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Make a Plan to See Smithsonian Museums in D.C.

Posted by on Aug 17, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Smithsonian visitor center castle

If you’re traveling to Washington D.C. for the first time and your list of things to do includes “see the Smithsonian,” you might be in for a surprise.

The Smithsonian Institution is not a single sight you can check off in an afternoon. It’s a collection of 19 different museums of varying sizes, research centers, gardens, galleries, and a zoo. There’s just way too much stuff to see it all in one trip, let alone a day.

In fact, a couple of the museums aren’t even in D.C., they’re in New York. A few more are scattered throughout the D.C. metro area. However, most of them (13 or so) are clustered right around the National Mall.

I’m calling them the “Mall Smithsonians” for short.

National Mall

In the coming weeks, Phillip will be sharing what it was like inside the Mall Smithsonians he was able to visit during our short D.C. trip – specifically, the American History Museum, Air and Space Museum, and café of the Native American Museum.

But, first, I wanted to give you some practical information about how to tackle the Mall Smithsonians.

Depending on how much time you have, you’ll probably want to pick 1-3 museums and prioritize the parts of each you want to see most. Choosing what you’re interested in is the easy part, though. Figuring out how to get there, when you can go, and where you can eat or find wifi or store your stuff gets a bit more confusing.

So here are some tips to help you make the most of these Mall museums.


DC

6 Things to Know about the Mall Smithsonians

1. Admission is free.

Donations are, of course, accepted and appreciated.

Since you’re not tied to paying a daily entrance fee, you can be more flexible in how you experience the museums.

You don’t have to spend the whole day in one museum…

  • If you’re short on time, stop in for an hour or two. Or just long enough to see whatever you were dying to see before leaving town.
  • If you’re tied up during the day (with business, a conference, or other obligations), check the hours. You may be able to do an evening visit.
  • Go museum hopping, seeing just the exhibits you’re most interested in at each.

You don’t have to see it all in one day…

  • Take your time checking out a museum you’re particularly interested in. Come back the next day if there’s more you want to see.
  • Instead of one long day, break a visit up into two weekday afternoons or weekend mornings, when crowds are typically lighter.
  • Leave when your (or your kid/s, travel companion/s, etc.) energy begins to wane, knowing you can pick up where you left off after a nap, a change in activity, or another day.

There are a few activities that do require free or paid tickets (like the IMAX theaters), but these are the exception rather than the rule.

Smithsonian visitor center castle

2. They’re open daily.

Mall Smithsonians are typically open every day, unless it’s Christmas (December 25) or if they’re closed for renovation.

  • Most have opening hours from 10am to 5:30pm (exceptions below).
  • In addition, some have extended hours on certain days or close early for special events. Double check the Smithsonian Special Hours Calendar to see what’s up before you go.

3. Large bags are not recommended.

  • Some museums (noted below) have storage lockers available for smallish items (like maybe under-your-airplane-seat sized bags).
  • For larger luggage, ask if you can leave it where you are/were staying (most hotels and Airbnbs will allow guests to store luggage before check in or after check out).
  • Otherwise, your best bet is the Tiburon Lockers Baggage Check Counter at Union Station, Gate A ($6/hour). (From there, you can take the DC Circulator to the Mall.)

4. You’ll need to go through security as you enter.

  • Bags will be checked either by hand or X-ray machine, even if you’re planning to store them in a locker.
  • During peak times, this can cause lines, especially at the Air and Space Museum. So, even though you don’t have to pay admission, you may have to wait to get in.

DC Museum cafe

5. Many of the museums have a café or food court.

  • You can also bring your own food for a picnic on the Mall’s lawn or in the Portrait Gallery’s courtyard.
  • As long as everything is sealed up well, you can carry food and water with you in your bag or store it in a locker.
  • Map of food vendors on the National Mall – with menus. Or check the list below.

6. Parking: don’t count on it.

  • None of the Mall Smithsonians have their own designated parking.
  • The Smithsonian Parking Map (PDF) lists other local lots.
  • Consider alternative transportation, like the DC Circulator (which stops near all the Mall-area Smithsonians) or the Metrorail (which has a stop – literally called “Smithsonian” – that exits onto the Mall itself in the middle of a bunch of museums.)

With this in mind, driving (and attempting to park) in the area may be more trouble than it’s worth – unless you need a place to stash your oversized luggage (see #3).

 

Air and Space Museum

Museum by Museum Guide

Here are the Smithsonian museums located around the National Mall listed geographically, roughly west to east – from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building (Smithsonian National Mall Map PDF).

I’ve gathered information about each to help you with planning:

  • Nearest Metrorail stop/s and where to exit*
  • Nearest Capital Bikeshare rental station/s and station number/s*
  • Hours (if different than 10am to 5:30pm)
  • Important things to note (closed to the public, requires a timed ticket, etc.)
  • If there are cafés (or food courts, carts, kiosks, etc.), wifi, storage lockers, and/or bike racks on site.
  • Other features (garden, planetarium, etc.)

*More info in our post on transportation tips for the National Mall!
Washington DC

On the Mall –

National Museum of African American History and Culture

1400 Constitution Avenue, NW

  • Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: 15th St & Constitution Ave NW, Bike station 31321
  • Requires timed ticket.
  • Café

National Museum of American History

1300 Constitution Avenue, NW

  • Metro: Federal Triangle or Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: 10th St & Constitution Ave NW, Bike station 31219 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Cafés on lower level and 1st floor
  • Wifi in Welcome Center and cafés (free)
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside

National Museum of Natural History

10th St. and Constitution Ave., NW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: 10th St & Constitution Ave NW, Bike station 31219 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Butterfly Pavilion – tickets $6. Free admission on Tuesdays with timed ticket.
  • IMAX Theatre – tickets required (about $9-15/adult).
  • Cafés on ground level, food carts outside
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside (Constitution Avenue entrance)

Freer Gallery of Art (Asian art)

Jefferson Dr. and 12th St., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: USDA / 12th & Independence Ave SW, Bike station 31217 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Closed to the public until October 14, 2017.
  • Lockers available

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Asian art)

1050 Independence Ave., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633
  • Closed to the public until October 14, 2017.

National Museum of African Art

950 Independence Ave., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside (between African Art Museum and Sacker Gallery, outside Haupt Garden gates on Independence Avenue)

Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)

1000 Jefferson Dr., SW

  • Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
  • Bikeshare: Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633 or Smithsonian-National Mall / Jefferson Dr & 12th St SW, Bike station 31248
  • Smithsonian Visitor Center
  • Daily hours: 8:30am – 5:30pm. It opens earlier than the other museums, so you can start there and get oriented.
  • Café, food carts outside seasonally
  • Wifi (free)
  • Bike racks outside

Hirshhorn Museum (international modern and contemporary art)

Independence Ave. and 7th St., SW

  • Metro: L’Enfant Plaza (Maryland Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: L’Enfant Plaza / 7th & C St SW, Bike station 31218 or Independence Ave & L’Enfant Plaza SW/DOE, Bike station 31633
  • Sculpture Garden – open 7:30 a.m. to dusk
  • Café (dessert and coffee)
  • Wifi (free)
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside

National Air and Space Museum

Independence Ave. and 6th St., SW

  • Metro: L’Enfant Plaza (Maryland Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: Maryland & Independence Ave SW, Bike station 31243
  • Open until 7:30pm on select dates.
  • Entrances on Independence Avenue and the Mall/Jefferson Avenue. If lines are long at one entrance, try the other.
  • IMAX Theatre – tickets required (about $9-15/adult).
  • Planetarium – tickets required (some shows are free, others may be about $9/adult).
  • Observatory
  • Food Court (First Floor-East Wing), food carts outside
  • Bike racks outside
  • Wifi (free)

National Museum of the American Indian

4th St. & Jefferson Dr., SW

  • Metro: L’Enfant Plaza (Maryland Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: Maryland & Independence Ave SW, Bike station 31243
  • Café, espresso bar
  • Wifi (free)
  • Bike racks outside

 

Walking in DC - treasury

Near the Mall –

Renwick Gallery (contemporary craft and decorative art)

1700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

  • Metro: Farragut West or Farragut North
  • Bikeshare: 17th & G St NW, Bike station 31277
  • Barrier-free access at 17th Street entrance.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery

8th and F Sts., NW

  • Metro: Gallery Place-Chinatown (9th St. exit)
  • Bikeshare: 7th & F St NW/Portrait Gallery, Bike station 31232
  • Both museums are inside the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.
  • Daily hours: 11:30am – 7pm
  • Kogod Courtyard – bag lunches allowed.
  • Café
  • Wifi (free)
  • Lockers and self-check coat room (near the F Street Lobby) available

National Postal Museum

2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE

  • Metro: Union Station (Mass. Ave. exit)
  • Bikeshare: North Capitol St & F St NW, Bike station 31624
  • Lockers available
  • Bike racks outside

National Mall, Washington DC


Have anything to add? Did you use this on a trip to D.C.? Leave a comment and share your experience!

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Standing Against Hate in Charlottesville

Posted by on Aug 14, 2017 in Travel | 2 comments

“We are deeply saddened by the violence in Charlottesville and the ongoing events that continue to threaten our community. We stand against all forms of hatred, racism and bigotry.”

– Leslie Greene Bowman, President and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello on the August 11 + 12 events in Charlottesville

 

Charlottesville

Author Sara Benincasa has collected a list of local non-profits for those wondering What to Do About Charlottesville and how they can help.

How can we fight ugliness and hate – except with love and beauty?

 




Microblog Mondays: Write in your own space

 

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National Mall Transportation Tips

Posted by on Aug 11, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Lincoln memorial

The National Mall in Washington D.C. is bigger and more spread out than many first-time visitors expect.

While seeing the sights usually means a lot of walking, you may want to switch it up at some point. Here are a few other transportation options.

 

DC traffic and Washington Monument

Car

Traffic often gets very congested as you get close to the Mall. However, it can be an even bigger challenge to find parking once you get there.

  • Sights around the Mall tend not to have designated parking.
  • You may be able to find street parking, but it’s tricky.
  • There are several parking garages in the area with varying rates.

Car + Metro

  • To avoid the traffic, leave your car at your hotel and take the Metro in.
  • You can also park in Metro lots for about $5/day and pay with your SmarTrip Card.
  • Metro lots are free on weekends and federal holidays!

If you’re still in the trip planning stage, be aware that many of the hotels closer to the Mall charge guests for parking.

DC Metro

Metrorail

Washington D.C.’s Metro (subway/underground) system is a really convenient way to get to and from the National Mall.

Smartrip fare machines dc

Bus

DC Circulator

  • The National Mall route goes from the Lincoln Memorial to Union Station, then around the other side of the Mall and Tidal Basin, back to the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Route maps are available online, as a printable PDF, or via mail. There’s also an interactive map for finding the stop closest to you.
  • Frequency: Every 10 minutes from 7am to 8pm (9am start time on weekends).
  • Fare: $1 per ride. Pay with cash or a SmarTrip Card.
  • Order in advance for a 1-day pass ($3) or 3-day pass ($7).
  • Not a guided tour, just a (cheap) transportation option – although it might be a good way to get at least a visual overview of the Mall.

Big Bus Tours

  • Commentary via recording or live tour guide.
  • 3 different hop-on/hop-off routes available.
  • Tickets: $39-49 for 1 day.
  • Wifi on board.
  • Sightseeing bus recommended by Destination DC.

National mall dc pano

Bicycle

There are bike racks throughout the Mall to lock up your bike while you visit a museum, monument, or gallery.

Rental

You can rent a bike for short rides via Capital Bikeshare.


 

Have you been to D.C.? How did you get around?

National mall sign

– Resources for Finding Your Way in D.C. –

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Teatro La Fenice in Venezia (Venice)

Posted by on Aug 3, 2017 in Travel | 0 comments

Teatro La Fenice

The Phoenix

For a place that’s been called “a city of stone built on the water,” Venice has had a lot of fires.

In fact, Venice’s premiere opera house only came into being because of its predecessor’s destruction by fire. Symbolically, the new theater would rise from the ashes of the old one. They named it “La Fenice,” The Phoenix.

Teatro La Fenice - exterior

First opening in 1792, Teatro La Fenice is now one of the top opera houses in Italy and one of the best-known in Europe.

While the name was chosen to commemorate the theater’s origin, it turned out to also be an ominous foreshadowing. Teatro La Fenice has been resurrected twice, after catastrophic fires in 1836 and 1996.

The one in 1836 started because of some kind of malfunction with a new stove from Austria. The 1996 inferno, however, was intentional.

Teatro La Fenice boxes

Two electricians doing renovation work on the theater were facing fines for being behind schedule. So they set the place on fire.

This (a) did not help get the project done on time, and (b) lead to each of them serving several years in jail. Not actually a helpful strategy for anyone.

I’m not sure if the electricians intended to burn it to the ground or just to singe it a bit to make their point. However, access to the theater was restricted due to the renovation project, and firefighters were not able to quell the flames before the building was destroyed. It would remain closed for the next 7 years.

 

Teatro La Fenice

House

La Fenice re-opened in 2003 with upgraded accoustics and an increased seating capacity of 1000, while its appearance matched the elegance of its previous incarnation.

Teatro La Fenice

There are five tiers of boxes, which had been “deliberately egalitarian in design” – until Napoleon came to power. To prepare for his visits to the theater, six individual boxes were combined into one royal box. This imperial loggia remains part of the current design of the theater, just above the auditorium entrance.
Teatro La Fenice

Opera

Despite a real history rife with operatic-level turmoil, the theater remains open today with a busy schedule that includes symphonies, ballets, and over 100 opera performances a year.

L'occasione fa il ladro - opera

This September, we are looking forward to seeing  “L’Occasione fa il ladro: ossia Il cambio della valigia” (The Opportunity Makes the Thief: The Case of the Exchanged Luggage), a single-act farce with music by Gioachino Rossini and libretto by Luigi Prividal.

The opera is a romantic comedy of errors that debuted in Venice in 1812.

It’s good to know that, after all that drama, La Fenice still has a sense of humor.

 

Teatro La Fenice behind the curtain

– More Info –

Teatro La Fenice:

You can see a complete performance of “L’occasione fa il ladro” by another opera company at Schwetzingen Festival, Germany on YouTube.




Photos by Michele Crosera, courtesy of Teatro La Fenice.

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Olive Oil Soap for Travel

Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Travel | 2 comments

When the face wash I used to use started to irritate my skin, I started using olive oil soap.

Phillip has started using it too. Sometimes we get the Kiss My Face brand from Sprouts, and sometimes we get whatever kind happens to be at our favorite middle eastern market.

Olive oil soap

It’s great for travel, because you can also use it as shampoo. That means two things (facewash or shampoo) I no longer have to worry about squeezing into my TSA-friendly quart-sized bag. Phillip will cut a slice off the end to make a travel-sized bar.

Olive oil soap

What I haven’t figured out is the best kind of container to pack it in to keep it from getting slimey (like soap does in a plastic baggie) without taking up a lot of space (why do they make travel soap dishes so big??).

Any ideas?

Olive oil soap


 

P.S. There’s a post on SmarterTravel with some interesting suggestions for packing without liquids. Who knew you could get toothpaste in tablet form?!




 

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