Updated: May 9, 2022 at 2:46 p.m.
While you may be tempted to take your family members to one of D.C.’s many iconic Smithsonian museums during Commencement week, don’t overlook the abundance of smaller, hidden-gem museums in the District.
The lesser-known, independent museums offer a more intimate, tranquil atmosphere than the rowdy trademark museums that tour groups and visiting families will likely infiltrate when in town. While you might need to pay a $10 to $20 entrance fee to access the smaller museums, enriching exhibits that focus on underappreciated artists and talent will surely outweigh the comparatively hefty cost.
Read up on our top picks for out-of-the-box museums to enjoy alongside your friends and family:
The Phillips Collection
Opened in 1921, The Phillips Collection receives wide recognition as the first modern art museum in the United States. The museum in Dupont Circle offers a wide array of exhibits, but the historic architecture of the former townhome, complete with preserved features from the early 20th century and a sky-lit gallery, sets it apart from other museums. Check out “Picasso: Painting the Blue Period,” an in-depth examination of Picasso’s creative process at the start of his career, located at the art museum’s Dupont location. Alternatively, venture to Phillips@THEARC, the museum’s satellite campus in Southeast, to explore “Portraits of Resilience,” which features portraits of asylum seekers around the world.
1600 21st St. NW. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free admission for those 18 and under, $10 for students and educators with ID, $12 for seniors (62+) and $16 for adults. Find more information here.
Heurich House Museum
Take a guided tour through the turn of the 20th century at this historic mansion. The home belonged to brewer and immigrant Christian Heurich and housed brewery workers, craftworkers who built the home and household staff in addition to Heurich and his wife, Amelia. From the stone steps at the door to the ornate furnishings ’round the house, this museum will transport you back in time as you wander through the mansion. The home is complete with 1921 Biergarten, which serves craft beer from local breweries as well as cocktails and wine, and the Castle Garden, which provides a lovely spot for a picnic or a rest after your visit.
Described as the intersection of art, science and technology, ARTECHOUSE has been a pioneer in the world of interactive digital art both nationally and globally. The art museum, situated next to the Wharf, offers an immersive nature utilizing cutting-edge design tools and architectural spaces for those interested in an unconventional museum experience. ARTECHOUSE’s current exhibit, “PIXELBLOOM,” marks its fifth annual spring-themed installation that enraptures attendees with beautiful visuals of pastel flowers that move as you walk through the exhibit.
1238 Maryland Ave. SW. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $17 for children (4-15) and $20 for students and seniors (65+). Find more information here.
Art Museum of the Americas
The Art Museum of the Americas is known as a “cultural diplomacy tool” to promote human rights through creative expression, dialogue and learning. The AMA currently features three exhibitions, including “Julio Valdez: Mapping the Layers,” which examines multilayered printmaking practices. Valdez aims to explore his racial, ethnic and cultural identity through various mediums and techniques, including drawing, painting and mixed media, which parallel the many backgrounds that comprise his personal cultural environment.
201 18th Street NW. Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free. Find more information here.
O Street Museum
Located just off of Dupont Circle, this museum inside a mansion has more than 100 rooms filled with manuscripts, sculptures and hidden doors for you to explore with your family. Rosa Parks called the mansion her home away from home between the years of 1994 and 2004 as she negotiated with Congress and the White House on pertinent issues. Wander through the museums’ themed rooms or reserve a guided tour for a glimpse at artifacts like Prince’s Purple Rain Jacket or Bob Dylan’s signed guitar. Whether you are partaking in one of the offered food tours or moving through an exhibit, like the First Ladies of Rock, there is no shortage of events to keep you and your family occupied.
2020 O St. NW. Open from Sunday to Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Free. Find more information here.
This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that The Phillips Collection’s exhibit, “Portraits of Resilience,” is at the museum’s Dupont location. The exhibit is located at Phillips@THEARC, 1801 Mississippi Ave. SE – the museum’s satellite campus. We regret this error.