Enjoying the abundant wonders of Washington D.C.’s National Mall

A Capital Trip To America’s Capitol

The graceful Jefferson Monument. Independent/John Laudando

On the spur of the moment one week in October, we got together with two of our closest friends and headed to Washington D.C. for a short visit. We met them at their place in Sea Cliff and drove to D.C.

Since we were “on the fly,” we booked an Airbnb last minute and went there first to check in and drop our bags. Surprise! When we got there, the key was not where we had been told it would be. After much knocking and doorbell ringing we found that the place would NOT be ready until the next day. Immediately we put in a phone call to Airbnb headquarters. After many profuse apologies, they offered us a $100 credit for our troubles and tracked down new accommodations for us.

That first night, while waiting for the Airbnb situation to get straightened out, we grabbed a quick dinner, then got word that our accommodation was ready . . . and what accommodations they were! A lovely spot in Georgetown, impeccably furnished and complete with hosts who inquired after our every need. Yet one more ultimately great experience with Airbnb.

Plus, it put us into a neighborhood we hadn’t spent much time in. Georgetown is a bit of a walk from Capitol Mall, but we were all game for a leisurely stroll to get there. Plus, Georgetown is a great area for wandering about. Next morning, we only had to walk one block to Dean and Deluca, where we indulged in some gloriously rich breakfast treats. Then, off we went to the mall.

The variety of choices at our National Mall makes deciding which spots to go a real conundrum. These old dogs have made several trips there before, so some of the many museums were places we had visited more than once. Not so with our traveling companions, Cecilia and Dennis. So, we split up for some of the time, and we headed to the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden while they went to the National Air & Space Museum. If you’ve never been to Air & Space, it is definitely a not-to be-missed spot in D.C.

After that foray, we all got back together and headed to the Botanical Garden. What a treat! Cecilia and I could both be called “floraholics,” so a garden full of blooms delighted us. And, should you want to plan a trip there in the next month, you could still enjoy much in the way of floral displays!

Perhaps our favorite exploration was the National Museum of Natural History and its glorious display of living, fluttering butterflies. They fly around you, land on you, delight you! There’s good reason that butterflies are a symbol of beauty. I can’t recommend the Butterfly Pavilion highly enough. Not to mention the entire museum itself!

A very close second was the National Museum of the American Indian. In 1989, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye introduced the National Museum of the American Indian Act, which established the museum as “a living memorial to Native Americans and their traditions.” The site on the National Mall opened in September 2004. Fifteen years in the making, it’s the first national museum in the country dedicated exclusively to Native Americans. The five-story, 250,000-square-foot curvilinear building is clad in a golden-colored Kasota limestone designed to evoke natural rock formations shaped by wind and water over thousands of years.

Set on 4.25 acres, the museum is surrounded by simulated wetlands, and its entrance, prism window, and space designed for contemporary Native performances are the result of extensive consultations with Native peoples. In fact, our research shows that in general, Native Americans had leadership roles in the design and operation of the museum and set out to create a different atmosphere and experience from typical museums of European and Euro-American culture.

And they succeeded! The museum, chock-a-block full of artifacts, is like no other. The same could be said for its Mitsitam Native Foods Café, which is divided into Native regional sections — and we all sampled amazing, diverse, delicious food for our lunch there. We could easily recommend it as the best place for lunch in the city.

Then, we meandered around, taking in the quintessential sites — the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the constant presence of the Washington Monument, towering over the city. We also explored the rather atypical FDR Monument(s), newly opened since our last visit to D.C.

Next time we visit, number one our list of sights will have to be the city’s newest, most popular museum —the National Museum of African American History & Culture, which had not yet opened. Word has it, nearly five million visitors have virtually filled the museum to capacity. To control crowds, advance entry passes are necessary and are released on the first Wednesday of each month, so do plan ahead if you expect to visit. Information on passes is available at nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes.

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