What’s more American than celebrating the 4th of July in our nation’s capital? I’m embarrassed to say that in 25 years, the vast majority spent living less than 15 miles away, I’ve only been into the city a handful of times on the Fourth. This past year made up for all that, as we took full advantage of a long weekend and scoped out the best things to do for an all-American celebration. If you’re already looking forward to next year’s festivities, here are a few tips from a DC native gone tourist:
1.) Discover the best views for fireworks
The fireworks in Washington DC are not to be missed. Of course we scoped out the best places to watch the day before (I am a planner, after all) so now you don’t have to. This doesn’t include your best friend’s rooftop patio, only public places. For a full list of options see here. Or for now, follow along with my map below:
Stop #1: For a chance to see the fireworks set against the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol Building, the Iwo Jima Memorial (or U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial) is your spot. Get there early and expect crowds, but you don’t regret it.
Stop #2: Next we went by the parking lot of the Pentagon facing downtown. You will need a pass to watch from their designated viewing area, but there is a great view available to those without a pass in the parking lot right next to it.
Stop #3: If you’re looking for a family friendly spot with little hassle, check our Long Bridge Park in Arlington. Start the night off with a block party complete with food trucks and live music, then throw down a blanket or some chairs to catch a view of the fireworks.
Stop #4: Gravelly Park is another great family pick without having to brave the downtown crowds. Bring a picnic dinner, grab a spot by the river and watch another sight in the sky before the big show starts: airplanes flying in and out of Reagan National.
Stop #5: The whole point of scoping out places to watch the show beforehand was so that we didn’t have to go into downtown to get the full experience. But of course at the last minute that’s exactly what we ended up doing. Since the fireworks are launched from downtown and display right over the National Mall, naturally that is the best place to watch them. And don’t worry too much about getting in and out. The DC police and traffic directors know what they’re doing, and it’s worth it to be in the middle of the action. Come early to enjoy the “A Capitol Fourth”, concert (yes, the one you see on TV) and stay for the fireworks.
2.) Don’t Miss the Morning Parade
Is it really a holiday without a parade? Celebrate accordingly by attending the National Independence Day Parade. The parade, featuring marching bands, floats and performers from across the country runs on Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th Street. See here for an interactive map of the parade route, metro stations and parking options nearby.
3.) Take Advantage of the History
If you’ll be in the Nation’s Capital for the most American day of the year, could you really not indulge in some of the region’s rich history? Consider taking a ride out to Mount Vernon, George and Martha Washington’s Virginia home overlooking the Potomac and Fort Washington. You’ll be able to join in on An American Celebration, an all-day event honoring our first commander-in-chief featuring daytime fireworks over the Potomac, live military reenactments, visits from George and Martha themselves and even an American birthday cake.
Want to experience Mount Vernon by taking the road less traveled? Hop on a river cruise departing from Washington D.C, Alexandria or the National Harbor for a scenic trip.
Have you spent the Fourth in DC? What should make my must-do list for 2016?