National Air And Space Museum


All ages
Destination: Washington, D.C., USA

The one do-not-miss stop for families visiting our nation's capital, Air and Space is pretty much the star player on Washington's Smithsonian museum team, at least as far as kids are concerned. As you walk into its sleek entrance hall off the Mall, you'll see all those historic aircraft dangling from the ceiling -- the Wright brothers' historic 1903 Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the Enola Gay bomber that devastated Hiroshima, the Friendship 7 capsule that took John Glenn into space.

Whether you come here for the history, the science, or just the technothrill of seeing so much heavy metal, Air and Space delivers the goods.

Air and Space holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world; only about 10% of what it owns is actually on display, even with an annex out in Virginia. Besides gawking at the famous planes hanging out in the lobby, kids love to walk through the Skylab orbital workshop; other galleries highlight the solar system, U.S. manned spaceflights, and aviation during both world wars. You can sneak in some hard science education with "How Things Fly," an interactive exhibit that demonstrates principles of flight and aerodynamics (the wind and smoke tunnels are especially fun), and get into some heady astrophysics with Explore the Universe, which probes theories about how the universe took shape. But this big, noisy, kid-packed museum isn't the sort of place where you want to be serious and thoughtful; besides the IMAX movie To Fly, there are all the pumped-up extras like the flight simulators and the space show at the planetarium -- admission to the museum is free, but very few families get away without buying a ticket for one of these add-ons.

Information: Independence Ave. SW, btw. 4th and 7th sts. (tel. 202/633-1000; www.nasm.si.edu).

Nearest Airport: Ronald Reagan Washington National, 5 miles. Dulles International, 26 miles.

Accommodations: Embassy Suites Hotel Downtown, 1250 22nd St. NW (tel. 800/EMBASSY or 202/857-3388; www.embassy suitesdcmetro.com). Hilton Washington, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW (tel. 800/HILTONS or 202/483-3000; www.washington.hilton.com).