(Above: my best friend Karen the giant, pushing the Washington Monument on a very typical insanely hot summer day in DC. This photo is from the Silly Pictures Archive of Rin & Karen that we use to blackmail each other from time to time.)
This weekend, Jon, I, and his two cousins went to see Night at the Museum 2: Battle at the Smithsonian (click on the link to view the trailer), AT the Smithsonian IMAX, so the whole experience was pretty trippy, particularly the scene when Ben Stiller and Amy Adams run into the Air & Space Museum where we were watching the movie. Now, I’m sure the Smithsonian had some hand in all this to create some incredible marketing on its behalf, because now I really want to go back to some of these museums that I hadn’t visited in years.
Now, here is a link to back up my theory behind Smithsonian’s marketing ploy: http://www.gosmithsonian.com/nightatthemuseummovie.
You can easily spend a week wandering through all of Smithsonian’s museums, but you will get a little bit museum-ed and monument-ed out. But since there’s so much to see in DC, I’m breaking this city down by theme, starting with Historic Washington. All this comes straight from a local who acts like a tourist – me! I figured it was about time and a little bit silly that I, living in one of America’s biggest tourist magnets, haven’t even bothered to cover it. Until now.
Smithsonian is actually made up of 19 museums. They are all free, so you can visit or skip areas without guilt other than that you’ve traveled all this way to Washington and are skipping parts of our national treasures. The following are museums I think are worth visiting, based solely on what is unique and Washingt0n-esque and may not necessarily be found in other cities: Air & Space Museum, American History Museum, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (which has a good, but expensive, lunch place)(photo above), the National Zoo (the pandas are a must-see and even put a goofy grin of adoration on the faces of my cousin and his friend, two dudes in their 20′s who otherwise thought they were too cool), the National Portrait Gallery, and (if you don’t live in New York to enjoy the Museum of Natural History there) National Museum of Natural History. For some reason I believed there were several other museums that were part of Smithsonian, but don’t seem to appear on its Web site. Now, this list is not to say that the other museums are not worthwhile; but if I was pressed for time, I would focus more on what’s relevant to American history and government because that’s what I would be in town for – other people have their reasons. And that’s my disclaimer.
The National Mall
Get a bike, or even better, a Segway to explore our nation’s backyard. Watch out for flying softballs, frisbees and kickballs. Start from the U.S. Capitol (go on a Rotunda tour) and then roll over past the Washington monument (book tickets online or go to the kiosk at 15th Street and Jefferson the same day to ride to the top – a worthy visit), WWII, Vietnam and Korea, up to Lincoln. Then cycle out along the Tidal basin to view FDR and Thomas Jefferson. If it’s cherry blossom season, it’s even prettier. Of course, then you have to make your way over to the White House, but you can’t bike in front of it. You can bike behind it, but watch out for roller hockey players. Visiting the White House is best accomplished with a cardboard President Obama (see right, taken right before our wedding and after Obama’s election), and if you’re smart, you’ll start charging all the tourists $5 a photo. Bring a rain jacket or umbrella because it might suddenly break out into a ridiculous downpour.
(Note about downpours: I often get caught in them while running or biking, so I don’t look as ridiculous. But it’s particularly hilarious watching Probably Political Men in Suits with nowhere to hide following the five-step Rain Breakthrough. It consists of 1. Disbelief of the Rain, 2. Acknowledging the Rain, 3. Acknowledging they Left Umbrella At Home, 4. Acknowledging that Newspaper Over Head is Leaving Black Stains on White Collared Shirt, and 5. Acceptance and Trudging Along Street Anyway in Surrender. The whole process takes about four minutes.)
Other historical favorites
My niece and other small children seem to love the Building Museum, which is set inside a beautiful building itself and highlights architecture of American buildings. The reason children love it so much is because of the giant blocks that inspire future civil engineers in all of us.
Mt. Vernon. I have yet to visit George Washington’s estate, though I have mapped out the 18-mile bike path there. We were going to bike it one of these weekends until Jon got his bike stolen at Union Station. It’s worth a visit, I have been told, but prices are not cheap: $15 for adults (free for kids under 5!).
- courtesy: Jaime Windon
United States National Arboretum. A very widespread botanical garden that people like to bike around in. You can view the original Congressional columns and trees from the 50 states, among other fun things. Also, this photo was taken by the fantabulous Jaime Windon, our wedding photographer, during an engagement photo session with my sister & family.
Library of Congress. Another one I haven’t visited yet. Boy, I am a terrible local. I hear it is fantastic inside. Now it’s time for me to follow my own guide to historic DC! See you there!