A few years ago, my family started a tradition where, instead of Christmas gifts, my parents treat my brothers and I (and significant others) to a long weekend vacation somewhere. So far, we’ve gone to Boston, Chicago, and now Washington, D.C.
D.C. was chosen out of a pool of…three or four cities, I think (New Orleans and Charleston were the other main contenders this time). We had to work around my brother’s med school schedule, so we knew we’d be traveling sometime in the end of June – beginning of July. Then we discovered that the Giants were playing the Nationals from July 3rd – 5th and the decision was made.
For the past six months or so, I’ve been telling people “I’m going to D.C. with my family over July 4th weekend,” and getting raised eyebrows and slightly shaking heads. “It’s gonna be so hot and humid” and “Hope you’re ready for crazy crowds” were the main reactions.
Obviously we all knew that and were just prepared to make the best of it.
So people, let me tell you — DC over the 4th of July is not bad at all. If you’re thinking of going yourself, allow me to share some tips and recommendations:
We’ve previously stayed in hotels for these trips, but this time, I started checking AirBnB and VRBO right after Christmas and sending possibilities to my dad. Especially after my aunt, uncle, and two cousins (plus one girlfriend) decided to join us, finding an apartment or house that could fit 11 people was waaayyyy more economical than any hotel in the area. We were able to find a three-bedroom apartment that could’ve slept up to 14 or so. We were just a mile or so north of the Capitol side of the mall and two blocks from a Metro station.
Pick your Smithsonian and tour strategy
We basically had 3 full days there (red-eyes Wednesday night, getting in around 8:00 Thursday, and leaving Sunday morning). You could probably spend a month the capital and not see all the museums and memorials and monuments. We knew this going in and didn’t even try to see most of it. The way I see it, you can either speed-walk through as many museums as you can, or you can pick two or three and really spend some time in them. What you choose is up to you and your preferred travel style/strategy/personality.
I’ll share more specifics about the tours we attended and museums we visited next week, but very important point: If you’re in a large group, do not try to force everyone to do everything together. I would’ve been all sorts of excited to visit the Library of Congress (sadly, we didn’t make it there this trip), but most everyone else would’ve checked out within 5 minutes. When we visited museums all together, we’d get all spread out because some people would just glance over exhibits and skim the information, and others would linger and try to read the info in more detail. That’s okay. I’d recommend scouting a meeting place (like a coffeeshop) for everyone to find each other afterwards so the quicker people can go at their pace without getting bored and frustrated waiting for the slower people.
Comfortable shoes and lightweight clothes
I constantly checked the DC weather reports in the week leading up to our trip. Mostly, I was worried a storm would roll in and cancel or prematurely end the Giants game (we went Friday night). We got the full gamut of weather — from sunny and hot to overcast and muggy to light sprinkling to downpours. Luckily, it stayed warm the entire time, so I didn’t bother with a sweatshirt or anything. I brought a lightweight raincoat, but forgot it in the room every day, so it didn’t do me much good, and I only really needed it on the 4th.
If you go on the Georgetown Desserts tour (to be discussed next week), I’d recommend a loose-fitting sundress/maxi dress or blouse-y top.
We covered anywhere from 7 to 9 miles each day, according to my Fitbit. Wear whatever comfortable walking shoes you want, but my feet felt fantastic in my Sanuks. (not an affiliate link, but hey! Sanuk! Want a blog ambassador? Hit me up!)
Seriously, don’t forget this. I was good about putting it on my face but forget my chest and shoulders…on the sunniest day. When I was wearing a low-cut sundress. Whoops.
Make friends with someone who has rooftop passes for the fireworks
We, unfortunately, were not able to make this happen and had to settle for watching them on the grass in the middle of the Mall with all the peasants. Sigh. Still an amazing show and the crowd control was pretty well-handled, all things considered.
Seriously, the crowds were not nearly as bad as I imagined, even at the Mall that evening. I had a much bigger problem in some of the museums when people apparently thought I had x-ray vision, so they could totally stand right in front of me while I was reading something or checking out an exhibit.
Make sure your phone is charged before major events…like the fireworks
We lost my dad for a bit right after the show and his phone was dead. Luckily he found us.
If you go to a Nationals game and catch a ball thrown by the outfielders before each inning (or a foul ball or home run), give the ball to a little kid
No joke — my brother caught a ball tossed by Bryce Harper (boo, hiss) and gave it to a little girl a few rows in front of us. This earned him a nod from Harper and handshake from a Dodger fan. Miracles!
Eat & drink
So, unlike Boston and Chicago, I didn’t go to DC with any “WE MUST EAT HERE” lists. As far as I know, it’s not known for any culinary institutions like deep dish pizza. So I wasn’t really concerned about where we ate and I won’t pretend that we found the best of the best in DC. For the most part, since we were in a big group with a few under-21ers, our biggest priority was finding places good for large groups and appropriate for younger people (but not necessarily kids’ menus). Husband and I found a simple pub near the Capitol (Hamilton’s) and actually visited it twice when we were in need of a quick beer and snack. Dog Tag Bakery in Georgetown served up some pretty delicious sandwiches in addition to its delightful sweets. I have to recommend City Taphouse — tasty gastropub food and an impressive, extensive beer list. I tried the 3 Stars Citra Lemon Peel Saison and the Adroit Theory Angels Trumpet IPA — both delicious and local to the DC area (possibly my favorite part of traveling now is trying local craft brews that haven’t made it to San Diego).
And I will say — Georgetown Cupcake is very much worth the wait.