Museum-ing 101

Growing up in a rural Mid-Atlantic town I often thought about the fancy “city-folk”  that would go to the theater and museums. I never thought that I would be one of them. In high school, that changed. I realized that living just 30 minutes out of the nation’s capital meant that I had access to all sorts of culture and education because of a small (huge) grouping of museums known as Smithsonian. At present, I have been to each and every one of them, most galleries, most other museums in the city, and almost all of the theaters in the area. Now, I’m not sure that I would label myself as fancy or a city-folk but I will say that I have made a huge effort to be cultured which is a far cry from how I thought I would wind up after my upbringing in my homogeneous little town.

Now, since I’ve come so far, I want to share with you how to take your first steps with confidence. It can be overwhelming when watching television or movies looking at all the cocktail parties and ball gowns. At first you may feel like an impostor when planning out a trip but I assure that passes. Once you immerse yourself in the first exhibit that speaks to you… you’ll be hooked. The rest of the museum-goers will melt into the background and you will grow. I’ve never left a museum quite the same person I went in.

Where to start? This is a simple question with many different answers. What interests you? Ships, planes, buildings, history, art, spies, current events, jewelry, dentistry….sex? There is a museum to fit any interest. Pick just one. You can start small- a local museum or gallery.

Once you have picked a museum, use this tips to help you feel comfortable and keep you from making any first timer flubs.

  • Always Check Museum Policies. Are strollers allowed? Backpacks? Can you bring a camera with a removable lens? Are you able to use your camera flash? Are water bottles allowed or do they have to be thrown away/checked with a bag? Doing a quick check will save a lot of embarrassing exchanges with the security officer.
  • Facilities and Amenities. Some museums or historical points of interest are outside. Are there bathrooms that are conveniently located? Is there a cafe for lunch? Should you pack a lunch or plan a restaurant nearby? Are there areas that are family friendly? How much walking will be involved? Be sure to wear comfy shoes! Are there steep steps and you have vertigo?
  • See What Exhibits Are On Display. Maybe you love the overall topic of a museum but may not have interest in their current offerings. Additionally, some museums that you wouldn’t normally be interested in may have exhibits that you would be surprised to know they offer. At one point the Air and Space Museum had a Star Wars exhibit that was out of this world (hey, I take the puns where I can get them).
  • Check Cost or Lack Of. The Smithsonian Museums and Zoo are free but many museums don’t have endowments that allow for free admittance. Some museums offer a free or reduced rate time per week or month. Check to see if that is available at the location you have chosen and if your schedule allows, save yourself some dough. See if a museum with a fee is offering free admission for Museum Day Live!
  • Are there tours available? If you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of  meandering around a museum without someone to guide you inquire about tours. Often there is a docent, tour guide or audio tour available for free, tips, or a small fee. ( I recommend taking small bills anyway, just in case there is a bag check or tour guide that did an exceptional job if/when tipping is allowed)

That’s it! It may seem overwhelming at first, but you’ll soon be able to call or scan the websites for the information you need in the blink of an eye. You’ll start to notice patterns- no flash at art museums, no backpacks either.

Please feel free to share your own suggestions for first time museum goers. Is there something I missed? Any additions or corrections please either comment or email me at

Thanks for wandering with me.



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