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Best Local History & Culture in Washington DC

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Designed by architect James Renwick, who also designed the Smithsonian Castle, this gallery was the home of the Corcoran Art Collection until it outgrew the building. Currently, the Renwick is among the foremost craft museums in the country. It includes a full array of the art form, from handwoven rugs to Shaker furniture. The museum shop is a treasure trove of art and books honoring fine craftsmanship. The place reopened in 2015 after undergoing 2 years of renovations.

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From beneath the 90-foot (30-meter) portico, visitors can gaze across an expanse of sloping lawn to the Potomac River as it flows past Mount Vernon. This 17th-century plantation house was once home to the first President of the United States, George Washington. The property was originally owned by Washington's father, Augustine, and George replaced a smaller, more modest home with Mount Vernon when he came into the property, beginning in 1758. Today, costumed guides narrate the history of the elegant mansion and of the surrounding buildings, which have been preserved to reflect the days when the first president resided here. Visitors are invited to walk around the 500-acre (200-hectare) estate, tour the buildings and participate in the "Hands-on History" exhibits that recreate farming techniques and colonial games.

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The Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum is housed in the oldest surviving synagogue in Washington which was built by German-Jewish immigrants. Its dedication in 1876 was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant. Saved from the wrecking ball in 1969, the museum was moved three blocks to 3rd and G streets and restored as a museum exploring the Jewish contributions to the nation's capital. The permanent collection includes letters, scrapbooks, oral histories, photographs, ritual objects and textiles documenting the history of local Jewish families and organizations.

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Take a trip back in time and explore the much celebrated American history at the National Museum of American History. Rich in displays that depict the American journey through the ages; it resides inside a gallery that portrays the emergence of the American national anthem along with other innovative and cherished artifacts. Housed within this multi-floor building are exhibition halls and rooms that illustrate the glorious and doom days of America.

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Rare books, paintings and other memorabilia, such as musical instruments, costumes and films, make this library and popular research center a treasure trove of valuables worth perusing. Home to a Conservation Lab, Elizabethan-style theater, and the Grand Hall, several special events take place here, including concerts, plays, literary readings and more. The library also boasts the largest collection of Shakespeare materials.

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The Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens is the legacy of Marjorie Merriweather Post, a famous socialite and founder of General Foods. The 40-room mansion dates back to the 1920s and houses a huge collection of art, jewelry and other artifacts that belong to her. View rare Faberge eggs, historic portraits, exquisite tapestries and pieces of china. Walk through the landscaped gardens and enjoy the colorful flowers and plants.

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Arlington House once belonged to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, whose wife, Mary Custis, a great-granddaughter of George Washington, inherited the home. During the Civil War, Union troops made the house their headquarters. The home is furnished as it was when the Lees raised their seven children here. Park rangers dressed in period costume help dramatize the era. Enjoy a stunning view of Washington from the front of the hillside mansion. As the mansion is located within Arlington National Cemetery, visitors must either walk from the Visitor Center or join the Tourmobile Sightseeing tour of the cemetery.

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Abolitionist Frederick Douglass purchased this 21-room home, making him the first African-American to buy a home in an area then restricted to whites. Known as Cedar Hill, the home became the nation's first Black National Historic Site. The original furnishings are in large part the ones Douglass himself owned. They include the 1200-volume library of this self-taught man. Also on display are gifts given to Douglass by such contemporaries as Mary Todd Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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At this lesser-known Smithsonian museum, the spotlight is on African-American culture, community and issues. There is no permanent collection, but the museum provides innovative, special exhibits. They tend to be current and interactive, with many suited to children. Admission is free.

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Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument formerly known as Sewall House till 1929, Alva Belmont House till 1972 and Sewall-Belmont House and Museum till 2016. Built in 1800, it is one of the oldest houses in Capitol Hill. It is dedicated to National Woman's Party leaders Alva Belmont and Alice Paul. Since 1929, it was the headquarters of the Party whose sole focus was engaging in the fight for women's suffrage. It has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Historic Landmark, and later designated as a National Monument by President Barack Obama in 2016.

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President Abraham Lincoln lived at this charming Gothic Revival cottage, located on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, for thirteen months during the years of 1862, 1863, and 1864. It was here that he developed the Emancipation Proclamation. The day before his assassination, Lincoln road out to the cottage before heading back to the White House. Today, the cottage stands as a tribute to the "Great Orator". Guests can visit the cottage by purchasing a ticket for a guided tour of the grounds and building, the entrance is through Eagle Gate of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Keep in mind that it is recommended that you buy your tickets in advance.

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Tucked into a courtyard in the heart of busy Georgetown, the Old Stone House dates back to 1765. It is believed to be the oldest building in Washington and the only one remaining from the pre-Revolutionary period. The house provides a glimpse of mid-18th century life in a cramped but functional living space. Simple furnishings can be found in most rooms.

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