United States

7 Under-the-Radar Museums in Washington, D.C.  

by Holly Riddle  |  Published April 3, 2020

Everyone knows the world-renowned Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. While these museums are certainly worth a visit, consider stopping by some of these under-the-radar gems in the country’s capital. 

There’s more to see in Washington, D.C., beyond the National Mall (Photo: Daniel Mennerich via Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Washington, D.C., is packed with history and culture, but don’t make the mistake of assuming all of that history and culture can solely be found within the city’s extensive lineup of Smithsonian museums. The following seven museums offer interesting artifacts, artwork, information and experiences beyond what you’ll find at the Smithsonian venues, without the huge crowds and entry lines running out the door and down the street.

The Phillips Collection

Founded in the 1920s, the Phillips Collection was the first modern art museum in the United States. Located in Dupont Circle, the museum is tucked away in a charming yet unassuming row of three adjoining homes, including the collection founder’s Georgian Revival residence. While one of the most famous pieces on display is Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir, you’ll also spot pieces by Matisse, Picasso, Monet, and van Gogh, among others.

1600 21st Street Northwest

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

Hillwood is a lush retreat in the middle of the capital (Photo: ep_jhu via Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0)

This lovely museum was once a residential mansion, owned by Marjorie Post. The Georgian-style structure retains its 18th-century French decorating style. Even in Post’s time, the estate was a wonder, as there was simply nothing like it in the 1950s in the area. Tour the house’s multiple dining rooms, drawing and sitting rooms, kitchen, bedrooms and more, admiring the curated display of artwork and valuables. Look into any special exhibitions that may be on display during your visit.

4155 Linnean Avenue Northwest

African American Civil War Museum

This museum uncovers the history of African American participation in the Civil War, providing insight into the lives of the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who played a role in one of the country’s most defining moments. Artifacts range from newspaper clippings to historic photographs. (Note: The museum is currently undergoing a renovation and move, with a new location opening in the fall of 2020, but the longstanding Vermont Avenue location is still open for tours during that time period.)

1925 Vermont Avenue Northwest

National Geographic Museum

For fans of the popular travel magazine, as well as travelers of all kinds, the National Geographic Museum is a fun and relatively short stop to add to your itinerary. The small museum presents rotating exhibits that channel the publication’s voice, tone and mission. For example, the 2020 exhibits include one on Jane Goodall and another on the centennial celebration of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the United States.

1145 17th Street Northwest

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This solemn space is worth an entire afternoon (Photo: Holly Riddle)

Located off the main strip of the National Mall, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers a harrowing yet honest look at the horrors of the holocaust. Take your time here, as the primary exhibit alone could take an entire day to thoroughly absorb. Note: The museum is only ticketed March through August, when crowds are at their highest. During the remainder of the year, the museum isn’t nearly as crowded as its Smithsonian counterparts just blocks away.

100 Raoul Wallenberg Place Southwest

National Building Museum

Dedicated to architecture and design, this unique museum looks at ways in which the structures around us influence our everyday lives and communities. Fittingly, the museum’s structure alone is highly impressive, with a Great Hall featuring 75-foot Corinthian columns and a 1,200-foot terra cotta frieze. Exhibits focus on a range of shifting topics, such as animals depicted in architecture, the American idea of “home” and urban landscapes.

401 F Street Northwest

The Heurich House Museum

This is no ordinary house museum. While, yes, the museum is set within a 19th-century mansion, the focus is not only on the house itself, but also beer and brewing because the home’s owner, Christian Heurich, also owned the largest brewery in D.C. in the late 1800s. Regular brew master tours take guests around the mansion and also include beer tastings. Other beer-related events take place throughout the year. Of course, you can schedule a tour sans beer. Either way, you’ll learn fun facts, such as how the home was known for implementing a lot of “modern” marvels of the day, such as the first iterations of security alarms and more.

1307 New Hampshire Avenue Northwest