If you follow KidFriendly DC on Facebook, you may have seen this gem that I posted recently. To say I can relate is an understatement. Couple that with the fact that Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and you can probably guess where my mind is these days: Summer.
The season may not officially begin for a few more weeks, but now is when I start embracing the best of it. Luckily, there are loads of quintessential summer activities around DC that follow the same early timeline as me. 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 enjoy summer in the area. This guide has details on all of them, most of it just updated from last year, plus a few choice additions. So, unpack the swimsuits and flip flops, start marking the stretch through Labor Day on the calendar, and get ready 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 24, from 12 – 6pm and will be open weekends only until June 22 (though they will be open Memorial Day, Monday, May 26). 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 24 – June 13, 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.
- The Yards Park is a favorite for many in the city with both super fun sprays and a wading pool, plus a great scenic location on the Anacostia River in the Navy Yard
- A relative 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 lots of sprays for more enthusiastic play where the ice rink is in the winter.
- Starting May 24, 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 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). I 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!
- 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 of the season is this Friday, May 23, 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 2014 Summer Concert Series kicks off Tuesday, June 3 at 8pm, on the U.S. Capitol West Steps. After that, you can catch free performances all summer long at locales around the DC-Metro area, including other iconic spots along with the Capitol steps, like 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 2 and will run through September 26 — enjoy live music, good food, and beverages from 6:30-9:30pm.
- Starting July 17, you can Rock the Row at Pentagon Row’s summer concert series every Thursday evening from 7-9pm through August 21. 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 2014 lineup has not yet been announced, but check the website for an update soon!
Several stand-out events are anticipated around the area this time of year, celebrating everything from music to art & culture to neighborhoods to food.
- Get folksy at Glen Echo Park May 31 – June 1, when the annual Washington Folk Festival showcases the diversity of traditional music in Washington. All of the artists hail from the DC area, but cultures from around the nation, as well as the world, will be represented through music, dance, crafts, and stories. The public is invited to enjoy the festival that is renown in the folk community.
- It sounds like a grown-ups-only event, but the Vintage Virginia Wine & Food Festival offers plenty of family fun, too. Taking place May 31 – June 1 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.
- Imagination Bethesda, an annual festival occurring in the heart of its namesake city, is all about children. On June 7 from 10am – 3pm, 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 21-22 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 DC Jazz Festival presents a variety of performers at venues all around the city from June 24-29. Keep up to date on details by visiting the website.
- 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 25–29 and July 2–6 celebrating Chinese creativity and heritage and the cultural and national heritage of Kenya.
- The annual Del Ray Music Festival, always a popular event, is on June 28. 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.
- 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 (more confirmation on that here). The merriment begins August 23 and will continue every weekend through October 19. 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 28 and will run weekly on Wednesdays until August 20 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 special Family Film Nights, 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 Canal Park Thursday Movies: It’s a Whole New Ballgame on June 5 and the series will run every Thursday evening at sundown through September 11. With a sports theme 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 25. Movies begin at sunset, usually around 8:30pm.
- Movies on the Square will take place at Rockville Town Square Thursdays 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 in July and August. See the lineup of films here.
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 10. 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 8, 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. There will be screenings of three films highlighting different artists this summer.
- 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, & a Ferris Wheel!
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 26 (Memorial Day), July 4 (July Fourth Holiday; closes at 4pm) & September 1 (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 in early May and will continue daily through August 24 (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 26 on weekdays 9:30am – 1:00pm and weekends 9:30am – 6:30pm.
- The Carousel at RIO Washingtonian in Gaithersburg will celebrate its Grand Opening on May 31 at 11am. Be among the first to take a spin or catch a ride another time. The Americana-themed classic carousel will feature 30 Allan Herschell-style dancing horses, whimsical creatures, and two chariots, allowing for up to 38 adult and 30 children passengers, with wheelchair access and chariot wheelchair positions. Rides are $3.
- Kind of like a London Eye of the U.S., The Capital Wheel at National Harbor is set to open on Friday, May 23. The 42-gondola (all closed and climate-controlled with room for 8) will soar 180 feet above the Potomac River waterfront, offering vistas of the White House and Capitol, the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and more amazing sites. Ticket prices start at $11.25.
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 June 26 – July 31. Admission is $8, free for ages 2 and under. Check the calendar for the line-up of performances.
Some of the season’s best action takes place in ballparks, stadiums, and arenas thanks to our local sports teams. Here’s where you can join the fan clubs.
- A day at Nationals Park is all it takes to understand why baseball is America’s favorite pastime. Catching a Washington Nationals game is one of our family’s preferred ways to enjoy a nice summer (or spring) day (or evening), anyway. The excitement extends well beyond the diamond with games and activities in the park, a playground for kids, the Racing Presidents, fun in the stands, and more. And I highly recommend the Jr. Nationals Kids Club for children 12 and under. Just $20 gets them membership, which includes Nats swag, plus a coupon book with offers for free meals, BOGO tickets, a ballpark tour, and all kinds of discounts. Even a few months into the season, it’s still worth it!
- Tennis, anyone? The Washington Kastles, the DC franchise of World TeamTennis, will bring some on-court thrills to The Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront, where Kastles Stadium is located, July 7-23. For some background, see this post and this one from a few years back.
- Whether you’ve got a little soccer fan in your fam or not, DC United matches are fun experiences for all ages. And since games only last 90 minutes, it’s not too long for antsy young spectators. Be sure to check for any pre- or post-game activities for kids.
- Can’t stand the heat? Head to the Verizon Center to see the Washington Mystics (w)hoop it up on the basketball court. Tickets start at $19.
- Swing up to Charm City to see the Baltimore Orioles play. Camden Yards is a beautiful ballpark, and you can head to the Inner Harbor before or after to make a day of it up north.
- If the Nats or O’s aren’t in town, or you want to see baseball on a smaller scale, you’ve got several great options around the area. Take ’em out to the minors at a Bowie Baysox, Potomac Nationals, or Aberdeen Ironbirds game. Summer collegiate team Bethesda Big Train is also very popular for non-majors baseball action.
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 24 – August 31. Tours, workshops, demonstrations, and performances are all usually part of the museum’s programming, though this year’s schedule is not yet available. Be sure to check the website for an update on details soon.
- The National Gallery of Art’s Summer Drop-In Series starts begins July 12 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, this season they’ll be exploring Italy as they “meet” Italian artists and investigate their paintings and sculptures. 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.
- Find your way to — and through — the National Building Museum! For the first time ever this summer, the Museum, in partnership with BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, is creating a never-before-seen large-scale maze in its historic home. Soaring 18 feet high and measuring 61 feet by 61 feet, the birch plywood structure will boast a series of twists and turns for visitors to weave through and explore. The “BIG Maze” will be open July 4 to September 1.
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.