Best of the Smithsonian?

Old Aug 25th, 2005, 03:42 PM
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Best of the Smithsonian?

We are looking forward to our first trip to D.C., but are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things to do. I realize we have to pick and choose. The museums that interest me most are the Holocaust Museum, the National Gallery and the Philips Collection. There are parts of every museum at the Smithsonian that I would like to see. The one that interests me the least is the Air and Space Museum, yet it is marked as a Fodor's Choice and is always rated highly. I would appreciate comments to help me make up my mind on which parts of the Smithsonian to visit.
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 04:37 PM
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The greatest thing about the Smithsonian you can spend a whole day at A&S or National Gallery of Art or Museum of American History or just walk in to see one exhibit then leave because there's no admission.

However, don't be surprised once you get in the door, you want to continue to explore. During one visit, I was dragged screaming into the Natural Hist Museum. After all, a rock is a rock, right?

I was taken upstairs to gems and minerals and saw the Hope Diamond, then spent another hour looking at the other exhibits. So, don't write off A&S, you may be pleasantly surprised if you give it 15 minutes.
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 05:07 PM
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Definitely go with what interests you. I'm not a big Air & Space Museum fan either, but I think we're in the minority.

The National Gallery is wonderful as is the Phillips Collection. Luckily, the Phillips is a small museum which won't take too much time to see. I haven't been to the Holocaust Museum, but have heard it is very worthwhile.

If my family were to pick a favorite, I think it would have been the American History Museum -- it has something for everyone to enjoy.

We weren't that impressed with the Spy Museum or the American Indian Museum. Now, in any other context they would be wonderful, but up against the others they have stiff competition.

Obviously, everyone's taste is different. I've heard the Air & Space Museum is the most popular, but half an hour there is plenty for me.

It is almost maddening how much there is to do in DC, isn't it? We finally gave in to the realization that we'll just have to return again.

Good luck and have a wonderful trip!
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 05:23 PM
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I'm sure the families who respond to popularity polls are driving Air & Space into the number one slot. Children love the museum and its movies. It's a sort of novelty museum with soaring (literally) exhibits. I personally the National Gallery of Art in the old Patent Office. And I'm itching to see the new American Indian Museum. Just pick a few and go at your own leisure and enjoy!
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 05:43 PM
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I understand the Philips is under restoration and that many of the key pieces can not be seen due to the construction. You may want to choose something else.
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 06:51 PM
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I live in the D.C. area (in MD), so I have visited most of the art galleries and the Smithsonian museums many times. When my children were young, all the visiting cousins wanted to see Air and Space, so we got kind of tired of going there--but I never tired of their wonderful IMAX movies.

One part of the Natural History museum which is surprisingly interesting is the minerals exhibit (which you walk through on your way to the cut diamonds). Who would guess that there were such brilliant colors inside some of those rocks? Young children love the insect zoo (same floor as minerals). My five-year-old grandson was thrilled to hold a two-inch long "hissing cockroach" in his hand.

I haven't been to the Museum of American History for years--I guess it's time to go.
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 07:57 PM
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thanks Susanne97 for the info re the Phillips construction. It may help me decide to leave it for the next time. Any other closures or construction I should know about?
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 08:05 PM
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I have been in the past two years as a field trip with my two daughters. I have had a sprinkling of them all. I also do not care as much for the air and space. My favorite was the American History. I loved the first lady exibit. Since we were a group of girls, we spent some time reading about the different first ladies and their eras.
I also would love to spend more time in the art museum (not modern, just the regular kind).
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Old Aug 26th, 2005, 05:30 AM
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Although the Phillips is undergoing expansion/coinstruction, it is still open with special exhibits and works from its permanent collection on display. Check out its website

You may still find it worth your time even if some of the "greatest hits" are not there. Since it is at Dupont Circle, away from the Mall, it could be part of a "wandering the neighborhoods" afternoon.

And to correct an error up-thread, the National Gallery of Art is not part of the Smithsonian and is located on Independence Avenue, not at the old Patent Office. The Smithsonian museums located in the (currently closed for renovation) Patent Office on F Street are the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

To plan your Smithsonian visits, start here with the overview and follow links to details for individual facilities:
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Old Aug 26th, 2005, 05:48 AM
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It looks like you are interested in art. We did a DC art trip a couple of months ago and went to the American Indian Museum art gallery for an exhibit by two Native American artists. The art was incredible and it gave us a chance to see the museum without going through all the exhibits. That is a wonderful trait of the Smithsonian and National Gallery. Because they are free, you can pick and choose parts of the huge museums to see.
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Old Aug 26th, 2005, 06:30 AM
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Another museum worth a deteour for is the National Building Museum at the Judciary Square Metro. It's worth a visit just to see the magnificant building and a great gift shop, but it also has off-beat and fascinating exhibits on architecture, urban planning and design, etc. I once saw an entire exhibit on fences which was riveting.
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Old Aug 26th, 2005, 06:44 AM
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``Best of'' is tremendously subjective, but I think A&S scores well in popularity is because it's one of the better organized museums on the mall -- as is the National Gallery. (Or I might just feel that way because they are two of my favorites.)

The new Indian Museum is wonderful, but the organization and layout isn't as clear cut. Best food of the museums is there, however, with National Gallery not far behind.

BTW, Tandoori's rec for the old Patent Office is actually the National Portrait Gallery, which is closed until next summer for renovation. That was an underrated museum before it closed and I can't wait to get back in.
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Old Aug 26th, 2005, 09:37 AM
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I enjoyed the Air and Space Museum, but it is not one of my favorites. My favorite is the Museum of American History. The first lady exhibits are fascinating, as well as the exhibits on the American Presidency, The Price of Freedom, the restoration of the Star Spangled Banner, the Musical Instruments...I could go on and on!

There is so much to see at each Smithsonian. They are all free, which helps because you can choose to just see the exhibits that you would like. However, that usually doesn't work for me. I can't walk by most exhibits without stopping for a look!

Try looking over their great website to see what interests you the most, and don't get too frustrated when you leave DC without putting a dent in all there is to see! Plan well, don't rush, enjoy what you do see, and look forward to the next trip.
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Old Aug 26th, 2005, 08:15 PM
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I really wasn't interested in the A&S museum. But my husband really wanted to go, so .... I thought it was excellent. My 12 year old daughter was not impressed. More of a boy museum. But she did like the Imax movies. I was impressed with the "real" items being on display: John Glenn's capsule, Apollo 11 capsule, Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright Bros. plane. At least spend an hour in the place.

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Old Aug 26th, 2005, 08:23 PM
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Dear ita,

Hello! While I really appreciate all aspects of the Smithsonian, I think the National Museum of American History is one of the coolest parts-it includes things like Archie Bunkers chair and Dorothys ruby slippers (not art but certainly fun to see)!

The Holocaust Museum is simply amazing...I would make sure you see this one for sure.

Have a fun and safe trip!

Sincerely, Carrie
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Old Aug 27th, 2005, 02:57 AM
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Don't know how long you will be in DC, but I sauggest not marking off a "museum day" or 2 - it is easy to be "museumed-out" if you try to spend entire days at the various museums of the Smithsonian. Even though proximity may make it sensible to do that, try to see a monument or something else for half a day and a museum the other half.
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Old Aug 27th, 2005, 05:53 AM
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I agree. The Holocaust Museum is a must. You can order free timed tickets ahead on line with a small service fee.

Though not mentioned often, the Hirshhorn is a wonderful art museum, if you like modern art. It's next door to A/S.

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Old Aug 27th, 2005, 07:28 AM
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I haven't traveled extensively, but D.C. is the city I've visited the most. Don't miss the overwheliming Holocaust Museum, although if you're traveling with children you probably want to skip it. Do consider getting your timed ticket in advance online so you can choose your own time of arrival.

As a teenager I saw the Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History when they were brand spanking new -- and loved them both. Have been back as an adult and think they've lost some of their sheen -- but I agree with a few other posters who said you need to at least go into the A&S Museum; you don't have to go too far in to see a few of the actual vehicles that the astronauts used. Given all the hoopla about the current vehicles, you'll be amazed the original astronauts came back in one piece!!

Even the American History will also have a few fun things to see, but if you prefer art -- I think you could safely skip this one.

I loved the Phillips Collection so was disappointed to see from another poster that it's under construction. So you don't miss the gestalt of this small and lovely and do-able museum, maybe see this one on a future trip (if there might be one). The surrounding area is also worth a walk, since it's away from the other parts of D.C. where you'll probably spend most of your time. Oh, I think this area also had a Quilting Museum, which
had some beautiful things to see.

You only asked for Smithsonian recommendations, but are you planning on doing some other things? If so, here's my feedback: even if you don't go in (the lines can be enormous) -- at least drive or walk by the White House and the Capitol so you can say you did! On my last trip there, I made it out to the House Where Abraham Lincoln Died -- it's a short visit, but maybe worth a detour for something a little different. I also stood in the "short" line for a visit to the Supreme Court; this means I had my 'short' ten minutes to sit in the courtroom while court was in session --I really enjoyed this also.

It's a great tourist city -- so much to see for free. Have a wonderful time.

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Old Aug 27th, 2005, 07:35 AM
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My original post is just before this one, but I forgot to mention -- I would recommend NOT pairing the Holocaust Museum with another museum in one day. It's not a place you want to move through too quickly, and you'll need some time for reflection.
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