(This article may or may not contain affiliate links. What does that mean?)
Washington DC is already bursting with patriotism, but add a little Fourth of July to it and the city explodes with good ‘ol fashioned red, white and blue family fun!
Events take place all over and around the city, but the biggest celebrations happen right in the heart of the National Mall.
Home to the George Washington Monument and numerous Smithsonian Museums, the National Mall really goes big for its Independence Day celebration. We were lucky enough to live in the area for a few years and spend plenty of time enjoying the sites. We’re excited to share a bit about one of our favorite cities!
With so many things to see and do in a single day, we’re breaking down everything a family needs to know to maximize Fourth of July family fun in Washington D.C.
NO TIME TO ENJOY THIS ARTICLE NOW? PIN IT! OR BOOKMARK FOR LATER!
National Independence Day Parade
Start your morning off right by catching the National Independence Day Parade.
Co-hosted by the National Park Service, this annual event features marching bands, fife and drum corps, military units, massive balloons, drill teams, equestrian teams, floats, and more.
The July parade runs right along Constitution Avenue and passes some of the best-known Smithsonian museums:
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
- Smithsonian National Museum of American History
- Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
You can find a spot on the sidewalk and enjoy the parade as it passes by any of these landmarks. When you’re done with the parade, simply pop into one of the three museums behind you and spend a few hours immersed in the past. Admission is free and tickets aren’t required.
When: 11:45 AM – 2:00 PM
Where: Constitution Avenue (from 7th Street NW to 17th Street NW)
George Washington Monument
Located at the base of the George Washington Monument, the Sylvan Theater Family Activity Area will offer family fun on the history of the monument. This is a great alternative for families who want to experience DC history without spending hours at one of the museums.
When: 3:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Where: George Washington Monument (southeast grounds)
National Mall Fireworks Display
The biggest (and loudest) way to enjoy Independence Day is with fireworks. The best place to do that is right in the heart of the nation’s capital at the Fourth of July National Mall fireworks celebration.
Get there early and enjoy a dinner al fresco before the show begins. Lawn chairs, picnic blankets, smaller coolers, and other gear are allowed on the National Mall. You can also buy hot dogs, drinks, other food, and refreshments at the food stands located throughout the event space.
The July 4th Fireworks are launched from both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. You can catch the action from the National Mall, or head to any of the places listed below to see the show.
When: 9:09 PM – 9:30 PM (approx.)
Where: National Mall (see note on ‘Other Ways to View the Fireworks’)
Other Places to View the July Fourth Fireworks
Around Washington DC
The National Mall isn’t the only place to see the fireworks. View them from:
- President’s Park
- Washington National Cathedral
- Hains Point (East Potomac Park)
- U.S. Air Force Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
- Oval Plaza at the U.S. Supreme Court Building
From Virginia – Washington Memorial Parkway
This is a great option if you’d like to stay out of the downtown area and prefer traveling by car. The George Washington Memorial Parkway hugs the Potomac River on the Virginia side. Numerous parks along the drive offer great views of the fireworks from across the river.
Popular spots for viewing the fireworks include:
- U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial
- Netherlands Carillon
- Gravelly Point
- Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove
- Ladybird Johnson Park
From Virginia – By Bike
Families with older kids might enjoy renting bikes through Capital Bikeshare and viewing the Fourth of July fireworks from the popular Mount Vernon Trail. There, you can find a great spot to see the fireworks from the trail (our favorites include around The Pentagon and Arlington.) This is an especially convenient option if you are already staying at a hotel in the historical city of Alexandria, Virginia.
From the Water – By Boat
Yes, you can watch the National Mall fireworks from the waters of the Potomac River! This is a fun way for families to experience the Fourth of July fireworks in a truly unique way. Book your tickets for a river cruise with City Experiences and watch the show from the Potomac River.
Getting to the National Mall on July 4th
Expect traffic, limited parking, and road closures around the National Mall on the Fourth of July. Finding a hotel within walking distance is ideal, though public transportation is another great option. For important landmarks, access points, and more, check out the National Park Service’s event map.
National Mall By Metro
If taking the DC Metro, your closest stop to the National Mall is the Smithsonian Metro station. Due to the expected crowds, nearby stations are better options.
- Federal Triangle
- Foggy Bottom
- L’Enfant Plaza
- Archives/Navy Memorial
- Metro Center
The nation’s capital is a wonderfully walkable city with wide sidewalks and gorgeous architecture throughout. The area immediately around the National Mall is also largely made up of federal offices, so foot traffic is pretty low during the weekends when employees are home.
When coming in from Maryland, we always enjoyed getting off of the metro one or two stops early simply to enjoy the walk to our destination. Some of the side streets leading to the Mall would be nearly empty, so the generous width of the sidewalks and the lack of foot traffic were great for our family. We could let our toddler walk at his own pace (and in his own winding direction) while still having more than enough room for the double stroller to follow.
Washington DC is bursting with patriotism, add a little 4th of July and the city explodes with family fun. Get the best ideas for kids here!
National Mall by Car
The National Mall normally has ample parallel parking available on side streets and its perimeter, but most (if not all) of the surrounding area will be closed to parking for the events. Paid parking lots will be available around the city, but those closest to the National Mall will likely fill early in the day. If you are planning on bringing a car into DC on the Fourth of July, be sure to review the latest holiday road closures and parking changes.
National Mall Access Points During the 4th of July
Parts of the National Mall and other DC monuments will be secured from 1:00 PM – 9:00 PM. You’ll need to access them through one of four entry points. Each security point will involve a bag check, so expect possible lines and delays when entering. Food, strollers, and lawn chairs are allowed but don’t forget to review the list of prohibited items before venturing over.
At the time of publication, entry points include:
- Constitution Avenue NW at 20th Street NW
- Constitution Avenue NW between 23rd Street NW and Henry Bacon Drive NW
- 17th Street NW between Constitution Avenue NW and Independence Avenue SW (near the World War II Memorial)
- East Basin Drive just south of the Jefferson Memorial (no National Mall access from here)
Things to Bring
Families should plan for lots of walking, waiting, and sun (but it will be worth it, we promise!)
Pack water, snacks, sunscreen, hats, and even whatever meals you will need for the day. Food will be available at vendors on the National Mall, but you might not want to wait in the long lines.
Temperatures in the nation’s capital can get into the 90s, and humidity is guaranteed to make it feel hotter. The National Mall and surrounding monuments have limited shade, so keep sunscreen ready. There will be water stations available around the National Mall, so bring reusable water bottles and fill them up often.
Parents with smaller children will benefit from a stroller. Tote around tired children and picnic supplies and provide shade for little ones while waiting in lines.
Important Tips for the 4th of July with Kids
DC Monument and Site Closures
Before you go, check the National Park Service’s website for important information on Fourth of July weekend site closures. Sites like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the WWII Memorial will be closed for either the entire day or for part of it.
Family Safety During 4th of July in DC
The US Park Police offers an automated messaging service where you can receive important updates and safety alerts via text. To sign up, simply text JULY4DC to 888777.
Have a plan in case anyone in your family becomes lost or separated. The U.S. Park Police manages a family reunification trailer on July 4th for people who are lost. The trailer will be located near Survey Lodge, on the south side of the Washington Monument Grounds (along Independence NW.)
The National Park Service also recommends these safety tips for parents:
- Take a picture of your child in the clothes that they are wearing the day of the event and carry it with you
- Put a laminated card with your name and cell phone number in your child’s pocket
- Check out the Lost and Found webpage to see where lost children will be taken if/when found
Other Fun Activities for Families on July 4th Weekend
Catch a Washington Nationals Baseball Game
Enjoy America’s pastime in the nation’s capital! The Washington Nationals play in DC every year across the Fourth of July weekend. Nationals Park is a short metro ride from the National Mall, making it a perfect place for the entire family to gather and enjoy hot dogs, baseball, and fun.
Each game in the Fourth of July weekend series has a fun promotion or special event that kids are sure to love. Check out their exciting lineup for 2022!
- Friday, July 1st: Freedom Fireworks
- Saturday, July 2nd: free Washington Nationals logo bucket hats for the first 5,000 kids (12 and under)
- Sunday, July 3rd: free Washington Nationals logo bucket hats for the first 5,000 kids (12 and under)
- Monday, July 4th: Patriotic Series: Independence Day
Cool Off and Enjoy Live Music by the River at Yards Park
If you end up catching a game don’t forget to stop by another popular family venue nearby: Yards Park. Situated between the Navy Yard and Nationals Park, this riverfront park has a boardwalk, fountains, a wading area, and a grassy area. Bring your suits and cool off on a hot afternoon!
Yards Park also hosts a free concert series every Friday night in July. Come out to enjoy live music and food trucks at this popular park!
NOTE: at the time of publication, the Yards Park Canal Basin is closed due to mechanical issues. No plan to reopen the wading area has been announced, though you can still bring your suits and run through the fountains to cool off!
4th of July at Mount Vernon
No trip to DC is complete without a visit to the home of our country’s first president! A quick trip across the Potomac River and into northern Virginia will have you at the doorstep of George and Martha Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. The site is open daily, making it a great option for a day trip during your stay in DC.
If you’re looking for a truly historic way to celebrate Independence Day, the estate hosts a number of special events on July 4th.
A visit to Mount Vernon on the 4th of July includes meeting George Washington, a live performance by the National Concert Band, 18th-century music from George and Martha Washington’s era, special fireworks that are made for the daytime, and more.
DON’T MISS! Crashing the President’s House With Kids
Getting to Mount Vernon
This is a popular weekend to visit the historic home, so we recommend booking tickets in advance. Parking is free but fills up quickly, so be sure to get there with plenty of time to find parking. If you don’t mind some exercise, you can always rent bikes and reach Mount Vernon via the Mount Vernon Trail. This paved bikeway stretches 18 miles along the Potomac and ends at Mount Vernon.
Insider Tip: Active families will enjoy starting their day in the historic town of Alexandria and biking to Mount Vernon for the day. The Mount Vernon Trail leads right into the heart of downtown Alexandria, and it is about a one hour bike ride from downtown to Mount Vernon.
When You Go
The nation’s capital has both Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). Each airport offers nonstop flights from LAX. Getting to/from Washington, DC is easier through Reagan Airport. It has its own metro stop for public transportation and the airport is located just a short taxi ride from the city. Dulles is farther from the city center and requires a bus ride to transfer you from the airport to the nearest metro station.
You can also fly into Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). Located 45 miles north of Washington, DC in Maryland, it flies nonstop to LAX. The airport offers shuttles to the train station located 2 miles away. From there, travelers can board a local MTA MARC train or an Amtrak train and be in Washington DC’s Union Station in less than 40 minutes.
Washington, DC is a very walkable city with a great metro system. You shouldn’t need a car during your stay unless you plan to visit areas outside of the metro area. Driving in the city can be stressful for visitors and DC is notorious for rush hour traffic that rivals that of Los Angeles. Some hotels have complimentary parking and others (including public paid lots around the city) charge about $20 per day to park.
We like to start our flight deals search with Cheap’OAir. Check out the deals you can get too:
Where to Stay in Washington DC
The neighborhoods that makeup Washington offer endless opportunities to fit every style and budget. A great budget option for families is the Homewood Suites by Hilton Washington DC Convention Center. This hotel is located a bit farther away from the National Mall (1 mile,) but is only 0.3 miles from a metro station.
Families would love the Capitol Hill Hotel, centrally located just one block away from the US Capitol and the National Mall. The hotel offers family-friendly amenities like highchairs, pack n’ plays, roll-away beds (based upon availability,) and continental breakfast.
For a truly memorable stay, travelers can visit the Hay-Adams Hotel. Located across the street from Lafayette Park, this boutique hotel overlooks the White House and offers an experience as luxurious as its White House views.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CONSIDER PINNING OR SHARING IT!