Posted January 30, 2020

Best Under the Radar Museums in Washington DC


On a trip to Washington DC, visiting the 19 different Smithsonian museums is at the top of everyone’s bucket list. We think it’s always a good idea to have a backup planned in cased the unexpected happens (long lines, private events, a government shutdown, etc.). We’ve rounded up some of the most popular Smithsonian Institutions and their alternative counterparts.

The Phillips opened in 1921 as America’s first museum of modern art, in the intimate setting of an 1897 Georgian Revival home. Photo courtesy of the Phillips Collection.

Instead of this: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Try this: College Park Aviation Museum

Located on the grounds of the world’s oldest continuously operating airport in College Park, Maryland, the College Park Aviation Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting aviation innovations and the history of science and flight. Similar to the Air and Space Museum, the exhibit space of the Aviation Museum is filled with unique and vintage aircraft and artifacts. The airport itself was founded in 1909 when Wilbur Wright of the Wright brothers gave flight instruction to the first military aviators. The permanent collection features at least ten, full-size aircraft, and also offers traveling exhibits from other institutions.

Instead of this: National Museum of African American History and Culture

Try this: African Art Museum of Maryland and/or Alexandria Black History Museum

Spend a day exploring the African diaspora on a trip to both the African Art Museum of Maryland (AAMM) and the Alexandria Black History Museum (ABHM). In Fulton, Maryland, the AAMM collects and exhibits artworks and artifacts reflecting the 55 countries of Africa. In addition to workshops, visiting scholars and community outreach programs, the museum also leads multiple tours to African nations. In Alexandria, Virginia, the ABHM preserves the history of Alexandria’s African-American citizens since its founding in 1749. The space features photography exhibits, artwork, artifacts and a monthly cultural stories and crafts session for children and their parents.

Take a peek into the past at the Alexandria Black History Museum, housed in a former library built in 1940.

Instead of this: National Gallery of Art

Try this: The Phillips Collection

Less than three miles away near Dupont Circle, The Phillips Collection contains more than 4,000 works of art spanning from French impressionism and American modernism to contemporary art. The intimate setting is ideal for the art aficionado, allowing guests to easily explore and compare varying works from different eras. You’ll find familiar names like Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe and Pablo Picasso, along with more than 1,000 photographs in the permanent collection. There are daily talks and tours, concerts and a mix of entertainment, music and food and drink after 5:00 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month.

Gaze into the Abstract Expressionist painter’s striking color field works at the Phillips Collection’s Rothko Room. Photo courtesy of the Phillips Collection.

Instead of this: Smithsonian National Zoo

Try this: The National Aquarium

While we know nothing can replace seeing pandas up close, the National Aquarium in Baltimore is the place to go for a deep dive (pun intended) into the world of creatures below the sea. There are nearly 20,000 animals at the aquarium to explore, including amphibians, birds, bony fish, cartilaginous fish, invertebrates, mammals and reptiles. Guests can also view vibrant and colorful coral reefs, and learn how to protect these vital ecosystems. Led by an expert guide, daily behind-the-scenes tours show visitors what it takes to care for the animals and reef systems.

A floor-to-ceiling viewing window lets you get up close and personal with sharks, sea turtles, and stingrays at the National Aquarium’s Blacktip Reef. Photo Credit: Visit Baltimore.

Instead of thisNational Museum of American History

Try this: George Washington’s Mount Vernon

For many history buffs, a visit to the home of the first president of the United States is must-see. Located about 30-minutes south of Washington, DC, Mount Vernon estate has so much to explore beyond the mansion itself. There are beautifully sculpted gardens, a forest trail, farm animals (many are the same breeds George Washington owned), the Washington family tomb, a slave memorial and burial ground, a four-acre farm and distillery. Then, have a walk through the stunning mansion of 23 rooms, meticulously restored to the year of 1799, the last year of Washington’s life.

Step inside the pastoral landscape and historic presidential home at Mount Vernon, just 13 miles outside Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Visit Alexandria.

Explore these museums and more when visiting the greater Washington, DC area at these 12 Kimpton hotels.

Take a break from museum-hopping in the living room at the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel.

—Shayla Martin


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One Comment

  1. Angela says:

    Did Marriott take over Kimpton Hotels I used to be on the membership/ mailing list.
    Do they still have a membership?