With so much going on everyday in Washington, DC it’s hard to know where to even start. From the parks and museums to all the historical landmarks, it can be a bit overwhelming. For your next trip, try some of these interesting, unique, and fun spots in the DC area:
Where to go:
U.S. Botanic Garden (www.usbg.gov)
Considering itself a museum dedicated to living plants, the US Botanic Garden is a journey into the beautiful, the bizarre, and the amazing. With over 4,000 plants residing here, you are guaranteed to find something to whet your botanical appetite. There’s even Children’s Garden that encourages your little ones to explore, touch, smell, and experience all that is around them. Find a photographer’s paradise in the Orchid House home to many rare specimens and beautiful works of nature. Each room is computer monitored to maintain the perfect temperature, moisture, and atmosphere for the plants housed there. It brings the visitors into the environment the plants would naturally inhabit and makes for a much more interactive experience. Open every day of the year, The US Botanic Garden is a must see of nature lovers, photographers, kids, and anyone who finds splendor and amazement at the wonders of the outdoors.
National Museum of Natural History (www.mnh.si.edu)
You could easily spend a week exploring all of the awesome and remarkable exhibits the National Museum of Natural History has to offer. And the best part, all of it is FREE! Kids and adults a like are sure to be enamored with the massive dinosaur skeletons, the lively and colorful butterflies, and the natural gems and minerals (including the famous Hope Diamond). Learn about the life of early humans, tour the 23,000 square foot Sant Ocean Hall with a 45 foot long Right Wale replica, or check out one of their rotating exhibits that are always fascinating. Early morning or later in the afternoon are the best times to visit, as the Museum of Natural History is so immensely popular with families, schools, and tourists alike. There are literally thousands upon thousands of eye catching, breathtaking, and mind blowing things to be seen here. Prepare to fall in love with science all over again.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (hirshhorn.si.edu)
Designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden opened to massive crowds and mixed reviews in 1974. Housing contemporary and modern art the Hirshhorn is an ode to the aesthetic minimalist. The goal in creating such a striking structure in contrast to the classical architecture around it was to impart the feel of contemporary art to the visitors even before they stepped through the door. With over 11,000 pieces on exhibit, there’s sure to be something for everyone’s taste. Though most of the works are from the past 30 years, some of the “great masters” of modern art are featured here including Picasso, Warhol, Rodin, and de Kooning. The sheer range of media used is both fascinating and breathtaking. Photography, sculpture, digital arts, and more call the Hirshhorn home. An educational and memorable visit, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is not to be missed.
What to do:
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/choh/index.htm)
Fall and spring portend great weather in the DC area. If you are looking for a beautiful and refreshing outdoor experience, look no further than the C & O Canal National Park. Built between 1828 and 1850 this “Grand Old Ditch” was intended for use as a shipping canal. Due to the completion of a railway and several floods, the C & O canal was instead purchased by the US Government for use as a recreational area. Its 184.5 miles and 20,000 acres trail from Georgetown, Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD and even run through portions of West Virginia. Flush with wildlife and greenery, C & O is a perfect location for a nature hike or picnic. Some of the animals native to this area are beavers, muskrats, foxes, and deer. The diversity of wildlife is probably why archeological digs on the C & O have found artifacts dating back to 13,000 BC. From backpacking and boating in the temperate months to cross country skiing in the winter, the C & O Canal National Park is a great open air escape.
Six Flags America (www.sixflags.com/america/index.aspx)
A short 30 minute ride from downtown Washington, DC to Mitchellville, MD lie over 100 rides, fantastic shows, and even a water park! A full day of action, adventure and fun await. With seven great roller coasters (for those who want thrills and chills) to the hysterical Loony Tunes themed kids rides, Six Flags America is far from an ordinary good time. Open April to October, this park promises to pack a punch. The newest roller coaster, Batwing (based on Batman’s flying car), tops out at 50 mph doing loop-de-loops and gliding face down for an exhilarating and jaw dropping experience. The water park, Hurricane Harbor, is open May to September and offers a cool and relaxing respite to the sometimes sweltering mid-Atlantic summer heat. Great for kids of all ages, Six Flags America is an unbeatable way to spend the day.
The National Zoo (nationalzoo.si.edu/default.cfm)
Free to the public, the National Zoo in Washington, DC is home to almost 2,000 animals representing fauna from all over the world. From lions and tigers to octopus and flamingos, this zoo has it all. Their work in conservation of some of the great creatures the house is unmatched. With educational and scientific programs on site and around the globe the National Zoo not only cares for but protects the graceful, unique, and endangered animals that call its 163 acres home. Some of the biggest draws are the Giant Panda Exhibit, the Western Lowland Gorillas, and the Kids Farm with alpacas, rabbits, donkeys, and a pizza garden. Learn all about the conservation efforts, scientific strides, and truly love filled work that the National Zoo is doing for their animals everyday.
What to see:
Ford’s Theatre (www.fordstheatre.org)
Known primarily for being the site of the assassination of President Lincoln, this National Historic Site has many other intriguing and fascinating things for visitors to see. With a multi-million dollar renovation completed in early 2009, the theatre has reopened to rave reviews. Hosting world class performances and events, nearly one million visitors a year pass through its doors. Since 1968 when it was reinstated as a performance art center, the goal of Ford’s Theater has been not only to showcase the talents of those who cross its stage, but also the amazing life and tragic death of President Abraham Lincoln. With an additional expansion project going on now, the theatre hopes to provide a state of the art learning center and museum to go along with its first rate cultural entertainment.
Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/index.html)
The world’s largest library contains a lot more than just books. From photographs, to films, manuscripts and sheet music, the Library of Congress is a treasure trove of history just waiting for you to explore. Started in 1800, it is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Some of the more interesting artifacts housed here are a 1507 map which has the first ever recorded use of the word “America”, a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, two Stradivarius violins, and rotating exhibitions of fantastic historical, artistic, or cultural significance. Anyone 18 or older with a valid picture ID can sign up for a Reader Identification Card allowing them to peruse the library’s vast holdings. Only certain members of government and library staff members may actually check out the materials. Come see one of a kind pieces of Americana and stay for all the other incredible artifacts here at the Library of Congress.
Glen Echo Park (www.glenechopark.org)
It’s hard to find a more enchanting spot for the kiddies than Glen Echo Park. Located right on the Potomac River in Glen Echo, MD, there is an endless parade of things to keep children of all ages entertained. Originally a teaching retreat and later an amusement park, this awesome spot of land now maintained by the National Park Service has lots of stuff to see and explore. From environmental education programs and grand puppet shows to crafts and dance classes it’s all here. Definitely check out the historic Dentzel Carousel. One of the best examples of functional antique carousels in the world, each animal and sitting platform was expertly hand carved and painted. And it’s not just horses; you can take a ride on a tiger, an ostrich, or even a giraffe! There is also the bumper car pavilion, the Adventure Theater (always putting on great kids productions), and a glassblowing school. So much to do and see, you’ll probably want a whole day here.