Without a doubt, one of the most amazing sights to see in Washington, D.C. is actually a 20 minute drive (give or take) outside the city to Chantilly in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. There you will find what some consider the best Smithsonian museum of the bunch. It’s the National Air & Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Yes, the famed Air & Space Museum found along the National Mall has a twin sister out in the boonies (if you call next to Dulles International Airport the boonies) – and it’s an eye-opening, downright amazing place to visit on the perfect day trip from D.C.
In 2012, the Udvar-Hazy Center became the home to the Space Shuttle Discovery, perhaps the most famous of all the retired shuttle fleet. The centerpiece of a magnificent aeronautic collection, the Discovery is 184 feet long and weighs more than 2,000 tons. It is truly awe inspiring to stand in its shadow and realize that it had more than 130 successful launches into space during its 30 year career.
But the Shuttle Discovery is just the beginning.
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Russo
Over three levels, visitors walk past hundreds of aircraft of every shape and size. There are war planes, both American and enemy. This includes the famed Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. There are commercial aircraft, including early airliners and a full-size Concorde – the jet that was capable of flying passengers faster than the speed of sound. There are helicopters and a Gemini VII space capsule. We could go on and on.
Besides the wonderful treasure trove of aircraft, the Udvar-Hazy Center boasts an IMAX movie theater where wonderful films about the majesty of flight are shown. There are also a variety of simulators where those with brave hearts and strong stomachs can try their hand at flying amazing aircraft in the safety of a grown-up video game.
After a fantastic (and we might add educational) day of learning about the history of flight, you would be wise to stop in at Reston Town Center on your way back to D.C. or wherever you have your accommodations.
Reston Town Center is an outdoor lifestyle center replete with some of the area’s best restaurants and shopping. To cap off the perfect day, have the perfect dinner at Mon Ami Gabi, a popular French-inspired bistro with several locations at premiere spots around the United States. Or if you’re in the mood for seafood, head to PassionFish, where the chefs give traditional seafood dishes remarkable new life.
Sure, Washington, D.C. itself has all the tourist attractions and historic landmarks you could ever need. But if you don’t check out the many other attractions, museums and historic sites outside the District proper, you’re only getting half the story that D.C. has to tell.