The Insider’s Guide to Summer Fests in DC

May 25, 2018

Even the baseline family-friendliness of summer in DC is major (think free museums and activities for practically every interest plus steals on hotel rooms during congressional breaks). But this summer, the family-friendly factor is truly epic, thanks to a festival lineup that leaves no passion unexplored.

Here are 14 favorites, with an insider tip for each to ensure the best possible experience while you're reveling with your crew.

Capitol Riverfront Outdoor Movie Series
Thursdays from June–August

Photo Courtesy of Capitol Riverfront BID

As the sun sets on Canal Park, a giant inflatable screen lights up with a popular flick. The lineup of free films includes "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" (June 7), "A League of Their Own" (July 12) and "Black Panther" (Aug. 2). Can't make these? Check out other outdoor movie screenings throughout DC.
Tip: Arrive by 7 p.m. with lawn chairs and blankets to claim your spot.

Capital Pride
June 7–10
Titled "Elements of Us," Capital Pride 2018 invites the whole family to join this colorful celebration, highlights of which include a 200-entry parade through the Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods—and a festival on Pennsylvania Avenue with three stages and a smorgasbord of food vendors.
Tip: Cool off at the Family and Educational Activity Area and Fun Zone at Pennsylvania and 4th Street, home to misting tents and a 30-foot inflatable waterslide.

DC Jazz Festival
June 8–17

Photo Credit: Jan Lindsay

Here's your chance to soak up jazz at more than 40 venues (many with free admission). If you hit only one, make it DC Jazzfest at The Wharf from June 16-17, set in the city's hottest new waterfront destination. Original "Hamilton" cast member Leslie Odom Jr. is one of the headliners.
Tip: Pair your jazz with the amazing eats at performance venues such as JoJo Restaurant (try the bourbon sauce-drizzled steaks) and Ivy City Smokehouse (the house-smoked salmon is particularly beloved).

June 15, July 13, Aug. 10

Photo Credit: Georgetown Events and Jonah Koch/Kochfoto

Take your taste buds on a world tour during this monthly food truck festival at The Bullpen (next to Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals baseball team). Foodie faves range from Crepe Love (serving a Bombay Dhaba crepe with chicken tikka masala) to the Bel-Feast Russian truck (think borscht and blini). The kiddos will also love the live music and games.
Tip: About 25,000 people turn out for each event (which runs from 11 a.m.–11 p.m.). For the shortest lines, show up between 2–4 p.m.

By the People
June 21–24

Photo Credit: Creative Silence

With interactive and augmented reality features, art gets truly immersive at this (mostly) free festival, with venues that range from Union Market to the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building.
Tip: Skip the lines and gain all-day access to the venue of your choice by pre-registering online.

Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle
June 23–24

Photo Courtesy of the National BBQ Battle

Barbecue legends compete, turning Pennsylvania Avenue into a sweet, smoky paradise for meat-lovers. Your $12 admission gets you some samples, but you can pay extra for a full platter of primal goodness. Music acts are also a big deal: The Plain White T’s are among 30 bands performing (but best to leave your own white tees at home).
Tip: Hit the Taste of Giant Sampling Pavilion when you need to cool off—you'll find everything from local Italian ices to Yuengling's Ice Cream, all gratis.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival
June 27 – July 1, July 4–8

Photo Credit: Caroline Angelo, Smithsonian Institution

This sprawling, free festival honors world cultures on the National Mall with live performances and an indoor marketplace. This year’s event showcases the traditions of Armenia and Catalonia in particular.
Tip: Grab an early dinner at one of the concessions stands, then claim a good spot at one of the free concerts (most begin at 6:30 p.m.—so arrive by 6).

Independence Day
July 4
Picking just one way to celebrate the Fourth in DC is nearly impossible, so here are three of the best.1. The National Independence Day Parade (beginning at 11:45 a.m.) is the largest July 4 parade in the country.
Tip: Head to the end of the route at Constitution Avenue NW and 17th Street NW for the smallest crowds.

2. In the evening, John Stamos hosts "A Capital Fourth" on the National Mall, where you can catch the National Symphony Orchestra, The United States Army Band and other ensembles.
Tip: If you're not already within walking distance, take the Metro and plan to arrive at least two hours before the 8 p.m. concert.

3. After the concert, look to the sky for the Independence Day Fireworks.
Tip: If you’re skipping "A Capital Fourth", watch from Washington National Cathedral or Lady Bird Johnson Memorial Park for stellar views without the National Mall crowds.

Summer Block Party
July 4 – Sept. 3

2015 Block Party, Photo Credit: Noah Kalma

The cavernous Great Hall of the National Building Museum welcomes a "Fun House" installation that totally reimagines architecture. Walk through the equal-parts futuristic and whimsical home while learning about Snarkitecture, the New York-based designers of the kid-delighting madness.
Tip: Stop by the Information Desk for a Family Tool Kit ($3 with museum admission) for engaging projects such as an Eye Spy activity.

Capital Fringe Festival
July 7–29

Photo Courtesy of Capital Fringe Festival

You never know what you’re going to get here, and that’s part of the draw of this free-spirited party. At five venues within walking distance of each other in the historic Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, take in improv, punk rock shows and edgy dance performances.
Tip: Getting here is half the fun when you take the Potomac River Company’s Water Taxi from Old Town Alexandria or Georgetown.

Citi Open
July 28 – Aug. 5

This year marks the 50th anniversary of this top-ranked tennis event in the world at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. Top American tennis players to watch for include Sloane Stephens and John Isner.
Tip: For the most affordable tickets, attend one of the qualifying rounds on July 28-29.

Capital Dragon Boat Regatta
Aug. 25
Teams of 20 paddlers (and one drummer!) will be filling colorful, dragon-inspired boats and competing for the first time at The Wharf. And hey—because this is a no-experience-required event, if your travel party is large enough, you can register as a team right up until Aug. 13. You'll just need to make sure that everyone's at least 12 years old and at least 10 of you are women.
Tip: If you'd rather stick with the spectator role, watch the races from the newly and beautifully zhuzhed-up Recreation Pier, where your seating options include adult-appropriate swings.

17th Street Festival
Aug. 25

Experience the vibrant 17th Street Corridor—famed for its many LGBTQ-owned businesses—in one afternoon with this celebration of neighborhood restaurants, shops and artisans. The appropriately eclectic entertainment includes a Dixieland band, Chinese percussion and flamenco dancers.
Tip: General admission is free, but it’s worth getting the $10 wristband to score discounts at local restaurants and taverns.

Library of Congress National Book Festival
Sept. 1

When the world's largest library hosts a book fest, there's truly something for everyone, from Captain Underpants loyalists to General Grant fans. Though the blockbuster children's authors have yet to be announced, this year's adult lineup includes Hamilton's famed biographer Ron Chernow, who's back with a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant, plus bestselling author Amy Tan, who recently penned a memoir—and U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, who'll be in conversation with former Poet Laureate Robert Hass.
Tip: This event space is sprawling, so arrive well in advance if you want to catch a famous author or character meet-and-greet.

Ready to go? Find deals for hotels, activities, restaurants and spas, then start planning your summer vacation to the nation's capital with this list of 100 free things to do while you're in town.

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