If you find yourself with several hours to kill before flying out of Washington Dulles Airport (as we did), consider spending your time at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The name’s a pain, but the visit’s a cinch.
For starters, the museum is right off the highway (28), three short exits away from Dulles. Parking is $15 (current price), but admission is free. The parking fee is a bit stiff, but $15 for a family of four to visit an attraction these days is a steal.
The facility is basically a gigantic hangar filled with three levels of all manner of aircraft. Everything from hot air balloons to space craft is represented. Obviously, all of my boys LOVED this place.
For almost two hours, we wandered around gawking at milestones of aviation history: the Wright Model A, the Concorde, Cessnas, Pipers, Bell helicopters, the Black Widow, the Blackbird, the Joint Strike Fighter, the Tomcat, and the space shuttle Enterprise. Even I really enjoyed seeing so many examples in how far flying has come in the past century.
After we’d had an eyeful, the boys hopped in a Cessna 150 and had a great time rockin’ and rollin’ the controls (on the ground and under supervision, of course). This attraction was included in the free admission, but older kids and adults might want to try out one of the museum’s simulators which are pay-per-play.
If I had to choose one thing I didn’t like at the museum, it would have to be the relatively few hands-on exhibits. Since we had previously visited the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul, South Korea, my boys were expecting to be able to go inside all the aircraft. Of course I understand why visitors are not allowed to climb up, on, over, and around, but explaining this to two boys under five isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.
We then headed up to the tower where one can watch planes taking off and landing at Dulles. The weather was amazing the day we visited with blue skies and almost no clouds. However, we happened to visit at a time when few aircraft were coming/going. Bummer.
I wanted to visit the attached IMAX theater with the boys, but none of the showtimes fit within our schedule (and prices were a bit steep for a two and four year-old that might not enjoy such an onslaught of the senses). We also purposely didn’t make it to the gift shop.
The museum’s website states that no food other than bottled water is allowed inside. Since I can’t go more than two hours without eating something, I took in a few granola bars. Our bags were checked as a security measure, but I was not told to take my snacks elsewhere.
If you’re planning on having lunch while at the museum, the choices are McDonalds (inside) or bring your own food and eat outside. I knew this in advance, so we stopped and picked up sandwiches before entering the $15 parking lot. If you’d like to pick up food in advance like we did, note that the Chantilly Crossing shopping center (located in the southwest quadrant of the 28 and 50 interchange) offers plenty of food choices to go.
All in all, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is worth your time if you’re in the area. Our family enjoyed not only the exhibits but also the large open spaces that allowed our boys to walk around and burn off some energy before being cooped up in an airplane themselves. And at a $15 price tag for the whole family, it’s a bargain.