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With the 4th of July approaching next weekend, I wanted to re-share some of our posts from our trip to Washington DC for July 4th last year in case you are headed on a similar trip this year, or maybe this can even inspire you to take a last minute trip to our Nation’s Capital! We had a fantastic red, white, and blue filled trip to DC last year and highly recommend a similar journey for other families.
Where to Stay for 4th of July in Washington DC:
We stayed at both the Grand Hyatt Washington and the W Washington DC during our 4th of July trip to DC and while they both had their pros and cons, both were solid options. Overall I think the Grand Hyatt is the better choice for families, though the extremely fantastic location of the W was nice the actual night of the 4th, and it is a fun choice for couples who don’t need as much space.
Currently it looks like the Grand Hyatt still has rooms for sell that weekend, but no points availability at the moment. However, the Hyatt Place DC does have rooms available for just 12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night. I’ve never stayed at that property, but it advertizes being just a couple blocks from the White House, so this could be a great option. The W Washington DC appears to currently be sold out on the night of the 4th.
If none of those options work for you, there are tons of hotel options in that part of Washington DC. My only real non-negotiable advice is make sure you are staying somewhere walking distance to your 4th of July activities as the crowds get insane!
What to do in Washington DC for the 4th of July:
For the few days we were in DC around July 4th last year we made good use of our time by getting a free tour inside the White House, visiting several of the free Smithsonian museums (including Air and Space and Natural History), viewing some of the parades on July 4th, and of course viewing the fireworks near the Washington Monument on the evening of July 4th. If you plan to do similar, bring a blanket or large towel to sit on and get there at least an hour early prepared to lay back and lounge around while waiting for the fireworks to start around dusk.
I also have to mention how much of a life sanity saver Uber was during our family visit to DC last year as it was just so hot and little feet got tired of walking everywhere pretty early on (just don’t plan on really using them on the actual 4th as traffic is nuts).
Tips for Attending the Capitol Fourth Concert:
My family of 3 spent the evening of July 4th at the Washington Monument, but my parents and sister opted for the free Capitol Fourth concert at the Capital that is broadcast on PBS. Below are some of my dad’s tips and stories from attending the concert last year, as well as some added details about this year’s events. Here is a link to the full post he wrote on the experience last year.
The concert start time was 8PM and the gates to The Capitol grounds opened at 3PM (for what it is worth, the website says the grounds open at 5PM this year). We decided to enter the west lawn of The Capitol at about 3:45PM. We thought it would be better to err on the side of caution rather than risk failure by getting there too late. Everyone had to go through the security checkpoints, but there were about 12 separate entry lines at each of the 2 entrances so the process was quite efficient. The only items that were not allowed were the obvious ones plus alcoholic beverages and fireworks. Food, drinks, coolers, backpacks, blankets, umbrellas, portable electronics, folding chairs and patriotic spirit were checked but were allowed and welcomed. There are no concessions available on site, so you do need to bring them in.
Our entry was uneventful and we proceeded to claim our territory. At that early hour, there was still some space on the lawn in front of the fantastically and appropriately decorated stage but we opted for the steps of the Capitol. The 12th and 13th row by the rail, to be exact.
We had heard that if you could see the Washington Monument then you would be able to best see the fireworks. Our seats gave us that prescribed and proper view. I would guess that the steps were full by 5PM as an officer starting stamping hands around that time to identify the squatters and their rights. This was done in each area to prevent over crowding and for crowd control. Everyone in our section seemed to have an adequate amount of comfortable space in which to sit and to take their obligatory, ubiquitous, cute, and happy selfies. There was also sufficient area on both flanks of the west lawn to handle everyone who came in. And there was shade there.
The crowd kept filing in all evening so those arriving even at the last minute could share in the sights and sounds. The weather in DC for the 4th was spectacular. It was more like September than July with the high temperature being around 80 degrees. It is a good thing as we were all sitting ducks in the afternoon sun. Had the temp been in the mid 90s’ we would have been roasted ducks.
By the time the concert began, the sun had dropped low enough in the sky to provide physical and visual relief. To enhance the viewing of the show, the stage was flanked by medium size video boards and a large screen was hoisted above the stage by cranes just prior to showtime. Needless to say, the crowd was more than ready for action when the host Tom Bergeron introduced the program and the star performers. John Williams got the party started by conducting the orchestra with The Star Spangled Banner and a very fast paced show followed.
For 2015 the performers will be: Barry Manilow, Alabama, KC and the Sunshine Band, Nicole Scherzinger, Jack Everly, Hunter Hayes, and more.
Sara Evans, Patti LaBelle, Jordin Sparks, Michael McDonald and Kermit and Miss Piggy were among the performers in 2014. These fine acts warmed up the already warmed up crowd for one of our personal favorites, the legendary headlining act of the alto/ falsetto voice of the now octogenarian Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The crowd joyfully sang and swayed to some of his greatest hits and that led directly into the cannon blasting 1812 Overture and the 20 minutes of impressive, bright, colorful, dynamic and fun fireworks over the Washington monument.
After the final rocket and its red glare had faded and the smoke had cleared and the music had stopped, I glanced up at the Capitol’s Dome and saw that the flag was still there. Francis Scott Key would have been proud, and so were we. We were like most members of Congress in that we hated to give up our seats at The Capitol, but we did and an orderly but appropriately crowded departure began. We had deliberately booked our hotel within walking distance so that travel on the busy metro could be avoided. Here is Mommy Points’ write up of staying at the W Washington DC on the 4th of July.
So, the end result of our grand experiment was that we were glad we did it. It is doable without too much stress or strife and is another remarkable experience we can store in our lock box of memories. We felt like we actively participated in a very special event.
And as some final thoughts, while I will always look forward to tomorrow and the next adventure, there is the fact that at least 80% of my life is now in the rear view mirror, so it is unlikely I will be back in DC for another July 4th. It is beginning to be simple mathematics and probabilities and other venues that still need to be experienced. But if I am, I would probably go to the dress rehearsal for the concert on July 3rd and park myself on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial for the fireworks. There you would have the dark eastern sky, the Washington monument and the Capitol as the background for the aerial pyrotechnics and you would have the reflecting pond in the foreground. Sounds like a good visual recipe to the photographer in me and a moving experience for the patriot in me.
I hope some of you are lucky enough to be attending some of the 4th of July events in DC this year – or in a future year. I sure am glad we took the opportunity to do so last year. If you have any questions, just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer!