Warm weather brings a myriad of ways to enjoy the outdoors in the nation’s capital, many of them free. See the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin and the awe-inspiring memorials in and around the National Mall. Relish the lush plantings in the city’s beautiful gardens and parks. Enjoy fun waterfront activities along and on the Potomac. Revel in the nightlife. And be wowed by summer’s national holiday celebrations.
Pink Explosion: See and Celebrate DC’s Cherry Trees and the Tidal Basin Memorials
One of the most spectacular things to do in DC during the spring is to view the Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park when they burst into bloom, and also take part in the entertaining National Cherry Blossom Festival events that celebrate them (they usually span a three-week period from late March through mid-April, though dates and events are subject to change).
Peak bloom for the more than 3,000 trees, a 1912 gift from Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki to Washington, DC, typically occurs around April 4 (though the exact timing depends on the winter weather conditions leading up to it) and the blossoms can last up to two weeks.
The signature events that make up the National Cherry Blossom Festival include an opening ceremony that honors American and Japanese culture with performances from artists associated with the U.S. and Japan; a Pink Tie Party where partygoers wear pink outfits and enjoy rollicking entertainment; a Blossom Kite Festival during which the community flies kites throughout the District; Petalpalooza, a free day-long celebration featuring art, music and play along the banks of the Anacostia River and a dazzling evening fireworks show set to music; and The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade®, with elaborate balloons, floats, marching bands and morealong 10 blocks of Constitution Avenue.
While you’re strolling the 1.8 mile path around the Tidal Basin to view the blossoms, also be sure to take in some of DC most majestic memorials: the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and Martin King Jr. Memorial, which are free and open 24 hours.
To see more cherry blossoms head to the U.S. National Arboretum and The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Those sites will fill your visual field with unbelievable vistas but turn to the Cherry Picks program to fill your belly with top-notch spring-inspired dishes offered by local restaurants.
Bask in Natural Beauty in DC’s Parks and Gardens
The District provides ample access to beautiful natural scenic landscapes, from gorgeously designed public parks to sprawling private gardens to serene outdoor courtyards and sculpture gardens at museums. They are all perfect places to indulge in nature. A 1,754-acre urban oasis that runs through the northwest portion of DC, Rock Creek Park provides refuge from the hustle and bustle with towering trees, 32 miles of meandering hiking trails, picnic spots, a golf course, horse stables and a planetarium. Other amazing parks to visit include Meridian Hill Park (aka Malcolm X Park), a neoclassical multi-tiered urban park with a long cascading fountain, reflecting pool and notable statues; and The Yards Park, which sports Dancing Fountains and a water feature where visitors can splash and wade on searingly hot summer days.
The botanical exquisiteness of Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens, located along the Anacostia River, is on display year-round, but the lotuses and waterlilies that grow in ponds here are in full bloom in July—and you definitely won’t want to miss them. The water hyacinths and bamboo are pretty spectacular, too.
Soak up a world of sights, smells and textures in the U.S. Botanic Garden, a museum of living plants whose highlight is a spectacular glass conservatory. Explore outdoor garden rooms with themes like Hawaii, World Deserts, Medicinal Plants, Orchids, Mediterranean, Children’s Garden and The Tropics and, no doubt, you’ll want to come back every season.
Hillwood Mansion, Museum & Gardens, established in the 1950s by heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, is a breathtaking example of a private attraction with both manmade and natural allure—one that also provides an amazing view of DC because of its location in one of the city’s highest spots. Roam around 13 acres of formal garden rooms—Four Seasons Overlook, Rose Garden, French Parterre, Japanese Garden, Pet Cemetery, Friendship Garden, Lunar Lawn and Greenhouse. In summer, you can expect to see a color-packed cutting garden (the dahlias will blow you away) and plenty of fiery shades in the Lunar Lawn broadcast by Zinnias, Cannas, Sunpatiens and other flowers.
A couple of Smithsonian Museums also feature free-to-enter gardens on their grounds, including a sculpture garden—why not combine an art experience with your outdoor adventure?
Stroll The National Mall
Populated by iconic memorials, monuments and museums that convey the dramatic history of the nation, Washington DC’s National Mall (aka America’s Front Yard) is the country’s most-visited national park. Visitors are deeply moved by a sweeping landscape that is framed by the soaring marble, obelisk-shaped Washington Monument (built as a tribute to the America’s first president); the iconic U.S. Capitol Building; and the majestic Lincoln Memorial honoring Abraham Lincoln (the 16th president of the U.S.). It sits atop a plaza at the end of a beautiful rectangular Reflecting Pool edged with elm trees—one of the most filmed sites in the District.
The National Mall has long been a gathering and celebration destination, one that hosts numerous events each month. A stroll through it will not only give you a far-reaching history lesson but also provide you with easy access to some of the world’s greatest art and culture institutions, including Smithsonian Institution Museums.
Walk along the broad tree-lined paths and immerse yourself in a place like no other. In addition to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall features the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the National WWII Memorial. All these memorials are visually powerful and emotionally stirring.
Enjoy Waterfront Adventures
DC is located between the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, which afford beautiful scenic views and a wealth of recreation options ideally suited to the spring and summer seasons: Hang out on the piers; shop, dine and enjoy the entertainment (from music to festivals) offered in the developments along DC’s signature waterways in great neighborhoods like Georgetown; stroll, run or bike the trails that edge them, like the Mount Vernon Trail and the Capital Crescent Trail along the Potomac, and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail along the Anacostia River; and get a stunning new perspective on District sights by getting out on the water (on one of the rivers or the Tidal Basin reservoir)—rent a kayak, paddleboat or SUP, or take one of the many boat tours offered.
Celebrate the National Holidays and Other Jaw-Dropping Festivals
No place celebrates the country’s national holidays like Washington, DC—from spectacular parades to dazzling fireworks displays, the ways in which Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day are marked in the nation’s capital can only be described as epic.
Memorial Day brings the National Memorial Day Concert at the U.S. Capitol followed by the National Memorial Day Parade that honors the men and women who have sacrificed for the country. Many people also pay their respects across the Potomac in Arlington, VA at Arlington National Cemetery where servicemen and women honor the fallen by placing flags on approximately 250,000 gravesites each year.
On Independence Day, the U.S. Capitol hosts A Capitol Fourth, a free concert performed by the National Symphony Orchestra and various celebrities, and broadcast on PBS. The concert is followed by amazing fireworks on the National Mall. The National Archives, where America’s founding documents (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) are housed, is nearby and, as part of their celebration of the holiday, stages a reading ceremony of the Declaration of Independence on the Museum steps and also hosts festivities on Constitution Avenue.
Cap off the summer season at the annual free-of-charge Labor Day Concert featuring traditional American compositions performed by the National Symphony Orchestra on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on the last Sunday before Labor Day.
Other super fun festivals that make the most of spring and summer include Passport DC in May, a month-long tribute to international culture featuring embassy open houses; the Capital Pride Celebration in June honoring the LGBTQ+ community with street festivals, concerts, sports and a parade; the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall, which is held from late June through early July, and honors cultures the world over with food, live performances and more; and DCJazzFest, a mainstay of DC for more than 15 years featuring more than 150 performances (most of them free) in venues across the city—it’s a deep dive into music, heritage and culture. Check here for more seasonal events and festivals.
Dine Outdoors and Explore the Food Halls
DC is filled with top-notch restaurants across the culinary and price spectrum. The eateries range from casual and budget-minded to higher-end Michelin-starred and Bib Gourmand-designated venues, from spots that offer American specialties to those serving up tantalizing international fare. What all these restaurants have in common: incredibly inventive chefs and menus packed with standout dishes. In spring and summer, stay cool and savor the outdoors along with your food and drink at one of the District’s many beer gardens, restaurants and bars with open-air rooftops and patios. They offer fresh air, awesome views and great eats—and they’re also a cool way to delve into DC’s personality-filled neighborhoods. What could be better?
Another way to sample DC’s culinary variety is to visit the cavernous food halls proliferating throughout DC—they’re one-stop shops for extraordinary arrays of delicious international food products and dishes. To discover and sample the latest mouthwatering flavors check out Union Market (a hub for everything from barbecue to seafood), La Cosecha (a Latin American marketplace) and The Block Foodhall (a haven for lovers of Filipino specialties)
Catch a Game
Washington DC is a district of sports champions—and that includes 2019 World Series champions, the Washington Nationals. Baseball fans won’t want to miss hearing the sounds of bats meeting balls and seeing superstar players like outfielder Juan Soto and shortstop Trea Turner in action as the team plays at Nationals Park from April to September.
Or, for a real slam dunk, head over to the Entertainment & Sports Arena to see the Washington Mystics (2019 WNBA Finals Champions) play; their season extends from May through October. Soccer aficionados will love seeing four-time MLS cup champions D.C. United play at Audi Field, from March to October.