When you think of Washington DC you can’t help but think of the amazing, top-notch museums. The name Smithsonian means something to people who aren’t even museum nerds! Aside from visiting the monuments and museums, though, there are tons of other fun things to do in Washington DC so I added a bonus few options.
Smithsonian Institution Building
This was the very first Smithsonian Building created. It sits on the National Mall in the heart of Washington DC and is commonly known as “the castle”. This red sandstone was not the architect’s first choice, but I love the way that it stands out on the mall.
This building is currently used for administrative purposes and as the visitor’s center! Inside the visitor’s center are fun, random pieces of history. Like an Edison Lamp from 1882 [left], a piece of the wing from the Wright Brother’s plane [center] and a Burpee Seed Catalogue from 1945 [right].
National Museum of American History
This museum has displays such as the massive flag that inspired our national anthem The Star Spangled Banner, exhibits on American life, and an exhibit about all of the wars America has fought in. Also, there are historical exhibits on presidents, first ladies and elections in general. It’s definitely worth a stop – I’ve gone both times I’ve DC and enjoyed it both times. I loved learning more about the changes in the U.S. in the past decades.
Left: Julia Child’s kitchen – so cool! // Right: A Reusable Co-Op Bag from 1971
Left: the hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated // Right: Urban League Voting Poster from the 1960’s
National Museum of Natural History
I went to the Museum of Natural History in NYC and I was pretty disappointed. However, I really enjoyed the National Museum of Natural History! First of all, I got to see my first REAL Moai, there was an amazing ocean display and an even more incredible early human exhibit (the anthropologist in me totally needed out at this!) Along with bigger exhibits there were assorted smaller ones as well like a mummy, dinosaurs, insects and even the hope diamond!
Finally, I got to be an incredibly excited anthropologist in a museum!
Skeletal remains of early hominids! I was totally nerding out!
National Museum of African Art
I took an Art History of Africa class in college and just totally fell in love with it. I was elated to find that we have a National Museum of African Art. Lilly was super patient with me as I gasped and said, “A Benin Head!!” and zipped over to a case. (Thanks, Lil!) If you’re curious about, or already interested in African Art, this is a must!
Arthur M Sackler Gallery
This art museum had a large amount of Asian art, which I also really enjoy! My absolute favorite works here are the first four photos shown below. They’re these massive, almost stupa-like collections of mass-produced ceramics and it’s a commentary on materialism. However, even on a simpler level, it was like an I Spy. Along with these works, there are many beautiful pieces of Asian art like the ones in the last two photos below.
This contemporary art museum is just off the National Mall. The first work of art that I saw upon going up the escalators was this sculpture of a naked man, sitting in the corner – it’s actually much larger than it looks! I really enjoyed walking through this museum because it was a nice size – not too big or too small, and you got through in a decent amount of time.
Jefferson Library of Congress
Because I had already visited Washington DC once before, I had a shorter list of must-sees and wanted to see things that I hadn’t seen the last time and this was at the top of that list! The Library of Congress is the largest Library in the entire world! It’s in multiple buildings, but the Jefferson building is the oldest and is certainly a sight to see!
Inside this building were multiple exhibits. My favorite was the ‘America Reads’ exhibit. They featured 65 books by American authors. The books displayed were voted in as books that had a profound effect on America. They included many of my personal favorites.
The Jefferson Library was just absolutely stunning!
This was my other must-see on the trip. The National Archives holds the historical documents from many of the important moments in American History. I was wanting to finally see the Declaration of Independence. We waited in line to get to see it, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I was actually surprised at just how moved I was seeing the Declaration of Independence and I cannot believe that it took me two visits to finally see it.
Inside there are many other historical documents – I even got to see the Emancipation Proclamation while I was there! Talk about incredible!
United States Botanical Garden
I love plants! Succulents, flowers, veggies, fruits, trees, shrubs – I love them all. It probably has something to do with my parents owning a greenhouse, but I always just love spending time amongst plants, especially plants that I’ve never seen before.
Succulents + cacti are my absolute favorites!!
I finally got to see a pitcher plant [left] and a Lilly in her natural habitat [right]!
Women in Military Service for America Memorial
This memorial is in Arlington National Cemetery and I really enjoyed seeing the way that women’s roles in wartime changed over the years from serving at home to active duty. I highly recommend visiting this amazing multimedia display which includes uniforms, photos, videos, recordings and even artwork!
When in Washington DC, don’t forget to VISIT THE MONUMENTS + MEMORIALS. They’re free, they’re beautiful and they’re full of information! If you have the time, I highly recommend seeing them both day and night. My best advice for the monuments is to wear a great pair of walking shoes and enjoy yourself!
EASTERN MARKET is a must, in my personal opinion. I’m so glad that we had Lilly as a tour guide because I hadn’t heard of this place, which is actually on the National Register of Historical Places (the brick building). Not only is there a beautiful brick building but there are tons of vendors selling art, flowers, jewelry and all kinds of other goodies, along with loads of delicious things to eat! Check their calendar for markets while you’re there!
Inside Eastern Market are meats, veggies and other local goods! What a fun place to shop local!
We had crepes from a seriously delicious crepe food truck! We each got something completely different and each loved them. We also had some delicious, homemade lemonade to go along with it. Definitely make this a stop around lunch time and come hungry!
ATLAS BREW WORKS was a stop that I found and I was really excited to visit. I knew I wanted to try a local beer, but I was really drawn to Atlas because they’re solar powered! Solar-powered-beer! How cool?! Plus, they have fun legal names – gotta stay true to those DC vibes.
We ordered food, very first thing because, ya know, we love food and Sloppy Mama’s Food Truck just smelled irresistible and the food did not disappoint! Plus, look at all that food we got!
I’m an IPA lover, so I was sure to get their Ponzi West Coast IPA.
The inside was super loud, but outside the three of us got to continue catching up and being our silly selves! I just love these two amazing ladies!
&PIZZA is pretty much my favorite pizza I’ve had in America (think Subway meets pizza). This is a “chain” available in DC, VA, PA + MD but it’s headquartered out of DC. You get to choose a pizza from their menu or you get to create your own. I opted to make my own and their premium, quality toppings, organic crust and amazing service definitely won me over. This is the perfect place to stop on your monument or museum tours. Also, don’t skip out on a soda here because they make their own without using high fructose corn syrup. I mean, my mouth is watering thinking about this place!
Washington DC is a wonderful spot for a day trip, a long weekend or a longer trip. There’s so much to see in DC proper and in Virginia and Maryland just outside of it. Be sure to soak up as much as possible and take your time exploring this city filled with history, museums, amazing food, great places to drink and so much more!
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