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Start Summer Off Right: 10 Fun Solstice Events Around Washington This Week

Drum circles, star parties, and other ways to celebrate the longest day of the year

Prisms at the National Museum of the American Indian create rainbows of sunlight—which can be especially intense on the summer solstice. Photo courtesy of the NMAI.

The summer solstice this year falls on Friday, June 21, at exactly 11:54 a.m. in Washington, marking the official start of summer. On each of three days, June 20 through 22, Washingtonians can bask in about 14 hours of daylight. Here are a few ways to take advantage of all that extra daylight between sunrise and sunset.

Animal Attraction

Take a walk on the wild side at the Smithsonian’s Solstice Saturday at the National Zoo, which is extending its hours on June 22 to 10 p.m. Starting at 6 p.m., kids can jam at a dance party with a deejay, and take pictures with the zoo’s costumed panda until 8. Food trucks will be on hand selling local fare. Starting at 8, adults can join in the celebration; there will be a bar as well as deejayed music. The documentary Pandas: Wild at Heart will be shown in the zoo’s visitor center auditorium throughout the day. While tickets must be purchased to see the film, all other events are free.

Star Power

Also part of the Smithsonian Solstice Saturday celebration is the Astronomy Festival on the National Mall, from 6 to 11 p.m. in front of the Smithsonian Castle. With the support of Hofstra University’s Physics and Astronomy Department, the festival gives visitors a chance to learn more about the science behind the solstice. There will be 25 solar, optical, and radio telescopes set up for festival-goers to view the planets and the stars—including brilliant double stars and Saturn’s rings—and presentations by astronomers and planetary scientists, as well as local students. There will also be a planetarium show under an inflatable dome.

If you want to take an even deeper dive into solstice science, the National Air and Space Museum will be open until 11:30 p.m. Activities that day begin as early as 10 a.m., when visitors can observe the sun through solar telescopes and attend a free planetarium show. In the evening, from 9:30 on, there’s a Solstice Star Party at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory (steps from the main entrance). Weather permitting, attendees can use telescopes to observe Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. The Smithsonian events and the Astronomy Festival are both free of charge.

Chasing Rainbows

Drop into the Potomac Atrium of the National Museum of the American Indian from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 21 to see a lattice of brilliant rainbows converge on the atrium floor. When the museum was built, eight large acrylic prisms were put in place as part of the Charles Ross “Prism/Solar Spectrum” installation. The prisms sit in the atrium’s tall rectangular window, which faces due south. Light passes through the prisms and puts on a light show every day whenever the sun is at its highest. Because the summer solstice is the point at which the sun is closest to the Northern Hemisphere, when light hits the prisms on the 21st, the show can be particularly vibrant. This display was designed in collaboration with Native American communities and speaks to ancient traditions. Admission is free.

The museum also has events on tap for the Smithsonian’s Solstice Saturday on June 22. Traditional Bolivian dance kicks off the festivities at 3 p.m, followed by arts and crafts—such as creating a sun-inspired fan or canvas tote—and exploration of sun-related exhibits throughout the museum. From 7 to 9:30 p.m. is the Solstice Illuminated Dance Party in the Welcome Plaza, complete with glow sticks, a deejay, and food trucks. A “comparsa iluminada”—an illuminated procession—will also take place that evening. The museum’s galleries will remain open late, too. All events are free, but registration is required for the Illuminated Dance Party.

Sun Salutations

Besides being the summer solstice, June 21 is International Day of Yoga. To celebrate both, you can head to Summer Solstice, part of the Sunset Fitness program in Georgetown Waterfront Park and in collaboration with Athleta activewear’s Georgetown store. From 4 to 7 p.m., there will be three, one-hour-long yoga classes in addition to prizes and giveaways from Athleta, Down Dog Yoga, Tuckernuck, and Kendra Scott. Free registration is available online and limited spaces are available. If you need to cool off afterwards, the nearby bar Pinstripes is extending its happy hour to 8 p.m. with $4 wine and mixed-drink specials.

Doing Good

Maybe you’d rather kick off summer by giving back. On June 21, EcoAction Arlington is sponsoring its Summer Solstice Celebration in Bluemont Park (601 N. Manchester St., Arlington). Their idea of celebrating is picking up trash and tending Bluemont’s pollinator garden. There will be a vegetarian-friendly picnic dinner after the cleanup where volunteers can mingle. The event begins at 6:30 p.m.; a $5 donation is requested for the picnic.

Make Some Noise

Many cultures throughout history have celebrated the summer solstice with ceremonial dances or rituals. Embrace this tradition at the Drum Circle at the National Cathedral, hosted by Katy Gaughan of Drumming for Wellness, on June 21 at 7 p.m., in the outdoor All Hallows Amphitheater. Participants can bring their own drums or rhythm instruments (some drums will be available on a first come, first served basis) to join in the music-making or can dance, picnic, or just observe. Dogs are welcome on leash. Free.

Solar Flair

It wouldn’t be the summer solstice without the sun. On Thursday, June 20, at 6 p.m., the Solar Foundation is hosting its annual fundraiser, Summer Solstice 2019, on the rooftop of 655 New York Avenue in Northwest DC. Members of the public are welcome to learn more about the Solar Foundation and solar power, and to hear the keynote speech by Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Tickets are $129.99 online and all proceeds go to the Solar Foundation and Alguien Ayúdenos, a foundation supporting hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be provided.

The Maryland Science Center also times its annual fundraiser—which raises money for its educational programs—with the solstice. The party is on June 22, from 8 p.m. to midnight. With the skyline of Baltimore and the Inner Harbor as backdrop, you can dance to the band Eight Past Midnight while sampling bites from catered food stations. There will be a silent auction, and cocktail attire is suggested. Tickets are $170 a person or $85 for members or, currently, through Groupon.

Fruits of the Sun

Grab a glass at Burnt Hill Farm’s Summer Solstice Natural Wine Festival in Clarksburg, Maryland, on Saturday, June 22. Natural wines are those cultivated with low-intervention techniques, and producers from around the country and the world—including Revel, Fausse Piste, and Zafa Wines—will be offering tastings. The event will also feature art by the No Kings Collective, and deejay Mike Bernstien. A portion of the festival’s proceeds goes toward the Maryland Farmers Market Association. Tickets for those who want to drink range from $45 day passes to a $160 pass with early admission. Clarksburg is about 45 minutes from DC.  

This post has been corrected since its initial publication.