DC: Lesser Known Museums

Washington D.C. Is home to some of the most incredible collections of art, scientific, and historic artifacts in the United States as well as the world. In addition to the Smithsonian Institution, more than 200 museums are contained throughout the DC area such as historic homes, small art museums, and headquarters of patriotic organizations.

4155 Linnean Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, USA
Marjorie Merriweather Post was a wealthy American socialite and heiress to the Postum Cereal fortune. Her Washington home is now a museum, and the home’s original furnishings have been maintained alongside all the near-priceless collectibles that Marjorie amassed during her lifetime. Thanks to a curator friend who trained her eye to identify pieces worthy of collecting, Marjorie filled Hillwood with museum-quality pieces of furniture, works of art, Russian icons, rugs, and tapestries as well as fine porcelains, glassware, and jade carvings. The collection also includes two rare diamond-studded Fabergé eggs. Every inch of wall is decorated, and luxurious fabrics drape the windows. Some visitors might find it all a bit too ostentatious; others will think it simply exquisite. To say that Marjorie was an obsessive collector is an understatement, and the best way to take it all in is to go on the Mansion Tour. The gardens are as well dressed as the interiors; there are several interconnected garden “rooms,” and each is of a different style, such as French Parterre or Rose Garden. On nice days, you’ll see people picnicking on the grounds.
2118 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, USA
Built between 1902 and 1905 along the now-famous Embassy Row, this 50-room Beaux Arts mansion was the winter residence of Ambassador Larz Anderson III, a career American diplomat, and his wife Isabel Weld Perkins, an author, Red Cross volunteer, and nurse. They used the home to entertain D.C. and the world’s social and political elite. After Larz’s death in 1937, Isabel gave the house to the Society of the Cincinatti, an organization comprised of descendants of American Revolutionary War officers, of which Larz had been a faithful member. Since then, the house has served as the Society’s headquarters. Guided tours explore the first and second floors with the eclectic collection of fine and decorative arts primarily from their European and Asian travels (he was Ambassador to Belgium and Japan) and historic artifacts and relics commemorating the American Revolution and the Society.
1307 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
Built from 1892 to 1894, this uniquely intact Victorian mansion was the home of German-American philanthropist and beer magnate Christian Heurich. Considered the world’s oldest brewmaster, he ran the Christian Heurich Brewery on the site where the Kennedy Center now stands—until his death in 1945 at the age of 102. At this museum, visitors can learn the story of one of D.C.'s most successful entrepreneurs and his family, his influence on America’s brewing industry, and the construction of his 31-room mansion. As D.C.'s first fireproof home (he had a fear of fire), it is replete with hand-carved wood, 15 fireplaces with individually carved mantles, hand-painted ceiling canvases, luxurious furnished rooms, original Heurich family heirlooms, a bierstube (“beer room”), elevator shaft, and gas and electric lighting fixtures.
201 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20006, USA
The Art Museum of the Americas is supported by the Organization of the American States and has a permanent collection that focuses on contemporary Latin American and Caribbean art by both established and up-and-coming talents. Although it’s on the beaten tourist path and right near the White House, most visitors to D.C. don’t realize this small museum exists (look for the yellow wrought-iron sculpture near the entrance). The upside is that there are absolutely no crowds to contend with. The second-floor galleries are separated by a magnificent blue tiled loggia inspired by Aztec and Incan art, and there’s a small sculpture garden with a water fountain and a statue of Xochipili, the Aztec god of flowers.
3800 Fettler Park Dr, Dumfries, VA 22025, USA
This museum opened in November 2006 as “a lasting tribute to the United States Marines—past, present, future” on a 135-acre site next to the Marine Corps base at Quantico. It’s about a 45-minute drive south of D.C. on 1-95, and admission and parking are free. The dramatic design is inspired the image of the flag raisers of Iwo Jima in World War II. The galleries offer virtual experiences of World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam. You can also experience a marine’s first days: Step onto the yellow footprints outside the bus that represent a recruit’s first Marine Corps boot camp wake-up call as the DI yells his instructions. On-site restaurant Tun Tavern is named in honor of the original in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was the birthplace of the Marine Corps in 1775.
2401 Foxhall Rd NW, Washington, DC 20007, USA
North of Georgetown, nestled on 5.5 acres of woods and gardens, this obscure museum is the former mansion of Geico Insurance executive and avid art collector David Lloyd Kreeger and his wife, Carmen. Designed and built by renowned architect Philip Johnson, the International Style masterpiece displays the couple’s collection of 19th- and 20th-century European and American art, and traditional African and Asian art, with an outdoor sculpture garden to boot. Highlights include paintings and sculptures by Picasso (their favorite artist), Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Rodin, Chagall, Mondrian, and local talents. The museum also functions as a venue for after-hours classical and jazz concerts.
1734 20th Street Northwest
Nestled in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, this small yet exceptionally powerful museum is the first in the US to directly address human rights abuses in China. Founded by former political prisoner and dissident Harry Wu, the museum specifically exposes the “Laogai,” the name of the vast and repressive system of forced labor prisons which has resulted in countless deaths of those opposed to China’s Communist regime. In addition, it continues to highlight other abuses, including public executions, organ harvesting, coercive enforcement of the one-child policy, and the government’s curtailment of expression of freedom on the internet. Keep in mind that the images, videos, artifacts, articles, and captions are graphic and can be disturbing.
1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA
Housed in a 1907 Renaissance Revival structure that was previously a Masonic temple, the NMWA is the world’s leading museum dedicated to recognizing women’s achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts. The collection houses more than 4,700 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts by nearly 1,000 women spanning the 16th century to the present. Explore all four floors and view works from the likes of Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, and Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun.
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