So it takes days to really experience the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC, but sometimes you just have a day to do it. What do you do? Make the most of your time and realize that this isn’t the best way to fully experience any museum. So we managed to get into DC (there are many ways of doing this but one of them is NOT driving an RV in – we did that once – and expecting to park it) which you can get all sorts of information on elsewhere. My sister took us and we parked at the Ronald Reagan Building a short walk away from The Mall where most of the Smithsonian museums are located. From here you can walk to everything I’ve mentioned – including The White House if you haven’t seen that. I used to live in the district so we were pretty much up to just hit as many museums in a day that we could while still absorbing what we saw.
First up we hit the National Museum of American History. Next to this is the National Museum of Natural History so that’s an easy pair to hit. There are excellent restaurants in both so you could just do both of these. We went down The Mall towards the Capitol and passed the National Gallery of Art and its Sculpture Garden. There is another building next to the National Gallery called the East Building that is also on that side of The Mall.
We went for a walk across The Mall to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and managed to enjoy some of that for a bit as well. There are fast food restaurants here that will work quite well for families. Next to this is the Museum of the American Indian and next to it the United States Botanical Gardens – which I’d been to for a reception and I don’t suggest going in if you have allergies without some Loratadine.
On the way back we passed some sculptures and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. This was Joe Hirshhorn’s collection and passion. His wife, Olga, who just recently passed, was quite the character and I got to know her as part of my work in the museum field but we didn’t stop by there today though you easily could. The Smithsonian Castle where there are also exhibits worth seeing is just beyond that. It also serves as a visitor center so it is a good place to start your day if you’re unclear of what you want to see and do. And if this weren’t enough, round the corner from the Castle is the Freer and Sackler Galleries featuring art primarily from Asia.
I’ve worked for several museums that were Smithsonian Affiliates – and had been to the Smithsonian a number of times on business whether it was for a conference or a mission to borrow artifacts. But this was the first time in a long time I’d been there just as an anonymous visitor and it was really quite nice.
Back to the visit. You can honestly spend a day at Air and Space alone – and you must get out to Dulles to see the new facility there. The amazing exhibits here never fail to engage my senses. To be able to see some of the space artifacts and to ponder their use is an incredible thing. And there is a variety of things to do from films and exhibits to interactive exhibits and hands on things for the kids.
You can create your own whirlwind of museum activity in a day if you want. And if that is all you have, by all means, it can be done as you have read here. I’ve spent most of my career in museums so certainly a week spent going round the museums at The Mall even would be not enough, but you really must go no matter how much time you don’t have. Always well worth it and truly a national treasure to be preserved is The Smithsonian.
This Mark di Suvero sculpture on The Mall in Washington DC is one of many outdoor scultpures and artwork you can see.