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Originally published Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 7:06 PM

Take time to savor D.C.'s many Smithsonian museums

A common refrain among visitors to the nation's capital: "I want to see the Smithsonian today. " Many of these time-pressed tourists, however...

Scripps Howard News Service

If You Go

Washington, D.C.

New exhibit

The Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History has a new exhibit about the rescue of 33 Chilean miners who spent more than two months trapped underground in 2010. The exhibit, "Against All Odds," opened earlier this month. and includes one of the rescue capsules used to bring the miners to safety, new video footage, mementos and personal stories from the miners.

D.C. tourism

Get information on Washington, D.C., sights, events and hotel deals at www.washington.org

— Times staff and news services

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WASHINGTON — A common refrain among visitors to the nation's capital:

"I want to see the Smithsonian today."

Many of these time-pressed tourists, however, don't realize that the world-famous institution includes 17 distinct museums in Washington, D.C., alone. To try to see them all in one day would be impossible.

Instead, experience the museums — which have free admission — slowly. With millions of stunning artworks and artifacts, airplanes and animals, the museums reward visitors who takes time to savor them.

Here are some highlights of each museum. (The museums closed briefly after the recent D.C. quake, but all reopened Wednesday except for Smithsonian Castle which is mostly offices.)

Anacostia Community

Museum

Although it's far from its cousins on the National Mall, the Anacostia Community Museum is just as fascinating and worthy of visiting as the other Smithsonian museums. The "Separate and Unequaled"gallery of photographs of Washington's Homestead Grays baseball team, which dominated the Negro League in the 19th and 20th centuries, is a must-see for history buffs and sports fans. www.anacostia.si.edu/

National Air and Space

Museum's Steven F.

Udvar-Hazy Center

With the artistic rendering of a runway and jet contrail outside its impressive glass frame and commercial airplanes flying low overhead, a tourist could easily mistake the museum for its neighbor, Washington Dulles International Airport. The view overlooking the hangar is truly awesome: Dozens of aircraft suspended from the ceiling hover just beyond reach. The Enola Gay, Blackbird spy plane, observation tower and Enterprise test space shuttle are worth the 45-minute drive outside the city. Air and Space's main facility is on the National Mall (details below). www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazy/

National Zoological Park

Elephants, orangutans and tigers are favorites at the 163-acre National Zoo, which has small-mammal, great-ape, reptile, insect and African-mammal houses and a multistory indoor Amazonia exhibit that re-creates the rain forest. It is one of the few zoos in the U.S. with giant pandas, and its cheetah-conservation program frequently produces litters of fuzzy spotted cubs. www.nationalzoo.si.edu/

National Postal Museum

Remember the days before email? The National Postal Museum celebrates all things "snail mail" with, among other attractions, a statue of the nation's first postmaster general, Benjamin Franklin; stamp collections, including Amelia Earhart's personal set; and exhibits about the rail-mail system and the Pony Express. www.postalmuseum.si.edu/

Renwick Gallery

A beautiful red-brick building across the street from the White House, the Renwick Gallery is stuffed with decorative arts and ponder-worthy contemporary crafts. Cleverly cerebral pieces such as the "Game Fish," a life-size fish sculpture made up of thousands of dice, coins, beads and small figurines, fill the museum. www.americanart.si.edu/renwick/

Freer Gallery of Art and

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art

Classical and contemporary Asian art is housed in these twin museums, whose must-see is the 19th-century drawing-room installation, "Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room"by artist James McNeill Whistler. Other exhibits feature painted screens, pots and sculptures. www.asia.si.edu/

National Museum

of African Art

Check out the masks, mosaics and modern sculptures. Traditional ceremonial pieces from across the African continent mingle with contemporary ones by artists throughout the African Diaspora. Put yourself under the scrutiny of the Chokwe mask, used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to honor female ancestors. www.si.edu/Museums/african-art-museum

Smithsonian Castle

The iconic castle houses administrative offices and has few attractions of its own, but the tomb of James Smithson, whose fortune started the Smithsonian Institution, is inside. www.si.edu/Museums/smithsonian-institution-buildingArts and Industries

Building Carousel

The Arts and Industries Building is closed for renovation, but the 1947 carousel out front offers a whimsical break for tourists on the National Mall. A ride costs $3.50. www.si.edu/Museums/arts-and-industries-building

Hirshhorn Museum

and Sculpture Garden

Even the architecture is modern at the doughnut-shaped Hirshhorn, a repository for contemporary artwork ranging from Salvador Dali's surreal paintings to Andy Warhol's famous prints of Marilyn Monroe's lips. If studying the abstract sculptures proves too mentally taxing, entertain yourself by browsing the funky findings in the gift shop or stroll through the Sculpture Garden and take a break by the reflecting pool. www.hirshhorn.si.edu/

National Museum

of the American Indian

A relatively recent addition to the Smithsonian pantheon, the National Museum of the American Indian displays art and artifacts and chronicles tribal histories from members' perspectives. Traveling exhibits of contemporary artwork tackle subjects ranging from climate change to shifting cultural identity. The Mitsitam Cafe is widely regarded as the best Smithsonian restaurant, so be sure to sample the tasty fry bread. www.nmai.si.edu/

National Air and Space

Museum

Learn about the history of manned flight and peek into the future of unmanned aerial vehicles at the main Air and Space facility. The 1903 Wright Brothers' Flyer that ushered in the era of air travel and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis are among the treasures on display. IMAX movies and flight simulators appeal to those seeking a more interactive experience. www.nasm.si.edu/National Museum

of Natural History

Get a refresher course in geology, biology or anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History. Visitors are greeted by a giant preserved elephant before they spread out into sprawling galleries about life on land and under the sea. The Hope Diamond draws a large crowd, as do the IMAX movies. Walking through an indoor pavilion of live butterflies will set you back $5 per child and $6 per adult, but where else can you mingle so closely with exotic winged beauties? www.mnh.si.edu/

National Museum

of American History

Pop-culture paraphernalia shares exhibit space with presidential possessions in the National Museum of American History. This repository of significant Americana includes such national treasures as President Lincoln's top hat and Kermit the Frog. A must-see is The Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that eventually became the national anthem. The popular "First Ladies at the Smithsonian"gallery features gowns, portraits and more. www.americanhistory.si.edu/

American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery

These entwined museums feature portraits of American presidents and other icons as well as works by great American artists including Gilbert Stuart, Georgia O'Keeffe and Andy Warhol. An installation of neon wires and television screens forged into a map of the nation, "Electronic Superhighway," is sure to impress. www.americanart.si.edu and www.npg.si.edu/

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