The Washington Monument, seen from the Enid Haupt Garden
When you visit Washington D.C. it can feel like you are drowning in tourists. Crowds are everywhere, especially at the major sites. So where can you go to get away from the crowds, but still enjoy some of the cultural and historic benefits of visiting this city. Here are a few of my favorite places.
Enid A. Haupt Garden
The garden is named for Enid Annenberg Haupt, who made her money from publishing such magazines as TV GUIDE and Seventeen. She has given money to many projects including The Conservatory at the NY Botanical Garden and the gardens at The Cloisters in NYC.Behind the Smithsonian Castle is the Enid A. Haupt Garden. This lovely green space has shaded seating areas and tended flower beds. Most of all it seems to never be crowded. Most of the tourists are focused on The Mall, so even if they pass through the garden, it is while they are on their way somewhere else. This makes this an excellent space to escape, and find someplace quiet.
The Amazing Ms. D in the Haupt Garden
The centerpiece of the garden is a parterre measuring 144 feet by 66 feet. This area of low growing plants is given a new design every six months or so.
The garden has two other sections on either side of the parterre with brick walkways and cast-iron benches
But to me there the most interesting aspect of the garden is that it is a rooftop garden. That's right. The garden sits on the roof of two of my favorite D.C. museums—The National Museum of African Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
The National Museum of African Art
The National Museum of African Art opened originally in 1964 in a townhouse near the capital that was formally owned by Frederick Douglass. It became part of the Smithsonian in 1979 and moved to its current home in 1987. I love this place. It is small enough to see in just a couple of hours, and extensive enough to always have something new when I visit.
This past visit there was an exhibit of photographs by the court photographer of the Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria, an interpretation of Dante's Divine Comedy by several African artists, and an exhibit grouping traditional African art with contemporary artists from Africa and the United States.
This museum goes way beyond historical art and features exhibits of modern contemporary artists, many of whom are not seen anywhere else in the United States.
Bottle, Bamum People, Cameroon
Contact, Nandipha Mntambo, Swaziland
Opposite the National Museum of African Art is the Arthur M Sackler Gallery. The Sackler Gallery, along with the Freer Gallery behind it, represent the Smithsonian's Asian collection.
These museums are also small enough that that a visit of a few hours will let you see all three.
Politics and Prose Bookstore
If you are a regular reader, you know that I am a fan of independent bookstores, and Politics and Prose Bookstore is a wonderful place to visit. This is the go-to independent bookstore in D.C. They seem to have events almost every day, and their collect is huge. This is a must see for bibliophiles.
We went to attend a reading sponsored by the Kimbilio Retreat in honor of the publication of the book BALM by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. We returned the next day to just buy books, as we did not have enough time at the event to truly explore everything that Politics and Prose has to offer.
Busboys and Poets Cafe
Looking for a place to have lunch or coffee. How about a place to engage in dialogue about race relations, or the middle east. Well Busboys and Poets Cafe is the place to find all of this and more. Named after the experience of Langston Hughes, who was working as a busboy at a Washington D.C. hotel before he became a published poet.
This cafe has set out to be center of discussion and activity around many causes that affect poor, working class people, people of color and the LGBT community. Stop in for a coffee, stay for mind-opening interactions.
So, don't get overwhelmed by the crowds at the large memorials and museums. Look for some of the places that the crowds don't get to. They offer a wonderful chance to see something new, expand your mind and enjoy the day.