Tourist Options During a Government Shutdown

On March 17, 2011 · 8 Comments

The benefit or the curse of living in the Washington, DC area — and the jury is still out on that call — is that the national and international news for everyone else is our local news. Currently we can’t escape the theatrics of yet another impending government shutdown. Here’s to hoping that the immature statesmen on both sides of the aisle quit with the posturing already and come together for the good of the nation.

Who knows when the government will approve a budget? It looks like we have at least one more reprieve through yet another in a long string of Continuing Resolutions. Let’s hope for the best. However, if the musical chairs ends with a shutdown, I can at least offer a few suggestions to visitors who find themselves inconvenienced.



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First, dear tourists please understand that you will be used as pawns. Elected officials of both stripes will want to see your disappointed faces on camera so they can score cheap political points at your expense. All of your beloved monuments and Smithsonian museums supported by your taxpayer dollars will be closed, without a doubt. You’ve invested a lot of your personal time and money to get here. Don’t let a shutdown spoil your fun. The ultimate revenge is having a better time than you originally anticipated even before this silliness began.


Go to a Museum.

Wait, didn’t I just mention that they’ll shut the Smithsonian for the duration? True enough I suppose, but the Smithsonian isn’t the only game in town anymore. The International Spy Museum, the National Geographic Museum and the Newseum come to mind. I’m sure there must be several others. Some of these museums charge admission fees but that’s also true for just about any other city too. You might learn something interesting even if you don’t get to see the Hope Diamond or the visit the pandas (they’re usually asleep anyway).


Take a Cruise.


Potomac River Cruise

My wife won a Potomac River cruise in a charity auction last year. I’ve lived in the immediate area for decades but I’d never taken one of these excursions before. I was amazed at the chance to see familiar landmarks from a new perspective as the boat completed its two-hour circuit. There are several companies that provide these cruises so check out Google and select the one that meets your needs. They range all the way from utilitarian water taxi services to fancy dinner/dancing packages.

You probably won’t have a car because you’ve heard it’s a hassle to drive in DC, right? Well, consider taking a boat from Georgetown to Old Town Alexandria, a place not generally considered easily-accessible by public transportation, and spend a couple of hours strolling or shopping before returning on a later boat. That could easily fill a good chunk of the day with something pleasant and enjoyable.


Ride a Bike.

The area is filled with recreational bicycling opportunities but where can you find a bike? Capital Bikeshare offers more than a thousand bicycles spread over a hundred locations in the District and across the river in Arlington, VA. They allow 24-hour rentals and all you need to do is swipe a credit card at any one of their kiosks. The opportunities are endless: along the National Mall and down to Hains Point at the tip of East Potomac Park; or over to Rock Creek Park; or across the river to the Mount Vernon Trail. You could ride for days and still not explore the entire area.


Go See the Nationals.


Ryan Zimmerman Washington Nationals
Ryan Zimmerman from a game I attended on May 24, 2009

Assuming this thing drags-out until baseball season, and that seems likely, go see the Nationals play live. Good seats are easy to find, and if it’s a lackluster game then views from Nationals Park will still be worth the price of admission. You might be lucky enough to witness a statistical anomaly. You can even console yourself at the bar at the Red Porch if things get truly bad. Honestly, after so many years without a team, I’m thrilled to see them regardless of their record.


Witness Some Oddities.

This blog is usually about geographic oddities. If you share an interest in such things then go ahead and read my guest article on DC oddities at Google Sightseeing, or the companion article here on the Twelve Mile Circle. I won’t feel bad if they don’t appeal to you. I know it’s a niche interest.

Have a wonderful visit and thank you for coming in spite of the foolishness.

Do any of the regular readers from the DC area have other suggestions to add?

On March 17, 2011 · 8 Comments

8 Responses to “Tourist Options During a Government Shutdown”

  1. David says:

    Great post!

    Other ideas:
    The Mall is still open. There are a bunch of little (or big) things to see there. The Grant Memorial’s nice symmetry to the Lincoln Memorial is fun. (Unless they close the capital grounds, but even then, I think that the Grant should be open)
    Embassy tours? I’ll admit I’ve never tried this but I bet that the big ones have art and the like. The Canadian Embassy is right next to the newseum. Which leads me to push the Newsuem again. It’s the most densely packed museum I’ve ever been through. For the price of entry you get TWO days of entry. Use them both!
    Depending on your interests there are some quality art museums, the Phillips Collection, the Corcoran, to name my favorite two.
    If you’re more bike oriented than average, use the Mt. Vernon trial to get TO Mt. Vernon. It’s private so I bet it’s open when the government stalls. If memory serves me, they close pretty early (3pm) so you got to get riding early.
    More bike notes: if you’re going to be here for more than a day but less than a month CaBi (Capital Bikeshare) offers but doesn’t publish a 5 day membership option. Also regarding CaBi. If you’re going for a day ride, you should rent a bike from a traditional bike rental place, it’ll be cheaper. If you’re looking for a fun, green and super easy transit option, CaBi is the way to go.
    I know you’ve mentioned it elsewhere in this blog (maybe?) but there’s always touring the national cathedral. They’ve got some cool gargoyles and it’s just such a cool building.
    I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this throughout the weekend. I’ll share them.

  2. FS says:

    Old Town Alexandria, a place not generally considered easily-accessible by public transportation

    What about King Street Metro station?

    • You are absolutely right, FS. That’s exactly what you or I would do in that situation. I was putting on my tourist goggles, and considered that maybe a subway ride plus a transfer to a bus (or a mile-long walk) might be a bit too urban for the average visitor, though.

  3. Ariel says:

    Continuing with the bike meme, when I lived in Washington, I used to love biking from Rock Creek down to the mall, and then either to Mt. Vernon or on the towpath out to Great Falls. Washington is a great biking city.

    If you’ve brought a car, some of the regional attractions are not too far away. Annapolis is not a long drive and the city is beautiful and walkable. I’m not sure if the grounds to the Naval Academy are still open to the public (or if they’ll be open to the public during a government shutdown), but the city is beautiful and worth visiting even without touring the Naval Academy.

  4. Maybe I should tell Congress how horribly disappointed I’ll be if the DEA has to stop hassling marijuana dispensaries for a day or two. I’ll even produce some tears for camera if that will help.

  5. heidi says:

    Just drive, camp, or RV to Canada instead. You can get a Nexus card or Fastcard from Canada instead of a passport, and they have fantastic tourism and beautiful Parks. If you are a US citizen and driving, you DO NOT need a passport to get back in.

  6. Janet says:

    Good list. Most of the alternatives are right on the money. I’d like to also add the following favs:
    – Great Falls (VA and/or MD) vs. Hains Point for nature, birding, and history (Washington and the canals). For watching airplanes land–right over your head if they’re coming from the north–try Gravely Point off the GW Parkway.
    – Mount Vernon Estate
    – Newseum and International Spy Museum
    – Old Town Alexandria (Torpedo Factory, Christ Church, etc.). Note, they’ve also got a free red trolley that takes visitors from the King Street metro to the sites on King Street.

  7. Sebastian says:

    How about state and county parks and historic areas? Fairfax Co Historic sites http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/history.htm
    There are many historic houses in the area administered by local foundations. For example, Gunston Hall http://www.gunstonhall.org/
    The DAR Museum http://www.dar.org/museum/
    The Marine Corps Museum has an announcement up that it will be open in case of a shutdown (though one children’s event April 9th would be cancelled). http://www.usmcmuseum.com/index.asp This is really a fabulous museum that is worth the trip.

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