Published: July 1, 2017
By: Jennifer Greene
Few things can be more patriotic than celebrating America’s birthday in the beating heart of American democracy, Washington DC. Our nation’s capital goes all in on July 4th, with a day full of family activities. Here are our seven of our favorite ways to celebrate the Fourth in DC.
1. Visit the National Zoo
Start your day at the National Zoo. It’s one of DC’s many Smithsonian museums, so admission is free. The zoo offers programs from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Help feed the fish, explore a rainforest habitat, or meet a zookeeper.
2. Take in the parade
What is Fourth of July without a parade? Line up along Constitution Avenue with tens of thousands of other Americans and watch the National Independence Day Parade. Expect to see everything from fife and drum corps to military servicemen and women and elaborate floats. The parade begins at 11:45 a.m. and struts its stuff along Constitution Avenue between 7th and 17th streets.
3. Join a local neighborhood celebration
The Palisades neighborhood, just northwest of Georgetown, offers an idyllic small town celebration. Locals line up along the Whitehaven Parkway at 11 a.m. for the parade, which has been running since 1966 and concludes with a free picnic at the Palisades Rec Center. Go there for a hometown neighborhood celebration with hot dogs, watermelon, pony rides and moon bounces.
Storey Park in the NoMa neighborhood is just blocks from Union Station. Its annual community celebration includes a moon bounce, live bands, food trucks and street performers all day on the Fourth.
4. Visit the National Archives
The Declaration of Independence, which was approved by Congress 241 years ago on July 4, 1776, is on display at the National Archives. After seeing the document, you can meet the Founding Fathers who helped establish the birth of a nation with costumed actors in Revolutionary-era attire. This is our favorite place to visit during any visit to Washington. Arrive early in the day as it gets very crowded and you could wait in long lines outside. It’s free, so even if you can’t stay long, it’s worth stopping by.
5. Watch the fireworks from the waterfront in Georgetown
The riverfront restaurants in the Georgetown waterfront plaza provide convenient access to a viewing spot. Make your reservations EARLY if you want to enjoy waterfront dining before the show. After dinner and fireworks, be sure to visit Georgetown Cupcakes for dessert.
6. Take in A Capital Fourth
Why watch the show on PBS when you can watch it live? Grab a spot on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for A Capitol Fourth, which begins at 8 p.m. The concert features a star-studded lineup of musicians and a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra during the grand finale of the fireworks over the National Mall. Gates open at 3 p.m.; get there as early as possible.
7. Watch the Fireworks from the National Mall
Pack a picnic lunch and take some lawn games to spend the day at the National Mall while you wait for the nighttime fireworks. The mall gets very full on July 4, so arrive early and plan to stay all day. If you don’t want to spend the entire day camped out at the National Mall, or you dislike crowds, there are plenty of other places to watch the fireworks. Look for a spot along the Potomac River, or even across the river in Virginia.
Where to Stay
If you plan to stay the night, be sure to book a hotel as soon as you can. Many of the hotels around the National Mall (site of the fireworks) sell out up to one year in advance. But there always are last-minute cancelations, so it’s worth a try to see if you can find a room for the Fourth. Aim for the Watergate or the W Hotel, both of which have rooftop decks for viewing the fireworks.
Wherever you stay, DO NOT TRY TO DRIVE into DC on the Fourth of July! If you have a hotel, park the car and walk or take the wonderful DC public transit to wherever you plan to go. If you can’t get a room in DC, stay outside the city limits and take the safe, clean and convenient Metro train into DC for the day. You can plan your trip and the routes you need to take online before your visit.
A final note: The Fourth of July is a hot time in Washington DC, literally and figuratively. Expect toasty temperatures, high humidity and large crowds. But don’t let any of those things dissuade you from the trip. Every American should visit to celebrate America’s birth at least once.
Jennifer Greene is a writer for TravelingMom.com, the leading online family travel magazine.