The timing couldn’t be better to bring back this annual guide. The sun is shining brightly, blue has returned to the skies, and the mercury is rising — and we’ve got a nice stretch of this ahead. Quash any doubts that were starting to creep in… DC is going to have a summer!
Ah, summer. The time of year to shift gears — from close-toed shoes to sandals, jeans to shorts, red wine to margaritas. It’s when play dates extend well into the evening, a dip in the pool counts as a bath, and the folks at the neighborhood water ice shop know the kids by name.
It’s also when we can enjoy some of DC’s best activities. Music and movies in the open air, special fests and feasts, water-inspired recreation, and bonus attractions at everyday places are just some of the joys of the season.
And while summer may not officially begin for a few more weeks, Memorial Day weekend is when it kicks off in my mind, and it also marks the start of many seasonal favorites. So, unpack the swimsuits and flip flops, get out the blender for margaritas (smoothies for the kids), and get ready to have some summer fun!
Outdoor Pool Season
Play in the Sprays
Big Screen Under the Stars
Museum Programs & Seasonal Exhibits
Movies, Storytimes, & More
Mini Trains, Carousels, Mini Golf, & a Ferris Wheel
- DC outdoor public pools will open on Saturday, May 28, from 12 – 6pm and will be open weekends only through June 12, as well as Memorial Day, Monday, May 29. Starting June 18, they will open daily, though all pools are closed one day a week for maintenance, so be sure to check the schedule before you go. And note that they will open earlier on weekdays this year, at 11am! (And some open even earlier than that for lap swim.)
- For outdoor swimming outside of the city, Montgomery County outdoor public pools will open on May 27 through Labor Day — the Department of Recreation website has locations and hours.
- In Northern Virginia, Arlington’s Upton Hill has a whole water park for guests to enjoy, and Alexandria has several places where the public is welcome to swim. Be sure to check the website for hours, as they vary from pool to pool.
Play in the Sprays
Kids can run through fountains and splash around at many area spraygrounds. Several are within the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, but some of the best are built right into the urban landscape, making the concrete jungle a cool place to hang out during the hottest months.
- Georgetown Waterfront Park, right next to the Washington Harbour, has a fountain with arcing sprays that makes for a fun, refreshing way to cool off on a hot, summer day. The rest of its pretty green space along the Potomac is a great place to hang out, too.
- The Yards Park is a favorite for many in the city with two levels of super fun sprays, a wading pool and wall of water (essentially a water fall between the levels), plus a great scenic location on the Anacostia River in the Navy Yard
- Canal Park in the Navy Yard is great for all ages with both a gentle, shallow fountain that is perfect for really little ones to enjoy, plus a bigger fountain with lots of sprays for more enthusiastic play where the ice rink is in the winter.
- Starting May 28, DPR Spray Parks will be open for the season, but hours vary by location, so be sure to check the website for hours.
- Some of the area’s most popular spray parks — Lyon Village Park, Hayes Park, and Drew Park — can be found in Arlington.
- The interactive fountain in Downtown Silver Spring plaza is open daily from 10am – 8pm. While my kids have never played there, I recall seeing very happy youngsters playing in the sprays on the colorful mosaic design during my lunch breaks when I worked at Discovery. It always looked like a blast.
- The fountain in the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza located at 14th and Park Road, NW is a great place to cool down on a hot day, with many sprays that surge up from a pretty, circular tiled surface. Do a little shopping while you’re there — Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and many other big retail stores are right there — and plan to grab a bite at one of many kid-friendly eateries around. And don’t miss a chance to stop in the Museum of Unnatural History at 826DC.
- The Fountain on the Square at Rockville Town Square welcomes kids to splish splash from May to September. It’s open Monday – Saturday 11am to 9pm and Sunday 12-8pm, but it’s turned off for maintenance at certain times during the week, so be sure to check the schedule before you go.
- One of the newest to the sprayground scene, the fountains in the Mosaic District welcome all to play in the sprays that jet up from concrete. Surrounded by retails and restaurants, you can make a day of it there with some shopping and eating, too. Plan to go on a Tuesday with little ones when you can also enjoy Stories from Strawberry Park at 10-11am.
Giant water slides, wave pools, waterfalls, sprays and splash pads…this is the stuff kids’ summer dreams are made of. There are actually several water parks around the area offering many of these attractions, just about all of them opening Memorial Day weekend for limited hours, until they open daily in a few weeks. Here’s a quick list — visit the websites for more details.
- Ocean Dunes Water Park at Upton Hill in Arlington
- Great Waves at Cameron Run in Alexandria
- The Water Park at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg
- Atlantis Water Park at Bull Run in Centreville
- Splash Down Water Park in Manassas
- Chesapeake Beach Water Park
- Soak City Water Park at Kings Dominion
Free music in the fresh air has become a staple of the season, and there are opportunities to enjoy just about every genre regularly at outdoor venues all around the DC-Metro.
- The Capitol Riverfront Friday Concert Series at Yards Park begins May 20 with the Tour de Fat Festival and will run through September 2, presenting a new band each week on the boardwalk stage overlooking the Anacostia River. Along with the free music, food and beverages are available for purchase. (This year there is, unfortunately, a new NO BYOB policy). I recommend getting there early, so the kids can play in the fountains before the concert starts at 6:30pm. And on a hot summer day, it’s nice to continue the water fun even while the tunes are playing — you can still hear them from across the park!
- Experience live music amid art at Jazz in the Garden, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden’s free concert series, every Friday from 5:30–8:30pm. The first performance of the season is May 27, rain or shine, and there will be weekly shows through September 2. Spread out a blanket, pack a picnic dinner or purchase food and drinks there, and enjoy the sounds of a variety of jazz artists. Note: Adult drinks are available from the pavilion; BYO alcohol is not permitted.
- The U.S. Air Force Band 2016 Summer Concert Series kicks off May 12 with a Chamber Players performance at The Lyceum. After that, you can catch free concerts all summer long at locales around the DC-Metro area, including iconic spots like the Air Force Memorial, Capitol steps, and Sylvan Theater on the Washington Monument grounds. Show times vary so be sure to check the U.S. Air Force Band website for the complete summer schedule.
- All summer long, families can enjoy a variety of free fun at Rockville Town Square. Concerts for all ages on Friday evenings began May 6 and will run through September 30 — enjoy live music, good food, and beverages from 6:30-9:30pm.
- In Silver Spring, Downtown Live! brings free music every Friday evening to the Fountain Plaza 6:30-8:30pm. Enjoy everything from pop to jazz to R&B to classic rock weekly May 20 through August 26.
- Rock at the Row returns to Pentagon Row Thursdays through August 25. From 7-9pm, all are invited to the lounge on the new plaza for food samples and craft beer in the VIP section or to gather at one of the outdoor cafés while enjoying live music, giveaways, and merchant specials.
- The U.S. Botanic Garden is bringing back the American Roots Music Concert Series every Thursday 5-7pm, June 2 – October 20. Celebrate American roots with Americana and folk, country, blues, jazz, and even zydeco outside on the Conservatory Terrace.
- You can kick-start your weekends at Tysons Corner Center’s Fresh Artists Concert Series, co-hosted by 94.7 Fresh FM and powered by Intelsat. Featuring “Fresh Artists,” the series has a little something for everyone. Grab a blanket and enjoy performances ranging from ballet to blues, folk to funk, poetry to pop. This will run from June 3 – July 26.
- Get a nice dose of nature as you listen to live tunes at Potomac Overlook Park in Arlington on select Saturday evenings June 4 through August 27. The free, family-friendly performances take place on a stage in the woods surrounded by trails to explore. And the nature center — with snakes, turtles, owls, hawks — is open, too.
- Enjoy music in Northern Virginia parks! The Fairfax County Park Authority presents their Summer Entertainment Series, a summer-long calendar of shows, concerts and movies appropriate families held in local parks. Bring a picnic dinner, blankets, and lawn chairs to enjoy the best local and regional entertainers.
- Strathmore, the North Bethesda performing arts center, will host free outdoor concerts every Wednesday from July 6 – August 24.
- Carter Barron Amphitheater’s annual concert series takes place amid the woods of Rock Creek Park. While most shows are free, a few require admission. The 2016 lineup has not yet been announced, but check the website for an update soon!
Several stand-out events are anticipated around the area this time of year, celebrating everything from music to art & culture to neighborhoods to food.
- Get folksy at Glen Echo Park June 4-5, when the 36th Annual Washington Folk Festival showcases the diversity of traditional music in Washington. All of the artists hail from the DC area, but cultures from around the nation, as well as the world, will be represented through music, dance, crafts, and stories. The public is invited to enjoy the free festival that is renown in the folk community.
- It sounds like a grown-ups-only event, but the Vintage Virginia Wine & Food Festival offers plenty of family fun, too. Taking place June 4-5 at Bull Run Park, festivities include wine tasting (of course), chef demos, food truck fare, live music, and a whole family-friendly area with activities especially for kids.
- Imagination Bethesda, an annual festival occurring in the heart of its namesake city, is all about children. On June 4 from 10am – 3pm, Woodmont & Elm downtown will be lined with activity tents offering tons of fun for kids — arts & crafts, face painting, games, etc. There will also be live entertainment, food from local restaurants, and more. Admission is free.
- The DC Jazz Festival presents a variety of performers at venues all around the city from June 10-19, but the most family-friendly of them actually precede the main event. Jazz n’ Family Fun Days will take place June 4-5 with free shows for all ages at The Phillips Collection.
- Attend one of the biggest summer barbeques around June 25-26 as the National Capital Barbeque Battle returns to pit some of the nation’s best barbequers against each other as they compete for big prizes. The reward for attendees: Samples from all the entrants (plus, more food), live music, cooking demos, kids’ fun, and more.
- Every summer, the National Mall becomes stomping grounds of folks from around the globe to celebrate living cultural heritage and community traditions at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year’s event will run from June 29 – July 4 and July 7-9, celebrating Basque culture and heritage and the Sounds of California.
- The lotus and water lilies in full bloom at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are such a ravishing sight it calls for a celebration. Along with the spectacular display of flowers, the annual Lotus & Water Lily Festival will feature traditional Asian and African dancing and drumming, gardening workshops, park tours, arts & crafts, face painting, and other family-friendly pursuits on July 16.
- The annual Del Ray Music Festival is always a popular event. On July 23, count on a celebration of the Alexandria community with a day of food, games, and lots of kids’ activities along with a varied line-up of live entertainment.
- On July 16, a 1,000-foot slip ‘n’ slide will be the centerpiece of Slide the City, an all-day party in Tyson’s Corner that also offers live music, entertainment, and vendors. Sliders must be 5 years old and 46″ tall. Tickets prices go up as the event gets closer, so reserve yours soon.
- It might run into fall, but it starts in August, so I’m counting the Maryland Renaissance Festival among the summer fun. Plus, it’s one of my very, very favorite annual events (more confirmation on that here). The merriment begins August 27 and will continue every weekend through October 23. Go. Just go.
Big Screen Under the Stars
Outdoor movies have become a DC summer tradition in the last few years with films al fresco in several neighborhoods. Even better, all of them are FREE! (*Before you make plans to enjoy any of the series, be sure to check schedules, as some movies may not be appropriate for children.)
- “Choose your Own Adventure” is the theme of this year’s NoMa Summer Screen, so mark your calendars for Raider of the Lost Ark, Princess Bride, Jumanji, E.T., and a bunch of other family-friendly flicks. The series begins June 1 and will run weekly on Wednesdays until August 17. There will also be Family Film Night with movies for littler ones on June 21, July 19, and August 16. Sponsored by REI (coming to the NoMA soon!), the series will take place at NoMa Junction at Storey Park (1005 First Street NE). Get there to picnic at 7pm, and the movie begins at dark. See the list of films on the website.
- See Your favorite stars beneath the stars at the Capitol Riverfront’s Canal Park Outdoor Movie Series. Catch films every Thursday evening at sundown from June 2 through August 11.
- National Harbor’s Movies on the Potomac started their Sunday night film series for families on May 1and will runt through September 25. Movies are shown on the plaza screen beginning at sunset, usually around 8:30pm.
- Bethesda Outdoor Movies will bring five days of flicks al fresco to downtown at the corner of Norfolk and Auburn Avenues from July 26-30.
- Catch Films in the Park at the Mosaic District every Friday from June 3 – August 26 with a lineup of family-friendly films.
Museum Programs & Seasonal Exhibits
- First there was indoor mini-golf, then it was a giant maze, last year it was the awesome BEACH. This summer, the National Building Museum is riding the seasonal wave and bringing ICEBERGS to the Great Hall. The immersive installation will emphasize current themes of landscape representation, geometry, and construction, as visitors ascend a viewing area inside the tallest berg, traverse an undersea bridge, relax among caves and grottos. Admission is $5/youth member, $10/adult member and $13/youth non-member, $16/adult non-member. Open July 2 through September 5.
- The National Gallery of Art’s Stories in Art Drop-In Series returns this summer after a hiatus during museum renovations. Geared toward ages 4-7, this fantastic program introduces kids to art and encourages them to use their imaginations as they discover different works. This season will explore the Netherlands as they “meet” Dutch artists and investigate their paintings and sculptures. Read a KFDC review of the program from a few years back (we’ve been since, and it was just as good!).
- Annmarie Sculpture Garden is enchanting any time of year, but it’s especially so in the summer when the fairy and gnome houses are on display. The adorable collection of little whimsical abodes for sprite-like creatures have all been selected from many submissions in an annual fairy house building contest. And they are just fantastic. Created by all ages, individuals and groups, each one has a different theme, but together they are a brilliant showcase of imagination and craftiness.
- During the warm months, little ones can flex their green thumbs in the outdoor Children’s Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden — they can dig in dirt, water plants, and explore a cute little Bamboo Forest. The rest of the USBG’s outdoor gardens are great to explore, too!
- You can walk amid a garden of butterflies at Brookside Garden’s amazing Wings of Fancy exhibit. It’s back after being closed last summer during renovations. The seasonal display featuring live butterflies and caterpillars from all over the world opened in April and will welcome visitors through September 25, 10am – 4pm. Admission is $8/ages 13 and up, $5/3-12, free ages 0-2 (admission to the rest of Brookside is free). Read about a KFDC experience at the exhibit.
- At Smithsonian’s National Zoo, you can get up close and view a 12-foot-long shark, 16-foot-long parrot fish, an 8-foot-wide octopus, and a 20-foot-long coral reef — all made completely of plastic debris collected from beaches. “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea,” a collection of colorful and dramatic sculptures of marine animals, represents more than 315 billion pounds of plastic in oceans today and underscore the need for wildlife conservation. It will be on view May 27 through September 5. Admission to the exhibit and the Zoo are free.
- Every year, the Newseum offers the Summer Fun Deal. From July 1 – September 5, there is no admission fee for kids ages 18 and under. The promotion waives the $12.95 regular entrance charge for youth with one paid adult admission, senior admission, or Newseum membership (a benefit to ages 7 and up, as kids 6 and under are always free). Up to six kids can enter free with the offer. Read a KFDC take on the Newseum and look for a deal on adult admission here.
Movies, Storytimes, & More
Families movies at local theaters are a great way to stay cool and keep kids entertained when the weather heats up. And several seasonal programs keep little ones engaged with storytimes and more interactive fun. Even better, they’re all free or super cheap!
- The Regal Summer Movie Express presents flicks for kids on many Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 10am. Admission is just $1. Be sure to check the website for the film schedule and theater locations, as it doesn’t run at all theaters every week.
- Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Ashburn welcomes families to Kids Camp, a movie series that is inexpensive ($1-3) and benefits local charities, to boot.
- National Harbor hosts free family activities every Wednesday through September 28. From 10-10:30am enjoy Family Fitness classes. At 10:30am, there will be cartoons on the jumbo screen and a rotation of weekly activities provided by the Prince George’s County Fire & Police Departments and story time by the Urban Pirates.
- Join Cathedral Commons for Mornings with Mommy & Daddies, Too!, a free interactive program for children of all ages on the second Wednesday of each month from May through September. Meets at Newark Street at Wisconsin Avenue.
- Mommy and Me (and Daddy, Too!) programs take place each third Tuesday of the month 10am -12pm at Rockville Town Square. Active learning and creative play includes story time, arts and crafts, sing-a-longs, prizes and more.
- From June 1 – September 28, Kids Corner on The Plaza at CityCenter welcomes little ones for outdoor story time, singing, and fun with DC Public Library.
Mini Trains, Carousels, Mini Golf, & a Ferris Wheel!
These extra delights bring even more fun to several parks around the area that are already great outdoor places to hang with the kids.
- Watkins Regional Park opened its attractions on a limited schedule in early May, but come Memorial Day weekend, they can be enjoyed for extended hours almost every day of the week. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10am – 7pm; Sundays 12–7 pm, closed Mondays except May 30 (Memorial Day), July 4 (July Fourth Holiday; closes at 4pm) & August 30 (Labor Day).
- Cabin John Regional Park opened its Miniature Train on weekends only back in April, but as of June 1, it’ll be operating daily 10am – 7pm through August. After that, hours will be limited, so check the schedule.
- The Miniature Train and Ovid Hazen Wells Carousel at Wheaton Regional Park started taking guests for spins in early April on weekends and will be open daily June 1 through August 28 (limited times after that). Hours are 10am – 6pm Monday to Friday, and 10am – 7pm Saturday & Sunday.
- The Clemyjontri carousel has been running on weekends since April, but will be offering rides daily starting May 31 on weekdays 9:30am – 1:00pm and weekends 9:30am – 6:30pm.
- The RIO Express Train and Carousel at RIO Washingtonian are open 3pm – dusk on weekdays, 11am – dusk on weekends through June 19. After that, they’ll open daily 11am – 9pm. Rides are $3.
- Kind of like a London Eye of the U.S., The Capital Wheel at National Harbor is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of DC. The 42-gondola ride (all closed and climate-controlled with room for 8) soars 180 feet above the Potomac River waterfront, offering vistas of the White House and Capitol, the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and more amazing sites. Ticket prices start at $15. Read more about it here.
- Burke Lake Park’s Mini Train and Carousel are open April to October, daily from Memorial Day – Labor Day 11:30am – 5:30pm. The park is free to access for Fairfax county residents. For non-county residents, the park is free on weekdays and has a $10 entrance fee on weekends/holidays for a car or large capacity van. Carousel rides are $2-3, and train rides are $3-4.
All the world’s an outdoor stage at these venues that present entertainment especially for children throughout the summer.
- From late June through early August, Wolf Trap presents Children’s Theater-in-the-Woods, over 70 family-friendly performances at 10am Tuesdays through Saturdays. Amidst 117 rolling wooded acres and nestled in a shady grove, the stage is set for lively adventures in music, dance, storytelling, puppetry, and theater. All of the productions are recommended for children between Kindergarten and 6th grade, though I think kids even younger can enjoy them, too (mine have). Read a KFDC review of the series from a couple of summers ago.
- Backyard Theater for Children, Strathmore’s summer theater series brings live music and fun to kids – all outdoors under a big tent. Weekly performances take place every Thursday at 9:30am and 11:30 from July 7-28. Admission is $8, free for ages 2 and under.
- See a Shakespeare play in the park! The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company presents Shakespeare in thr Ruins at the Picturesque Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City this summer. Romeo and Juliet, running June 10-19., is a unique production that has the audience travel with the actors and the action as the story unfolds outdoors on multiple sets in the ruins at the park — comfy shoes recommended for traveling around with the play. From June 24 – July 24, The Three Mustketeers is a one-stage show, perfect for a picnic performance with the whole fam. Even better, kids are free (two for every adult). Advance reservations are recommended as tickets are limited.
Some of the season’s best action takes place in ballparks, stadiums, and arenas thanks to our local sports teams. Here’s where you can join the fan clubs.
- A day at Nationals Park is all it takes to understand why baseball is America’s favorite pastime. Catching a Washington Nationals game is one of our family’s preferred ways to enjoy a nice summer (or spring) day (or evening), anyway. The excitement extends well beyond the diamond with games and activities in the park, a playground for kids, the Racing Presidents, fun in the stands, and more. Before you go, check out these tips on doing a Nats game without breaking the bank. And I highly recommend the Jr. Nationals Kids Club for children 12 and under. Just $20 gets them membership, which includes Nats swag, plus a coupon book with offers for free meals, BOGO tickets, a ballpark tour, and all kinds of discounts. Even a few months into the season, it’s still worth it!
- Tennis, anyone? The Washington Kastles, the DC franchise of World TeamTennis, will bring some on-court thrills to the Smith Center, where Kastles Stadium is located, August 1-13. For some background, see this post and this one from a few years back.
- Whether you’ve got a little soccer fan in your fam or not, DC United matches are fun experiences for all ages. And since games only last 90 minutes, it’s not too long for antsy young spectators. Be sure to check for any pre- or post-game activities for kids.
- Can’t stand the heat? Head to the Verizon Center to see the Washington Mystics (w)hoop it up on the basketball court. Tickets start at $19.
- Swing up to Charm City to see the Baltimore Orioles play. Camden Yards is a beautiful ballpark, and you can head to the Inner Harbor before or after to make a day of it up north.
- If the Nats or O’s aren’t in town, or you want to see baseball on a smaller scale, you’ve got several great options around the area. Take ’em out to the minors at a Bowie Baysox, Potomac Nationals, or Aberdeen Ironbirds game. Summer collegiate team Bethesda Big Train is also very popular for non-majors baseball action.
- Women’s pro soccer team, Washington Spirit, plays in Germantown. Per a KFDC reader, “you get affordable tickets and concessions, picnic seating behind the goal, a really intimate, family-friendly environment and top-level soccer.”
Easily one of the best activities during summer in Maryland and neighboring areas (this is where I get non-DC-centric because I have to give credit where it’s due). Here are some suggestions for places to get ’em, though the “best” is always a subject for debate.
- Cantler’s is an Annapolis institution.
- Mike’s in Annapolis is a KFDC fave.
- In Baltimore, Bo Brooks on the Canton Waterfront often tops crab eaters’ lists.
- Stay close to the city at Quarterdeck in Arlington.
- Waterman’s in Rock Hall after a hike at the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge makes for a great Eastern Shore day trip.
- Pick up your own at the Maine Avenue Fish Market. Buy them already steamed or get them while they’re still alive to cook at home.
- On Thursday evenings during late spring and summer, the Anacostia Watershed Society hosts free Paddle Nights. Launching from Anacostia Boathouse and Bladensburg Waterfront Park from 5:30-7:30pm, paddlers explore the river on their own, but kayaks and canoes are provided.
- Pick your own produce at local farms. While it starts in the spring with strawberries, it carries on through summer with even more delicious fruits — blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, plus veggies and more produce you can gather yourself. Find out where you can PYO around the DC area.
- Friday Night Fishing runs from June 17 through August 26. Join Anacostia Riverkeeper on Fridays from 5-8pm for catch and release fishing at the dock at Diamond Teague Park (located next to Yards Park). Rods, reels, bait, and instruction are free. No sign up is required.
- Aaaaaar, mateys! As the weather warms up and cruising conditions become more comfortable, pirate voyages are offered on local waters. In DC, take a Family Treasure Hunt Cruise on the Boomerang Pirate Ship. Head out to Annapolis for Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake. Go for a jaunt with Urban Pirates in Baltimore or stay closer to home where they’re invading National Harbor.
Have I left out anything really good? If you think so, let me know in the comments below!