Down to the DMV (part I: Sightseeing)

In the local parlance, "DMV" means "DC, Maryland, and Virginia," a cute moniker for the sprawling metropolitan area that is greater Washington, DC.

Other fun local names: "PG County" = Prince George's County, Maryland, which abuts DC on the Maryland side, and "NOVA" = Northern Virginia, the part which abuts DC across the river and is essentially part of its greater suburbs.

This November we were lucky enough to be hosted by Jen's childhood friend, Cannie, as we sought to escape the New England cold by seeking refuge in Northern Virginia.

First up: the train ride!

It took 6 hours. We have no pictures. Our train was also delayed by an hour, so we missed our ticket time for the Washington monument and never got to go.

When we finally hit the District of Columbia, the first thing we did was go to the National Mall. When Jen was little, she thought it was this kind of mall:

But rather than being the greatest shopping venue known to mankind, our National Mall was actually "derived from that of The Mall in London, which during the 1700s was a fashionable promenade near Buckingham Palace upon which the city's elite strolled" (Wikipedia).

First up, the Capitol!

Cannie, who really should be an amateur photographer, showed us all the best angles to shoot pictures. We got to marvel at the size and beauty of the building, and wonder who the heck is the statue at the top (answer: Freedom, and she's 19.5 ft tall, weighing 15,000 lbs).

The Capitol, backside.
The Capitol, frontside.

Next up, the Supreme Court building. I was told to look law-like and stern, which is why I look constipated in the photo. We also stopped by the Library of Congress, which sadly 1) you have to get tickets in advance for, 2) does not photograph well from the street.

Obey the Law!

We followed that up with the Lincoln Monument, impressive and stately as always, a modern day Temple of Zeus. After that, we wandered to the Reflecting Pool. Because it was Veteran's Day, there was a memorial service for veterans of the recent wars, including candles placed all around the Reflecting Pool with the names of individual vets on them.

Lincoln Monument
Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument

As irksome as it would have been to Alexander Hamilton, we let Thomas Jefferson have the last word with us that day. His newly-renovated memorial was peaceful and contemplative, set apart as it is from the hustle and bustle of the main Mall.

Jefferson Monument

The next day we went crazy with the Smithsonian museums. First up was the Air and Space Museum. Unfortunately it seemed to suffer from that strange effect that have afflicted many of my beloved childhood experiences. Like the playground of my elementary school, Toy Story, or The Exploratorium, the Air and Space Museum seemed a lot less interesting to me now than it did as a kid. Parts of it seemed a little run-down, and much of it was under renovation. A lot of the exhibits were also primarily geared towards kids. We meandered around, looking at old space suits and reading about the thermal plating on spaceships. Museum Rating: 2/5

Good question.

We then went over to the Botanic Gardens, which sadly were closed. However, outside of the building was a beautiful and elaborate model train set, with loops of track twisting through greenery, then going over soaring bridges you could walk under. Nestled in between the turns were models of different types of agriculture around the world. New England featured a Cranberry bog, California got an avocado farm. It was gorgeous and incredibly detailed. Museum Rating: 3.5/5

Choo choo! The diorama is of an onion farm

Next to the model train set was an edifice of branches, twisted and shaped into the likeness of an old ruin. It was like a Stonehenge made of thousands of little branches: a bit haunting, but impressive and evocative in a strange way.


Afterward we went to the National Museum of the American Indian. The outside of the building is gorgeous, with a running stream and a very unique architectural style which is reminiscent of the mesas of the Southwest. Unfortunately on the inside they just don't have as much compared to some of the other museums. Some of the exhibits are mostly just plaques with text. The museum does try to discuss the ways in which the U.S. Government mistreated the Native Americans, including stealing land and breaking valid treaties, but it's hard to convey such complexity in the space of a museum which is supposed to be for all ages. Museum rating: 2.5/5

Outside of the Native American museum

We skipped the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of American History, two of the Smithsonian's biggest heavy hitters, because Dex has already been and Jen didn't feel a particular need to check them out, so for the finale of the day we went to the Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum was great: chock-full of great exhibits and dioramas to bring you into the moment, including an old streetcar, Kobe Bryant's Lakers jersey, and an old slave hut from a South Carolina plantation. There are an entire 3 floors underground on the history of African Americans, and then 3 floors above talking about culture and other important contributions. We were glad that we had a chance to go in. Museum Rating: 4.5/5

The museum's beautiful when lit up at night
LA girl all the way

The next day we chose the National Archives to see the nation's most important documents. Also, full disclosure, we were influenced by the fact that we had watched National Treasure the night before (spoilers: the real Archives are totally not at all like what they portray in the movie). We don't have pictures because they don't allow any photographing of the Declaration, Constitution, or Bill of Rights, but suffice to say that a) the documents seem very well protected, and b) they're very hard to read. Museum Rating: 3/5

National Treasures are inside

Finally, for our last sightseeing stop, we went to the National Portrait Gallery. It's enormous: multiple floors of gorgeous portraits, spanning from the earliest days of the nation. Obviously the exhibits are weighted toward the past, when they more commonly painted portraits, but our favorite exhibit was the Presidential portrait gallery. Each President has a portrait (we struggled a little to find Truman), and the range in which the Presidents are portrayed is fascinating. It was also a little trip down memory lane: for instance, did you remember that a guy named Grover Cleveland was president? Or that he was actually president twice (1885-1889, then 1893-1897)?? We didn't. Museum Rating: 4/5

10 points to Gryffindor if you can guess who this is

The bottom line? DC has amazing museums and sights to see. Next time you're there, don't miss the African American museum. Art and history lovers shouldn't sleep on the National Portrait Gallery, either.

Dexter Louie

Dexter Louie

The co-pilot on this journey, I am the peanut butter to Jen's jam. I nerd out on history books, love a good boba, and consistently struggle to get myself to practice mindfulness ("")