Escape DC’s Inauguration Crowds

An estimated 1.8 million people flooded Washington, DC, for the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. While the festivities surrounding the 2013 inauguration -- most notably, the swearing-in ceremony, inaugural address and inaugural parade -- may not draw quite as many people, it's still expected that hundreds of thousands will descend upon the capital. While a majority of the throngs will flock to Washington, DC's most iconic sites like the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, play it smart and seek out some of DC's lesser-known -- but no less interesting -- attractions. Here we've gathered 5 under-the-radar DC sites to help you avoid the inevitable crowds come Inauguration Day, Sunday, Jan. 20.

1. Smithsonian National Postal Museum

National Postal Museum DC
Cliff1066, flickr

We guarantee that the inauguration crowds will flock to the Smithsonian Institution's big boys, like the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History. Why not slip past the masses and head instead to one of the Smithsonian's smaller gems, like the Smithsonian National Postal Museum?

This sorely overlooked museum might not have the sexiest of names, but it features a truly fascinating collection of memorabilia detailing American history. While the museum does house the largest stamp collection in the world, as well as some of the world's rarest postal stamps, it also details the fascinating history of the postal service in shaping the nation and its communications. Exhibits highlight exactly how mail is delivered, the postal system in colonial America, the history of the Pony Express and a collection of unusual and artistic mailboxes. One of the more touching exhibits features a series of wartime letters to and from soldiers serving in battle.

2. Torpedo Factory Art Center

Torpedo Art Factory, Alexandria VA
Adam Fagen, flickr

Escape the crowded confines of the Beltway and head to Alexandria, VA, to explore the Torpedo Factory Art Center, one of the more unexpected and rewarding cultural finds in the Washington, DC, area. Located on Alexandria’s scenic Potomac waterfront and housed in what was once a torpedo factory during World War II, the building became a designated workspace for artists in the 1970s.

Today 165 artists work within more than 80 studio spaces in the former factory, using the building as both workspace and gallery. Visitors will find potters, jewelers, printmakers, glass blowers, photographers and sculptors producing and selling their work. Make your way up to the building's third floor, where you'll find the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, whose exhibits examine how archaeologists have studied Alexandria's past.

3. Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral
Geoff Livingston, flickr

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, better known as the Washington National Cathedral, touts itself as the "spiritual home for the nation," and indeed, its breathtaking Gothic exterior does strike a powerful chord with many visitors to the nation's capital. The cathedral ranks as the sixth largest in the world, and visitors interested in learning more about the church's architecture, artwork and history can join one of the 30-minute tours that depart periodically throughout the day.

One of the highlights of the cathedral is the Great Organ, a massive instrument that comprises 10,647 pipes. Plan your visit on a Monday or Wednesday afternoon and you'll be treated to a talk by one of the cathedral's organists followed by a brief performance. If you're unable to see the cathedral by day, an equally magical experience is to visit at night, when the cathedral choristers perform an evensong Monday through Thursday each week at 5:30 p.m.

4. Millennium Stage: John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Kennedy Center, DC

Culture vultures on a budget should bypass the pricier offerings (and crowds) at the famed Kennedy Center's main stages for its Millennium Stage, which stages one free performance every day of the year. The initiative, known as Performing Arts for Everyone, aims, just as the name implies, to introduce the Kennedy Center's offerings to a wider audience, including locals and visitors.

The hour-long performances are held at 6 p.m. daily, and feature a variety of arts, including theater, vocal, instrumental and dance. Also be sure to take the elevator to the Kennedy’s roof for a panoramic view of the entire city -- just beyond, you’ll see the historic Georgetown neighborhood, the infamous Watergate complex, the stately Washington Cathedral, the Lincoln Memorial, the US Capitol and more, all within view.

5. African American Civil War Memorial and Museum

Civil War Museum, DC
Elvert Barnes, flickr

African American Civil War Memorial and Museum  While most visitors to Washington, DC, head directly to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects to our nation's service members, consider stepping off the beaten path and paying homage to African-American soldiers and sailors who fought for the Union during the Civil War. That remarkable story is told at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum.

Your first stop should be the memorial itself: Located at the corners of Vermont Avenue, 10th Street, and U Street NW, the memorial sculpture titled, "The Spirit of Freedom," honors the 209,145 African-American soldiers and sailors who served during the Civil War. Directly across from the memorial, the African American Civil War Museum highlights the roles and stories of these soldiers through exhibits featuring photographs, newspaper articles and replicas of clothing, uniforms and weapons used during the war. Once hunger strikes, swing around the block to the famed Ben’s Chili Bowl, a veritable local institution where Obama himself has eaten.

6. Getting Around DC During the Inauguration

The DC Metro is likely to be the favored mode of transportation during the Inauguration, and the rail system will open from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. that day, with 17 hours of continuous rush-hour service in effect. Consider purchasing a pre-loaded commemorative 2013 Inaugural SmarTrip Metro day pass in advance. The pass allows for unlimited travel on Inauguration Day.

Metrobus Service
Because of anticipated street closures, all Metro buses will be prepared for detours, and will be operating rush-hour service in the morning, as well as an early rush-hour service in the afternoon.

Commuter Rail
The MARC trains will be running limited service during the morning and afternoon of Inauguration Day.

DC’s Overlooked Memorials
Photo by M.V. Jantzen, flickr
Explore other sites in DC, including these overlooked memorials.
Capital Bikeshare and Bike Parking
On Inauguration Day, the Capital Bikeshare program will create 2 corrals to serve members, located at 17th and K streets NW (Farragut Square), and 12th Street and Independence Avenue SW (US Department of Agriculture). Bike parking for hundreds of bikes will be established at 16th and I streets NW.

Vehicle Access
DC offers the popular Car2Go car share program along with an app to locate available cars for interested drivers. However because of the many street closures, driving during the Inauguration is not recommended.

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