Forget the calendar or that school isn’t out yet. In my mind, we’re entering a new season. It’s time for water-inspired recreation, special eats, barefoot play, bonus attractions at everyday places, evening entertainment that might keep the kids up late on weekdays. And we can experience all of it through some of the area’s quintessential summer activities, a few of which have already begun, many that are starting this weekend, and some that commence later on.
So, much of this list is reiterated from last year, but updated to reflect 2012 info. And this guide from the Washington Post inspired some additions — all activities I’ve written about before, but just haven’t included in my “summer” post.
From swimming and spray grounds to al fresco music and films, pick-your-own berries to picking blue crabs, children’s theatre series to museum programs for kids, here are some of the best ways to experience summer in the city and its surrounds.
Outdoor Pool Season
Nothing says summer like swimming under the sun, and there are plenty of public pools in the area where you can jump in for free or a small admission fee.
- DC outdoor public pools will open on Saturday, May 26, from 12 – 6pm and will be open weekends only until June 18. 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 be open on weekends May 26 – June 10, then weekdays, too, through Labor Day — the Dept. 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 Spray
Kids can run through fountains and splash around at many area spraygrounds. Several are within the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, and there are a few in other areas, too.
- Starting May 26, DPR Spray Parks will be open Saturdays from 11am – 4pm. On June 18, they will open all other days of the week (check their website for hours).
- For spray fun with a riverfront view, the Yards Park has fountains and a great location on the Anacostia.
- The fountains at Georgetown Waterfront Park are now open and welcoming guests to splash around.
- Some of the area’s most popular spray parks—Lyon Village Park, Hayes Park, and Drew Park–can be found in Arlington.
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 Boher Park in Gaithersburg
- Atlantis Water Park at Bull Run in Centreville
- Splash Down Water Park in Manassas
- Chesapeake Beach Water Park (Certifikid currently has a deal!)
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 area.
- 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 is this Friday, May 25, rain or shine. Spread out a blanket, pack a picnic dinner, and enjoy the sounds of a variety of jazz artists.
- Already underway, the Yards Park Friday Concert Series 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. I always recommend getting there a little early, so the kids can play in the fountains before the concert starts. 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!
- The U.S. Air Force Band 2012 Summer Concert Series kicks off Friday, June 1 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 soem iconic spots, like the west steps of the U.S. Capitol, the World War II Memorial, the Air Force Memorial,and the Air & Space Museum. Show times vary so be sure to check the U.S. Air Force Band website for the complete summer schedule.
- The park known by most families for its puppet shows, children’s plays, and carousel will present the Glen Echo Summer Concert Series in its Bumper Car Pavilion on most Thursday evenings June 14 – August 23. All performances are free and begin at 7:30pm, rain or shine. And that carousel will be open for rides from 7 – 9pm.
- 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. See the schedule (to be released on May 24) for details.
- All summer long, families can enjoy a variety of free fun at Rockville Town Square. Kids Night is every Tuesday with concerts for the younger set at 6:30pm and 7:30pm. And concerts for all ages on Friday evenings begin May 4 and runs through September 28 — enjoy live music, good food and beverages from 6:30-9:30pm.
- Starting June 5, Washing Harbour will present free performances by children’s musicians every Tuesday from 10:30am – 12pm in their Habour Kids series.
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.)
- The longest running, Screen on the Green, takes place on the National Mall on Mondays in July and August, though exact dates for 2012 have yet to be announced.
- The NoMa Summer Screen, which includes a few family-friendly movies, begins May 23 and will run weekly on Wednesdays until August 8 on L Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue NE. Food and music start at 7pm, and the movie at dark.
- The Capitol Riverfront will start Front Flicks on May 24 and run every Thursday evening at 8:45pm through July 26.
- The National Harbor hosts Movies on the Potomac, with a mix of films every Friday night starting May 25, and family movies every Sunday night beginning May 27.
- Movies on the Square will take place at Rockville Town Square Thursdays at 8:45pm June 13 – August 22, and a bunch of kids flicks are included in the weekly line-up.
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 every Tuesday & Wednesday at 10am starting June 19. Admission is just $1. See the website to for the film schedule.
- The Atlas Performing Arts Center presents a Summer Film Series every year, including A Family Series that usually takes place on Fridays at 5pm. The schedule has yet to be released, so stay tuned for an update
Mini Trains, Carousels, & Mini Golf
These extra delights bring even more fun to several parks around the area that are already great outdoor places to hang with the kids.
- 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 28 (Memorial Day), July 4 (July Fourth Holiday; closes at 4pm) & September 5 (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 26. 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 on May 1 and will continue daily through August 26 (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 March, but will be offering rides daily starting May 28 on weekdays 9:30am – 1:00pm, and weekends 9:30am – 6:30pm.
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. The full schedule of shows in available of the Wolf Trap website. And you can read a KFDC review of the series from last summer.
- Backyard Theater for Children, Strathmore’s summer theater series brings music and mystery of exotic locales from around the world to kids – all outdoors under a big tent. Weekly performances take place every Thursday at 9:30am and 11:30 from July 12 – August 2. Admission is $8, free for ages 2 and under. Check the calendar for the line-up of performances.
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 was a recent recommendation from 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.
While the picking season starts in the spring with strawberries, it carries on through summer with even more delicious fruits — blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, plus more produce you can gather yourself. The strawberry season usually lasts until about mid-June, and this post has a list of farms with pick-your-own patches. For other berry picking opportunities later on, this post from last summer will tell you where to go (I’ll be posting an updated version as the season gets closer).
- The National Gallery of Art’s summer drop-in series starts begins July 15 with art sessions for kids that are both educational and fun. Stories in Art, geared toward ages 4-7, is a fantastic program that introduces kids to art and encourages them to use their imaginations as they discover different works. Artful Conversations, designed for ages 8-11, uses observation and discussion to explore works of art in the museum’s collection.
- The Newseum, along with sponsor WTOP, is offering the Summer Fun Deal! From July 1 – September 3, there will be 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. Up to six kids can enter free with the offer.
- Tee up at the National Building Museum with a unique, interactive exhibit that explores the design of our built world: a miniature golf course! With holes designed and built by some of the leading architects, landscape architects, and contractors in the Washington area, the course will be located inside one of the Museum’s galleries. Visitors to the Museum will be able to play this one-of-a-kind course, designed for ages 4 and up, in air-conditioned comfort from July 4 – September 3. Cost is $5 per round per person. With purchase of full-price Museum exhibition admission ticket, the price per round is reduced to $3. Museum members play for $3. Open during Museum hours 10 am – 5 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11 am – 5 pm on Sunday.