We had limited time to work our way from Maine to Florida, so we planned some short stops along our route to execute quick explorations of each area. Our first layover was just outside Washington D.C. at a campground resort that was the height of luxury compared to some of the more rustic parks we had been staying in. Cherry Hill Park is conveniently located near one of the last metrorail stops just outside the city. It is a huge park with every possible amenity and thus, not cheap. So, we scheduled our stay for only a couple of days and planned our trips into the city with efficiency in mind.
After scouring multiple blogs and travel guides, we narrowed our planned stops to the key few that are cheap, relatively easy to walk between, and considered must-see. We decided to start at the National Museum of the American Indian and work our way clockwise around the mall. Here is our route and the stops we made along the way.
1. National Museum of the American Indian - FREE
The museum is a well curated collection of American Indian artifacts and cultural items, with multiple exhibits on the history, culture, and spiritual beliefs of various tribes in North and South America. On one level, there is a special exhibit about the treaties that many of the North American tribes signed with the American Government during the great colonization of the Americas and unfortunately, in the context of what is currently occurring at Standing Rock in North Dakota, this portion of the museum left a bad taste for us. Very little information was offered about the truth in how the government coerced the tribes to sign these treaties or regarding the fact that many of the treaties were broken by the U.S government time and time again. It is saddening to recognize that people are still not being fully educated about how the tribes were actually treated by white colonizers and that the European settlers had in fact been committing genocide with the help of the U.S. military. In any case, good information, but still far off from complete truth.
2. Mitsitam Cafe - $$$
After much research of where to have lunch along the mall, we chose to dine at the cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian. The reviews spoke of great multi-cultural cuisine from around the Americas and options that are far from your typical museum cafeteria. Well, it is a cafeteria, trays and all, and the food is mediocre at best and terribly overpriced. I had a nice wild rice pilaf salad with cranberries and a citrus dressing with a slice of well-seasoned turkey. Shaun had an buffalo Indian taco, which when compared to the authentic ones we had at the Crazy Horse Monument, was a sad version of a fried tostada. Also, our lunch was close to $50... Yikes!
3. National Museum of Natural History - FREE
Shaun's only request for our trip to D.C. was to visit the Museum of Natural History. While there were the standard Natural History displays of various ecosystems and their inhabitants, the exhibit that really stuck out was the Human Origins exhibit; where exact replicas of 75 skulls, virtual evolution features, and DNA studies spanning thousands of years, offered connections between modern humans and our ancient relatives.
4. Washington Monument - FREE
The tower can be seen from virtually any part of the mall and one cannot help but take photos from every angle. It is the iconic symbol of our capital and just seeing it in person is really something.
5. Lincoln Memorial - FREE
This was really the highlight of the historical sites along the mall and definitely the most impressive of the monuments. From the moment you stand at the far end of the reflecting pool, looking towards the Greek Doric temple that contains the great white marble sculpture of Lincoln and engravings of the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, an eerie feeling of familiarity comes over you. This has been the site of so many historical events and in a time when politics and government can seem far from noble or honorable, it was nice to remember our heritage and regain a sense of pride in the progress we have achieved as a country in all aspects of life.
6. The White House - FREE
No, we didn't see the lovely Obama's, but we did get a good look at the infamous mansion amongst the crowds gathered there on a daily basis. As a note, you can find the President's schedule here if you want to plan your trip around the off-chance of seeing him or the first family when you visit.
7. The National Archives - FREE
The inner geek in us really enjoyed this particular site and amongst the endless letters, official documents, immigration registers, and other records, there are the founding documents of our country along with the numerous other laws and rights that were granted throughout the centuries. It is easy to spend hours here and luckily we planned our visit on the second day of the trip and arrived early, so there was no rush in perusing all of the displays.
8. Ben's Chili Bowl - $
Last but not least, we made our way from the mall to the fun, little diner that is Ben's. We received several recommendations to go and felt compelled to at least say we did. It was worth it - not only for the experience of being in such a cornerstone of the community, but also because the chili dogs were delicious!