Destination: National Museum of the American Indian


Today’s post caps off my visit to the Federal Center SW / Capitol South Metro station area a few weeks ago.

Earlier last month, I spent a Saturday afternoon exploring the Capitol South / Federal Center SW Metro station area. After grabbing some pizza at We The Pizza, I headed over to the Library of Congress and then the U.S. Botanic Garden. Before heading home, I stopped at one last place: the National Museum of the American Indian.

National Museum of the American Indian

Like most of the other buildings on The Mall, entry is free at the NMAI. From an architectural perspective, the NMAI is a stunning building to look at from the outside. To get a really good perspective of the building, you’ll have to look at it from afar. Here’s the building, viewed just off of the Independence Ave.

NMAI Entrance

The building’s north-facing facade reminds me of waves.

 NMAI Facade 

Based just off of viewing the building from outside, I thought the NMAI was going to be a massive building on the inside. Surprisingly, it wasn’t. When you enter the museum, you enter a massive atrium / performance area. During my visit, there was a demonstration going on which seemed to be related to sports and competition.

View the NMAI Calendar of Events

While other visitors were taking pictures of the demonstration, my eyes just couldn’t get over at how amazing the ceiling looked.

 Ceiling above the performance / demonstration area.

NMAI Ceiling 

The ceiling itself is supposed to be a representation of the sun and its rays, which for many Native American cultures, is an important symbol.

After watching the demonstrations for a bit, I decided to check out the rest of the museum. For some reason, I had thought that the museum was going to feature Native Americans from just the United States. However, the exhibits at the museum cover cultures throughout North and South America, including the Caribbean and Central America. 

It took me about an hour to explore the museum. For the most part, it was pretty underwhelming. Although some of the exhibits were interesting and taught me something new (i.e., that some Arctic cultures believe there are 8 seasons), I felt like the storytelling could’ve been done better. Rather than focusing on telling the stories of dozens of groups across the Americas, I think the museum would’ve probably been able to do a better job if they had chosen to focus on perhaps just the native cultures that belonged to just the United States.

That being said, there were some interesting exhibits such as the exhibit on Central America, which included some really cool artifacts, as well as clips of students explaining what archaeology means to them, and why they’re so interested in understanding the cultures and history of their country.

A painting in front of one of the exhibit rooms.

NMAI - Painting 

One of the statutes in the exhibit on Central America.

 NMAI - Statue from Central America

Flags of Native American nations in the United States.

 NMAI - Flags

Hours of Operation

Open Daily: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm

Tips & Conclusion

  • Although an impressive building from an architectural perspective, the exhibits at the NMAI seemed underwhelming.
  • If you’re short on time in DC, I would recommend skipping this museum.
  • If you’re hungry, check out Mitsitam Cafe, located on the ground level. While I didn’t eat anything here, friends have mentioned the cafe serves up some of the best food compared to the other food options available at museums on The Mall.

Getting to the National Museum of the American Indian

The entrance to the NMAI is a short five-minute walk from Federal Center SW Metro, which is located in Southeast DC, and is served by the Orange, Silver and Blue lines.