Sample a little of everything this summer in DC
Part of what makes Washington, D.C., such a great vacation destination is that it mixes the old reliables (monuments and museums) with an ever-changing array of restaurants, events and cultural experiences. This means that you could visit the nation’s capital again and again – and never have the same itinerary.
The summer, in particular, is full of events and activities (many of which are very budget-friendly) that make visiting the District especially appealing. Here are our recommendations on how to fill your trip to D.C.
May is International Cultural Awareness Month in D.C., when you’ll find endless – and free - ways to circumnavigate the globe without leaving the District. For example, Passport DC offers programming from dozens of embassies and 30+ local cultural institutions. A local favorite is the Around the World Embassy Tour (May 6), your invitation to open houses at more than 40 embassies, where you’ll be greeted by everyone from dance troupes to pet-able alpacas. (Visit later in the month for the annual EU Embassies’ Open House on May 13 or Fiesta Asia!, a street fair festival on Pennsylvania Avenue on May 20.)
For a larger celebration of Asian culture, be sure to catch the two-week festival that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is holding. The museum is marking its 100th anniversary this year with yearlong programs and events like the Asian Pacific Heritage Festival (May 1-13). Highlights include the Washington premiere of composer Huang Ruo’s oratorio Angel Island, as well as performances by singer-songwriters Eric Nam and Raveena. There will be an Asian food and artisan market as well.
From June 29-July 4 and July 6-9, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival takes over the National Mall. This free event honors contemporary living cultural traditions and invites visitors to sing and dance, try craft and game workshops, learn traditional recipes and more. This year’s festival focuses on those who call the Ozarks region home, as well as an examination of the intertwining of American religious communities in the modern world.
As one of the most walkable cities in the country, it’s easy (and budget-friendly) to get around to these different events. If you’re used to riding on two wheels, give Capital Bikeshare a whirl; you can nab a 24-hour pass for $8 per day.
Where to stay: Designed in partnership with artists and creators, Selina offers value-priced accommodations to suit every budget in the NoMa-Union Market area. Steps away from Union Station and a 20-minute walk from attractions like the National Portrait Gallery and Ford’s Theatre, Selina has exhibition space featuring local artists as well as a wellness area that offers yoga classes.
It doesn't get much more American than barbecue, and smoked meats take center stage for the Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle (June 24-25) along historic Pennsylvania Avenue. Barbecue teams and restaurants from around the country compete for the title of National BBQ Champion while feeding the masses BBQ chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and endless sides to go with it. There’s even a category for beyond meat. Your ears will also get a treat, thanks to the three music stages; DJ Jazzy Jeff will make an appearance at one.
If you prefer to eat in more refined settings, don’t worry — D.C. has plenty of options in this foodie town, particularly if you’re looking for farm-to-table. Now in its 15th year, Founding Farmers is known as one of D.C.’s greenest restaurants and its purpose is promoting products from family farms, ranches and fisheries. They make everything they can from scratch, from the bread to the chocolate. At 1789 Restaurant in Georgetown, you’ll be served dishes like braised Wagyu short rib and New Bedford scallops in antique-filled dining rooms inside a renovated Federal house; jackets are recommended for men. Chaia offers plant-based tacos filled with things like roasted butternut squash and goat cheese, chipotle yogurt and mint; pair it with the green rice mixed with feta, herb pesto and pepitas.
Where to stay: If food is your jam, then you probably already know Michelin-starred chef José Andrés opened The Bazaar in the Waldorf Astoria this past February. Formerly the Old Post Office, the 5-star hotel oozes luxury from its perch between the White House and the U.S. Capitol. The Bazaar pays homage to this historic spot with dishes like the “Beef cheeks Eisenhower stew” and “Butifarra Senator Moynihan.” Even if you don't stay at the hotel, visitors can still go to the observation deck at the Old Post Office Tower and check out its amazing views of the city for free.
D.C.'s got game
Summer in the District is a great time to get outdoors, whether it’s for a stroll through the National Mall, kayaking on the Tidal Basin or a jog in the park. (We suggest the 1,754-acre Rock Creek Park for the latter.) But there are also several opportunities to be a fan, whether that’s catching a ballgame at Nationals Park or attending one of several events this summer.
Soccer fans should circle July 15-19, as Major League Soccer All-Star Week comes to Audi Field. The MLS all-star team will challenge one of England’s top clubs, Arsenal, in the big event on July 19. (For a juicy subplot, the MLS All-Star coach Wayne Rooney played for Arsenal rival Manchester United.)
D.C. welcomes some of the world’s best tennis players for the Citi Open (July 29 – Aug. 6). Played at a 7,500-seat facility in Rock Creek Park, the tournament was founded by legend Arthur Ashe and is the fourth-longest running pro tournament in the U.S. While this year’s field has not been announced as of press time, last year’s singles winners were Aussie Nick Kyrgios and American Jessica Pegula.
For some lighthearted competition, head to District Pier at The Wharf and watch the 11th Annual Running of the Chihuahuas (May 6). More than 90 Chihuahuas race in groups of eight on a 60-foot racetrack. All proceeds benefit Rural Dog Rescue, a nonprofit organization dedicated to pulling dogs from high-kill rural shelters.
Where to stay: Celebrate your team (or Chihuahua) winning with some cocktails and dancing at the rooftop bar at The Morrow Hotel Washington, DC Curio Collection by Hilton. If you won big, head to Vesper, the 11th floor lounge for some caviar service. When you’re done partying, rest your head in one of the pet-friendly guest rooms.
History in the making
Rich with the nation’s past, present and future, Washington, D.C. knows how to commemorate it all. Summer holidays are an especially poignant time to visit. The meaning of Memorial Day comes to life being near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Arlington National Cemetery as well as countless other war memorials. Check out Rolling to Remember (May 28), a motorcycle rally to raise issues faced by veterans, as well as a tribute to those missing in action and prisoners of war. Be sure to grab a spot to watch the Memorial Day parade (May 29) that not only includes veterans but also historical re-enactors and celebrities.
Celebrate the nation’s birthday by watching “1776” at the Kennedy Center. The new production of this Tony Award-winning show runs from June 27-July 16, and tells the story of the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (If you’re wondering, the cast reflects modern-day demographics rather than, well, 1776 ones.)
Backyard fireworks are fun and all, but a grand July 4th show set against the backdrop of national monuments is something only Washington, D.C. can do. Get there early and you’ll have a chance to enjoy “A Capital Fourth,” the star-studded concert on the National Mall. In fact, you can mark the nation's birthday all day if you want. Head to the National Archives and be greeted by George and Martha Washington re-enactors for some family-fun activities, including signing a fake Declaration of Independence. Baseball fans can nab tickets to watch the Washington Nationals play at Nationals Park against the Cincinnati Reds.
Where to stay: When it comes to historic hoteliers, Sheila Johnson is up there as the only African-American woman to wholly own a Forbes Five-Star Resort, the Salamander Resort in Virginia. This past September, she expanded the brand into the 5-star Salamander Washington DC, prominently located along the Wharf. A short walk from popular attractions, the hotel is a destination in itself thanks to its spa, its afternoon tea with garden views and its spacious suites featuring either views of the Washington Marina or the Jefferson Memorial.
Arts & Culture
From June 2-11, Capital Pride events will take place, including the 1.5-mile Pride Parade (June 10) and Pride Festival (June 11). The theme of “Peace, Love, Revolution” will be present throughout and is part of a three-year campaign leading into WorldPride 2025, which D.C. will also host.
More than 70,000 fans are expected to descend on the 10th anniversary of Awesome Con, D.C.’s Comic Con! (June 16-18). This year’s celebrity guests include Billy Dee Williams from Star Wars, Levar Burton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, as well as Karen Gillan from Guardians of the Galaxy.
On Fridays throughout the summer, visitors are encouraged to join the National Gallery of Art’s “Jazz in the Garden,” a favorite with locals. Reserve tickets in advance for these free concerts, which take place in the museum’s sculpture garden; bring your own picnic or partake in some of the signature sangria. Keep the jazz vibing going into late summer by attending "DC Jazzfest" (Aug. 30-Sept. 3), an annual tradition that brings national and local musicians to venues all over the city.
Fans of both contemporary art and Marvin Gaye can now head over to the Rubell Museum DC, a new facility in Southwest DC that once served as a schoolhouse for young Mr. Gaye. The brick walls, wooden floors and arched windows remain, but the interior contains more than 7,000 pieces of art. “What’s Going On” is one current exhibit that features more than 190 works by 50 artists regarding social and political issues.
Where to Stay: One of the trendiest neighborhoods in D.C., The Wharf attracts people for its shopping as well as fine dining, rooftop bars and cozy cafes along the waterfront. After a relaxing stroll, call it a night at the Pendry Hotel…or maybe get a nightcap at the lobby’s Bar Pendry… or maybe get a 3 a.m. snack thanks to the 24-hour room service. This is D.C. — the possibilities are endless.