Ruby Slippers, Mohammad Ali’s boxing gloves, Washington’s Dentures, Lincoln’s Hat, The flag from the famous Iwo Jima monument, the derringer that killed President Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson’s writing desk…. the list goes on of things to see and experience on a road trip to Washington DC and surrounding area. Being able to get up close and see these famous pieces of American history is one of the fun parts of this road trip if you know where to look. If you are planning a road trip to the DC area and want to know where to go to see the highlights of American history in film, politics, and culture, I’ve got you covered!
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20 Things to See Near Washington DC
Washington DC and the surrounding area is rich in cultural and political history. But on one trip, it’s absolutely impossible to see all the important highlights. When we were visiting some of the Smithsonian Museums, we had less than two hours to see everything from top to bottom. That is an impossibility in case you are wondering.
How to See the Smithsonian Museum Highlights
When you plan your Washington DC trip you have to make a list of what is important. There are 17 Smithsonian Museums in the city as well as 2 others in New York City. Since we obviously couldn’t see them all, we knew we had to decide which ones to focus on. Do yourself a favor and take a look at the museum options and decide which ones you are going to visit on each trip and save the others for another visit.
Real life tip: I HIGHLY recommend you download the free Smithsonian app on your mobile device. It takes about a minute to download and then you can pick the museum you are visiting next. Click the Highlights option to find out where each of the top picks of each museum is located. Of course, if you are not in a time crunch, you don’t need this and can just browse at your leisure.
We kind of felt like we were on a high-speed scavenger hunt at some of the Smithsonian Museums. My son would pull up the highlights on his app and tell us what the next big thing we needed to go see. Ruby Slippers? Check! Lincoln’s Hat? Check! Hope Diamond? Check!
Note: The Ruby Slippers are going off display for conservation efforts on April 23, 2017. So if you are planning to see them, go soon! Read details here about how they plan to restore the Ruby Slippers.
Things to NOT Miss:
If you are planning a trip to the Washington DC area, here are 20 things you might not know you can see. So feel free to use this list as a place to start your trip planning!
National Air & Space Museum
- The Lockheed 5B Vega: flown by Amelia Earhart in the first solo flight across the Atlantic by a woman, 1932
- 1903 Wright Flyer plus a bicycle designed by the Wright Brothers
American History Museum:
- Ruby Slippers (only until April 23, 2017)
- Mohammad Ali’s Boxing Gloves
- President Lincoln’s Hat
- Thomas Jefferson’s writing desk
- The Star Spangled Banner: Yes! The original flag that was flying over Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics. You can’t take pictures of the flag itelf, but it’s easy to find the exhibit by the large silver flag display.
Bureau of Engraving
You can’t take pictures on the tour, but you can definitely take a picture in the lobby. And there was no way we were missing the picture of this!
Natural History Museum
- Hope Diamond
Make sure you check out the spiral staircases on either side of the exhibit halls. You can’t go on the stairs, but they are amazing to look at!
- George Washington’s Dentures: Yes, I know this may seem weird to some people, but when is the last time you saw dentures that belonged to the first President of the United States?
- Thomas Jefferson’s Calendar Device in the inside entrance to his home: You can’t take pictures inside the home, but it’s definitely cool to see!
- Flag from Iwo Jima that is memorialized in the statue in Washington DC
- Derringer that shot President Lincoln
- Pillow with blood stains from President Lincoln
Library of Congress
- Gutenburg Bible
- Thomas Jefferson’s Library
- One we missed…. We missed the exact spot where Martin Luther King Jr gave his “I Have a Dream” Speech…. But we will mark that spot next time for sure!
- Two Engraved documents: “The Gettysburg Address” and his Second Inaugural Address.
Korean War Memorial
- Freedom is Not Free Engraving on wall
Jumping Picture at Capitol
And of course… the last thing you don’t want to miss is the obligatory picture jumping with the Capitol in the background!
What are some of the highlights in the Washington DC area that you don’t want to miss when you visit the area? I’d love to hear the things that make your list!