The government shutdown has the potential to disrupt a lot of things — government workers' earnings and federal services, for example — but it's also a precarious situation for your social plans. That's especially true if you have out-of-town visitors coming to the District during the affected time period: Many of the city's best attractions, such as the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo, will be open through Monday but could be closed afterward if the shutdown continues. (The National Gallery of Art will be open on Monday and Tuesday, but its status is unsure after that; The Library of Congress and U. S. Botanic Garden have already closed.) What will you do with your disappointed nieces and nephews? Where will you take Great Aunt Mary, who traveled all this way?
But the Washington area is so much more than the Mall. For every shuttered museum or park, we've offered up an apt substitute that is privately-run, thus avoiding the shutdown. They may not be free, like the Smithsonians are, but they offer new and different cultural or historical experiences, especially for seasoned Mall-goers. Or at least they'll get you and your kids out of the house.
Anacostia Community Museum and the National Museum of African American History
The Anacostia Community Museum takes a community-focused look at African American history. So does the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis, which traces the African American experience in Maryland from colonial days through Harriet Tubman and Matthew Henson, and the Alexandria Black History Museum, where exhibitions honor local activists and explore the impact of slavery in the area.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Alternative: National Museum of Women in the Arts
Get your modern art fix at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, where “Magnetic Fields” examines common threads in multiple generations of abstract art created by African American painters, printers and sculptors, and “Hung Liu in Print” rounds up paintings, tapestries and prints by Chinese artist Hung Liu.
Library of Congress
Alternative: Folger Shakespeare Library
While it doesn’t have the same American focus, the Folger Shakespeare Library is another repository for important, historical documents, including 82 of the 235 known copies of Shakespeare's First Folio.
National Air and Space Museum/Udvar-Hazy Center
Alternative: College Park Aviation Museum
The College Park Aviation Museum is a great way, even under normal circumstances, to avoid the crowds at the Air and Space Museum. It has crafts for kids, interactive displays, flight simulators, planes to climb on and yes, a goodie bag for the little ones at the end of the visit.
National Gallery of Art
Alternative: Phillips Collection
The National Gallery may be bigger, but the Phillips Collection is where modern art got its start in the District. The museum was founded in 1921, 20 years before the National Gallery opened its doors. Spend some time with the Phillips's permanent collection in lieu of a trip to the National Gallery of Art's west building, and linger in the Rothko Room as an alternative to the east building.
National Museum of African Art
Alternative: The African Art Museum of Maryland
Masks, musical instruments, textiles and jewelry can be found in Fulton, where the African Art Museum of Maryland houses a collection of traditional and contemporary African artworks and objects. And the best part, for budget-conscious nonessentials? Admission is free.
National Museum of American History
Alternative: Mount Vernon
The Father of Our Country is given his due at Mount Vernon, where interactive movies and displays on “The Real George Washington” supplement the usual uniforms, artifacts and historic furniture. Besides, the Smithsonian doesn't have a working distillery — and George Washington's Mount Vernon does. (For those of us whose favorite childhood memories of American History revolved around the train exhibit, the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore is the perfect substitute.)
National Museum of Natural History
Alternative: Maryland Science Center
If you've got children who go crazy for dinosaurs, take them to the Maryland Science Center's Dinosaur Mysteries exhibit, where pint-size archaeologists can work in “dig pits,” touch dinosaur skulls, and measure bones and footprints. The Science Center also features hands-on science experiments, and an observatory with a telescope.
National Postal Museum
Trade one form of communication for another with a trip to the Newseum, where you can contemplate the First Amendment and the state of our news media, which will be endlessly dissecting the shutdown. While you're there, head up to the terrace on the top floor for the best view of the Capitol building, and give it your angriest glare. Unfortunately, the museum is on the pricier side for budget-conscious furloughed workers — $24.95 plus tax — even if the ticket does allow you to spend two days there.
Alternative: National Aquarium in Baltimore
Very few animal exhibits can match seeing the National Zoo's pandas in person — unless it's coming face-to-face with sharks zipping around the National Aquarium's massive Blacktip Reef exhibition. The giant coral tanks and hundreds of fish will delight visitors of all ages.
Alternative: Textile Museum
The Renwick has become known for its crafty exhibits, and the Textile Museum's new home at George Washington University is showing “The Box Project: Uncommon Threads,” which features intricate three-dimensional works created by three dozen textile artists from around the world — all of which are small enough to fit in a medium-sized box.
This story was originally published Sept. 30, 2013. It has been updated.