Washington DC

How to Celebrate the Fourth of July in DC This Year

Fireworks are back.

Carol M. Highsmith/Flickr
Carol M. Highsmith/Flickr
Carol M. Highsmith/Flickr

After the last year of uncertainty and closures, DC is finally beginning to open up again-giving Washingtonians good reason to celebrate. Another reason to celebrate? The annual return of the Fourth of July, this time with its traditional fireworks show and rooftop soirees in tow.

To be clear: the pandemic is not completely over, meaning things aren’t going to look exactly like they might have in the before times. The Capitol Fourth concert, which will be hosted once again by Broadway performer and actress Vanessa Williams and aired on PBS, will not be live this year, and the annual parade on the Mall is also on hold.

Despite these shifts, the fireworks show will go on-launching at 9:09 pm from both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Mayor Muriel Bowser has also said that DC is finally ready to invite out-of-town guests to the city for the Fourth of July, signalling a major vibe shift from what we experienced last year.

So, make sure to keep your mask handy, but otherwise it seems as though it’s finally time to fire up those grills and grab your cooler out of storage in anticipation for some well-deserved cold ones with friends. Here’s what else to expect in Washington, DC this year on the Fourth of July.

Courtesy of George Washington's Mount Vernon
Courtesy of George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Courtesy of George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Return to almost-normal events

While the main Fourth of July parade isn’t ready to return just yet, there are smaller local ones coming back to neighbourhoods this year to help amp up the patriotic spirit. After last year’s hiatus, the Capitol Hill July 4th Parade is happening, starting at Eighth and I Streets at 10 am and set to head north along Barracks Row. Also back is the Palisades Parade and Picnic which is celebrating its 55th year with a show that starts at noon on Whitehaven Parkway. The parade culminates at the Palisades Recreation Center where you can grab hot dogs and watermelon.

Over at George Washington’s former home, Mount Vernon, you can celebrate America’s independence at the annual July Fourth festivities there. Admission costs $26, and gets you in to watch daytime fireworks, see replicas of vintage hot air balloons take flight, and dance along to 18th century music.

Just make sure, whatever you do, that you’re in position for the main event, the Fourth of July fireworks show, by the oddly specific time of 9:09 pm. President Joe Biden says he will be hosting nearly 1,000 essential workers, first responders, and military members on the South Lawn of the White House to watch, so don’t forget to lift a glass to them when the show gets started.

Enjoy a patriotic brunch

Last year we were huddled into our apartments for the Fourth, but this year bars and restaurants are reopened for business with no social distancing rules, thanks to the more than 70 percent of Washingtonians who have been fully vaccinated.

Now, tons of your favourite spots in the city are able to host events and special brunches on Independence Day, like Capitol Hill’s Fight Club where you can partake in a boozy brunch starting at 11 am. At this special event, the restaurant’s signature sandwiches meet brunch-y dishes like shrimp and grits from Beuchert’s Saloon. Bottomless mimosas are available, of course, as well as Bloody Marys.

For a patriotic breakfast option check out Immigrant Food, just a stone’s throw away from the White House. The restaurant will be serving “Welcome to America Pancakes” decked out in our national colours, with red pineapple dressing, “White House-made foam,” and blueberries.

Meanwhile, if the sound of barbecue makes your mouth water, check out American Ice Company instead, which is hosting a neighbourhood cookout featuring BBQ classics like brisket, chicken, and sausages. Beer buckets will be sold courtesy of Narragansett, and if you’re really feeling the holiday spirit you can partake in one (or more) of the bar’s signature pickleback shots.

Courtesy of MeĢlange D.C.
Courtesy of MeĢlange D.C.
Courtesy of MeĢlange D.C.

Get your grill on

Opting to surround yourself with close friends in the safety of your own backyard is a great option this year, too. Luckily, restaurants around town are making it even easier for you to sizzle some choice cuts and hot dogs on Independence Day with special grill kits.

Meat lovers will rejoice at Centrolina‘s grill package which includes four dry-aged Angus beef patties with cheddar cheese and four housemade pork fennel sausages, each with fresh brioche buns. Sides include burger fixin’s and classic Italian dishes like mozzarella salad, and those ready to imbibe can do so with the help of cans of pilsner and bottle of rosĆ©.

Chef Elias Taddesse of MĆ©lange is making it easy for you to “grill and chill” with his kits of burger patties, brioche buns, and garnishes, or with a hulking 32-ounce dry-aged bone-in ribeye. Both kits come armed with salads and two pints of the chef’s famous ice cream.

For those looking for something a little less beefy, though, Baker’s Daughter has a grill kit just for you. Salmon filets from New Zealand play the starring role in a kit that includes salad, marinated vegetables, and a choice of two additional sides. For an extra fee, add Maine lobster tails or crab cakes to your meal.

Courtesy of The Wharf
Courtesy of The Wharf
Courtesy of The Wharf

Where to watch the fireworks

Let’s admit it: all that grilling and brunching you’re doing earlier in the day is pretty much an extended pregame for the fireworks show. This year, Washingtonians are spoiled for viewing options, from scenic lawns and parks to rooftops and boats.

Over the course of the pandemic, Victura Park at the Kennedy Center has built quite a reputation for itself as the choice location for casual outdoor drinking and dining, with its ample green space and prime Potomac views. On the Fourth the spot will be throwing its inaugural fireworks viewing party with a variety of refreshment stations, from goodies hot off the grill to frozen desserts and canned cocktails. Guests are welcome to bring blankets, but chairs and outside food are a no-go.

For those seeking a rooftop view of the display, the next question is: how bougie do you want your celebration to be? Case in point-at the Conrad Hotel, rooftop bar Summit is serving up a locally sourced feast of Chesapeake clams, fish tacos, and slow-cooked house pork barbecue, with champagne and hand crafted cocktails. Meanwhile, at The Wharf’s Tiki TNT, a viewing party starting at 8 pm on the rooftop ensures a more casual, raucous time, where you can watch the fireworks while you enjoy a welcome cocktail and dig into barbecue items like tiki dogs and kalua pork plates.

The Wharf is also hosting a VIP fireworks viewing experience that comes with small bites, two drink tickets, a DJ playing all night, and access to the incredible views from the Dockmaster Building at the tip of District Pier. But if you want to get even closer to the water, you can find yourself floating on top of it that night by way of a fireworks cruise. Go all out with a cruise that offers three hours of a top shelf open bar with reserved tables, get dancing on a hip hop cruise, or opt for something a little more understated and classic.

Finally, for those on the search for the lowest of key fireworks viewing experiences, just head to a park with a blanket and your favourite brews. Our choice is Lady Bird Johnson Park, which provides some of the best unobstructed views of the display (from land). Located on an island in the Potomac River, the park is right across the water from the show, which translates to an extremely epic fireworks viewing.

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Austa Somvichian-Clausen covers dining and lifestyle for Thrillist and InsideHook, as well as equality and accessibility for The Hill.

Washington DC

15 Totally Free Things to Do in DC

A full itinerary, completely free of charge.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Washington DC is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and for those of us who call the District home, it’s easy to see why. With dozens of world-class museums, murals that transform streets into galleries, and sites brimming with history, DC offers a full agenda-completely free of charge. Whether you want to try a new farmer’s market, explore a new hike, or polish off your roller skating or canoeing skills, here are some of our favourite free things to do in the District.

Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco

Hike, bike, or stroll along the C&O Canal

The historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of the most accessible nature escapes from the District. Thanks to a multi-year restoration project, the first mile of the canal is an idyllic walk that’s easy to access in Georgetown. Stick to a short stroll there, or grab a bike or lace up your hiking shoes for a longer adventure along the 184.5-mile canal.

Jump on the pickleball craze

Pickleball is working its way up the ladder past kickball and softball as one of America’s favourite games. Jump on the craze and practice your paddling at one of the District’s pickleball courts in Takoma Park, the Palisades, and more. Plus, Washington DC Pickleball invites guests to drop in to beginner sessions to try their hand at the sport before signing up for a $30 annual membership.

Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

DC is incredibly bike-friendly, and luckily that applies to the land immediately outside of the city as well. Start in the city and bike along the Mount Vernon Trail, a scenic route that hugs the water and cuts through the woods. It’s about a 10-mile trip from DC to Mount Vernon, but you can cut the trip slightly short and end at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront-just make sure to factor in time for ice cream before pedalling home.

Explore a sculpture park

While not located in the District proper, Glenstone, an expansive sculpture park in Maryland, is worth the 45-minute drive. Tickets to the park are free (just be sure to reserve several weeks in advance), and the 300-acre space offers stunning art, architecture, and open land. In addition to its indoor gallery spaces, you can spend hours walking on paths that wind through sculptures, meadows, and forests.

Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston

See the monuments at night

When the sun goes down-and the summer humidity somewhat dissipates-head to the National Mall for the rare chance to see the monuments without busloads of tourists. Moonlight will give you a different perspective as you traverse the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial or gaze up at the Washington Monument set aglow with lights.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Museum hop the day away

One of DC’s greatest strengths is its world-class Smithsonian museums that are open to the public free of charge. There is no shortage of options, from the intimate Renwick Gallery, to the sprawling National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonians offer something for everyone. Pro tip: Some of the museums are open late in the evenings, making for an ideal date night.

muralsdc
muralsdc
muralsdc

Explore the city’s murals

Washington is home to hundreds of murals that are becoming as much a part of the city’s landscape as the monuments on the National Mall. Take a self-guided tour of these colourful creations no matter which neighbourhood you happen to be in. MuralsDC, the organization behind 150 of the District’s public artworks, is a great resource for mapping out a route to explore the city’s street art.

Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington

Take in a birds-eye view of the city

Washington looks pretty stunning from up high, and there are few spots within the city that make for phenomenal vantage points. Rooftop bars and restaurants offer epic views for the price of a drink or two, but there’s no more iconic sight than seeing the city from the top of the Washington Monument, which is completely free. Book a ticket ahead of time and ride an elevator all the way to the top of the monument and step out on the 500-foot observation deck.

Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond

Wander through a garden

DC is home to some of the most beautiful urban gardens in the country, and many of them are open to the public for free. There is nothing like an afternoon spent strolling through, or picnicking, at the expansive 446-acre United States Arboretum or wandering through the Botanic Garden on the edge of the Mall. For something a bit smaller, explore the grounds at Tudor Place or Dumbarton Oaks (free in the winter), both of which are in Georgetown.

Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien

Hike the Billy Goat Trail

You can catch one of the District’s most popular hiking trails, the Billy Goat Trail, from the C&O canal. The full trail is 4.7 miles and ranges from easy to strenuous, so hike a section in and back or make the full loop for the variety.

Pay your respect at Arlington National Cemetery

Just across the Potomac from DC, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans. The cemetery is an expanse of 639 hallowed acres and the ANC Explorer allows visitors to locate graves, notable sites, and take self-guided walking tours to spots including the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy.

Lace up your roller skates

When was the last time you went roller skating? Chances are it’s been too long. So get back into this nostalgic activity at the Anacostia Park roller skating pavilion. You can rent skates for free, just show proof of a government-issued ID, and the skating pavilion is open from 9 to 5 every day.

Help clean up the Anacostia River

We all know there’s a lot of work to be done to keep our waterways clean. Do your part, and have some fun, by participating in the city’s Green Boat initiative. On select weekends, DCers can join a two-hour guided paddle along the Anacostia River to collect trash and monitor the river’s progress.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market

Stroll your local farmer’s market

DC’s close proximity to the farms of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and beyond mean that the city’s farmers’ markets always have something to offer. Check out the year-round markets like Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and the Sunday market in Dupont Circle or head to seasonal markets like the pop-up in front of the White House that draws vendors like Cucina al Volo and Call Your Mother Deli.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress

Play tourist all around the city

It’s easy to forget that all those traditionally touristy activities can be fun for locals too. If you haven’t been on a tour of the White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or the Capitol, this is your sign. All are free with advanced reservations. Plus, tucked in the northern quadrant of NW, the Washington National Cathedral is free and open to all. Tour the cathedral’s impressive architecture, 215 stained glass windows, 112 Gothically-inspired gargoyles, and enormous pipe organ. See if you can spot the sculpture of Darth Vader.

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Madeline WeinfieldĀ is a Thrillist contributor.

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