over three hours in there and yes it was worth the money. Balls are hard to move in so I would plan on being in the balls with small children (it’s fun so your gonna want to play) and bring small over shoulder bag that zips to keep you phone and wallet in since two moms lost their phones in the balls when we were there (they were found but it took most of their time) They have plenty of stroller and bag areas but they are out of sight with as many people are playing in there. Another positive is that the Building Museum is literally across the street from the metro which always ranks high in my book.

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