DC’s Lesser-Known Museums (and How to Get There)

By Katie Seitz, Host Committee Member

DC’s heavy-hitter museums, those grand buildings lining the National Mall, are so absorbing that most visitors never experience the wealth of other museums scattered all over the city. Here are some favorites, spanning unexpected subjects like Civil War health and medicine, bonsai, Frederick Douglass, historic textiles, and more. Some are located within walking distance of the conference and some will take a little more effort to reach, but all are well worth your time.

For each location, a loose public transit itinerary starting from the Wardman Park Marriott has been added to give you a sense of how to get there. You’ll want to check Google Maps again before heading out to see what form of transit is most time- and cost-efficient for you, as schedules and traffic may change.

National Museum of Health and Medicine
2500 Linden Lane
Silver Spring, MD 20910


While no longer technically in DC, the NMHM was relocated to nearby Silver Spring, MD in 2011. DC’s answer to the Mütter Museum has a sprawling collection dedicated to everything weird and wonderful about medicine and health, from advances in medicine throughout history to the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln. Go for the high-tech exhibit on transdermal implant technology, the permanent exhibition on Civil War medicine, or the only gift shop that will sell you a postcard of a large human hairball.

Getting there: Take the red line from Woodley Park (the stop closest to the hotel) 12 stops to Silver Spring in the direction of Glenmont. At Silver Spring station, take Montgomery County Ride-On bus #4 14 stops to Linden Lane & Steven Sitter Avenue, in view of the museum. Estimated time: 52 minutes.

The George Washington University Museum | The Textile Museum
701 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052


These two museums, recently combined into a single building on the GW University campus,  showcase both textiles throughout history and a fascinating collection of Washingtoniana. Learn everything about textile art and creation and see rare pieces from all over the world on display, or hit the Washingtoniana side for an exhibit on Alexander Hamilton’s life in period newspapers.

Getting there: Take the red line from Woodley Park two stops to Farragut North in the direction of Glenmont. Walk 13 minutes from the station to the museum. Estimated time: 20 minutes.

[NOTE: All three of the sites listed below are near the Anacostia station on the green line. Consider visiting more than one museum while you’re there.]

Anacostia Community Museum
1901 Fort Place SE
Washington, DC 20020


The ACM is the Smithsonian’s hidden gem, located in the heart of historic Anacostia. Its collections and exhibits – devoted to the incredible diversity and power of the communities in the greater DC area – are unique and not to be missed. Its current exhibit, “A Right to the City,” showcases 50+ years of neighborhood change, activism, and community engagement around multiple crucial social issues in Adams Morgan, Anacostia, Brookland, Chinatown, Shaw, and Southwest. Visit their website for other excellent past and virtual exhibits.

Getting there: Take the red line from Woodley Park 4 stops to Gallery Place in the direction of Glenmont. Change to the green line towards Branch Avenue and take it 5 stops to Anacostia. At Anacostia station, take either the W2 or W3 bus 11 stops to the front door of the museum. Estimated time: 49 minutes.

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
1411 W Street SE
Washington, DC 20020


Frederick Douglass’ hilltop home, known as Cedar Hill, housed Douglass from 1877 to 1895, as well as his first wife Anna Murray-Douglass, second wife Helen Pitts Douglass, and the Douglass children. The famed abolitionist and social reformer’s bible and other everyday items are on display, and National Park Service employees give tours of the house and grounds throughout the day. The website boasts that “[t]he site also offers one of the best views of Washington, D.C.,” and we agree.

Getting there: Take the red line from Woodley Park 4 stops to Gallery Place in the direction of Glenmont. Change to the green line towards Branch Avenue and take it 5 stops to Anacostia. Walk 13 minutes from the station to the site. Estimated time: 44 minutes.

America’s Islamic Heritage Museum & Cultural Center
2315 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE
Washington, DC


This unique museum, located in a former Muslim elementary school founded in the 1930s, traces the history of Muslims and Islam in the US from the 16th century to the present day. They offer detailed exhibits on the Muslim presence among enslaved Africans, early immigrant Muslim communities, and contemporary American Muslims in arts and entertainment. Take note of their open hours, 12pm-5pm every day but Monday.

Getting there: Take the red line from Woodley Park 4 stops to Gallery Place in the direction of Glenmont. Change to the green line towards Branch Avenue and take it 5 stops to Anacostia. Walk 4 minutes from the station to the museum. Estimated time: 35 minutes.

National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005


The NMWA is the only non-free option on this list, and for a reason – it’s worth the (reasonable) price of admission. Their extensive collection of painting, sculpture, illustration, ceramics, and more includes such luminaries as American Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt, Mexican surrealist Frida Kahlo, and French sculptor Louise Bourgeois. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and ages 65 and up, and free for kids ages 18 and under. Admission is also free for all active duty military personnel and their families through Labor Day.

Getting there: Take the red line from Woodley Park 3 stops to Metro Center in the direction of Glenmont. Walk 3 minutes from the station to the museum. Estimated time: 13 minutes.

African American Civil War Museum
1925 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20001


Although African American soldiers played a vital role in Union forces during the Civil War, their contribution is often underemphasized or ignored. Located next to the memorial that gives the metro station (U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo) its name, this museum focuses on the men who ultimately made up 10% of the Union military. Though the topic is serious, the museum adds a touch of fun by providing Civil War uniforms that both adults and children can try on.

Getting there: Find metrobus 96, which leaves two blocks from the Wardman Park Marriott at the corner of Calvert Street NW and 24th Street NW, just in front of the Omni Shoreham hotel. Take metrobus 96 east 13 stops, and exit at U Street NW and Vermont Street NW. Walk 2 minutes to the museum. Estimated time: 22 minutes.

National Bonsai & Penjing Museum | National Arboretum
3501 New York Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002


This last entry is almost cheating, as it’s not only a museum. It’s impossible to visit the NBPM’s exquisite collection of bonsai and penjing without also entering the grounds of the U.S. National Arboretum, a 446-acre three-in-one garden, park, and research facility within DC’s NE quadrant. Take a morning or afternoon to ramble and soak in the amazing variety of plants and charming educational gardens, or commune with a 400-year-old Japanese white pine.

Getting there: NOTE: This is one location where it’s best to take a cab or rideshare unless you are up for a 30-minute walk as part of the trip. You can minimize cost by taking the red line to Rhode Island Avenue metro station (8 stops from Woodley Park in the direction of Glenmont) and catching your cab or rideshare from there. If you prefer public transit the whole way, take the B8 or B9 metrobus from the Rhode Island Avenue station 14 stops to Bladensburg Rd NE & South Dakota Avenue NE. From there, the Arboretum is a 30-minute walk.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s