The 3 million artifacts and archival collections in the country's largest American history museum explore America's cultural, political, and scientific past, with holdings as diverse and iconic as Abraham Lincoln's top hat, Thomas Edison's lightbulbs, Julia Child's entire kitchen, and Judy Garland's ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.
The centerpiece of the Star-Spangled Banner gallery is the banner that in 1814 was hoisted to show that Fort McHenry had survived 25 hours of British rocket attacks, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics that became the national anthem.
For political and military history, visit the American Presidency, Gunboat Philadelphia, and Price of Freedom: Americans at War galleries.
"American Stories" showcases historic and cultural touchstones of American history through more than 100 objects from the museum's vast holdings: a walking stick used by Benjamin Franklin, a sunstone capital from a Mormon temple, Lincoln's
gold pocket watch, Archie Bunker's chair, Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves, a fragment of Plymouth rock, and a Jim Henson puppet.
Head to the welcome center on the second floor or to the information desk on the first floor to pick up a map, learn about tours and demonstrations, and find out if there is a free performance scheduled.
During the high season and on holidays, expect waits of up to 20 minutes for the Star-Spangled Banner and the First Ladies' gallery. To see pop culture memorabilia without the wait, check out displays in the lower-level entrance, such as the changing display of Hollywood memorabilia.
This is the only museum in the world with an active program of using its historical musical instruments for live performances; the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society holds regular concerts.
The Stars and Stripes Café on the lower level offers a salad bar, sandwiches, pizza, and burgers, and the Constitution Café on the first floor serves coffee, ice cream, sandwiches, and snacks.
The main museum store is on the first floor; another is on the third floor with military-inspired books, apparel, and gifts; and you can also find mementoes in the Popular Culture store near the Mall entrance on the second floor.