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Washington D.C. (Day 5): Supreme Court, Museum of Natural History, & US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Summary: On our fifth day in Washington D.C. we took a self-guided tour of the Supreme Court. We also we spent time at the Museum of National History before ending the day with the highly impactful US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Pack a lunch to-go and an enjoy an entirely cost-free day. This blog post is part of 6-part series related to our time in Washington D.C.

What You Should Bring. We packed sandwiches, a ton of snacks, and lots of water so we wouldn't be caught trying to find a place to eat. During our Spring Break/March trip to Washington D.C., the temperatures were still freezing at night with a fairly cold wind during the day. We packed extra layers and scarves to stay warm.

Getting there. We left our Air BnB in time to arrive at the Museum of Natural History when they opened at 10:00 a.m. There is also public transportation available but we used Uber for our trips to and from the National Mall. The Museum of Natural History is located on the National Mall between 9th and 12th street. The Supreme Court is located behind the U.S. Capital and about a 1.2 mile walk from the Museum. The Holocaust Museum is 1.8 miles from the Supreme Court. We traveled by foot after the ride from our Air BnB but an Uber or Lyft would have worked just as well.

Visiting the Museum of Natural History. Entrance to the Smithsonian Natural Museum is free like all Smithsonian museums. It is only open Wednesday through Sunday (10:00-5:30), so be sure to plan your Washington DC itinerary accordingly. We stayed just two hours at this museum but primarily because, while interesting, it was not unlike other natural museums we have visited all over the United States, e.g. New York, LA, etc. However, if our kids were younger during this trip, we would have allowed for more time here as it has great interactive exhibits that our kids surely would have enjoyed in their younger years. The most memorable exhibit was Ocean Hall, which features 674 marine species. The museum also contains all the usual exhibits you will find at a natural history museum such as dinosaur skeletons and a hall of mammals. Unfortunately, we did not not have photos of our time in this museum.

Supreme Court of the United States. Next, we walked over to the US Supreme Court building where we took a self-guided tour. Be sure to check the website before visiting to see if you can attend an actual oral argument, though be aware that in order to catch a seat, you will have to arrive very early (see lines in photos below). Also, at the time of this post, the Court was currently closed to public access due to the pandemic.

In addition to viewing the courtroom itself, visitors can view five exhibits on display, specifically: The Supreme Court Building: America’s Temple of Justice, In Re Lady Lawyers: The Rise of Women Attorneys and the Supreme Court, All Together for the Camera: A History of the Supreme Court’s Group Photograph, Forgotten Legacy: Judicial Portraits by Cornelia Adèle Fassett, and Sandra Day O’Connor, First Woman on the Supreme Court.

History of the Supreme Court Building. While the Supreme Court was established under the U.S. Constitution, the current building that houses this equal branch of the Federal government was not completed until 1935 (the 146th year of its existence). Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had also been President of the United States from 1909-1913, convinced Congress in 1929 to finally create a permanent home for the Court. Incidentally, both the building's architect, Cass Gilbert, and President Taft, did not survive to see the ribbon cutting. Nevertheless, both clearly left their permanent mark. The building itself meets the challenge of exemplifying the importance of the institution that it represents. Walk through these impressive halls and you can't help but feel the significance of this place.

US Holocaust Memorial Museum. This stop was a last minute addition to our itinerary. We had visited the Holocaust museum in Prague, Czech Republic, and were so moved by the experience enough to want to see our own country's museum dedicated to this important historical time. We are so glad we visited this one too. Just like when visiting Prague, this museum is a "must see," while in Washington DC.

Visiting the Museum. Entrance to the museum is free and visiting hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Currently during the pandemic, timed entries are required. Visit the website to sign up. Exhibits include the museum's narrative history of the Holocaust, which includes artifacts, a video presentation, and personal stories. Unique to this museum is an exhibit specific to the US response, including coming to terms with our late involvement in preventing further genocide. This museum is well worth your time when visiting Washington DC. It is not only important history to know, they do a really great job of telling the story - so much so that we didn't even take the time to get a ton of photos and instead were absorbed by the impactful exhibits.


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