National Building Museum's Great Hall

The BEACH: A Giant Ball Pit at DC’s National Building Museum

I can’t remember the last time I’ve played in a ball pit, probably not since the days of Chuck E. Cheese birthdays in second grade. When I heard about the National Building Museum’s summer exhibit, The BEACH, I knew I had to go and embrace my inner child. This stark white installation–designed by Snarkitecture–covers 10,000 square feet of the museum’s Great Hall and includes a lounging area, storage cubbies, a snack bar by Union Kitchen, and the star attraction: an ocean of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic balls.

The depth of the pit was deeper than I expected. I even experienced a a couple of sinking-in-quicksand moments when I couldn’t catch my footing to stand up again. Fortunately, there are a couple of strategically located platforms where visitors can pull themselves out of a predicament. While frequented mostly by families during the day and weekends, the museum holds BEACH Late Nights on Wednesday evenings. This weekly event is geared towards adults and includes live music, alcoholic beverages, and extended hours to tour the museum. The BEACH is open through September 7, 2015. To see more of my adventure in the pit, click on the video below.


The National Building Museum
401 F Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

The museum is accessible by Metro from Judiciary Square (red line) and Gallery Place-Chinatown (red, yellow, and green lines) and is approximately four blocks from the eastern side of the National Mall. Metered street parking is available; it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a spot if you arrive early and stay on the side roads farther away from the Verizon Center. Paid parking can also be found in the many garages surrounding the Gallery Place-Chinatown metro.


Tickets + Entrance

A general admission kiosk is located to the right-hand side of The BEACH entrance on the ground floor of the Great Hall. Visitors must pay extra to enter the ball pit, but it includes access to the rest of the museum.

Once you pay for The BEACH admission, you will receive a wristband and then must proceed to wait in a new line to the left of the member admission area to enter the installation (if there’s more than one of you, one person in the party can start waiting in the second line while the other buys tickets to save time). Only 500 people are allowed inside at a time.

  • BEACH – Non-member Youth, Senior, and Student: $13.00
  • BEACH – Non-member Adult: $16.00
  • BEACH – Member Senior, Student, and Youth: $5.00
  • BEACH- Member Adult: $10.00
  • Blue Star military discounts are also available with a valid active duty military ID

The BEACH platform

  • Times: Arrive early, preferable when the museum opens at 10:00 am (or 11:00 am on Sunday). We arrived at 10:15 am on a Saturday and had to wait 45 minutes to enter. One of the guides told us that crowds who come later on a busy afternoon can expect to wait up to three hours. Don’t forget to feed your metered street parking!
  • Clothing: Do not wear a skirt, dresses, hats, or loose items that can slip off easily in the ball pit.
  • Shoes: If you wear sandals or slippers, remove them at the cubby or lounge area before entering the pit—otherwise they may come off and be difficult to retrieve.

the BEACH in DC

  • Hygiene: There are Purell dispensers on the premises so you can disinfect before and after entering the ball pit (obviously, don’t go in if you have something contagious like pink eye). The balls are cleaned and sprayed daily. Germophobes, think of it this way: touching balls in the pit is not really any more unsanitary than handling public doorknobs, surfaces, and escalator rails.
  • Young Kids: Families with young children will be relieved to find a stroller parking area inside the installation. There’s also a play area by the entrance line so kids can stay entertained during the long wait. When entering the pit, keep an eye on smaller children as it may be difficult for them to maneuver or stand.
  • Nearby Attractions: The free and beautiful National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum is a few blocks away and worth a visit for its courtyard alone. For more info, click here to visit our post on this DC architectural gem»

Where do you go to feel like a kid again? Share your experience in the section below.

Lara Dalinsky
Lara Dalinsky

Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of exploring the world. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as the Art Director for the branding firm, Belmont Inc., in Alexandria, VA. In her spare time, she instructs high-energy Zumba dance classes, contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.


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