Prelude: Great Falls National Park. Photo: Nitin Mukul

We spent a long weekend in Washington, D.C., recently and for the first time in as long as we can remember, we did not emerge exhausted. We used to live in the District and frequently return there for work. But anytime we visit as a family, we cram in too many sites and museums and everyone is achy and miserable by midday. So if you’re okay avoiding the National Mall entirely, consider this more manageable itinerary:

Day 1: Glenstone Museum; Potomac, Maryland 

Winding by a massive Richard Serra sculpture at Glenstone, Photo: Nitin Mukul

We’re big fans of Storm King in New York’s Hudson Valley and the Grounds for Sculpture in central New Jersey, yet this art museum and sculpture garden was never on our radar. Around for more than a decade but expanded in late 2018, Glenstone is now the largest private contemporary art museum in America.

The courtyard at Glenstone. Photo: Nitin Mukul

Warning that the free tickets go quickly and your best shot might be a random weekday. The scarcity serves the experience well, though, because massive, seemingly timeless works by Richard Serra and Michael Heizer will make you feel small and like you want the space and quiet to soak them up. The peaceful boardwalk laid through the woods and landscape is conducive to contemplation. 

Day 2: National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center; Chantilly, Virgina

Under the space shuttle at the National Air and Space Museum. Photo: Nitin Mukul

There’s one key reason to visit: the massive hangar with literally hundreds of aircraft is awesome. Once again, we felt small and yet the planes and parts are up close in a way I hadn’t really seen before. Buy IMAX tickets or a ride on the virtual simulators. We also loved an interactive explanation on black holes (by a volunteer high school student!) and some of the most helpful docents are former military with encyclopedic knowledge of air and space. 

Day 3: International Spy Museum; Washington, D.C. 

An interactive display at the Spy Museum, Photo: Nitin Mukul

This museum does a decent job connecting espionage past and present, and weaving in the role of spies in technological advancement and global affairs. The interactive part of the museum (you’re assigned an identity and given a mission) is juvenile (that’s not a bad thing; kids love pushing buttons on big computer displays). There are other curiosities like the axe used to kill Leon Trotsky and history lessons galore on the role of double agents and an interactive feature on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The place to eat when on U Street. Photo: Nitin Mukul

We ended the day (and our trip) with a heavy lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl

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