The National Museum of African Art (950 Independence Ave. S.W., 202-357-4600): Masks, figurative sculptures, ceramics and metalwork as well as the utilitarian objects of everyday life such as bowls, chairs and more are featured in the museum's permanent collection of contemporary and traditional art. A highlight is The Ancient West African City of Benin From 1300 to 1897 A.D. -- a collection of artifacts from the royal court of the kingdom of Benin before British colonial rule was imposed on the empire. The museum's Warren M. Robbins Library is open to the public by appointment only, but it's worth calling ahead to schedule a visit.
The National Museum of Arts and Industries (900 Jefferson Drive S.W.): Closed for renovation.
The Freer Gallery of Art/Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Jefferson Drive at 12th Street Southwest/1050 Independence Ave. S.W., 202-633-4080): Connected by an underground exhibition area and served by the same staff and a single director, these two galleries are considered the unofficial national museum of Asian art.
The Freer's collection includes works from China, Japan, Korea and Near Eastern nations. It is also home to an extensive collection of works by American artist James McNeill Whistler, including an elaborately decorated room Whistler designed in London that was shipped here after the owner's death.
The Sackler offers a large display of Asian artifacts as well as a collection of Islamic, Indian, Japanese and Korean pieces. Current exhibits at the two galleries include prints by Whistler, who was a master of that art though he was much better known for his oil paintings, and a collection of 15th- to 17th-century illustrated manuscripts of lyrical poetry from Persia.
The Smithsonian Institution Building (1000 Jefferson Drive S.W., 202-633-1000): "The Castle" is the earliest building on the Mall, dating to 1847. Built of red sandstone and renovated at various points, it was home to the first secretary of the Smithsonian as well as the museum itself. This first exhibit hall opened in 1858 and didn't close until the 1960s. Today, the Castle serves as the Smithsonian's information center. A free 24-minute orientation video is shown in two theaters. There are electronic maps of the area and a scale model of the Mall and its monuments. Information on daily Smithsonian events is also available.
Where to eat
American History, Natural History, and Air and Space have self-service cafes. The Commons in the Castle serves Sunday brunch. Call 202-371-1083 for reservations.
The easiest way to get to Washington is to drive to an outlying station of the Washington subway and take the Metro to the Smithsonian, Federal Triangle or the L'Enfant Plaza stations. For more information on fares and parking, visit www.wmata.com.
For more regional trips, see Page 37.