Live Like a Tourist: Off-Beat Edition


It’s time for another edition of “Live Like a Tourist”! In case you don’t remember how to play, “living like a tourist” means experiencing (and enjoying!) your hometown as if you were a tourist there. This week, we’re going off the beaten tourist-track to find some hidden gems.

Washington has some wonderful art on display right now, and none of it is in the “top 5” museums that tourists typically visit. The National Portrait Gallery has an exhibit called “Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now,” inspired by old black-and-white silhouette drawings, but with a modern twist. The life-size paper cut-outs of children dancing around a maypole are remarkable. And can you see the face cast by shadow in the second picture above?

Meanwhile, the Renwick Gallery has an exhibit of art from the Burning Man festival. (From what I’ve read about Burning Man, seeing the art within an air-conditioned museum seems like a much better alternative than going to the festival.) The Renwick is one of my favorite museums in DC: it’s small, so you can get through it in about an hour, and usually their exhibits involve large-scale art that fill the entire museum, making for an immersive experience. They also make for great Instagram posts.

And finally, I got to set my eyes on some real Russian Faberge eggs (how topical!), on display at the Hillwood Estate, former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post: businesswoman, philanthropist, and collector of all things sparkly. The eggs, art and lavish furnishings in the mansion-turned-museum are rivaled by its gorgeous 25 acres of gardens.

Even if your city doesn’t have a wealth of museums, you can find quirky and interesting sights anywhere and everywhere. Case in point: At the end of my street, there’s a short block with a street sign declaring it to be “Capitalsaurus Court.” In a city where most of the streets are letters, numbers and states, the name stands out. Since there’s a school on that block, I assumed the street name was part of a school project. But no. This week I learned that, back in 1898, workers found dinosaur bones on that very block. The new species was later dubbed the Capitalsaurus, and it’s now the official dinosaur of Washington DC (appropriately, the dinosaur was a predator).

Just two blocks from Capitalsaurus Court, there are tiny narwhal sculptures entwined around a street post for North Carolina Avenue, part of an artist’s Alphabet Animals project that matches animals to street names (a dog on D Street, a koala on K Street, etc.). I confess I didn’t notice the little narwhals until I read about them in the newspaper. I suspect that, unfortunately, most us don’t look up often enough to see the interesting things around us.

These little eccentricities may be harder to find than an art museum, but they add character to the places we live and help us better understand our “place” in the world (literally). If you think you’ve already tapped out your city’s tourist attractions, dig deeper – you may even find dinosaur bones.


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