History buffs eager for a unique, immersive experience should plan to spend a weekend at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Built as a lasting tribute to the U.S Marines past, present, and future, this 135-acre site off the Jefferson Davis Highway in Virginia proudly honors the accomplishments of the Marine Corps through public programming and education. The galleries combine a vast collection of Marine artifacts with interactive exhibits and enthusiastic, trained guides who will literally walk guests through the history of the Marines.
With free admission and a wealth of information, a visit is a truly priceless experience for families to learn about some of the nation’s celebrated heroes.
A Multimedia Living History of the Marine Corps
The National Museum of the Marine Corps is committed to telling the story of the US Marines through a mix of clever, interactive stations, films, and informed volunteers. Through these various mediums, the Museum functions as an impressive tool for public education, especially with its immersive programs that certainly leave an impression on guests.
Visitors begin their journey at the Leatherneck Gallery, a central gallery in a beautifully designed space that depicts the Marines’ transition from ocean to shore, and includes several watercraft, tanks, and planes that were key to Marine history. This impressive entrance welcomes guests into the “next” part of their journey as they can choose to enter the museum’s Theater—that plays an informational film on Marine history—or walk into the popular Making Marines Gallery.
Bootcamp for Museum Goers tests Marine Worthiness
The Making Marines Gallery was a favorite spot on our trip, and with good reason: this gallery presents a first-taste of the museum’s overall exciting and innovative approach to education. Step inside and be whisked down the path of what it takes to be a marine through a variety of “stations” that depict the memorable experiences that forge recruits into candidates into privates and lieutenants.
Guests will meet “their” drill instructor (DI) and will have a “hands on” opportunity to see what Boot Camp is really like. Guests who think they’re tough enough to make it in the Marines can try their hands at lifting and carrying gear, trying to make at least one pull-up on a bar, learn how to solve problems in simulated scenarios, and even try to make their mark at the museum’s own M-16 laser rifle range. This first gallery marks only the beginning of a series of interactive spaces where guests can not only touch, but also see and even in some cases smell, what it’s like to be a US marine.
From the Making Marines Gallery, explore the other galleries interactive activities—ranging from playing “dress-up” with Revolutionary war wear, touchable artifacts, to touch-screen videos, and more—as you and your family literally walk through history. Along the way, stop and read the informative placards (Some of them even act as trivia games!) or speak to the volunteers who are readily available with information and, in some cases, even personal stories to share with guests.
Also be on the look-out for the cast figures on display depicting marines in action on and off the field. Actual marine soldiers and staff had to stand for hours in these life-like positions made to look like the marines were caught “in the act”!
A note for travelers with small children: In order to preserve and exhibit the material history of the US Marine Corps and honor the commitment, accomplishments, and sacrifices of the Marines, the Museum has made every effort to present the history of the Crops in the most objective manner possible. Thus, some of the museum’s exhibits depict scenes of combat and, in some cases, combat casualties, including interactive environments complete with loud sounds that may frighten small children. Visitors are encouraged to speak to museum staff and guides to help determine whether exhibits are appropriate for their littler ones.
Marine Corps Museum Children’s Activities & Programs
With the museum’s overall commitment to educating the public on the history of the Marines, it is not surprising that the museum also hosts all sorts of special programs made just for kids. These kid-friendly activities range from gallery scavenger hunts to special kids’ areas and programs.
When entering the museum, kids should pick up the Little Leathernecks Gallery Hunt, or the Devil Dogs Gallery Hunt, and follow along with a series of activities as they make their way through the museum. Kids will also be pleased with many of the touch activities at the museum, and even certain stations decked out with clothes and gear to try on.
Two special kids activity areas feature the museum’s bold bulldog mascot, as well as a variety of activities, books, toys, and more. Littler guests who need a break can check out all the bits and bobs tucked in Chesty’s Corner, which includes comfy chairs and a large bookcase, as well as a special desk with paper and crayons for kids to leave messages for the museum. Chesty’s Dock, located just outside the Defending the New Republic gallery, has a variety of Revolutionary War themed activities designed for littler hands.
The museum also hosts special Family Days on the second Saturday of every month, where children of all ages are invited to participate in fun, educational, hands-on activities to learn about Marine Corps history. The museum’s education department has a complete list of themed Family Days and Special Events, for more information and for a complete listing, check out the museum’s calendar of events here. And, just like “admission” into the museum, all family programs are free of charge.
Shopping & Dining with the US Marines
Guests can choose to take their time taking in the museum’s many exhibits, and even the theater, without having to worry about a lunch-break afterwards thanks to the museum’s two dining options. Hungry travelers can visit the Devil Dog Diner, located on the museum’s second deck, for a cafeteria-style restaurant that honors Marine mess hall operations. This diner features several grab-and-go items, homemade soups and chili, pizza, sandwiches, and even a salad bar.
Guests can also visit the museum’s Tun Tavern, also on the second deck. This restaurant was based off of the legend that the Marine Corps was founded in 1775 at the original pub in Philadelphia. With décor to match the famous colonial era tavern, this restaurant offers up a full lunch menu of Southern classics and alcoholic beverages.
Also be sure to visit the museum’s gift shop for a souvenir to commemorate your trip!
Trip Planning Tips for a Marine Corps Weekend
The National Museum of the Marine Corps can be found at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway Triangle, VA 22172. It is accessible by car and by public transport, including via Amtrak, Metrorail, and Local Bus routes. For more detailed information on public transportation, please visit the museum's driving directions page. There is no charge for museum parking.
Turn a trip to this unique museum into a weekend historical getaway by setting up a "base camp" at the nearby Holiday Inn Express (703/576-1600; 888/465-4329) at 14030 Telegraph Road, Woodbridge, Virginia 22192. This hotel is within driving distance of not only the National Museum of the Marine Corps, but also other local attractions such as the Potomac Mills Mall. Families can also take the car out for a drive on the Prince William Parkway towards Manassas to spend the day strolling through charming Old Town Manassas or to soak up the sights at the historic Manassas National Battlefield; be sure to check out our review of the battlefield and tips on what to see and do.
For more information, please visit the official website or call the museum directly at 877/635-1775.
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