I've traveled to Washington D.C. enough in the past few years to have spent a sufficient amount of time in all of the free Smithsonian museums I'm interested in. So I've begun seeking alternative places to explore and happen to have stumbled upon a pretty great off the mall museum scene.
All the museums I'll share with you in this post charge an admission fee. So if you're on a budget and you've never been to all the Smithsonian museums - hit those up first. However, if you've got some extra cash and are looking for something new to check out, I'm pretty sure you'll find these museums worth the price.
Admission: Adults - $11 | Members, Seniors, Students, Military - $9 | Children 5-12 - $7 | Children Under 5 - Free
As a fan of all that National Geographic does, I totally geeked out at this museum and didn't mind one bit that I ended up getting stuck in the lobby during a crazy downpour complete with thunder and lightening. Frankly, I would have been pleased if the museum solely consisted of the very first display; a hall of every National Geographic Magazine cover. It's a fascinating combination of history and an evolution of design of the cover.
When I visited, the exhibit holding down the main space in the museum was called "A New Age of Exploration," which celebrates the past 125 years of National Geographic's adventures. It's a fascinating collection of stories from past and present about all the amazing things that National Geographic is doing and contributing to around the world. Some of my favorite pieces included history on the beginnings of National Geographic and all the tales of amazing women explorers out there. At the end the exhibit, there is an interactive component where you can suggest what National Geographic should explore next; since I'm always ready to hear more about Iceland - that was my contribution. This exhibit is scheduled to be up until August 2014, so there's still plenty of time to see it.
Speaking of amazing women, a new exhibit opened after my visit and I'm crossing my fingers I'll have the opportunity to get back to see it; Women of Vision, which celebrates the work of female photojournalists. This one is open until March 2014, so go see it while you can!
Admission: Adults 19 to 64 - $21.95 + tax | Seniors 65 and Older - $17.95 + tax | Youth 7 to 18 - $12.95 + tax | Children 6 and Under - Free
Given my all around general interest in media that I've had for many years, I was shocked I had never heard of the Newseum until recently. It's massive, extremely well kept, and artifact rich - this museum simply explodes with history. If you follow the exhibit path laid out for you by an introduction video, the very first exhibit is a powerful one; full sections of the Berlin Wall complete with some incredible political artwork. This exhibit is followed by many more powerful historic historical artifacts.
My favorite exhibit in the Newseum was the News History Gallery which has a just a massive collection of newspapers from around the world. Again, following my standard pattern in my historical interest - I was most intrigued by all the ones having something to women breaking down barriers and succeeding in the world. It's a fascinating history lesson looking through all the drawers and just like at the National Geographic museum, an evolution of design.
Not that this has anything to do with the history of media, but the Newseum building has a balcony on the top floor which offers some absolutely amazing views during a day of the surrounding area.
Admission: Adults 12-59 - $21.95 | Seniors 60+, Military, Law Enforcement - $19.95 | Children 5 to 11 - $14.95 | Children Under 5 - Free
Unfortunately the only decent picture I have of the Crime Museum is this incredibly cheeky one from a few years ago (way back when I had short hair). What you're seeing in this picture is the set of the T.V. show "America's Most Wanted".
Like the Newseum, the Crime Museum is incredibly artifact rich and well worth the cost of admission. It's very interactive with lots of crime scene investigation elements, training simulators, and even a prison cell with an escape route you can explore. Personally, I really enjoyed the historical exhibits and learning about John Walsh's journey from businessman, to victim rights advocate, to the host of the famous T.V. show.
One other for-profit museum in Washington D.C. I've visited, but will not be recommending is the The International Spy Museum. I had huge hopes for this one, but I came away completely unimpressed. Compared to the other museums I've shared here, the artifact count was low and the exhibits were not nearly as engaging. So I'd put this one on your skip list.