Thursday, August 23, 2012

Where to Find Fun Museum Events: Music, Trivia, After Hours Parties and More

As a kid, I found museums to be deathly boring.  I mean, who wants to go around looking at pictures of old stuff and learning things?  Gross.  

Then, in fifth grade, my disdain for museums turned into full blown terror when I got wind of an upcoming field trip to a local museum containing actual Egyptian mummies.  This was because, against my mother's advice, I had recently viewed  a low budget TV movie about mummies that used their petrified fingernails to extract human brains from the nostrils of unsuspecting victims.    

But I digress.  The point is, a museum can be a very enjoyable place to spend an afternoon provided that you're not terrified its artifacts are going to suddenly spring to life and try to violently murder you.  And that's a very fortunate thing for residents of a city that happens to be overflowing with all varieties of galleries and exhibits.  

Pensive gazing, Bueller style
But even those who happily spend days on end feeding their inner art/history/science nerd can get a little fatigued of the traditional offerings after a while.  Which is why I've put together this list of museum activities that don't really have anything to do with pensive gazing.
You've probably heard by now that the National Building Museum is offering indoor mini-golf for only $5 per person.  But don't delay, since you'll only have until Labor Day to "play holes inspired by the world that people design and build, created by area architects, construction firms, and others who influence the built environment. Challenge your friends and family to a round of mini-golf in air-conditioned comfort, packed with enough fun to make Augusta National Golf Club green with envy!"

Every third Thursday of the month, the Smithsonian American Art Museum's "Take Five!" performance series features free, live jazz in the Kogod Courtyard from 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. The museum's café stays open so guests can enjoy beer, wine and light snacks during the performance, and a large selection of classic board games (Candyland, anyone?) are also available for those who enjoy a little competition alongside their jazz. 

Every Friday this summer, the National Gallery of Art features the popular "Jazz in the Sculpture Garden" series. Rain or shine, crowds converge on the garden each week to hear all types of jazz, from Dixieland to Afro-Cuban to Louisiana funk. Read more about it in the Gamma Girls' Favorite Summer Activities post

Also at the National Gallery of Art is free, live music on Sundays at 6:30 p.m.  Concerts held in the West Building take place from February-July and feature choral, Afghan, opera music and more.  Check back in the winter for a complete listing of the next series!   


The beautiful gardens of Dumbarton Oaks, a research library and museum located in Georgetown, feature stunning views of fragrant flowers, sweeping lawns, intricate fountains and more. Brief introductory tours are offered , but the gardens are easy to navigate on your own.  Open daily from 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. except on Mondays, general admission to the gardens is $5 for children, seniors, and students and $8 for everyone else except Harvard students, faculty and staff, for whom it’s free. Good for you, nerds!  

Capital Katie wrote about the Hillwood Museum in her Where to Take Your Mother When She Visits post, and with good reason- the thirteen acres of formal gardens are beautiful and not to be missed. From the traditional rose garden to the whimsical Japanese garden, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to explore. Hillwood is open from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and on select Sundays from 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.

Another fun event in the Portrait Gallery's Kogod Courtyard is the free monthly "Pop Quiz" trivia series.  Each month features a different theme- the most recent being the Olympics- in which players can come try their hand at trivia while enjoying a beverage or two from the museum cafe.  Check back at the upcoming events page on the museum's website to find the next trivia night.     

Way back when Doing the District was a wee baby, I wrote about an impromptu lady date I went on at the Natural History Museum; first we stopped at the Butterfly Pavilion, where for the price of $6, one can enter a room with gorgeous butterflies fluttering all about (general entry into the museum is free), then we visited one of the Smithsonian's three IMAX theaters, which have the largest screens in the D.C. region and measure up to six stories tall.  In addition to the artfully captured nature and wildlife films, you can check out the occasional mainstream flick offered at select theaters in the evening.  Currently playing: The Dark Knight Rises.  

Among the most popular activities on this list are the "Full Moon" hikes put on by the National Arboretum.  Take a four-mile-long, mildly strenuous hike through moonlit gardens, meadows and woods as your guide shares points of special interest and seasonal highlights.  As the website notes, the two-hour walk over hilly and uneven terrain is a brisk hike, not a tour, so wear good walking shoes and dress for the weather.  The upcoming sessions are full, but you can register for a November walk- err, I mean hike- here

There are lots of great options for after hours fun at a number of area museums.  Anderson House offers behind the scenes museum tours at night, featuring stops at a secret staircase and wine tasting in the garden, not normally open to the public (ooh, mysterious).   

On the first Thursday of the month, the Phillips Collection holds its "Phillips After 5" event, an evening gathering for art lovers to mix and mingle while enjoying live music, food, a cash bar, gallery talks and more.  Reservations are strongly encouraged to ensure you get a ticket before they sell out.

A few times a year, the Hirshhorn throws a huge "After Hours" bash, in which guests can check out exhibits accompanied by lasers, smoke machines, cash only bars, and local DJs.  Tickets sell out quickly for this sought after event, so be sure to keep an eye out for the next After Hours here.

Every first Friday of the month, Dupont area galleries stay open late and offer free wine and snacks to visitors who wander from gallery to gallery to view the artwork and talk with artists, art aficionados, and young professionals looking for a change from the typical bar scene.    

Any other museum events you'd recommend?  Let us know!


  1. Love the Ferris Bueller photo! Great post, Jules.

  2. Wow you've found quite a lot to do!
    Everything seems like it would be a blast. I hope you enjoy it dear :)