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7 Music-Themed Museums to Visit in Washington D.C.

Experience the rich musical heritage of the U.S. with a tour of these music collections and archives.

The silhouette of a visitor in front of purple, illustrated projections at ARTECHOUSE in Washington, D.C.

Explore the intersection of light, technology, and electronic sound at ARTECHOUSE.

Courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

Whether you’re a fan of classical, rock, electronic, or go-go—the genre born in D.C.—there’s a museum in the capital that’s committed to preserving and celebrating the history of your favorite sound. Explore well-known collections, discover must-see artifacts, and learn about lesser-known cultural attractions like the O Museum in The Mansion and The People’s Archive. Keep reading for seven Washington, D.C. museums and archives where you can delve into music’s influence on American history.

Learn about Black music at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The angular, brown exterior of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Courtesy of washington.org

If your D.C. itinerary only has room for one music-centric museum, let it be the National Museum of African American History and Culture. While the striking bronze-colored exterior is postcard-worthy, what’s inside will dazzle any music fan even more. The ongoing exhibit, Musical Crossroads, explores how African American music has played a central role in American music across genres and history, from classical to classic rock. Iconic pieces like Chuck Berry’s Cadillac, Sammy Davis Jr.’s tap shoes, Jimi Hendrix’s Afghan vest, and Public Enemy’s S1W Uniform underscore the profound influence of Black music on culture in the U.S. and beyond.

During your visit, also keep an eye out for temporary music-focused events. Until January 2025, the Spirit in the Dark exhibition explores religion in Black music, activism, and popular culture.

Looking to stay nearby? Check out Hotel Washington for a rooftop bar with views of the Washington Monument.

Explore music history at the National Museum of American History

The massive National Museum of American History’s immense 1.7 million-object collection and multiple ongoing exhibitions provide plenty for visitors to enjoy. America’s Listening delves into the history of recorded sound, MusicHerStory explores the role of women in music and social movements, and Treasures and Trouble offers an intimate look at blues music. Entertainment Nation documents the careers of notable musicians such as Selena, Prince, Frank Sinatra, and Cyndi Lauper. Collection highlights also include Prince’s Yellow Cloud electric guitar, Grandmaster Flash’s turntable, Fab 5 Freddy’s boombox, Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, and John Coltrane’s saxophone.

Among the several restaurants on-site, jazz fans should check out the LeRoy Neiman Jazz Cafe for an order of beignets with chocolate sauce while enjoying photos and music from the museum collection.

Just 1.5 blocks from the National Museum of American History, the JW Marriott Washington, D.C. offers easy access to the city’s top sites.

Immerse yourself in sound and art at ARTECHOUSE

More of an auditory-visual experience than a traditional museum, ARTECHOUSE’s featured exhibition rotates several times a year. Focusing on light, technology, and electronic sound, this interactive gallery provides a platform for progressive artists to share their genre-pushing, technology-driven visions.

ARTECHOUSE is also one of the few museum spaces that’s regularly open late (until 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends). To round out the sensory experience, an on-site bar offers beer, wine, cocktails, and mocktails.

Known for its exquisite spa, Salamander is an oasis 200 feet from ARTECHOUSE in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood.

Go off the beaten path at O Museum In The Mansion

The eclectic O Museum in The Mansion, “a sanctuary for those in need of creative inspiration,” offers an offbeat experience with an impressive collection of musical artifacts. Housed in five interconnected Dupont Circle townhomes, the museum is a maximalist experience of themed rooms, more than 80 secret doors, and a collection of 70 guitars signed by music greats like Bruce Springsteen, Bono, and Bob Dylan. Secret door tours are also available.

The experience doesn’t have to end there—the Mansion is also a boutique hotel. Reserve the Graceland Suite, complete with an Elvis pinball machine, or the Lennon room, painted to resemble a yellow submarine, for an unforgettable experience.

Another elegant accommodation option: The Dupont Circle is mere steps away, across from historic Dupont Circle.

Enjoy a hands-on music experience at Planet Word

A glittering globe hanging inside Planet Word, a voice-activated museum in Washington, D.C.

Discover what makes a hit song great at Planet Word, the world’s first voice-activated museum.

Courtesy of washington.org

Opened in 2020 in the historic Franklin School, Planet Word is an interactive language arts experience and the world’s first voice-activated museum. Discover what makes a hit song great or share your story in the fully equipped recording booth. Admission is free (suggested donation is $15), but booking a pass online is recommended.

The museum is also home to the Immigrant Food dining venue, offering brunch, lunch, and dinner menus featuring chef Ben Murray’s take on global flavors.

Hotel Eaton DC caters to music fans with in-room turntables, R&B yoga, a rooftop music venue, and sound healing experiences, and is steps from Planet Word.

Discover local punk, go-go, and more at The People’s Archives at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

Home to several special music collections, The People’s Archive is the District’s local history center. The D.C. Punk Archive, focusing on punk and related local music from 1976 to the present, includes photographs, sound and video recordings, and ephemera representing Washington’s influential punk scene.

The Go-Go Archive is all about D.C.’s signature funk-influenced sound. Known for heavy bass, driving percussion, and call-and-response, the genre, which originated in D.C., is also the city’s “official” music. Photographs, books, magazines, records, cassettes, CDs, and DVDs fill the archive.

More than 900 orchestral performances from Hans Kindler, founder of the National Symphony Orchestra, in the Kindler Collections are available for use (free of charge) by orchestras in the region. To view the People’s Archives collections, make an appointment online.

Check out the Grand Hyatt Washington for a restful stay two blocks from the MLK Jr. Memorial Library.

Get to know go-go at the Go-Go Museum and Café

Opening mid-summer 2024 in historic Anacostia, the much anticipated Go-Go Museum and Café is dedicated to all things go-go. D.C.’s beloved genre is distinctly of the District, a homegrown fusion of funk, soul, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and blues. Originally pioneered by the legendary Chuck Brown in the 1970s, D.C.’s innovative sound remains so integral to the city’s cultural identity that in 2020 go-go was declared Washington’s official music.

Exhibits at the new museum will trace go-go back to its West African roots and explore its connection to hip-hop. Designed as a community center to nurture the next generation of musicians, the museum will also house a recording studio and event space. Go-go’s history will also show up in the café menu—look forward to an exciting blend of West African, Latin, and Caribbean flavors. If you can’t wait until summer, the mobile Go-Go Museum, a 28-passenger bus with a hydraulic performance stage, will continue to make appearances in the District.

The Cambria Hotel Washington D.C. Navy Yard Riverfront is a quick hop over the river to the Anacostia neighborhood.

To learn more about how to experience music in DC, visit washington.org.

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