8/05/2009

50 Great Things to See and Do in Washington D.C. [part 1 of 5]


[PART 1 of 5.]  For all it's flaws, I'd still pit D.C. against any international metropolis in competition for "most stuff to do per square acre."  I've lived here all my life and haven't exactly been a slouch when it comes to getting out and about, but will never manage to see everything.  Have listed the obvious attractions, but am hoping what folks find of value are the off-the-beaten-track experiences and adventures included in the list. Do you really want your vacation pictures to look absolutely identical to everyone else's vacation pix? 

I could include more info about each of these attractions, but I'm not going to.  This isn't meant to be a travel guide, just a list of suggestions.  So if you want to know more about any of these sites, google them!
  1. Visit a Museum.  Figured I'd start with the obvious, if only to get it out of the way. The Smithsonian incorporates many of the A-list museums in D.C., to include the Air and Space Museum (also the Udvar-Hazy annex in Chantilly, VA), the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum, the Museum of the Amercan Indian, Smithsonian Castle, and the Arts and Industries Building.  But don't get so swept up in the wonder that is the Smithsonian that you miss National Geographic's Explorer's Hall, the International Spy Museum, the Newseum, or the deeply affecting Holocaust Museum
  2. Cool museums you've never heard of.  Or ... you can skip the A-list museums and have a completely satisfying time at any of the following lesser-known but entirely worthy institutions, to include the National Postal Museum, the National Textile Museum, the National Building Museum, The US Patent & Trademark Office Museum, the National Firearms Museum (located at NRA HQ), the National Museum of Health and Medicine, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Department of the Interior Museum, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy, the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, the Black Fashion Museum, the Anacostia Museum (administered by the Smithsonian), the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, or (not kidding) the National Bonsai Museum.  Sadly, it appears the Squished Penny Museum has closed, with no plans to reopen.  :-(
  3. Natural beauty.  D.C. may be known for its imposing (albeit somewhat architecturally redundant) government buildings, but there's a startling amount of lovely scenery to be found for those willing to look.  Attractions include the National Arboreteum, the U.S. Botanical Garden, Rock Creek Park, Meridian Hill Park, the Tidal Basin (especially when the cherry blossoms are blooming), the butterfly/orchid garden at the Arts and Industries building, the George Washington Parkway (beautiful scenic overlooks of the Potomac River), Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the Mount Vernon bike trail, and the Huntley Meadows wetland area. 
  4. Visit Critters. Plenty of indiginous wildlife in D.C. - especially squirrels, pigeons, and lobbyists. But if you are interested in something a little more exotic, check out the National Zoo in Woodly Park, the National Aquarium at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, or the much more modest National Aquarium in DC.
  5. Got Art?  Paris may enjoy an edge in this category, but D.C. doesn't need to hang its head in embarassment either.  The city hosts dozens of small galleries as well as major attractions to include the National Gallery of Art,  the National Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the Renwick Gallery, the Hirshorn Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, the National Museum of African Art, the Sackler Gallery, the Freer Gallery, and the Kreeger Museum.  Learn how to create art at the Corcoran College of Art or Design; see art being made at the DC Arts Center or the  Torpedo Factory in historical Alexandria; or, if you want to see how the experts go about saving and restoring our greatest works of art, check out the Lunder Conservation Center, where staff from the Smithsonian and other institutions work their magic.
  6. If You Build It, They Will Come.  Washington D.C. hasn't got the architectural splendor of many capital cities - thank the founding fathers for our obsession with the classical style - but there are still attractions worthy of note, to include streets lined with beautiful row houses (especially Massachusetts Avenue), dazzling Union Station, the Octagon House, the Heurich House (a castle in the renaissance/roccoco style), the Old Stone House (the only pre-Revolutionary War structure still standing in DC), Dulles Airport (famous for its huge unsupported concrete ceiling), and the National Building Museum. Or, for something completely different, enjoy the Old Executive Building, widely revered as an example of architecture gone horribly wrong.
  7. Dead Presidents.  Go on a dead president's scavenger hunt: bet you'll find statues or monuments to most of them if you're dogged. Among the most well-known tributes are the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson memorial, the Washington monument (there's another statue of him in Washington Circle), LBJ Memorial Grove, Roosevelt Island (Teddy), the FDR Memorial (Franklin), the Taft Memorial Carillon, the Grant memorial, the George Mason memorial, the statue of Andrew Jackson at Layfayette Square, the James Garfield statue, the JFK Eternal Flame, and the James Buchanan monument.  And that's just the better-known ones ...!
  8. Suddenly sculpture. One thing D.C. does with gusto is sculpture. Check out the National Sculpture Garden, the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the lovable Einstein sculpture in front of the National Academy of Science (the head is disproportionately large to make him seem more lovable), and don't miss the "The Awakening" - aka, the big arm bursting out of the ground - at Haines Point. (Not to be confused with the Cardiff Giant - see "Wierd Washington".)  Or, have some fun touring sculptural tributes to people you've never heard of:  D.C. is the home of sculptures immmoralizing Francis Asbury, Albert Pike, Jane Delano, Bernardo de Galvaz, Taras Shevchenko, Samuel Hahnemann, and Samuel Gompers, among others.  Who are these people, and why are there statues of them in our nation's capitol?
  9. Your Government in Action.  Thanks to 9/11, you'll need to ask your representative for tickets, but tours of the U.S. Capitol Building are still available. You can also tour the Old Executive Building, which houses our representatives' offices.  Watching our Congress in action can be a kick, but I find watching the U.S. Supreme Court much more fascinating. As of this writing, it's still possible to que at the front door and be admitted to a small gallery from which you can hear the justices gentily grilling visibly nervous attorneys.
  10. Making Money. You can make money the hard way, through industry and hard work.  Or you can do it the way our government does it: by printing it out by the ton!  The Bureau of Printing and Engraving offers wonderful tours that allow you to watch money literally being made.  Sadly, the tours are very well supervised, so abandon now any fantasies you may be having of have of slipping a little something into your pocket while no one's looking.
Look for 10 more ideas in my next blog entry!

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