To celebrate Black History Month we are finally writing about our experience at the new and amazing, National Museum of African American History and Culture. With all of the history behind African Americans and the most recent events that have occurred the last few years, this museum was very important and needed. There are so many museums within the Smithsonian, but the museum of African American History and Culture was the addition that the Smithsonian was missing. Now that it has finally opened, it has thrived and is doing everything right. The museum does not hide away from anything, in fact it respectfully brings significant events and history to the surface. It has moving stories, videos and pieces to educate the audience, but it also has a lot of interactive and hands on touch screens to educate audiences that are kinesthetic learners (like us). The museum covers the history of immigration and slavery to music, sports, entertainment and more. The restaurant, Sweet Home Cafe, inside the museum is delicious! Everything looks good and tastes even better!
How to get tickets
Adam and I went to the African American museum the first week of January with his family. Thankfully his sister-in-law, Madeleine, did all of the research for us on how to obtain tickets because the museum was brand new and popular, entry to the museum was hard to come by. We are sure that this month, February, that factor remains the same and will continue to do so for the rest of the year.
So how do you gain tickets or entry into the most popular museum in Washington D.C.? You wake up early to reserve your tickets (free) at 6:30am. Easy right? No, to put it into perspective of how difficult it was to reserve tickets for seven people, Madeleine and Bob (Adam’s father), woke up early to reserve the tickets and within three minutes the museum was sold out. Even though they clicked “reserve” at 6:30 by the time processing had finished it was sold out. The next day they tried again…. Sold out in 5 minutes. We did not take no for an answer though. If you miss reserving tickets then you can gain entry at 1pm. Surprisingly when we arrived at 12:30 the line was not that long; it could have been due to the rain, but we will never know. Once we were in line everything went smooth sailing and we were inside the heated museum within 15 minutes.
Sweet Home Cafe
The first thing we did… EAT! We glanced at the menu in the lobby and instantly got excited to dine here – the menu seriously gets your mouth watering. Sweet Home Cafe is located on the Concourse Level. Sweet Home Cafe showcases the culture and history of African Americans through food. The Executive Chef Jerome Grant, transforms classic home cooked meals into modern day cooking to create well presented dishes using local ingredients. The menu is divided up into four sections: The Agricultural South, The Creole Coast, The North States, and The Western Range. Sweet Home Cafe is set up like a buffet (not all you can eat), but everything is cooked and prepared fresh. Once you order and receive your food you pay for it at the register and then sit down in their welcoming dining room. It is very easy and has a nice flow that even on their busy hours it would be a piece of cake.
Between the seven of us we all had something different, with the exception of Madeleine and Christina, they both had the shrimp and grits. All together we had: shrimp and grits, bbq buffalo brisket sandwich, fried chicken, mac n cheese, gumbo and pan roasted rainbow trout with stuffing. Every bite was delicious! Every dish looked amazing, therefore we all wanted to try what the person next to us was eating. It was fun sharing and exploring all the different flavors of the table. When you eat at Sweet Home Cafe every bite enriches the soul. Honestly, we would come back just to eat at Sweet Home Cafe as if it was a stand alone restaurant. Zagat even says the same thing – they have listed Sweet Home Cafe has the Hottest Restaurant in D.C. and the Oyster Pan Roast as one of D.C.’s 30 Essential Dishes. Out of the seven of us no one ordered the Oyster Pan Roast so I guess we will go back soon to try it!
Updated: Sweet Home Cafe has been nominated for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant!
Concourse Level 1-3 History Galleries
The Concourse Level is located below Level 1 and includes: The Oprah Winfrey Theater, Sweet Home Cafe, Special Exhibitions Gallery, Contemplative Court, Concourse Atrium and the History Galleries. The History Galleries is a great place to start in the museum because it is the beginning of the African American story. The museum starts at the 15th through 21st Century: The Journey Toward Freedom. As we all know the journey was a long one and consists of three intense levels of knowledge to educate the audience of the severity of the events that took place. The first level takes the guests through Slavery and Freedom. The second level discusses the Era of Segregation and lastly, the third level, Changing America.
As stated before we are kinesthetic learners and we enjoyed this interactive segment where guests would sit down and go through a list of “what would you do in this situation of the African American Movement”. The interactive menu consisted of: sit-ins, freedom rides, bus boycotts, school desegregation, marches, black power and grassroots leadership.
After you choose what you would do in the situation it shows you the results of the percentage of what others have answered before you. It is very engaging and makes you step back in time to be in the shoes of what so many African Americans went through.
Level 3 Community Gallerie
After such a hard and moving experience in the History Galleries, the Community Gallerie is more uplifting and enlightening as guests see the progression of African Americans’ success in the military, sports, arts, music and the entertainment field. Inside the gallery there is a small art gallery showcasing beautiful art pieces of African American artists.
As athletes, we thoroughly enjoyed the sports section. As a contributor of the museum, Michael Jordan has a Game Changer section of all the African Americans that became star athletes and “game changers”. You will find some of the greatest athletes of all time here such as, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Serena and Venessa Williams, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan (of course) and more.
The music section has an interactive segment that allowed guests to look through artists and albums and add them to the playlist like a jukebox. Thus, the room was always playing some great music of all different genres and artists. Adding songs to a jukebox is always fun and this activity was no exception.
The entertainment section as you can imagine was very interactive with videos playing constantly throughout the gallery. It showed Oscar awarded movies, scenes, famous television series, and more. Everyone was either standing or sitting to watch and enjoy what was being displayed on the screens.
Level 2 Explore More!
This gallery represented a learning center, research library and a family history center where guests could explore their family history. There was also a fun interactive step dance game where the generated computer screen would teach guests how to step dance. If you have played the game Just Dance on a gaming system then you would have enjoyed this segment.
The section that we hope people do not miss is the “Issues on the Table”. It is a large desk that has cards and pencils available for guests to write the issues they believe matter most to them, their family or community. Though this is the African Amercian History museum it is no shock to anyone that some issues are still present and need resolving. This room is probably the most important and moving interactive segment in the entire museum.
Level 1 Heritage Hall
The Heritage Hall is the entrance of the museum and includes a beautiful welcome center, pavilion, and museum shop. If guests have any questions or need help, the welcome center desk can provide you with answers. Be sure to grab a map here as it is very helpful for your visit.
There is so much to see and learn at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. We spent a good 4 – 5 hours at the museum, but could have easily spent at least another hour there. This is definitely a must visit for your next trip to Washington D.C.!
I leave you with the words of Ellen Degeneres, “be kind to one another”.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
14th and Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001
Daily: 10am – 5:30pm