What to do in DC?
February 12, 2010 9:35 PM   Subscribe

In Washington DC for 3 days - looking for "second tier" tourist destinations.

I've been before (years ago) and saw all the "must see" sights, so looking for something out of the ordinary. I teach US history, so historically noteworthy sights are a plus. If it helps, my last trip I thought the postal museum was bad ass.

I will not have a car while I am there.
posted by Elagabalus to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (30 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
National Building Museum. Even if you aren't into the subject, the building itself is amazing — it was originally the post-Civil War pension department.
posted by smackfu at 10:22 PM on February 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

A handful of things. Not sure if they're second-tier enough or not.
The FDR Memorial.
The National Geographic Museum with the terracotta warriors exhibit.
The National Museum of the American Indian, if you didn't go the last time.
Anacostia Museum

posted by gingerbeer at 10:43 PM on February 12, 2010

Seconding the National Building Museum. I've always liked Decatur House and the Old Stone House.

Have you gone to the Iwo Jima Memorial (easily accessible from the Rosslyn Metro), or the Korean Veteran's Memorial (particularly haunting when there is snow). If you are in town from April to October you might go on a gargoyle tour at the National Cathedral. They have self-guided tours for other times and days. Among the gargoyles is what is probably the world's only sculpture of Darth Vader on a religious building.

An alternate way to get a good view of the city (besides the Washington Monument), is to go up the tower at the Old Post Office.
posted by gudrun at 10:48 PM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the Spy Museum and the Newseum. I haven't been, but I've been wanting to check out Ford's Theatre.
posted by oceano at 12:18 AM on February 13, 2010

The International Spy Museum has some great events, and if you speak German or French, take in the art, films, and other assorted cultural offerings at the Goethe Institute and the Alliance Francaise. If you're in the mood for a little high-class policy wonkery, check out the public lectures at the Brookings Institution and the RAND Corporation.

Bundle up and get in line super-early (i.e. around dawn) to sit in on an oral argument at the Supreme Court. Afterward, eat lunch in the court cafeteria and eavesdrop on all the lawyers and clerks as they give their armchair analysis of how they think the case is going to go down. Good times!
posted by aquafortis at 12:37 AM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Check out the NIH if you're into medicine or medical history. The NCBI library is awesome.
posted by benzenedream at 12:47 AM on February 13, 2010

I can't recommend The Phillips Collection art museum enough. I quite like The National African Art Museum. Oh, and if you've seen The Exorcist, then checking out the steps is thrilling.
posted by Kattullus at 12:57 AM on February 13, 2010

You should definitely check out the Black Civil War Museum on U Street and the National Museum of Jewish Military Service (I think that's the name). I also found a great place called the National Pistol Museum, which, as its name implies is all about small firearms and is grateful for visitors. If you can, go to Alexandria, Virginia and visit the Lee-Fendall House on Oronoco Street and the Carlyle House Museum on North Fairfax Street. My friend Helen works at both and they are really lovely. Please check them out.
posted by parmanparman at 1:02 AM on February 13, 2010

sorry, I meant the National Firearms Museum!
posted by parmanparman at 1:04 AM on February 13, 2010

Best answer: As gingerbeer mentioned, the National Geographic Museum is hosting Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor. Unfortunately, the exhibit isn't free—$12 for adults—unless you snag a free ticket for Wednesday viewing hours. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the museum also offers free screenings of The Real Dragon Emperor, a film on archaeological research and imaging techniques used to explore the tomb.

Seconding aquafortis' suggestion to visit SCOTUS. Unfortunately, I believe oral arguments for the January 11 session have concluded, and the next oral arguments aren't until the February 22 session.

Visit the “Library of Congress of the dead”, aka the National Museum of Health and Medicine, for your forensics fix of science displays and medical oddities.

If your curious about Michael Jackson's patent for a “system for allowing a shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity by virtue of wearing a specially designed pair of shoes which will engage with a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface”, pop into the US Patent & Trademark Office Museum.

Head to the historic U Street corridor, Duke Ellington's neighborhood, and catch a jazz show at Bohemian Caverns (or any number of bars on U street for a more affordable—free or low cover charge—option). Or camp out with free wi-fi at the laid back, progressive Busboys and Poets off of U Street and attend a free book discussion with writer Robin Stone, widow of Gerald Boyd, the first black managing editor at the New York Times (Saturday); a film screening and filmmaker panel about mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia (Sunday—free or $5 donation); or a free Howard Zinn tribute with Amy Goodman, Ralph Nader, Bernice Johnson Reagon, David Zirin, Rich Rubenstein, and others (Monday). The famous restaurant Ben's Chili Bowl is also located on U Street.

Learn about civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune and the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women at the The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House.

Peruse one of the US' largest Judaica collections at the B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum and Philip Lax Archive.

Examine Asian art exhibits at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
posted by skenfrith at 2:00 AM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Eastern Market for lunch and shopping.
posted by bardic at 3:37 AM on February 13, 2010

Not having a car might be a problem, maybe they have shuttle buses, but The Smithsonian's Air and Space Annex out near Dulles airport. They have like 5 hangers full of everything from an SR71 Blackbird to a Concorde. They even have a space shuttle. If you are staying on the Mall, then you should revisit the Museum of American History. They just finished redoing it last year.
posted by Gungho at 6:21 AM on February 13, 2010

The Rock Creek Cemetery is great, though it's a bit of a trek on public transportation. Also, it's probably buried under snow right now.
posted by stopgap at 6:23 AM on February 13, 2010

Is the Museum of Medical Oddities at Walter Reed still open? That place is the shit. Bezoars, mermaid fetuses in jars, etc. Might be dicey from the Metro but it's definitely off a bus line.
posted by ofthestrait at 7:16 AM on February 13, 2010

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is fantastic, but isn't one of the big museums.

If you like architecture, I'll second the National Building Museum, mentioned above -- my mother the urban planner never misses it on a trip to DC -- and the building itself is *really* pretty (I'm not as much of a fan of the exhibits, but some of the more social history ones are interesting). Also, the Octagon House is a really impressive example of Federal architecture.

A tour I really enjoyed was the one of the Kennedy Center. It was quite neat to walk around (and you can see the Watergate Hotel nearby, IIRC).
posted by lysimache at 7:45 AM on February 13, 2010

Since everyone else always recommends the Spy Museum (which I did enjoy), I'll throw the Crime and Punishment Museum out there. I've never been, but a buddy really enjoyed it. Plus, they film America's Most Wanted there!
posted by inigo2 at 7:49 AM on February 13, 2010

I loved the National Museum of Health and Medicine , which is at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The focus is pretty heavily on the history of the practice of medicine. The have a cool exhibit on Lincoln's assassination as well as cool stuff from the history of battlefield medicine. I don't know off had how to get their without a car, but I would guess there is a way to get there by bus.
posted by vegetableagony at 7:59 AM on February 13, 2010

I don't know if it's second tier, but the National Portrait Gallery is not on the mall and often gets often overlooked. It's like the perfect mix of an art museum and a history museum. Plus it was closed from 2000-2006, so maybe you missed it.

And, again, this is a pretty amazing building. In its former life it was the Old Patent Office Building and they held Lincoln's second inaugural ball here.
posted by smackfu at 8:48 AM on February 13, 2010

Seconding the Building Museum, the Museum of Health and Medicine, and Rock Creek Cemetery (The Spy Museum and the Museum of Crime and Punishment are over-priced tourist junk, though - don't waste your time!)

A few more to consider:

  • The Lincoln Cottage at the Solidiers' Home.

  • Congressional Cemetery (click on "tours" for self-guided walks.)

  • Ft. Stevens + Battleground National Cemetery (audio tours - both are near the Museum of Health and Medicine, and all 3 together make for a great afternoon of off-the-beaten path Civil War tourism.)

  • Cultural Tourism D.C.'s self-guided walking tours ("Battleground to Community" would be a great add-on to a trip to Ft. Stevens. "Civil War to Civil Rights", "Midcity at the Crossroads" and "City Within a City are all well done, too.)

  • Washington on Foot is full of interesting self-guided walking tours focusing on D.C.'s cultural and architectural history.

  • posted by ryanshepard at 8:48 AM on February 13, 2010

    I'm going to give a tier two recommendation for the Woodrow Wilson House. It was more fun than I would have thought.

    Also the National Museum of Health and Medicine is right off the metro; It's the "Medical Center" stop on the redline. The NMHM is on the NIH campus, so you have to go through security, but it's not a big deal.
    posted by stratastar at 8:59 AM on February 13, 2010

    Oh and no one's mentioned the National Textile Museum! It's north of Dupont and fantastic.

    Also, the Phillips is not Tier Two; but if you haven't been it is awesome. It's certainly the best private collection in D.C.; if not the country.
    posted by stratastar at 9:02 AM on February 13, 2010

    "Also the National Museum of Health and Medicine is right off the metro; It's the "Medical Center" stop on the Red Line."

    For now, it's still on the Walter Reed campus on Georgia Ave., NW.
    posted by ryanshepard at 9:04 AM on February 13, 2010

    The Textile Museum (near The Phillips) is always interesting and they have a great museum shop. The Renwick is missed by many and it is a good choice. The National Zoo still has two panda bears plus other interesting fauna.
    posted by leafwoman at 9:08 AM on February 13, 2010

    I live here, and was pretty skeptical about the Spy Museum, but I loved it, and spent many hours reading every little placard, which I, like, never do. The Crime and Punishment Museum was a total bust, though; really, avoid it.

    I lived here for years before visiting the Library of Congress. It's worth a trip, if you haven't been, and I'm not just saying that because I work there. There's a new Capitol visitors' center that connects to the Jefferson Building via a tunnel; Capitol tours are now easy to arrange. This will also get you near Eastern Market. Lemme know when you're coming, and I'll show you around.
    posted by MrMoonPie at 9:13 AM on February 13, 2010

    The Newseum is open, if it's been more than 2 years since you've last been here, and is really entertaining (and sad at times) to go through. There's a good bit of U.S. history in there, albeit fairly recent, maybe within the last century or so.

    When I went back in December, they had a exhibit on notable crimes/killers and how the media helped the FBI (and vice versa), which was VERY interesting. The 9/11 gallery is beautifully done. They had a big Woodstock feature of one of the photographers there. There's a whole exhausting section on the history of journalism, mainly in the U.S. My boyfriend particularly liked the Berlin Wall section.
    posted by kerning at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2010

    Yes on the Phillips Collection and Textile Museum, definitely. Also forgot to mention the museum at Dumbarton Oaks (the gardens are nice in season but not now, of course) and Hillwood (again, the gardens are nice only in season but the museum is good year around, especially if you like Russian stuff like faberge eggs). The Corcoran Gallery of Art has some good temporary exhibits right now.
    posted by gudrun at 11:05 AM on February 13, 2010

    I love the National Portrait Gallery. It is easily my favorite museum in DC.

    If the snow clears out and you can walk around, the memorials along the National Mall are really moving. The Korean War Memorial rarely gets any attention, but it took my breath away when I stumbled upon it the first time.

    I have friends who rave variously about touring the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (money! money! money!), the National Aquarium(feedings at 2pm; it's basically below the commerce building), and the National Museum of Crime and Punishment. (Dillinger's Car, huge CSI exhibit, etc)
    posted by julen at 1:41 PM on February 13, 2010

    I've lived here 5 years, not a big history buff, but I keep meaning to get to the Society of the Cincinnati. It's a society that was formed after the Revolutionary War to preserve the ideals and fellowship of the French and Continental Army officers. From the website, the Dupont Circle home, Anderson House, that houses the society looks gorgeous and they have some exhibitions as well as regularly scheduled tours. It's right in the heart of Dupont Circle, so you could easily combine it with a visit to the Philips Collection and there are tons of good restaurants in that area.
    posted by kaybdc at 4:15 PM on February 13, 2010

    Response by poster: Amazing response for 24 hours...

    My list (that I need to plot on a map):
    1. Crime and Punishment sounds awesome
    2. as does the firearms museum,
    3. and the phillips collection
    4. And the spy museum possibly.
    5. society of the cincinatti

    My picks seem to lean towards the guns/violence category, so perhaps more diversity may be needed. But thank you people of the internet.
    posted by Elagabalus at 12:08 AM on February 14, 2010

    For the benefit of the others reading this thread, I'll concur with your recommendation of the Postal Museum.

    Although the idea of a postal museum seems mindlessly boring, the execution of it is absolutely fantastic, and is one of my favorite parts of the Smithsonian. It's small enough that you can get through it in about an hour, and is right next to Union Station.
    posted by schmod at 6:21 PM on March 14, 2010

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