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Secrets of the City: D.C.

Revealing all the untold stories of our Nation’s Capital. From all the best local spots to where we got our beloved Cherry Blossoms, check out the stories that make the District unique!

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Which Smithsonian Museums Serve Beer?

You can’t visit Washington, D.C., without going to a museum!

Thanks to a British guy, our nation’s capital is full of free museums. In 1829, James Smithson, a scientist, left his entire fortune of $500,000 (about $15 million today) to the people of the United States. Of course, such a generous donation was not without caveats. The money was to be spent building “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge” in Washington D.C., and, of course, was to be named after Smithson himself IF his only nephew didn’t have any heirs.

a large brick building with grass in front of a house with Smithsonian Institution in the background

Smithsonian Castle:

But why? Honestly, it’s still a mystery. Smithson’s friends and family were shocked. The guy had never even visited America, let alone talked about a burning desire to give us all of his money. Some think it was his love of knowledge and travel that inspired this bequest. Others think it was a big middle finger to the people in England who didn’t treat him well because he was the illegitimate child of a Duke.

After years of debate, Congress eventually decided to accept the money and established the Smithsonian. Yet in true Congressional fashion, everyone debated what exactly Smithson meant by “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Did he want a museum, an observatory, a zoo, a research center? In the end, they compromised and did all of the above. Now, almost 200 years later, Smithson’s “establishment” has grown into the world’s largest museum and research complex, encompassing 19 museums, 137 million artifacts, 9 research centers, and a zoo.

How could you possibly decide which to visit first? We suggest starting with the ones that serve adult beverages. Here’s a short itinerary to get you started:

The National Gallery of Art makes a great weekend brunch spot! Before or after looking at some of the most iconic art in the world, stop at the Pavilion Cafe for a mimosa, sangria, wine, or beer.

a person standing in a room

National Museum of American History:

For lunch, head to the American History Museum, where you can marvel at the first telephone, Dorothy’s shoes, and an original Star Spangled Banner. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head downstairs to Eat at America’s Table, where you can feast on some all-American grub and recharge with a beer.

Next, enjoy a lovely afternoon checking out portraits of your favorite patriots at the American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery. While you’re there, make sure to enjoy a beer or wine while outside at the Gallery’s relaxing Courtyard Cafe. Finally, pop over to the National Zoo’s Vintage Views Bar food truck.

Wherever you choose to imbibe, you’re sure to leave the Smithsonian museums knowing more than you did when you went in. It’s like we say here at D.C. Crawling: there’s nothing like a little day-learning to justify some day-drinking!

Written by Jessica, our local expert guide. Jessica is a Historian, Archivist, and Tour Guide living and working in the District who loves sharing the secrets of the city with tourists and locals alike. Want to learn more? Join us on an Insider’s Pub Crawl!

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