The National Mall might offer an iconic backdrop for the Fourth of July fireworks display, but it’s hard to be patriotic when you’re surrounded by thousands of people vying for a comfortable spot to watch.
And although Metro is offering off-peak fares all day for the holiday, the Smithsonian station will be closed until the fireworks end, cutting off the most convenient public transit route to the Mall.
So what’s a District-dweller to do on the Fourth? Rethink the Mall and avoid the crowds by heading to one of these off-the-beaten-path places to watch the fireworks. Or if big booms and sparks in the sky don’t mean patriotism to you, check out some of the day’s other America-themed celebrations.
Places to See the Fireworks
• Amateur photogs should set up shop at the Iwo Jima Memorial (Meade Street and Marshall Drive, Arlington, Va.). With breathtaking views of the Lincoln Memorial, shutterbugs will find both the room to relax and perfect images to capture.
• Got kids? Head to the Washington National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW), where you can find bathrooms open until 8 p.m. That, coupled with a clear view of the fireworks, makes the lawn near the Peace Cross a family friendly area.
• The Georgetown and Southwest waterfronts offer great views and great food for those uninterested in packing a picnic but hungry from a day full of patriotic celebrations. Check out Cantina Marina on the Southwest waterfront (600 Water St. SW) and Sequoia (3000 K St. NW) in Georgetown, but if it’s a hazy day, avoid Georgetown — the show’s finale tends to get shrouded in smoke.
• Speaking of smoke, those looking to barbecue should head to East Potomac Park (1090 Ohio Drive SW), where you might have to sacrifice the perfect view in order to have room for a big celebration.
• Lady Bird Johnson Park (between Arlington Memorial Bridge and George Mason Memorial Bridge in Arlington) offers a great view of the fireworks and much thinner crowds, which will make it worth a slightly longer commute for some.
• Looking to meet new people? Watch the fireworks on the hill next to Cardozo High School (1200 Clifton St. NW), which offers views of downtown and a friendly atmosphere, with folks from across the neighborhood coming out for the festivities. Expect locals to set off small-scale fireworks and sparklers, so if you want to partake in this explosive tradition, Cardozo High’s the place to be.
• You want music, but you don’t want to deal with the crowds at the Capitol for the National Symphony Orchestra’s “A Capitol Fourth” concert? Understandable. Instead, try the Air Force Memorial (1 Air Force Memorial Drive, Arlington) to listen to the U.S. Air Force Band perform, starting at 8 p.m., and enjoy a view of the fireworks as well. Admission is free.
• Take a nighttime cruise and enjoy not only a view of the fireworks but also dinner and music on the Potomac. The Odyssey cruise offers a live band, and the Spirit of Washington cruise has a disc jockey spinning all night. The Odyssey cruise is $199.90 per person and runs from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. The Spirit of Washington cruise is $149.90 and runs from 7 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
• Gravelly Point (off the northbound George Washington Memorial Parkway, Arlington) is a well-known place to set up for the fireworks but still secret enough — and far enough away — to avoid the crowds that swarm to the Mall. Come early to get a good spot, and leave early to beat the rush home.
Other Things to Do
Need something to do before the fireworks? The city hosts an array of events throughout the weekend. From parades and military re-enactments to theme parks and concerts, there’s something for everyone.
• The National Independence Day Parade (Constitution Avenue Northeast from Seventh Street to 17th Street) includes bands from each of the 50 states, fife and drum corps, floats, military and specialty units, giant balloons, equestrian and drill teams, VIPs, national dignitaries and celebrities.
July 4 at 11:45 a.m. Admission is free.
• The 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival (National Mall) celebrates cultures from around the world with music and dance performances, crafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling and discussions of cultural issues. This year, the festival’s themes are Colombia, the Peace Corps and Rhythm and Blues.
Open daily June 30 to July 4 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Evening events begin at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free.
• Show your holiday patriotism with military re-enactments, daytime smoke fireworks in patriotic colors, free birthday cake and a performance by the National Concert Band of America. Independence Day at Mount Vernon (3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, Va.) will also feature a naturalization ceremony for 100 new citizens, a wreath-laying ceremony and a visit from the General and Mrs. Washington, according to the Mount Vernon website.
July 4 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $7 for children ages 6-11 and free for children 5 and younger.
• National FreedomFest at Yards Park (Water Street Southeast) is D.C.’s largest Independence Day music festival, spanning five massive stages with more than 40 bands and DJs, along with food and craft vendors.
July 3 and 4 from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $24.99 for one day and $34.99 for two days, with extra charges for VIP passes.
• Uncle Sam Jam at National Harbor (137 National Plaza, Oxon Hill, Md.) features 10 bands and DJs on three stages, Famous Dave’s BBQ and D.C.’s popular food trucks. A fireworks display will be launched from the pier at the close of the concerts. The lineup includes the Pat McGee Band, the Wailers, Blind Melon, the Doug Segree Band and Lethal Peanut.
July 2 from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is $40, and the event is open only to people ages 21 and older.
• After a full day of riding rides and enjoying attractions at Six Flags America (13710 Central Ave., Bowie, Md.), experience a live concert series and fireworks at dusk throughout the holiday weekend.
July 3 and 4 from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., concert starts at 6 p.m. Admission: $34.99-$54.99.
• In addition to a fireworks show each night, Kings Dominion (16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, Va.) will offer all active and retired military personnel free admission to the park. As many as six friends and family members ages 3 and older will be able to buy discounted tickets for $34.99 each.
July 3 and 4 from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission varies.