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7 Things To Do In DC That Are NOT The Smithsonian

1. Heritage Trail – Monday

DC Heritage Trails
There’s a about a dozen trails in DC that are sprinkled throughout the city, highlighting the cultural and historical specialties of the area. Vicky and I have walked a handful of these and it’s always a delight making our way sign to sign. On the way you really get to see the area for what it is and was. The markers include old photographs showing what the area used to be like and note special historic events. Just find a neighborhood you’re interested in exploring, locate the first sign and on there you’ll find a map leading you to the following signs. A great alternative to just walking around with your head stuck in a guidebook.

2. The Laogai Museum – Tuesday

Laogai Museum

OK, I said no Smithsonian but I DIDN’T say no museums. I promise you though, this isn’t your typical museum. Opening in 2008, the Laogai museum is a new addition to DC’s phenomenal line-up of museums. It stems from the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF), which was established in 1992 by Laogai survivor, Harry Wu, to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Laogai—China’s extensive system of forced-labor prison camps.  It is the first museum in the United States to directly address human rights in China. This museums really gets personal – and takes you through the lives of individuals who were imprisoned by the Chinese government for expressing what we take as a basic right – freedom of speech. The museum is free and I promise you will NOT be disappointed.

3. Drinks At Bier Baron – Wednesday

Bier Baron Bar DC
Celebrate the middle of the week by having drinks at one of our favorite bars in DC. Formerly known as Brickskeller, Bier Baron is a recently opened bar which showcases a large (LARGE) variety of national and international beers. With a beer menu the size of an employee handbook, just picking your drink is half the fun.  If you’re looking to try something you’ve NEVER had before – this is the place. Also, their beer and a burger (for $10) is a steal if you get there before 7pm.

4. Free Comedy At Topaz Lounge – Thursday

Topaz Lounge

This is really a gem in DC. It’s a free, 2hr comedy show every Thursday at 8pm that showcases local comics from the area. You’re going to get a wide range of skills from people who are just starting out (literally, first timers) to people who have performed on the tonight show. Every week is different (though sometimes comics come back multiple times) and promises to have at least a few guys who are hilarious (and a few that are hilariously…bad). Seats fill up fast so get there early, I’ve seen it be standing room only. No reservations or tickets required. The lounge is in the basement of a hotel so not to worry food and drinks are served as well.

TIP: Have a joke handy because at the end of the show they open up the floor to three people to tell a single joke – winner gets $25 and a free drink.

5. Jazz In The Garden – Friday

Jazz In The Park

Right outside the National Gallery of Art, in the sculpture garden, every Friday starting in late May there is a free jazz performance. Bring a picnic and take in the smooth sounds of live music from 5-8:30. Performers and styles change every week so check the calendar for your favorite type of jazz music. A perfect low cost date night.

6. Kennedy Center Show – Saturday

Kennedy Center DC
As the busiest performance facility in the US The Kennedy Center produces and presents all types of performances among which there is a daily 6pm free performance on the millennium stage. Yes that’s every single day of the year and the performers and types of shows are always different. Varying from jazz, and classical music to circus performers there’s something for everyone. A perfect way to have a cultural evening.

7. Meridian Park – Sunday

Slacklining Community in Meridian Hill Park
We’ve written about Meridian Park extensively but it’s worth mentioning a second time here. On Sunday afternoon (around 3pm) this place REALLY picks up. It practically becomes a circus, with slacklining, drum circles, jugglers. It’s the liveliest outdoor area in town for about 5 hours. Bring a bottle of wine and have yourself a picnic. Enjoy the ambiance.

photo credit:
wakalani via photo pin cc
M.V. Jantzen via photo pin cc

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19 Responses to 7 Things To Do In DC That Are NOT The Smithsonian

  1. Great tips for DC – bookmarked!

    Natasha von Geldern August 21, 2012 at 5:34 PM Reply
    • Thanks! Let us know if you have any other questions about sights to see or things to do in DC!

      Vicky August 22, 2012 at 9:48 AM Reply
  2. I admit, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Smithsonian because of the time I was visiting D.C. for a conference in Novemeber… It was so COLD out and I was wearing not very sensible shoes, so I popped into one of the art museums to take a break. I wound up falling asleep in the lobby in front of a fireplace like a homeless person and no one batted an eye (or kicked me out). It was an AMAZING nap… 😉

    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) August 22, 2012 at 5:37 AM Reply
    • Haha I can’t believe you fell asleep in the lobby!! So nice that no one bothered you! Sounds like a great way to take a quick nap!

      Vicky August 22, 2012 at 9:52 AM Reply
  3. Love these tips for D.C. Always looking for good bars & restaurants in my favorite cities, so will give Bier Baron a try next time. You’re right — there’s more to D.C. than the Smithsonian.

    Cathy Sweeney August 22, 2012 at 12:23 PM Reply
    • Hope you enjoy Bier Baron – it’s one of our favorite bars in the city – very laid back, music isn’t too loud so you can actually hear the person across the table and seriously an awesome beer menu!

      Vicky August 23, 2012 at 4:04 PM Reply
  4. Some interesting choices – thanks for the tips!

    Linda McCormick August 22, 2012 at 9:23 PM Reply
    • Glad you enjoyed them! With all the visitors we’ve hosted in DC everyone runs to the Smithsonian museums but there’s so many other things to do in the city too!

      Vicky August 23, 2012 at 4:05 PM Reply
  5. I’d love to visit Washington DC. I’d never have come up with any of this stuff on my own though!

    Bethaney - Flashpacker Family August 23, 2012 at 1:58 PM Reply
    • You’ve got to visit sometime! While it’s not my favorite city in the US (it’s really hard to beat NYC) there’s tons to see and best of all so many different free museums/performances/shows/sights/etc.

      Vicky August 23, 2012 at 4:06 PM Reply
      • We love US history so I’m sure the museums alone would satisfy us!

        Bethaney - Flashpacker Family August 23, 2012 at 6:02 PM Reply
        • There are so many museums here – we really used to go EVERY weekend and after two years there’s still a few we’ve missed

          Dave August 23, 2012 at 6:21 PM Reply
  6. Awesome post, I always want to visit DC since it’s driving distance, but never know what I would do. I love your site, super fun!! 🙂

    Alissa N August 23, 2012 at 4:25 PM Reply
    • Thanks!

      Dave August 23, 2012 at 6:22 PM Reply
  7. Great list…my favorite spot is behind the Lincoln Memorial. Always empty of tourists, and a view that can’t be beat…

    D.J. - The World of Deej August 23, 2012 at 5:28 PM Reply
    • Nice tip! Going to check that out next time we’re around

      Dave August 23, 2012 at 6:22 PM Reply
  8. Great stuff! I’ve been looking for non-museum activities for my upcoming DC trip so this is a nice resource.

    Scott - Quirky Travel Guy August 29, 2012 at 10:01 AM Reply
    • Hope you definitely get to check out at least a few of the places on this list – you won’t be disappointed! If you have any other questions about DC don’t hesitate to ask!

      Vicky September 4, 2012 at 11:02 AM Reply
  9. Pingback: A Couple Travelers By The Numbers - August '12 -

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