It’s that time of year when I declare the start of summer before the season officially begins. But as I’ve discussed several times now (see here, here, and here), this coming weekend — Memorial Day weekend — is when summer begins in my book (or blog, that is). This is when I start shifting gears, from close-toed shoes to sandals, jeans to shorts, martinis to margaritas (okay, not true…I’ll take that martini, thank you…it just sounded good). It’s when evening strolls prevail over early bedtimes, a dip in the pool counts as a bath, and the folks at the neighborhood gelato shop know the kids by name.
This weekend is also when we kick off many quintessential summer activities around DC. Music and movies in the open air, special fests and feasts, water-inspired recreation, and bonus attractions at everyday places are just some of the ways we can embrace summer in the area. This guide has details on all of them, much of it just updated from last year, plus a few choice additions. So, get out the sunblock and flip flops, start marking the Memorial Day to Labor Day stretch on the calendar, and prepare to have some FUN!
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 25, from 12 – 6pm and will be open weekends only until June 24 (though they will be open Memorial Day, Monday, May 27). 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 25 – June 9, then weekdays, too, through Labor Day — the Department 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.
- Georgetown Waterfront Park, right next to the Washington Harbour, has a fountain with arcing sprays that makes for a fun, refreshing way to cool off on a hot, summer day. The rest of its pretty green space along the Potomac is a great place to hang out, too.
- A newcomer to DC’s recreational scene, Canal Park in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has both a gentle, shallow fountain that is perfect for really little ones to enjoy, plus a bigger fountain with sprays for more enthusiastic play where the ice rink is in the winter.
- Starting May 25, DPR Spray Parks will be open for the season, but hours vary by location, so be sure to check their website for hours).
- Some of the area’s most popular spray parks — Lyon Village Park, Hayes Park, and Drew Park — can be found in Arlington.
- The interactive fountain in Downtown Silver Spring plaza is open daily from 10am – 9pm. While my kids have never played there, I recall seeing very happy youngsters playing in the sprays on the colorful mosaic design during my lunch breaks when I worked at Discovery. It always looked like a blast.
- The Yards Park has both super fun sprays and a wading pool, plus a great location on the Anacostia River, but the water features are closed while the park is undergoing construction. Check back soon for an update.
- The fountain in the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza located at 14th and Park Road, NW is a great place to cool down on a hot day, with many sprays that surge up from a pretty, circular tiled surface. Do a little shopping while you’re there — Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and many other big retail stores are right there — and plan to grab a bite at one of many kid-friendly eateries around. And don’t miss a chance to stop in the Museum of Unnatural History at 826DC.
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 Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg
- Atlantis Water Park at Bull Run in Centreville
- Splash Down Water Park in Manassas
- Chesapeake Beach Water Park
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 DC-Metro.
- 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 (or you can BYO – adult beverages okay, too). When the fountains are on, I recommend getting there a little early, so the kids can play 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!
- 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, featuring Ruthie and the Wranglers, is this Friday, May 24, rain or shine. Spread out a blanket, pack a picnic dinner or purchase food and drink there, and enjoy the sounds of a variety of jazz artists. Note: Adult drinks are available from the pavilion; BYO alcohol is not permitted.
- The U.S. Air Force Band 2013 Summer Concert Series kicks off Friday, May 24, at 7pm, in Waldorf, Md. After that, you can catch free performances all summer long at locales around the DC-Metro area, including some 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.
- All summer long, families can enjoy a variety of free fun at Rockville Town Square. Kids Night is every Tuesday from June 11 – August 20 with live entertainment for the younger set at 6:30pm and 7:30pm. And concerts for all ages on Friday evenings began May 3 and will run through September 27 — enjoy live music, good food, and beverages from 6:30-9:30pm.
- Starting June 6, you can Rock at the Row at Pentagon Row’s summer concert series every Thursday evening from 7-9pm. Join the fun behind Champps in the closed-off access street running between Pentagon Row and Pentagon City Mall.
- 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. The 2013 lineup has not yet been announced, but check the website for an update soon!
- Strathmore’s annual Free Summer Outdoor Concerts presents a lineup of genre-crashing, feel-good bands that’ll be playing the lawn for the public every Wednesday at 7pm from June 26 through August 14.
Several stand-out events are anticipated around the area this time of year, celebrating everything from music to art & culture to neighborhoods to food.
- It sounds like a grown-ups-only event, but the Vintage Virginia Wine & Food Festival offers plenty of family fun, too. Taking place June 1-2 at Bull Run Park, festivities include wine tasting (of course), chef demos, food truck fare, live music, and a whole Family Tent with activities especially for kids.
- The DC Jazz Festival presents a variety of performers at venues all around the city from June 5-16, but the most family-friendly of them actually precede the main event. Jazz n’ Family Fun Days will take place June 1-2 with free shows for all ages at The Phillips Collection.
- Imagination Bethesda, an annual festival occurring in the heart of its namesake city, is all about children. On June 1 from 11am – 4pm, Auburn & Norfolk Avenues downtown will be lined with activity tents offering tons of fun for kids — arts & crafts, face painting, games, etc. There will also be live entertainment, food from local restaurants, and more. Admission is free.
- Attend one of the biggest summer barbeques around on June 22-23 as the National Capital Barbeque Battle returns to pit some of the nation’s best barbequers against each other as they compete for big prizes. The reward for attendees: Samples from all the entrants (plus, more food), live music, cooking demos, kids’ fun, and more.
- The annual Del Ray Music Festival, always a popular event, is on June 22. Celebrating the community in Alexandria with a day of music and fun, the festival features food, games, and lots of kids’ activities along with a varied line-up of live entertainment.
- Every summer, the National Mall becomes stomping grounds of folks from around the globe to celebrate living cultural heritage and community traditions at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year’s event will run from June 26–30 and July 3–July 7 celebrating Hungarian Heritage, Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage, and African American Diversity, Style, and Identity.
- It might run into fall, but it starts in August, so I’m counting the Maryland Renaissance Festival among the summer fun. Plus, it’s one of my very, very favorite annual events. The merriment begins August 23 and will continue every weekend through October 20. Go. Just go.
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 NoMa Summer Screen, which includes a few family-friendly movies, begins May 22 and will run weekly on Wednesdays until August 14 on L Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue NE. Food and music start at 7pm, and the movie at dark. This year they are also hosting a special Family Film Night, which features flicks for all ages on four Tuesdays during the summer — see the list of them on the website.
- The Capitol Riverfront will start presenting Front Flicks on May 30 and the series will run every Thursday evening at sundown through August 8. With a DC vs. Marvel Comics theme, the lineup includes plenty of movies that kids (probably elementary age) will enjoy
- The National Harbor hosts Movies on the Potomac, with family films every Sunday night beginning May 26. Movies begin at sunset, usually around 8:30pm.
- Movies on the Square will take place at Rockville Town Square Wednesdays at 8:30pm June 12 – August 21, and several kids flicks are included among them.
- The longest running, Screen on the Green, takes place on the National Mall on Mondays from July 22 – and August 12, and the lineup of films this year includes several that kids will dig too, including E.T., Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Tootsie.
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 on many Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 10am starting June 11. Admission is just $1. Be sure to check the website for the film schedule and theater locations, as it doesn’t run at all theaters every week.
- Starting July 9, THEARC Theater will present Showtime Movie Tuesdays, free children’s movies every Tuesday from 10am – 12pm through August 13. Doors open at 9:30am, and the program includes a fun pre-show activity, snack, and movie screening — all on them.
- Catch a movie at the museum at the National Gallery of Art’s Summer Famly Films series. In July, there will be three screenings of Movin’ & Groovin’ on July 6, 7, and 10. In August moviegoers can enjoy the beloved classic Mary Poppins on August 10 & 11.
- The Atlas Performing Arts Center presents a Summer Film Series every year, including A Family Series that 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 27 (Memorial Day), July 4 (July Fourth Holiday; closes at 4pm) & September 4 (Labor Day).
- Cabin John Regional Park opened its Miniature Train on weekends only back in April, but as of Memorial Day it’ll be operating daily 10am – 7pm through August. 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 April, but will be offering rides daily starting May 27 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, though I think kids even younger can enjoy them, too (mine have). Read a KFDC review of the series from a couple of summers ago. And tickets are on sale now, so go ahead and reserve yours!
- 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 11 – August 1. 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 come highly recommended by 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.
- The Corcoran Gallery of Art presents Free Summer Saturdays May 25 – August 31. Tours, workshops, demonstrations, and performances are all part of the museum’s programming. Be sure to check the website before you go to see what’s on the schedule — some sessions may be more appealing to kids than others, though Sidewalk Chalk Drawing will also take place every Saturday 10am -2pm.
- The National Gallery of Art’s Summer Drop-In Series starts begins July 19 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. Read a KFDC review of the program. Artful Conversations, designed for ages 8-11, uses observation and discussion to explore works of art in the museum’s collection.
- Every year, the Newseum offers the Summer Fun Deal. From July 1 – September 1, 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 (a benefit to ages 7 and up, as kids 6 and under are always free). Up to six kids can enter free with the offer. Read a KFDC take on the Newseum.
- Tee up at the National Building Museum as they bring back a unique, interactive exhibit that explores the design of our built world: Mini Golf! With holes designed and built by leading architects, landscape architects, and contractors in the DC area, the attraction has been expanded to two nine-hole course options this year. Visitors to the Museum will be able to play the one-of-a-kind courses, designed for ages 4 and up, in air-conditioned comfort starting May 27. 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 10am – 5pm Monday – Saturday, and 11am – 5pm on Sunday. (Last entry at 4pm weekdays and 3pm weekends and holidays.)
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 and details. For other berry picking opportunities later on, this post from previous years will tell you where to go.
Have I left out anything really good? If you think so, feel free to let me know in the comments.