The Best Things to Do in DC in the Summer

Summer in D.C. is hot and sticky, making less than ideal conditions for exploring the great outdoors. That said, there’s a lot to do to cool off or you know, go inside one of many museums blast air conditioning. You’ll find plenty of free attractions to keep you entertained.

Updated for summer 2024

I’ve lived in DC for so many summers now (and admittedly, I’m usually gone for at least one month of summer). Luckily, there’s still plenty of time for fun in DC after my travels, and I am so excited to tell you about it! As a local, there’s way more to summer in DC than just your regular Smithsonian, monuments, and Georgetown (these are all a must for your first visit though!).

1. Bike around the city — $7

Yes, I said this is the perfect thing to do in spring, too. Why? Because biking around DC using the Capital Bikeshare is cheap and awesome. Bike through the neighborhoods is another way to get to know DC.

Get an iced coffee, take the bike lane, and stop along the way when you come to one of the many adorable parks around the mall or city. The bike share is only $7 for a half-hour (you can return and get a new one throughout the day within 30 minutes). Essentially, you can ride a bike all day for just $7! Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

 

2. Check out a rooftop pool — free

So, most rooftop pools offer memberships and/or day fees that are at least $20 a day if not more in DC. You can’t go on any day and expect to get in for free. However, many also offer FREE events!

Embassy Row Hotel does “Hooky Fridays” where entry is free to their rooftop pool! It can get crowded, but being on the rooftop and getting in for free is worth it.  I will say that when I went, it was not crowded at all. They also do a silent disco later on the same evening, which just adds to the fun (the disco’s not free though, sadly!).

 

3. Cruise or paddle along the Potomac — $15 – $40

Georgetown, the Tidal Basin, and Waterfront all have options for getting out on the water! While Georgetown is known for its kayaking and paddleboarding, don’t be afraid to step out into another neighborhood where you can enjoy the water without the giant Georgetown crowd. I’ve done a cruise along the Potomac and paddle boats.

If you want an amazing tour on the water, check out Reflections DC‘s private boat tours.

4. Check out one of many neighborhood festivals — free

One of the best ways to get to know DC is to hang out with the locals. Throughout the summer, there are lots of different festivals throughout DC;  summer is when all the neighborhoods have their own parties going on.

Each neighborhood is unique and does its own thing. Get to know the real DC and head over to a festival or block party this summer. One of the biggest and most fun is the H Street Festival which is a mile long. The whole street opens up, bars have spots all the way out to the streets, and local artists and vendors take over. It’s huge and goes late into the night.

Here’s City Paper’s list of neighborhood festivals.

 

5. Go to a Nationals game — $15 – $60

The Nationals won the World Series in 2019, which made the season even more fun. What says American summer more than baseball?! To add to your fun, go to The Yards next to the stadium before the game to listen to music, have a few beers, and play some corn hole. Perfect afternoon!

 

6. Check out a free show on the Millennium Stage at Kennedy Center — free

The Kennedy Center is gorgeous, and going to a performance there is definitely something incredible, but it can be so expensive! But, did you know there are free performances literally every night there? It’s amazing! Go for a free show.

Here is a list of the upcoming free shows. They happen every night!

 

jazz in the garden at the sculpture garden at national gallery of art washington dc
 

7. Jazz in the Sculpture Garden

Every Friday throughout the summer, the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art hosts “Jazz in the Garden.” It’s an awesome series of live music, cool drinks, and great art! It starts at 5 pm and goes until 8. People bring their own snacks and drinks to hang out on the lawn as you listen to wonderful live music. Tickets are required to join this, but they are free!

While free, you do need a ticket in order to attend. It’s a lottery system and tickets typically sell out within minutes. It can get very crowded, even with the tickets, so show up early and make sure you bring a blanket to sit on! 

 

8. View an outdoor movie at one of the many spots around the city — free

Being outside is tons of fun in the summer, but DC can get so hot. This is another good way to get outside without ending up sweating like crazy! There are so many spots to catch a movie outside in the summer after the sun goes down. They’re perfect because you get to take in a beautiful setting in the city, bring your own picnic, and watch a movie you know you’ll love.

My favorite spot is the Congressional Cemetery where you can watch a classic scary movie in the cemetery after dark once a month. Last time I went, we saw The Birds, a classic by Alfred Hitchcock.

Here’s a list of all the spots around DC with free outdoor movie showings this summer!

9. Go to a food or drink festival —$20 – $60

There are a lot of these happening in the summer. One of the biggest is the BBQ, Beer, and Bourbon Fest. I am personally looking into getting tickets into the Taco and Tequila fest because what is better than tacos! We’ll see where I get to go this summer. Festivals can get expensive, but they can also be pretty affordable if you buy tickets early.

 

 

10. See the fireworks on the 4th of July on or around the National Mall

I couldn’t make a summer in DC list and not recommend the nation’s capital for Independence Day. To be honest, many of my friends and I avoid downtown DC for the 4th, but I know that it’s a good one because so many people travel here for it! Just be prepared for crowds and lots of people.

 

A great alternative spot is watching the fireworks from the Fields at RFK, the Wharf (choose a rooftop bar, many have special events), or finding a friend with rooftop access.

 

 

12. Go to an event at a museum — free  to $60

There’s always something going on somewhere after hours at the Smithsonian during summer. From Jazz in the Garden on Fridays to special events at the Hirshhorn, an event is a unique and cheap way to explore a museum.

They’re free to about $60 depending on the museum or event. I’ve been to many, and one of my favorites was not at a Smithsonian but at the Spy Museum. We had a blast on a scavenger hunt, got a special gift, and a cocktail to top it all off!

 

 

13. Check out the Wharf

The Wharf is DC’s newest development and tons of fun. From the rooftop bars to the pier to the swings and lounges along the water it’s truly a unique spot in DC and a ton of fun!

 

14. Brunch your heart out! 

Brunch is seriously the thing to do, and there is nothing better than a good brunch in the summer here in DC. DC is known for brunch so a trip to DC is not complete without it! Click here to check out my favorite local spots you can eat at on a budget.

 

 

15. Eastern Market

Eastern Market is a historic market located near Capitol Hill in DC. It’s open daily throughout the summer, but it’s best if you can make it on Saturday or Sunday when the street is closed and tons of local artists, musicians, and local farms set up their goods. It’s such a fun place for a stop, plus you can get the most unique souvenirs for cheap!

 

 

16. Eat a popsicle on the National Mall

Okay, this one might sound weird, but it is a summer tradition in DC! After you check out one of the many Smithsonians or monuments, stop at an ice cream truck for a treat to cool off. It’s a tradition we locals love, and honestly, it’s fun to take in the view with a popsicle in hand!

 

Uncover the secrets of summer in DC. Discover the local's guide to the best museums, attractions, and have a memorable summer.
Uncover the secrets of summer in DC. Discover the local’s guide to the best museums, attractions, and have a memorable summer.
 

While not in DC, there are some awesome summer day trips I’d highly recommend. Take some time to explore beyond the city with a trip to Assateague Island, King’s Dominion, Annapolis, or Lake Anna.

Meghan

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