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Buff Strickland Washington DC

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Artists + Aesthetes

Background Check You are: More interested in the pursuit of beauty than in the pursuit of power. Prouder of the kids’ graffiti than of their report cards. Planning to get The Da Vinci Code—because you think it’s an art book

Fortunately, the federal government’s Hoover-like ability to vacuum up treasures has turned D.C. into an art mecca.

Where to Begin

Just down the hill from the Capitol—but a galaxy away—at the National Gallery of Art (Constitution Ave. NW, between Third and Seventh Sts.; 202/737-4215; www.nga.gov). The I.M. Pei– designed East Building, its pink marble bringing a rosy glow to the otherwise alabaster Mall, houses a modern-art collection with Calder sculptures that will thrill your kids (look for a fish fashioned out of wire, perched on tiny hands). The enormous West Building has the only Da Vinci in America, as well as Vermeers, Monets, and Van Goghs. Grab lunch in the gallery’s sculpture garden—there’s a café serving tasty salmon (pizza, too)—and then find the optical-illusion Roy Lichtenstein house. You’re a stone’s throw from the Mall’s 1947 carousel; go for a whirl before forging on.

Other Essential Museums

The National Museum of the American Indian (Fourth St. and Independence Ave. SW; 202/633-1000; nmai.si.edu), the Mall’s newest landmark, could do a better job teaching Native American history and culture, but it does have beautiful craftwork, such as beaded Lakota buckskin dresses and Cherokee wasp-nest masks. Plus, the museum’s Mitsitam Native Foods Café is the standout cafeteria on the Mall—buffalo burgers, anyone?Adults have to pay to get into the Phillips Collection (1600 21st St. NW; 202/387-2151; www.phillipscollection.org; adults $12, kids 18 and under free) in Dupont Circle—it’s not part of the free Smithsonian system—but it’s worth it, and your teens will identify with all of those rebellious Impressionists.

Where to Stay

Set in the converted 1839 General Post Office, the boutique Hotel Monaco (700 F St. NW; 202/628-7177; www.monaco-dc.com; doubles from $229) has palatial hallways, and rooms with 20-foot ceilings, DVD players, and the bounciest beds your kids will ever jump on.

Your Stomping Grounds

Hotel Monaco is in the Penn Quarter, a former no-man’s-land that’s now ground zero for the gallery scene, concentrated on Seventh Street. The neighborhood also encompasses Chinatown, the place to eat bohemian-style. Chinatown Express (746 Sixth St. NW; 202/638-0425; lunch or dinner for four $30) has a free sidewalk show: you can watch chefs in the window stretching and cutting soup noodles, then go in and slurp. D.C.’s best barbecue is at Capital Q (707 H St. NW; 202/347-8396; lunch or dinner for four $30), which specializes in Texas-style brisket. Slightly fancier, the Spanish tapas bar Jaleo (480 Seventh St. NW; 202/628-7949; dinner for four $60) has enough variety to please even the most finicky squirt, and its brightly colored murals are nothing if not artistic. ✚

David Plotz is the deputy editor of Slate and author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank. A father of two, he’s a lifelong resident of Washington, D.C.

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