Like most tourists, I’ve been awe-struck by the towering monuments,and historic words etched in stone. I’ve spent hours on my own, with my family and with students, learning and nerding out about American history, cultures and innovation in the various museums on the Washington Mall. I’ve felt the thrill of springtime with the blooming cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin and held the ache of wartime while walking and learning in somber hallowed spaces of memorial and remembrance. The places and spaces that Washington D.C. is best known for hold enough history and architecture, art, and wonder to explore again and again. However, if you’re looking to mix in some lesser known exploring and adventuring, in this travel guide, we’ve got a few suggestions!
Video Travel Guide
If you’re a museum person, D.C is a smorgasbord of curated collections of history to enthrall just about everyone! Over the years some favorites I’ve wanted to visit again and again were the Air and Space Museum, The Library of Congress, The National Portrait Gallery and The Smithsonian National Museum of History. Whether somber and important or whimsical and curious, every museum has something to offer to visitors that will inform and enrich their worldview. With new museums opening regularly, it’s on my list to see them all at least once! ArttecHouse D.C and Planet Word are getting the Instagram and TicToc love these days, but here are two we haven’t seen much about, that we think deserve some attention!
The Museum of Women in The Arts
is a stunning museum that celebrates women artists from the 16th Century through present day. The museum was started to help address the under-representation of women artists in museums and galleries worldwide.
I loved learning the story of the museum’s founder, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay. She was traveling in Europe and became enamored by a still life that had been painted in the 17th Century, but when Wilhomena and her husband tried to learn more about the painter of the piece, they found no mention of the woman artist or any other woman in the History of Art text. I love how the museum was built around the Holladay’s own collection and has a mission to recognize the contributions of women artists historically as well as in these modern times. Today the museum showcases over 5,500 unique works of art and every floor has new work to explore in absolutely stunning surroundings.
The O Museum in the Mansion
is unlike any museum I’ve ever been to. Imagine if your quirky, rich, grandparents, gave you the keys to explore their massive house for the day…but this metaphor doesn’t even begin to get you in the right mindset unless of course your grandparents were hoarders with eclectic taste, didn’t mind you rummaging through their curious treasures, lived a Forrest Gump life and knew John Lennon and Rosa Parks…now we’re getting closer.
The O Museum is a wonder in and of itself, with themed rooms, historic artifacts and hidden doors that lead to new parts of the mansion. It’s a wonderland for exploring and curiosity! I love the whimsy and metaphor built into every aspect of this experience, all of the ceilings are unique and beautiful in an effort to remind visitors to keep their chins up! If you’re familiar with more standard museum experiences, it takes some time to get used to being allowed to poke around, follow rabbit trails, open doors and hunt for secret spaces, but once you do, this place is an absolute wonderland. With over 70 secret doors and covert passageways, you could spend all day getting lost and found in this space. We only found about 20 of them but we did find the smallest one AND the one that leads to a secret wine cellar so #winning. The Mansion also has a rich history of artists and heroes in residence (like Rosa Parks and John Lennon) who are woven into the fabric of the place and the memorabilia. The opportunity to leaf through manuscripts, touch sculpture, hear rare studio cuts, and tour through rooms where heroes and legends have lived and worked is an explorer’s wonderland. The O museum’s vast collection of memorabilia is all for sale and new items arrive all the time, so you can visit again and again and have a fresh experience each time.
Cherry Blossom Peeping
If you’re visiting Washington DC in the springtime, chances are you’re headed to the Tidal Basin to see the Cherry Blossoms, and for good reason. The sheer magnitude of blossoms, the reflection in the Tidal Basin, the history of peace and friendship that the trees represent, it lives up to the hype, however, if blossoming trees make you swoon, don’t miss an opportunity to check out the saucer magnolia trees at the Smithsonian castle, stare up into those fluffy pink branches and swoon! Here are some other favorite spots (some lesser known, and less highly trafficked) and places to take in or capture those iconic blossoms:
Located at 1900 East St. NW
This park features a fountain lined with flowering tress that is beautiful year round, but stunning in the spring! There is a statue of General John A. Rawlins located on the eastern end of the park.
1801 E St SE, Washington, DC 20003
The Congressional Cemetery is a 35 acre active burial ground that was founded before the Civil War. This cemetery features tree lined paths and is located along the west bank of the Anacostia River. You can bring your pup for a $10 fee.
1964 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20003
Iconic and stunning with or without blossoms, most years the blooming of the trees coincides with the anniversary of King’s April 4, 1968 assassination making it a powerful time to visit the “Stone of Hope.”
3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016
As the spiritual home for the nation the Washington National Cathedral is a stunning work of art and the grounds are beautifully manicured to inspire.
633 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20004
The NCNW was founded to help foster opportunities for African-America women, their families, and their communities. The building and grounds are beautiful to visit year round.
First St SE, Washington, DC 20004
The Capital grounds boast over 100 cherry blossom trees for public enjoyment.
3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002
446 acres of “wow” this is a great place to pack a picnic to soak in some nature!
Unique D.C. Dining
is a family-owned cafe and cocktail bar that understands the art of gathering. The ambience at Urban Roast changes out with the seasons setting the stage for a unique experience that’s as beautiful and inviting as it is delicious! For springtime, the cherry blossoms and flowers are blooming inside and out. The shared plates menu, inventive cocktail bar, full cafe and outdoor area with fire pits make this the perfect spot to bring your people for a drink and a bite to sustain your adventures. The brisket mac and cheese is a great place to start!
A sure way to glow-up your next DC itinerary is with a dinner experience to remember at The Dabney. This is not a place you just go for dinner, this dinner is a multi-sensory experience that I don’t believe I’ll ever forget! You know by now that I love the thrill of hidden treasures, and this spot tucked back on Blagden Alley, makes it feel like a sweet secret as soon as you find it.
For me, it’s the open kitchen and wood-fired oven. It feels like dinner and a show without being so distracting that you can’t enjoy conversation with the person you’re dining with. The buzz and hum, flame and flavor of an open kitchen adds so much excitement and anticipation to the meal. The Dabney offers a 4-course prefix menu with choices in each category for you to customize your experience. Every course was packed with flavor and texture and felt like the star of the show…until the next one arrived. I love how this way of dining allows you to slow down and really taste and savor each part of the meal. The whole team at the Dabney was warm and welcoming and we felt immediately comfortable and engaged in the experience and I’m already plotting my next visit! Oh yeah, and they’ve got a Michelin star.
Busboys and Poets
Busboys and Poets is a restaurant, bar, bookstore and community gathering place worth adding to your itinerary. Busboys and Poets has become known as a cultural hub for artists, activists, writers, thinkers, and dreamers in and around Washington D.C.
The spot is named for American poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920s, prior to his gaining recognition as a poet. Busboys and poets is a must visit for inspiration, exploration and a delicious brunch. Check their website for special events, readings and open mics.
Where to Stay?
If you’re looking for a place to stay, we recommend you check out Riggs Hotel. Riggs Hotel has some of our favorite things about DC rolled into one space. The history and architecture of the building makes it a perfect jumping off point for any DC itinerary. The building was originally a bank and maintains that nostalgic feel. The rooms are designed to evoke the thrill of opening a safety deposit box, and there are nostalgic bank nods and artifacts throughout the hotel. The central location was the first thing about Riggs to catch my eye, but what really set them apart for me was their Social Action stance. Riggs’ mission is to donate time, hotel space and resources toward the betterment of surrounding communities. Their commitment to local charities makes them a stand out! #influence4impact
If you’re planning your first or 50th visit to the United States Capital, I hope you’ll be inspired to check out someplace new! We’d love to hear about it if you visit any of the places we mentioned here.
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