DC Touristing Help Needed
May 9, 2019 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I've got a few days in DC next week-- give me your recommendations!

Hey all, I have a conference in DC next week and I'm staying over until Sunday. I'll have Thursday evening, Friday afternoon/evening, all day Saturday and Sunday morning to look around. I have only ever been to DC in passing, and I haven't really done much there. I like wandering around interesting neighborhoods, gardens, thrift stores, delicious food on the cheaper end of the spectrum, coffee.

I'm open to general recommendations. Also, I have the following specific questions:

Thursday/Friday I'll be staying near Union Station. Sat/Sun I'm looking at staying in downtown Silver Spring near a metro stop and taking the train in because it's way cheaper-- is this an okay plan or a recipe for disaster? It looks like this will take ~30 minutes.

I'd like to check out the African American Museum, but there aren't any time slots available to visit. It looks like I can walk in after 1pm on Friday-- if I go around 1pm that day should I expect to wait a long time to get in?

I'm also eyeing the Natural History Museum, the Zoo, The Botanical Center, the Museum of African Art, and the American Indian Museum-- which is obviously a long list for a day and a half! What should I make sure to see and what can I cut? Also, how doable is it to see a few museums in an afternoon, only looking at the exhibits that interest me? I know I'll need to go through security-- should I expect that to eat up a lot of time?

Where are some good, interesting neighborhoods to wander around in and eat, check out interesting stores, etc?

I'll probably go for a run in the evening(s). Any scenic routes I should check out near my home bases (Union Station & Silver Spring)?

posted by geegollygosh to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Head over to Adams Morgan in the evening for dinner at one of the many great Ethiopian restaurants in the area. They all have veg sampler options that you can easily turn into two meals... or take a friend and split one.
posted by asphericalcow at 11:13 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I suggest the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
The Museum is located on the National Mall, just south of Independence Avenue, SW, between 14th Street and Raoul Wallenberg Place (15th Street) in Washington, DC.
It is something to never forget.

And you may also want to check out the Washington DC Cherry Blossom Watch website to help find scenic routes.
posted by Little Dawn at 11:15 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Air and Space is just spectacular and amazing. If you've not been even a quick walk through.
posted by sammyo at 11:16 AM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

We did a park and ride situation and it worked well during the week. I am sure it would be fine during the weekend as long as you are generally aware of the schedule and when the last train leaves. If you have never seen a Giant Panda, I suggest going to the zoo for at least a few hours. Admission is free and last admittance is at 6pm.
posted by soelo at 11:19 AM on May 9, 2019

Definitely check the WMATA website to see if there are any train track work done, or how long the wait time is between trains on the weekends. You can also use the website to see when the next train is, so you’re not stuck waiting. (11 min waits + 30 min ride + 10 min walk can add up)

Ask Silver Spring is on the Red line and most of the museums are on Blue/Silver/Orange. Just adjust expectations if you’d like to walk from a further Red line stop or take the time to switch to another train.

^seems like a lot but honestly you’ll be fine!

Security lines usually is fine for museums, it’s not fully summer yet. The Sculpture Garden is a pleasant walk or break between museum visits.

You can head up 7th from the museums into Chinatown for food. Daikaya is great for ramen and cocktails/Izakaya.
posted by inevitability at 11:55 AM on May 9, 2019

Silver Spring is fine if you don't mind the distance, and good from a public transit perspective as the S buses are reliable in addition to the metro. There is great Ethiopian and Burmese food up that way, and also the AFI theater if you like indie movies.

It is very worthwhile to try for standby at the African American museum, it is amazing (though budget at least 3 hours). After that I would prioritize the Indian Museum and the Botanical Garden (next to each other) and seeing the mall/memorials, especially Lincoln/Vietnam/FDR. The Natural History Museum is fine but not in the same league as those in NYC and Chicago. Renting a bike or scooter is a great way to get around the city on a nice day and fit more sites in, especially to see the mall area.
posted by veery at 11:56 AM on May 9, 2019

The National Mall museums are all next to each other, and relatively quick to get into since they're free, so there's only a bag check in the way, which (as of a couple of years ago) was pretty quick. They are huge, though. They are all excellent in my experience; if you're into whatever the museum covers, it'll be a rewarding visit. There's not a ton of good food options on the Mall -- street meat and cafeteria food mostly -- so you might want to be at the American Indian Museum around lunchtime; they have an interesting cafe that highlights regional indigenous foods and techniques.

I second the recommendation of Air and Space, if only for the entrance gallery, Milestones of Flight (right inside the main doors off the Mall) which has maybe 5 of the 10 best aerospace artifacts in the world all in one room, including the Spirit of St. Louis. (The Wright Brothers plane is in the next gallery over; head through Milestones and veer left across the hall.)

The American History museum also has a good quick visit gallery, "American Stories" (to the right as you enter from the Mall) which has a real hodgepodge of their artefacts covering arts, culture, science and so on. Dorothy's ruby slippers and all that.

The zoo is a decent zoo; since it's large, you can spend a fair amount of time there. It's also out of the centre a ways, so it's harder to see other things if you go there. The pandas are the really unique draw, unless you're a real zoo junkie (they're not terribly far from the entrance if you want to do a quick visit). The zoo is on a fairly steep hill; the top end is on Connecticut, so enter there and go downhill. Near the Woodley Park/Zoo station you might want to check out Lebanese Taverna or Afghan Grill.

For a scenic run near Union Station it's obvious; have you watched Captain America Winter Soldier? (Map)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:59 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

For the African American Museum, you can get same-day online passes starting at 6:30am Mon-Sun. So set an alarm and grab one. Otherwise, def worth trying to walk in - when we went on a Saturday at 3:30pm, nobody even checked our passes, so we walked in (a back entrance?) without a wait without even knowing, even though the site says you can't on the weekend in peak season. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Start from the bottom once you get in; 3 hours seems about right.

For other museums: The Hirshhorn and the National Portrait Gallery are worthwhile and don't have to take up too much time.

For food/shopping: Eastern Market (where we had the best! soft pretzel - though sadly not there the last time we went), Union Market, Eden Center (a bit out in Falls Church but still accessible via metro) for great Viet food.

For gardens and related: Yes, would recommend the Botanic Garden. The National Arboretum is a nice stroll, and the Enid A Haupt Garden next to the Smithsonian Castle is a gem. Dumbarton Oaks also has a garden. Theodore Roosevelt Island and Rock Creek Park could be interesting, but you probably won't have time. The Tidal Basin is obvious.

Safe travels, and have fun!
posted by eyeball at 12:36 PM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I work at the Holocaust Museum and I would highly recommend our "Americans and the Holocaust" exhibit. I also highly recommend the (unrelated but similarly-titled) "Americans" exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian. I think going from one to the other would be a challenging and rewarding afternoon, and neither require special passes.
posted by arco at 12:54 PM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Your whole plan seems fine to me - security isn't that big a deal, especially if you aren't carrying a big backpack or something.

The train from SS is fine, and there are buses all the way down 16th.

You might consider actually hanging out up there at least once, in addition to aforementioned SS food options (Addis Ababa is great, ditto Mandalay), there's also the lovely Quarry House tavern and a great record store.

Downtown Takoma Park (my 'hood) is a stop south of you, qualifies as an interesting neighborhood, and has a ton of good food/drink.

Now that the Ferry's running regularly, I often bring visitors around on the regular water taxi. Usually the normal non-tour one from Georgetown Waterfront to Alexandria, then Alexandria to SW/Waterfront, and then walk back up past the tidal basin and through the monuments. You see the District from the Potomac, can see a lot of touristy stuff, and can just hop back on a metro if you get burned out at any point.

Feel free to MeMail me for other suggestions.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:18 PM on May 9, 2019

If you’re looking for something a little bit whimsical, the Museum on O Street is beautiful and historical, you could easily spend the day there and not see even a fraction of what’s there. If you take a self guided tour you can wander around looking for secret doors (there’s something like 70) and exploring the mansion. Rosa Parks lived there for quite awhile, and has a room devoted to her.
posted by suri at 2:31 PM on May 9, 2019

On the list of non-obvious things worth seeing, add the Building Museum.
posted by eotvos at 2:32 PM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ford's Theater was surprisingly interesting.
posted by Hatashran at 4:57 PM on May 9, 2019

I love the Smithsonian system and each of the museums has a ton of cool shit to see. If you're budgeting your time, I'm a big advocate of spending more time at fewer museums rather than trying to see a bunch of things you're interested in at a bunch of different museums. I think it makes for a better experience: less stressful and more enjoyable. But you do you.

FWIW, someone mentioned the cafeteria at the National Museum of the American Indian, which is excellent; the cafeteria at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture is also excellent!

Personally, my favorite Smithsonian museum is the Portrait Gallery & American Art Museum, which is not on the Mall, but in the Chinatown/Gallery Place area. They have a little bit of everything: folk art, portraits of historical significance (and the accompanying historical explainers are very good), contemporary art, experimental multimedia art installations, breathtakingly beautiful architecture on the 3rd floor (the "Great Hall" which used to be the model display floor when the building housed the Patent Office), an art restoration center, and a courtyard in the center which is my favorite place to meet friends downtown. Oh, and there's a vending machine on the 3rd floor where you can buy small pieces of original art for $5. And a great gift shop. The only thing the place is missing is good food; their cafeteria stinks.
posted by duffell at 5:04 PM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

When you're near Union station definitely do a long run on the Mall. Out to the Lincoln and back would be about four miles, I think. It's a lovely flat run with so much to look at!
posted by kinsey at 6:43 PM on May 9, 2019

If you need a drink and some good comfort food in Silver Spring, the Quarry House Tavern has been a go-to for me since the early 90s. Kefa Cafe, in the same block, is an excellent and friendly bet for coffee.

If you're running in the vicinity of the Mall, take a lap around the Tidal Basin. The FDR Memorial is particularly powerful these days.

If you're at the Portrait Gallery, the Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975 exhibit currently up in the connected American Art Museum is fascinating.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:31 PM on May 11, 2019

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