DC Travel Guide: Shutdown

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

So you planned a trip to the nation's capital. You were looking forward to the monuments, planned trips to the museums, and maybe even had an appointment to see your congresspeople! And then it all went wrong. Nowadays, government shutdowns (both long and short) have become commonplace and D.C. is a whole different destination without the popular government sights.

Whether you have an upcoming trip, you dream of visiting, or you live in DC and miss your normal activities, this post has you covered with tons of alternatives to fill your day-- guaranteed furlough-proof.

Instead of Monuments...

For the January 2019 shutdown, most monuments are still open, this does NOT mean they are a safe bet. Every single one is "subject to change without notice" and this winter has been pretty brutal, so be sure to have a backup plan. Stick with some other historic sites instead of the monuments. While not as iconic, they still have some great photo spots and some AMAZING history behind them.

Try the Hillwood Estate

This is the site of the mansion and estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post (think Post Cereal). Post was a socialite in her time, known for her extravagant taste and beautiful possessions. Her winter home is the now-infamous "Mar-A-Lago" in Florida, so this is the closest you can get to seeing the inside without paying the $200,000 initiation fee. Stop by her home in Cleveland Park to see a Faberge Egg in person, ogle at her impressive dish ware, and explore her exquisite gardens.

Try the Mount Vernon Estate

This estate is a bit outside of the city itself, but the extensive history (and views!!) are worth the trip. See where George Washington spent his days and tour the estate where his family and staff lived. It's about 20 miles (a 30 min drive) outside the city, so you can book a tour and make a whole day of it.

Instead of National Parks...

National Parks can be a great way to see some of DC's natural beauty and escape from the crowds of the city. While popular destinations like Rock Creek Park and Roosevelt Island are off-limits, there are still plenty of green spaces to enjoy.

Try Meridian Hill Park

Also Known as "Malcolm X Park", Meridian Hill Park is tucked just off the main drag of U Street. Between the cascading stairs, the fountains, and the landscaping, this park is perfect for picnicking on a nice day, getting your exercise in, or meditating away from the hubbub of the big city.

Photo courtesy of washingtonparks.net

Try the Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Garden

While the Hirshhorn itself is closed along with the rest of the Smithsonians, the gardens are still open to wander. See a pumpkin through the eyes of Yayoi Kusama or pose next to the iconic crushed car sculpture. This is a great way to spend a day or just to hang out near the national mall.

Photo courtesy of The Hirshhorn Museum

Instead of Smithsonian Museums...

Smithsonian Museums may be the biggest loss of the shutdown. They are the perfect tourist-y activity for school trips and knowledge-lovers alike, along with an excellent activity to get out of the cold. Luckily, there are plenty of other museums in the area that offer similar experiences. You may not have even heard of some!

Try the Newseum

The Newseum is a paid entry museum showcasing the world of journalism-- past, present, and future. There are student discounts, AAA discounts, and senior discounts, but nothing beats the free entry at Smithsonians. There's a great view of the Capitol Building at the top and a fun 4D movie in the basement (watch this to see the history of Nellie Bly-- the topic of the new Christina Ricci Movie).

Try the Holocaust Museum

The Holocaust Museum is only partially federally funded, so it stays open long after the rest of the Smithsonians close. This is the closest you can get to the Smithsonian experience during a shutdown. The museum is immersive and so touching. Well worth a visit.

Photo courtesy of Holocaust Memorial Museum

Photo courtesy of Holocaust Memorial Museum

Try the Blind Whino

This venue space/museum was a new discovery to me while finding shutdown friendly activities. This colorful converted church in Southwest DC is currently home to a Hip Hop History exhibit, full of priceless artifacts collected from various groups over the years. If you are a music fan or not, this museum is a great way to learn about the history of music in DC and beyond.

Try the Mansion on O

Mansion on O is an excellent choice for large groups or children to occupy the day. This museum/venue space/hotel is actually five adjacent interconnected townhomes that are chock FULL of fun rooms and artifacts that you can explore for hours on end. It reportedly has over 100 rooms and 70 hidden passageways, but my friends and I were hard pressed to find more than 14 hidden doors and passages. Everything in the entire monstrosity is for sale, so keep your eyes peeled for something good!

Photo courtesy of Cade Martin Photography

Other Options...

If you need more ideas to fill your time, check out the other things DC has to offer.

Try Shopping in Georgetown

M Street and the surrounding areas are so full of fun activities and stores. You can compare cupcakes from Sprinkles, Baked and Wired, and Georgetown Cupcakes. You can go for a leisurely stroll along the historic canal. You can window shop. You can REALLY shop. The possibilities are truly endless.

The Wharf

See DC's newest social and shopping area located over by National's Park in southwest DC. There are tons of places to eat, grab a coffee, socialize, and hang out. There's even a concert venue on the strip so you can catch a show while you're in town! Enjoy it now before it gets super crowded.

Union Market

This fun indoor market showcases the best of DC local businesses and beyond. There are tons of cute shops and stands to peruse while you sample food from some of the best that DC has to offer. Step outside the building to see the iconic graffiti heart wall and a piece of wall art by Yoko Ono

I hope this article has given you some ideas to occupy your time when visiting DC during a shutdown. DC is one of my FAVORITE cities, so I'm sure it will be a common travel spot on this blog. Stay tuned for more posts as I find new places and new favorites in the nation's capital. If you have any suggestions to fill time in DC during a shutdown, feel free to share it with me in the comments! I'm always looking for new things to try. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to escape for a minute to fly south.



All pictures in this article are mine, unless otherwise credited.

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