Tips for Visiting Washington DC on the 4th of July Weekend

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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!

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Review of the Grand Hyatt Washington DC – including Club Lounge

Review of W Washington DC on July 4th

 

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.DSCN4046

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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.

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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!

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  1. It was your postage year that planted the seed of visiting D.C. this 4th of July. We have a full schedule . . .the Marine Barracks concert on Friday, the Holocaust Museum, Nationals baseball game and the Odyssey cruise on the 4th

  2. Timely post, Summer and Mom of Summer! We have been to DC about 50 times, including both of Obama’s inaugurations, but we have never been for the July 4th festivities. This year, we are finally going, and your post is very helpful.

  3. Just want to say that my wife, daughter, and I will be there for the 4th this year, inspired by your posts last year…so thank you!

  4. Pro Tip: Avoid it like the plague

    Addtl PronTips(read local) But really, if you are going to go, buy a plastic metro card as paper cards cost an additional $1 each way.

    Go to ANC(Arlington National Cemetary) if you want your family to appreciate this holiday make sure they are aware of the millions who died defending it. The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a very cool experience

    Spy Museum ranks as one of my favorite places to visit with out of town family.

    Hope it helps

  5. If you are not in walking distance of your hotel from the Mall and are using the Metro to get back to you hotel expect to wait at a minimum 1 hr after the fireworks before trying to get on the Metro. Depending on which lines you are using you may want to walk to one or more stops before the Smithsonian station to try to get a little ahead of the crowds. Transferring to different lines will be difficult. Traffic will be very heavy so cabs, Uber etc will also not be easy to hail near the mall and expect surge pricing on Uber. If you don’t want to sit in the sun all afternoon getting a spot on the West Lawn for the concert there is a rehearsal the night before which is open to the public.

  6. The Washington Monument view doesn’t look like that anymore. There’s a huge new building in front of it.

    Catching Metro is an ordeal afterwards so it’s nice to have a place within walking distance.

  7. My advice for DC over Fourth of July–DON’T GO! It is the busiest weekend of the year, other than possibly cherry blossom weekends.

    However, if you DO decide to go that weekend, know that the Hyatt Place listed above is not in the greatest area–but the area has vastly improved over the last 4 years. The NOMA metro is just a couple of blocks away. At night, you might considering taxiing or Ubering to/from your hotel rather than walk/metro.

    Another option, if there is anything available, are Crystal City hotels which tend to be cheaper (although, obviously not in walking distance)–although I would definitely recommend staying in DC if possible. They are metro accessible or, if you have 3 or 4 people in your party, possibly cheaper to take an Uber to. There is also a Sheraton in Pentagon City which could be used for the current SPG promo. There is also a Westin Crystal City which is nice–I have stayed there before.

      • I lived there for 7 Fourth of Julys. I think I left town for 3 and stayed far away from the Mall on the rest of them :). Just SO MANY PEOPLE and in July, SO HOT at the same time. I will concede that the fireworks are amazing. You can see the fireworks from other places than just on the Mall which was what I always did.

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