12 Things to Do This Summer in Washington, DC

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In the hot and humid months of summer in Washington, DC, I’m always looking way to enjoy the outdoors but stay cool when needed. There is plenty to enjoy outside like outdoor concerts, waterfront dining, and baseball games. But when I need to cool off, I often check out a museum and look for evening activities. Here a list of a few of my favorite things to plan on my summer activitiy list.

Jazz in the Garden

Jazz in the Garden returns to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden for its popular summer concert series on Fridays from May 31 to August 9 (except July 5). Bring a picnic and a blanket to enjoy an evening of music. This event is very popular, so make sure to enter the ticket lottery the week before the concert you’d like to attend. Guests will be notified if they are chosen for the lottery the Monday before the concert and can reserve up to 4 free tickets. 

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Jazz in the Garden

Visit the National Zoo

Visiting the National Zoo on a hot summer day may not be your first thought, but there are 3 indoor animal houses where you can cool off. Check out the Small Mammal House, Reptile Discovery Center, and the Great Ape House to get out of the sun. Plus, don’t miss the summer concert series with movies beginning at 7 pm on May 16 (Shrek), June 20 (Turning Red), and July 18 (The Lorax). Tickets to the zoo and the movie nights are free but must be reserved in advance. 

Have a Picnic at the National Arboretum

Want to beat the heat but still enjoy time outside? Head to the National Arboretum for a picnic! Picnics are allowed in The Grove of State Trees, which offers plenty of shade and parking. You can pack your favorite snacks, but my favorite thing to do is stop at the nearby Roaming Rooster for chicken sandwiches. If you would like to explore after lunch, head to the Asian Collections, which has lots of shaded paths. 

Columns at the National Arboretum with yellow flowers during summer in Washington, DC
National Arboretum

Explore the Catacombs at the Franciscan Monastery

Explore beyond the National Mall by heading to the Franciscan Monastery in Brookland. The Franciscan Monastery offers tours of the catacomb replicas—a great way to get out of the sun. Tours are offered Tuesday through Saturday at 1 pm and 2 pm and Sunday at 12 pm and 1:30 pm. The tours are free, but reservations are required. Plus, enjoy a walk in their beautiful gardens after your tour.

Outdoor Summer Movies

Enjoy a movie outside this summer across several of DC’s neighborhoods. Movies are free and picnics are allowed unless otherwise noted.

  • Congressional Cemetery: See spooky movies, including Beetlejuice and The Haunted Mansion, in the cemetery once a month from May to September. Alcohol is allowed and will also be available for purchase.
  • The Drive-In at Union Market: Enjoy family movies from your car are on select Fridays from May to October. $20 per car. Guest can also watch the movies from Neal Place. No tickets are required for Neal Place. Picnics are allowed and food for purchase will be available from Union Market.
  • Movies in the Park (Rockville): Enjoy family classics at rotating parks in Rockville on Wednesdays from July 31 to August 21 including Fallsgrove Park, Montrose Park, Calvin Park, and Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park.
  • Films in the Park at Strawberry Park (Mosaic District): Head to Strawberry Park in Virginia for family movies every Thursday from June 20 to August 15 including the 4th of July.
  • Movies on the Potomac (National Harbor): Movies on the Potamac features one of the largest schedules of outdoor movies for the summer. Movies run from May 23 to September 29 including both animated family classics and live action movies like Now You See Me and Top Gun.
  • Adams Morgan Movies Nights at Marie Reed: PG-13 movies like Bring it On and Bend it Like Beckman on the soccer field and Marie Reed Elementary School. Deals from restaurants in Adams Morgan will be offered. Movies run on Tuesdays from May 21 to June 25.

Brunch with a Water View

Enjoy brunch with a water view on the Wharf at restaurants like Officina or Hanks Oyster Bar. Or walk the boardwalk with a coffee and a snack from Colada Shop or District Doughnut. After breakfast, take the Wharf Jitney to explore East Potomac Park. This free small boat operates from 12 to 6 pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from May to November. If you miss the boat or are there during the week, you can walk on the 14th Street Bridge (about 1.5 miles).

Baseball on a Budget

Baseball is one of my favorite activities during summer in Washington, DC. Even if you aren’t a sports fan, there are many great snacks to try while enjoying some time outside. Don’t miss DC favorites like Roaming Rooster, Ben’s Chili Bowl, and Arepa Zone. DC residents can purchase $5 tickets for any home game in sections 401 and 402. On Tuesdays, all guests can get discount tickets plus deals on hot dogs, pizza, and pretzels.

Visit Planet Word

Working through a summer reading list? Pair it with a summer trip to Planet Word, a language museum near McPherson Square. Explore exhibits showcasing how language affects us, including learning a new language, crafting a song, writing an advertisement, and making a joke. General entrance to the museums is free, but timed tickets are highly recommended. Open daily except Tuesday.

Evening Monument Tour

It’s easy to explore the monuments on the National Mall at night on our own but taking a bus tour can be a fun way to learn some additional history. Plus, the weather has cooled off and you can enjoy the National Mall without the direct sun. Consider a Moonlight Trolley Tour or a narrated open top National Mall Night Bus Tour to enjoy the monuments illumated without the walk.

Visit a Smithsonian Museum

While summer brings big crowds to the Smithsonian Museums, try beating the heat in one of the less popular ones. Check out the National Postal Museum near Union Station. This museum tells a creative story about American history through the evolution of stamps and the postal service. Enjoy global art at the Asian Art Museum and the African Art Museum. These museums are smaller than the others but can be done together.

Or head to Chinatown to see the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. These museums are well known but can draw fewer crowds since they are not directly on the National Mall and are open until 7:30 pm – a little later than the rest of the Smithsonian museums.

Music Festivals

Celebrate the city with two free music festivals this summer: Home Rule Music Festival and DC Jazz Fest. The Home Rule Music Festival will celebrate the music of the city with performances at The Parks at Walter Reed on June 22 and at Alethia Tanner Park on July 20. These event are free but reserving tickets in advance is recommended. DC JazzFest will highlight jazz music in venues all around the city but many will be at the Wharf. Explore a lineup of free and ticketed events from August 28 to September 1.

Summer Restaurant Week

Try a new restaurant this summer with special deals for dinner, lunch, and brunch. Many restaurants include drink deals or offer extended times outside of the offical restaurant week. Both Washington, DC and Old Town Alexandria are expected to participate. Dates to be announced.