Are you ready for the summer? If, like me, you answered that with a resounding, “Yeah!” then you’re in luck. The season may not officially begin for a few more weeks, but this is the time of year that I start shifting 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 some of DC’s most quintessential “summer” activities begin. 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. This guide has details on all of them, most of it updated from last year, plus a few choice additions. So, unpack the swimsuits and flip flops, get out the blender for margaritas (and smoothies for the kids), and get ready to have some summer fun!
Outdoor Pool Season
Play in the Sprays
Summer Concert Series
Big Screen Under the Stars
Movies at Theaters Near You
Mini Trains, Carousels, Mini Golf, & a Ferris Wheel
Children’s Theater Series
- DC outdoor public pools will open on Saturday, May 23, from 12 – 6pm and will be open weekends only until June 20 (though they will be open Memorial Day, Monday, May 25). After that, 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.
- For outdoor swimming outside of the city, Montgomery County outdoor public pools will open on May 23 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 23, 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 – 9pm. 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 time 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
Summer Concert Series
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.
- One of my personal favorites is Rockin’ on the Riverfront. The Yards Park Friday concert series, running May 15 – September 11, presents 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 (or you can BYO — adult beverages okay, too). 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 22, rain or shine, and there will be weekly shows through August 28. 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 2015 Summer Concert Series kicks off Friday, May 29, at 8pm, at the Air Force Memorial. After that, you can catch free performances all summer long at locales around the DC-Metro area, including other iconic spots like the 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.
- 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 2015 lineup has not yet been announced, but check the website for an update soon!
- All summer long, families can enjoy a variety of free fun at Rockville Town Square. Kids Night will be every Wednesday with live entertainment for the younger set (more info to come soon). And concerts for all ages on Friday evenings began May 1 and will run through September 4 — enjoy live music, good food, and beverages from 6:30-9:30pm.
- Strathmore, the North Bethesda performing arts center, will host free outdoor concerts every Wednesday from July 1 – August 19.
- Starting July 16, Rock the Row returns to Pentagon Row through August 20. On Thursdays 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.
- 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, and poetry to pop. This will run from July 26 – August 29.
Several stand-out events are anticipated around the area this time of year, celebrating everything from music to art & culture to neighborhoods to food.
- Tour de Fat may just be my second-favorite festival (Renn Fest takes the top cake), and it’s only been happening for a few years. The celebration of all things bicycle is zany in the best way possible. There’s a bicycle parade, bicycle art, reconfigured bicycles to ride, a dance contest to win a bicycle, a car-for-bike swap, a bike-themed kids areas, and bikes parked everywhere. There’s also beer (New Belgium is the sponsor).
- Get folksy at Glen Echo Park May 30-31, when the 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 May 30-31 at Bull Run Park, festivities include wine tasting (of course), chef demos, food truck fare, live music, and a whole Family Tent with activities especially for kids.
- Imagination Bethesda, an annual festival occurring in the heart of its namesake city, is all about children. On June 6 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.
- Attend one of the biggest summer barbeques around on June 27-28 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.
- The DC Jazz Festival presents a variety of performers at venues all around the city from June 10-16. Keep up to date on details by visiting the website.
- 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 24-28 and July 1-5, celebrating Peruvian culture and heritage.
- The annual Del Ray Music Festival is always a popular event. The date is still TBD, but 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.
- 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 29 and will continue every weekend through October 19. 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.)
- “Dance, Dance, Dance” is the theme of this year’s NoMa Summer Screen, so mark your calendars for Breakin 2: Electric Bugaloo, Grease, Footloose, and a bunch of other family-friendly flicks. begins May 27 and will run weekly on Wednesdays until August 19. The series will take place at Storey Park Lot (1005 First Street NE), which will be temporarily transformed into a mural-filled urban park. Get there to picnic at 7pm, and the movie begins at dark. See the list of films on the website.
- The Capitol Riverfront will start presenting the Canal Park Outdoor Movie Series on June 4, and it will run every Thursday evening at sundown through September 3. Celebrating characters whose decisions shape the world, space, and time, the lineup includes plenty of movies that kids will enjoy
- Union Market’s drive-in movie series is returning to the vibrant district in Northeast DC and will “flashback” every Friday, rolling out films that salute the ‘80s and ‘90s decades.
- The National Harbor hosts Movies on the Potomac, with family films every Sunday night. It started May 10 and runs through September 27. Movies begin at sunset, usually around 8:30pm.
- The longest running, Screen on the Green, takes place on the National Mall on Mondays in July and August. See the lineup of films here.
- Bethesda Outdoor Movies will bring five days of flicks al fresco to downtown at the corner of Norfolk and Auburn Avenues from July 21-25.
- Catch Films in the Park at the Mosaic District every Friday from June 5 – September 4. The entire film line-up is family-friendly, and they’re kicking it off with one of my all-time faves (Rudy never fails to make me cry.)
Movies at Theaters Near You
Special summer movie series for families at local theaters are a great way to keep kids entertained and stay cool when the weather heats up. Even better, these programs invite guests to view films on the 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.
- Starting July 7, THEARC Theater will present Showtime Tuesdays, free children’s movies every Tuesday from 9:30am-11:30am through August 13. The program includes a fun pre-show activity, snack, and movie screening — all on them.
- The Atlas Performing Arts Center presents a Summer Film Series every year, including A Family Series that takes place on Fridays at 5pm. The schedule has yet to be released, so stay tuned for an update
- 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 25 (Memorial Day), July 4 (July Fourth Holiday; closes at 4pm) & September 7 (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 May and will continue daily through August 30 (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 25 on weekdays 9:30am – 1:00pm and weekends 9:30am – 6:30pm.
- The Carousel at RIO Washingtonian in Gaithersburg will celebrate its Grand Opening on May 31 at 11am. Be among the first to take a spin or catch a ride another time. The Americana-themed classic carousel will feature 30 Allan Herschell-style dancing horses, whimsical creatures, and two chariots, allowing for up to 38 adult and 30 children passengers, with wheelchair access and chariot wheelchair positions. 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 (all closed and climate-controlled with room for 8) will soar 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.
Special Children’s Theatre Series
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 9-30. Admission is $8, free for ages 2 and under.
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. 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 Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront, where Kastles Stadium is located, July 12-29. 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.
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.
- In Baltimore, Bo Brooks on the Canton Waterfront often tops crab eaters’ lists.
- Stay close to the city at Quarterdeck in Arlington.
- Mike’s in Annapolis come highly recommended by a KFDC reader.
- Waterman’s in Rock Hall after a hike at the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge is one of our favorite Eastern Shore day trips.
- 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.
Museum Programs & Seasonal Exhibits
- First there was indoor mini-golf, last year it was a giant maze. This summer, the National Building Museum is riding the seasonal wave and bringing The BEACH to the Great Hall. The installation will cover 10,000 square feet and include an “ocean” of nearly one million recyclable translucent plastic balls. Visitors are welcome to “swim” in the ocean or spend an afternoon at the “shore’s” edge. Admission is $5/youth member, $10/adult member and $13/youth non-member, $16/adult non-member. Open July 4 through September 7.
- 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 will be open daily July 1 – 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.
- Every year, the Newseum offers the Summer Fun Deal. From July 1 – September 7, 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.
PYOP: Pick Your Own Produce
While the picking season 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 PYOP at farms around the area.
Have I left out anything really good? If you think so, feel free to let me know in the comments.