Way back I had booked a trip on Southwest, but ended up needing to cancel my flight. Luckily Southwest lets you apply the funds to a later date. I’m going to Chicago next week and figured I’d use the funds for that flight or at least part of it. Unfortunately while my flight was in October I had booked a Southwest deal last June, so I had to use it by June 5th. I discovered this sometime in early May…
The bright side was that I could sort of decide to go on a random trip. The only weekend that really worked was Memorial Day, but that’s always a good weekend to get out of Miami. I began to do some searches and one place that my funds got me a round trip ticket was Baltimore. I actually have quite a number of friends in Baltimore (mostly from working two summers in Philly) and had been promising them a trip for a while. I just have a rule of not going up north for 6-9 months out of the year when it’s cold. That combined with how many weddings have taken up my personal travel meant that a few years had gone by without visiting Baltimore.
So I made my plans and was all set to visit Baltimore. Then it looked like the friend I was staying with maybe had to go to New York one of the nights I was visiting. Not a big deal to stay with other friends, but it got me thinking about taking a quick trip to DC that night to see my aunt and uncle and friends there. I ended up doing that and going to DC the first night of my trip. The MARC train was super easy to get from the airport to Union Station in DC. I got in mid-afternoon and was ready to see some sights.
When I first was thinking about the 27ish hours in DC I had a kind of ambitious plan. I was hoping to do 2-3 Smithsonian museums and walk the National Mall in my time there (Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon). Looking back that was maybe a little too ambitious. After getting settled in my hotel I went and grabbed lunch at Roti Mediterranean Grill, which is a big favorite of mine from Chicago (blog post about their gluten-free pitas from my Chicago experience).
By this point it was 3 PM and I had about five hours until I was getting dinner with my aunt and uncle. Being a history lover, the American History Museum was top of my list, followed by the Natural History Museum (a favorite from my childhood), the Air and Space Museum (also a favorite), and maybe the American Art Museum (hadn’t been to before). I earlier had noticed the American History Museum was open late on Fridays (7 instead of 5:30), so my plan was to do the Natural History Museum and then American History Museum (and maybe Air and Space and American Art on Saturday). But as I reevaluated my plans once in D.C. I really thought I should focus on depth rather than breadth. So I went to just the American History Museum and planned to get a good four hours out of it.
Unfortunately about half the American History Museum is closed to create new exhibits. I’m pretty sure the map in the museum said Opening 2016 (this was Memorial Day 2015), but now looking online those exhibits don’t open until 2017 or 2018. Jeez what are they doing in there! One exhibit (Innovation, Creativity, and Business) opened just a few days ago on July 1st though.
I made the best of it and went exploring through what was open. The first floor had the Transportation and Technology wing with a big focus on food, electricity, machines, and modes of transportation. I walked through and stopped to read more at objects that caught my attention. I enjoyed seeing a set of a car dealership based in Portland on ol’ Sandy Boulevard!
Up on the second floor was a gallery “American Stories,” which I probably spent the most time in. There was a a lot of artifacts from throughout the United States’ history. There are tons of artifacts in the other exhibits, but I liked that these came with more unique or personal stories (while still tied to larger history and trends). There was Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and Dorothy’s red slippers from the Wizard of Oz. At first I was very disappointed in the small size of the African-American History and Culture Gallery on the second floor, but then connected that it was just a preview of the Museum of African-American History and Culture, which is still under construction on the Mall.
On the third floor are the Price of Freedom exhibit, the Gunboat Philadelphia, and American Presidency/First Ladies exhibit. The Price of Freedom (about the different wars America has fought in) I enjoyed, but walked through more quickly because growing up I cycled through being obsessed with different wars and knew a lot of the info. I still liked going through, especially to see things like a tree stump ridden with bullet holes that’s all that remains of an oak tree from the Battle of Spotsylvania (rest was all blown off). The gunboat Philadelphia was cool to see after being underwater for over 150 years. The American Presidency/First Ladies exhibits was where I spent the most time besides “American Stories.” There was a wealth of information about the presidents and first ladies, politics, the Executive branch, the White House, and more. Plus quite a lot of interesting artifacts. I learned a good amount of new stuff in this exhibit, but also enjoyed reading about things I already knew more than other exhibits.
I could have spent a lot more time in the American History Museum (even with half of it closed), but after about two hours I felt I had gotten what I wanted out of it. I wish I would have known half of it was closed, as I probably could have swung another museum along with this one (since it was open late). That’s my fault for not planning ahead and looking at the website (assuming made an a** of just me this time). I did enjoy my time and it took me back to great memories as a kid at the Smithsonian. Kids, families, and adults will have their own preferences about their which Smithsonian museum(s) and (the Smithsonian has so much to learn!!), but I do think the American History Museum is a must (even when half closed).
National American History Museum- 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, D.C., 20001