D.C. landmarks you think you know

Media Credit: Erica Christian | Assistant Photo Editor

After a renovation following the 2011 earthquake, the Washington Monument has seen a surge of visitors eager to climb the landmark.

Media Credit: Erica Christian | Assistant Photo Editor
After a renovation following the 2011 earthquake, the Washington Monument has seen a surge of visitors eager to climb the landmark.

The backlash Forbes received after it dubbed D.C. the “coolest city in the country” sounded like this: The architecture isn’t great and the monuments are trite. Despite the criticism, the city boasts hundreds of cultural sites. Below, you’ll find what a handful of them have in the works this fall.

National Gallery of Art
When most visitors head to the National Mall to experience the museums, they’re looking for the “fun” ones. The Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum are always at the top of the list. But the National Gallery of Art, consistently placed in the boring category, is changing that perception this fall.

Starting Sept. 1, the museum, most noted for its Renaissance-era paintings, will feature an exhibit devoted to 20th-century modern art.

The exhibition, “Modern American Prints and Drawings From the Kainen Collection,” features 37 works of art that give visitors a taste of a variety of modern art movements, from impressionism to abstract expressionism. A Jackson Pollock drip painting from 1951 is one of the highly anticipated works in the collection.

Of course, the rest of the museum isn’t standing still either.

A collection of Italian prints spanning the neoclassical movement of the 1800s to the Futurist trend of the early 20th century opens Sept. 1 as well.

Both exhibits show a shift toward modernism in the gallery, but all the favorites of the permanent collection are still available for art enthusiasts. And the gift shop in the basement of the gallery is full of classic prints and fun posters based on the current displays.

The National Museum of Natural History
With about 1.32 million square feet of rare specimens, precious gems and dinosaur fossils, it’s not surprising that the National Museum of Natural History is the most-visited museum of its kind in the world.

But last April, the century-old museum made history itself by closing one of the most popular exhibits, the Fossil Hall, for a $48 million, five-year renovation. The new, 31,000-square-foot exhibit, scheduled for completion in 2019, will feature one of the most complete tyrannosaurus rex fossils ever discovered as its centerpiece.

Media Credit: Erica Christian | Assistant Photo Editor
The National Museum of Natural History features 1.32 million square feet of minerals, taxidermy and dinosaur bones.

Luckily, you don’t have to wait until 2019 to get a glimpse at the museum’s famed dinosaur fossils. Exhibit curator Siobhan Starrs said she hopes to ease the transition with temporary replacements.

“As a parent of young kids myself, it’s really hard to have the exhibit closed for so long, which is why we focused on having these temporary exhibits,” she said.

Until Oct. 20, the museum will feature the “Rex Room,” a display that gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at museum workers as they prepare the tyrannosaurus rex fossils.

But Starrs is most excited for “The Last American Dinosaurs, Discovering a Lost World,” a temporary exhibit that will remain open from Nov. 25 until the renovation is completed. This exhibit will use interactive segments and arcade-style video games to uncover the last ecosystem that dinosaurs inhabited about 66 million to 68 million years ago.

“Really it’s all about why do we bother studying this?” Starrs said. “And it’s because it reveals our world today. The same systems that were at work then are at work now.”

National Harbor
The Capital Wheel in Maryland’s National Harbor has made the serene Potomac River waterfront a more alluring destination. In addition to unique entertainment and shopping options, the Harbor is a lively escape from the streets of D.C. It’s only a 15-minute drive by car, or a Metro trip to Branch Avenue on the Green Line followed by a ride on the NH1 bus.

Standing at 180 feet tall, the 42-car Ferris wheel provides views of the White House, Alexandria and Arlington Cemetery.

Rides are $15 per person (eight people per car) and last 15 minutes. For the more luxurious riders, there is a VIP car with leather bucket seats, a glass floor and a DVD player. The VIP car costs $50 per person and holds up to four people.

If you’re making the trip down to the National Harbor, you might as well spend the day there.

The nearby Tanger Outlets offer over 85 discounted brands to satisfy shopaholics. College students are eligible for free coupon books with at least 15 percent savings on everything from clothing to appliances.

And when you’re looking for a sweet snack, the National Harbor has you covered. Food Network host Warren Brown runs a bakery called CakeLove. It wouldn’t be a cake shop in D.C. without cupcakes, but Brown also offers innovative options like vegan cakes and personal cakes in a jar. The single-serving jars, called Cake Bites, are layers of cake and cream cheese frosting that are perfect on the go.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
The third level of the Hirshhorn, the Smithsonian’s modern art museum, has been under extensive renovations in anticipation of the museum’s 40th anniversary this year. The third floor galleries will reopen to the public Oct. 16.

With new floors, energy-efficient lighting and an anniversary exhibition pulling never-before-seen pieces from the Hirshhorn’s collection, this fall is prime time to experience the museum.

“At the Hub of Things: New Views From the Collection” will be the first exhibition in the new space. Tracking art trends from the past 60 years and combing through the museum’s extensive collection for pieces representative of the forward momentum in art movements, the display will be interspersed throughout the outer ring of the third level.

The rest of the Hirshhorn’s circular floors will still be home to its permanent collections and other new exhibits. The upcoming exhibition “Days of Endless Time,” which opens the same day as the renovated third-floor gallery, will transform the second level into a space where time seems to stand still.

It’ll be a perfect escape from the stresses of midterms.

Washington Monument
The Washington Monument is one of D.C.’s most recognizable landmarks, punctuating the skyline with its newly renovated structure. While a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in 2011 closed the obelisk for repairs, you may find it difficult to spot any visible differences on the outside today.

But the interior of the monument has been revamped, giving visitors the opportunity to take the 70-second elevator ride to the 50th-story observation deck before descending the monument’s 897 steps. The steps haven’t been open to the public since 1976.

When the monument reopened May 12 this year, tickets flew out of the Washington Monument Lodge. Despite steadily declining visitation over the past few years, there has been a surge in numbers since the reopening, according to National Park Services statistics.

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