Tag Archives: DC Navy Yard

Scenes from a Visit to the National Museum of the U.S. Navy


One of the coolest museums in DC is one that many people don’t even know exists.  Located on the Navy base in Southeast DC, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy is a trove of fascinating artifacts, stories, and art that illustrate the history and impact of the Navy over hundreds of years.

I first posted about the Navy Museum nearly a decade ago after Owen and I visited for the first time, calling it a “True Hidden DC Gem — which says a lot, as it’s rare that I use the term “hidden gem”  to describe a place.  (As I explained in this old post several years ago, when I was a writer/editor for a travel company a bunch of years back, it was forbidden — considered too cliché — to use the term.  And it’s a rule that, for the most part, has stuck with me.)

The museum’s location is part of what garners the “hidden gem” designation. Situated on the guarded base, it’s not overtly visible, plus most people just don’t even know it’s there.  I used to recommend it somewhat regularly, but haven’t since pre-Covid, as I wasn’t certain it had reopened.  But now that I know it has, let this be a big endorsement to go.

Our family has been to the museum several times since that first visit, but it had been awhile. I was thinking about it recently, though, as I was reading the novel Great Circle about a 20th-century female aviator.  The Navy and World War II factor into the book, and the museum has a whole WWII exhibit, including old airplanes on display.  Anyway, it was on my mind as I was making plans with a friend in town, trying to decide what to do a Tuesday when most Smithsonians on the Mall are currently closed.  So I confirmed that the Navy Museum was open, and we decided to go.  It’s a nice, easy walk from our house, plus we could get lunch after at The Yards, a short stroll away along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, where there are lots of good dining options.

The museum has barely changed since I first wrote about it back in 2012.  It’s all contained in one long hangar-like building, where guns and gun parts were manufactured in the late 19th century.  It had some other uses during WWII and over the years, then became a museum in 1961.  And it’s a fantastic and fascinating one for all ages, kids and adults.

‘The collections within are as striking to view as they are interesting to learn about.  Artifacts on display range from large and small parts of ships to actual weapons used in war to whole submarines to photographs to war memorabilia. Models of all kinds of ships are so intricate, you keep finding new details to examine.  There’s a great exhibit about baseball and its relationship with the Navy.  A few interactive elements like periscopes to peer into for river views outside (you can see the new Fredrick Douglass Memorial Bridge from one!) and control boards with buttons to push and levers to pull add some extra engagement, especially for kids.

I love how major parts of ships are showcased and integrated into the space.  A nearly floor-to-ceiling replica of the USS Constitution fighting top is one of the first sights upon entrance. A hull with cannons extending out of portholes is the wall of a recreated gun deck.  Ship quarterdeck name boards are hung on high beams all around.   Huge guns, life rafts, and other installations are centerpieces of the exhibits.  You used to be able to climb onto some of them and sit in gun seats, but that kind of access is now off limits due to Covid.

A few very important things to know about visiting the National Museum of the U.S. Navy:
* Non-military visitors must enter at 11th & O Streets SE, just before the 11th Street Bridge. Let the guards on duty know why you’re visiting, and they will direct you to the Visitor Center.

* You need a pass to be on base and visit the museum. You can obtain one at the Visitor Center, the small building on your right as you enter the base. Be sure to bring ID, as you will need to show it to get a pass, along with providing fingerprints (it’s a military base). More about that here.

* Note that the Visitor Center is closed on Saturdays, so if you want to visit on the weekend, you must obtain a pass prior to that (again, more here).

* If you drive, look for street parking off of M Street SE in the Navy Yard neighborhood, then walk a few blocks to the entrance.

* Allow for some extra time to get your pass, about 15 minutes.

* The rest of the Navy base is very interesting to tour. Plan for some time to walk around before or after your museum visit.

* DO NOT take any photos of the base outside of the museum! It is not permitted. I learned this the hard way.

A new, bigger, campus-style National Museum of the U.S. Navy is in the works, expected to open in late 2025.  There’s an exhibit showing plans and the progress of it.  Sounds like it won’t be quite as hidden as it is now, but it certainly will still be a gem.

National Museum of the U.S. Navy
Where: Entrance is at 11th & O Streets SE | Navy Yard, DC
When: Monday – Friday, 9am – 4pm & Saturday, 10am – 4pm
Admission: Free

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Art & Light at the Yards


For the last few weeks, an old abandoned building in the Navy Yard area near Yards Park has been the site of a public art project called Art Yards. Seven internationally renowned artists have turned the blank exterior and surrounding lot into a massive, evolving canvas. Giant murals have adorned both the building’s facade and the empty parking lot, and there have been a few events to showcase the unique, creative, offbeat works.


This past weekend, we braved the cold, windy weather and headed down to the Navy Yard for a Chalk it Up event for families. Street artist Michael William Kirby unveiled a fantastic large-scale surface mural, and kids had the opportunity to create their own chalk masterpieces and take a 3-D perspective photo within Kirby’s vast piece.


Starting tomorrow, December 12, through Saturday, December 14, Art Yards will be presenting the artists’ works in a whole new light — literally. The final unveiling of the completed murals and chalk installations will be accompanied by a light show by video artist trio 3-Search, Integrated Visions, and United VJ’s. They’ll take place each night from 6-10pm. And while this isn’t touted as a family event, it seems like something any age could appreciate.

Sure, you’ve got your pick of light shows around the area for the holiday season, but this one sounds like a pretty cool stand-out.

Art Yards is located at M Street and New Jersey Avenue SE. If you’re in the Navy Yard area, it’s worth stopping by to see the murals, some up to three stories tall!

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Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Exhibit, Free, Outdoor, Weekdays, Weekend

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy: A True Hidden DC Gem

A replica of the USS Constitution fighting top, the centerpiece of the Navy Museum


Sometimes the best things are right under your nose. Or, to be more literal, about nine blocks from my house. This was the case with the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, anyway. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of it before — I’ve even posted about some of their special events — but I had no idea just how cool it was until Owen and I toured it last week.

The funny thing was, it was my poor planning that prompted the visit. We had intended to go ice skating at Canal Park on his day off from school, but upon our arrival at the rink realized it didn’t open until noon on weekdays, and it was not quite 11am.  So, I did some quick thinking about what else was in the Navy Yard area in southeast, and the light bulb went off: The Navy Museum.

The museum is located on the Navy base, so we drove down that way and found metered street parking nearby 9th & M Streets SE.  However, it wasn’t until after we were out of the car that I read on my phone how to get on base.  The visitor entrance is at 11th & O SE, so we walked there, and a guard at the front gate let us know we needed to go to the Visitor Center, located immediately to the left of the gate, to get a pass for base access. Once inside, I filled out a short form and showed ID, then was given a pass and a map.  The friendly gentleman at the desk highlighted the way to the museum on the map, just a few minutes’ walk away.

Big anchors out front hint at the great collection inside

En route, we passed the Navy Art Gallery, saw a few cannons outside, and caught a glimpse of the USS Barry moored nearby before arriving at the entrance, a stark white brick facade with two large anchors on either side of the doorway. And then we walked inside. (2016 Update: The USS Barry is no longer berthed at the Navy Yard.)

The lofty, hangar-like space

The Navy Museum is one of those places that makes an immediate “WOW!” impression.  Large ship models encased in glass, a tall replica of the USS Constitution fighting top, striking nautical displays, big guns, and an airplane hanging from the rafters are among the spectacles on view in the long, lofty, hangar-like space.

Something to gawk at in every direction

Model ships, from various eras, on display everywhere

It gets even better when you start touring the exhibits. For the most part, they go in chronological order from the front to the back of the museum, covering the American Revolution, Civil War, Forgotten Wars  of the 19th Century (actual name of the exhibit) like the War of 1812 and Mexican-American War, Artic Exploration, and World Wars I and II. There are also exhibits dedicated to specific topics like submarines, navigation, and underwater exploration.

Art and artifacts from the “forgotten” 19th-century wars

Checking out the WWII exhibit

The best part is that there are interactive elements everywhere. In the submarine exhibit, one of the first we visited, you can look through periscopes for a view of the USS Barry outside; steer, push buttons, and flip switches on a real sub control panel; and learn how a sub operates through a few electronic displays.  You can sit in the gun seats in the World War II area, and test your knowledge of Navy trivia on various touch screen displays around the museum.  A few movies about sea battles are playing within the exhibits, including Master and Commander in the Gun Deck, which is made to look like one with low ceilings and wooden beams.

Operating the periscope to get a view outside

Taking a quiz on one of many digital interactives

All ages can enjoy this museum — young children will love the big installations, older kids (with an interest in this kind of thing) will appreciate the history as well as the smaller displays. Owen’s favorite parts were the submarines and Arctic Explorations, where he learned about some of the first expeditions to the North Pole and viewed the actual equipment that had been used there.

Relics from an early arctic expedition

What started as a way to kill time before ice skating turned out to be a pretty fantastic outing.  And did I mention we practically had the place to ourselves?  Yep, a true hidden gem. I know that there are some people who’d love to keep it that way, but this one is just too good not to share.

Guests are welcome to sit in the gunseats

The National Museum of the U.S. Navy is located on the Navy base just off M Street in southeast. Non-military visitors must enter at 11th & O Streets SE. There is visitor parking in a garage inside the base. Be sure to bring ID with you to gain access. The museum is open daily with the exceptions of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Hours are 9am – 5pm Monday – Friday, and 10am – 5pm Saturday – Sunday. Admission is free, but there is a donation box near the entrance/exit with a suggested contribution of $2.



Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Museums, Weekdays, Weekend