A leisurely stroll through the Smithsonian?
July 30, 2011 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I am a new resident of the DC area. What resources should I use to inform a "deep dive" into area museums and attractions?

I've visited Washington DC several times as a tourist, and have been to most of the major attractions. As a new DC resident (away from family and without kids), I'd like to spend some of my free time doing a "deep dive" into the various museum exhibits. Not the leisurely, rush-through-to-see-everything viewing that one might do when trying to cram too much into a limited schedule, but instead a more leisurely, guided view of things.

Most of the online resources I've found through my searching seem to be pretty shallow.

Resources that would allow me to utilize an hour or two of time after work before things shut down would be especially ideal.
posted by QuantumMeruit to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
i've never had much luck with any books, washingtonian magazine is pretty good with their guides... they'll tell you what the newest and best exhibits that are currently available... they have a good website too, washingtonian.com

also, i'd just suggest stopping at a museum and checking out an exhibit... my favorite off the beaten path museum is the national building museum near chinatowne/police memorial.
posted by fozzie33 at 1:56 PM on July 30, 2011

also, get a membership to the newseum, then you can leisurely stop by and read everything, it's pretty amazing.
posted by fozzie33 at 1:58 PM on July 30, 2011

I know the Smithsonians are free so I hesitate to suggest this but there's the Smithsonian Resident Associates program - might be up your alley.
posted by kat518 at 3:17 PM on July 30, 2011

Not sure what your interests are or specifically what museums you're referring to, but as a former art history, nothing is more fun for me than visiting the National Gallery's permanent collection. Seriously when there is a big temporary exhibition on, the permanent galleries on the second floor are practically empty (perhaps not so true in the height of tourist season, but still much less crowded than a particularly popular temporary exhibition). I enjoy revisiting a few of my favorite paintings for longer than the two or three seconds that most people devote to each work in their rush to "see everything."

If you feel that you need something other than time and patience for a "deep dive," most major museums (in DC and elsewhere) have guide books that offer an in depth view of the collection with short but scholarly entries on a large section of important works. Some museums also have "collection" sections on their websites that offers the same info.
posted by kaybdc at 4:18 PM on July 30, 2011

I meant to add that while it's wonderful to live in a city full of great museums without the $20 cost of admission, the one frustrating thing for those of us who work 9-5 is that most of them close at 5 p.m. As they are open every day, they do not have one or two nights a week when they are open later. To my knowledge only the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery are open late enough to make going after work worthwhile (2 museums in one building open every day from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.). I think that the Natural History museum may also be open until 7 p.m. and certainly some of the private (as opposed to government run) museums will have at least one night when they are open later (but then you have to pay which isn't as conducive to running in after work and just visiting a few of your favorite objects.
posted by kaybdc at 4:34 PM on July 30, 2011

Not a museum, but the Kennedy Center has a free concert every day at 6PM. Lots of different stuff and a great way to spend a free evening.
posted by fresh-rn at 5:32 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's the Phillips-After-Five program at the Phillips Collection (not free) in Dupont Circle.

I also like to stop in at the National Gallery (free) for an occasional gallery talk. It's not a tour of the whole museum; it's a short explanation of a few paintings that are related in some way (artist, period, subject, etc.)
posted by celilo at 7:10 PM on July 30, 2011

Response by poster: Argh, I had not realized that the Smithsonian museums generally closed at 5. That puts a major crimp in my plans.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 7:34 PM on July 30, 2011

Connect up with MrMoonPie for some great local tips and maybe a peek at the Library of Congress.

Most of the Smithsonians, and the LoC, have free overview tours almost daily. A tour of the resources is a great square one - you'll get the full overview, plus they'll almost certainly mention programs and collections you will then want to know more about.

I'll keep talking about the Library of Congress because I think it's the hidden gem here. There are ongoing programs, free concerts and lectures, and exhibits there - it's not "just" a library. Bookmark their website. The American Folklife Center within the LoC does amazing programs. Check out this Botkin lecture coming up on the contemporary folklore of the Internet.

Your Congresspersons' and Senators' offices can assign you an intern for a free Capitol tour. Your tax dollars at work. This is worth doing, as the Capitol is filled with interesting historical artwork and curious trivia. Just call their DC office.

Also, there should be an app for this.

Also, I'm jealous. Have fun!
posted by Miko at 8:35 PM on July 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

The DC museum offering is definitely unbeatable. But let me throw in a bid for all the great non-museum things going on...

All these will give you a really good picture of the culture/scene, and also clue you in to all these awesome, strange, constant, interesting, fun events and different happenings. I've also found that a lot of museums (private and public) hold after hours events fairly regularly that can be great fun - definitely check out the Hirshhorn After Hours next time it comes round. And welcome to the District!

Brightest Young Things - forewarning... definitely skews hipster. But they have a pretty good picture of shows and concerts around town.


WAMU + DCentric - radio... if that's your thing.

Prince of Petworth - one of the most popular DC blogs. And always good for staying up on all the freaking odd shit that goes on in this bubble dome.
posted by jay.eye.elle.elle. at 9:25 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

The National Geographic Museum is only open until 6 (and costs $8 to get into/$6 for members), but if you can ever arrange an early long lunch and are in the vicinity, they have focused guided tours at 11 am in conjunction with the current special exhibits. They also have evening programs--speakers, films, performances, etc., some free and some requiring tickets. I've been to several of these, and they've always been very enjoyable. The presentations that are billed with a pre-event reception are especially worth your while: for something like $20 you get an open bar and enough classy hors d'oeuvres to make a meal, plus an entertaining talk and sometimes even some swag.

Right now they're between seasons, so there's not a whole lot posted on the web site. I'm on their paper mailing list, so once a season I get a nice booklet with the whole schedule for the upcoming months and I can pick and chose a couple events to attend.
posted by drlith at 6:23 AM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've found that asking the people at the entrance info desk at the various Smithsonians is usually very informative.
posted by QIbHom at 12:14 PM on August 1, 2011

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