Things to Do

Best of Summer: More Than 40 of Our Favorite Things to Do Outside

The area's best festivals, pools, outdoor movies, and more. Plus, fun new ways to get out on the water.

Best for Floral Variety: Bishop’s Garden.
Best of Summer 2022

About Best of Summer 2022

To help you make the most of this time of year, this Best Of Washington guide highlights our 101 favorite things to do here in the summer. Read on to find out our picks for fun festivals, ways to get out on the water, refreshing cocktails, rooftop bars, pick-your-own farms, tasty pies, and lots more.

The Calendar Is Packed With Fun Events

Capital Pride

Block parties, a parade, and a concert return for this year’s Capital Pride Alliance celebration, aptly themed for 2022 as “reUNITED.” June 10–12.

Capital Pride. Photograph by Evy Mages

Citi Open

See big-name tennis players—prior years have included stars such as Rafael Nadal and Coco Gauff—compete at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. July 30–August 7.

Lotus & Water Lily Festival

Wander among blooming lily pads and towering lotuses at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens while enjoying performances, games, and arts and crafts. Weekends in July starting July 9.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

This year’s festival on the Mall will explore the effects of and possible solutions to the climate crisis. For example, discover how Emirati cultural traditions such as poetry and perfume are shaped by living in harsh climates. June 22–26 and June 30–July 4.

Renaissance Festival. Photograph by Frank Terrel.

Maryland Renaissance Festival

Feast on turkey leg and mead as you’re transported back to the 1500s and Henry VIII’s reign with jousting, flower crowns, and more. Weekends, August 27 through October 23.

County Fairs

Head to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair for livestock shows such as goats and rabbits, plus other competitions—making honey to flower arranging (August 12–20). Or stop by the Arlington County Fair—one of the area’s largest free fairs, with carnival rides, pie-eating contests, and robotics demos (August 17–21).

Because We (and Instagram) Can’t Get Enough of Flowers

McKee-Beshers. Photograph by F Delventhal/Flickr CC.

Best for Sunflowers

Strike a pose at: McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management in Poolesville.
Why: The 30 acres of sunflowers not only are stunning, but they’re a food source for doves, mammals, and pollinators. The fields are best seen—and photographed—during mid-July sunsets.

Best for Lavender

Go flower-picking at: Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in Catlett, Virginia.
Why: Since 2006, the family-owned farm has invited visitors to its vibrant, aromatic fields to snap photos and snip take-home stems, June to mid-July—though the best time to visit is the last week of June.

Seneca Creek Park. Photograph by Diana Li/Sea of Blush.

Best for Peonies

Have a picnic at: Schwartz Peony Garden at Seneca Creek Park in Gaithersburg.
Why: The park is home to thousands of acres of greenery, perfect for picnicking and playing. The peony garden is a hidden gem featuring pretty-in-pink bushes that bloom through June.

Best for Roses

Smell the roses at: Bon Air Park in Arlington.
Why: The rose gar­den features more than 120 varieties, including blooms that climb picturesque wooden arches. There are shady spots in the park—which is along the W&OD Trail—for picnics, reading, or people-watching.

Best for Floral Variety

Soak up the sun at: The Bishop’s Garden at Washington National Cathedral in DC.
Why: In summer, the garden brims with blooms of all kinds—roses, sunflowers, and more. The cathedral offers a majestic backdrop and stone archways, and sundials lend yet more visual interest.

We’re a City of Green Thumbs—Even When We Don’t Have Yards

The professional landscapers at the National Arboretum and U.S. Botanic Garden aren’t the only ones who make magic out of soil. Scattered throughout DC are more than 60 community gardens, hidden gems where locals pull up their sleeves and exercise their green thumbs. Washington has more community gardens per capita than any other city besides Portland, Oregon, according to a 2021 report by the Trust for Public Land.

The gardens aren’t new—several, such as the Melvin Hazen Community Garden and Glover Park Community Garden, put down roots as victory gardens during the first and second world wars. But just as in other cities across the country, interest in community gardens is blooming as people seek to reduce their carbon footprint and grow food locally. Plots are coveted, and some gardens have years-long waitlists. That said, you don’t have to dig in the dirt to enjoy the gardens. Some are open for the public to walk through (you just can’t harvest), and others have benches fit for an afternoon with a book. To find the nearest one, visit the DC Parks and Recreation Department’s website.

You Can Learn to Fish Right in the City

Photograph by Becky Harlan.

All summer long, Anacostia Riverkeeper hosts free Friday Night Fishing, teaching participants how to catch and release at Diamond Teague Park, across from Nationals Park. Last summer, 300 adults and 275 kids learned to work a rod-and-reel and catch (and release) channel catfish, American shad, and largemouth bass. All gear and bait are provided, making it perfect for families, date night, or singles looking for a solo activity.

We Have a Lot of Pools

Best in DC: Banneker

Banneker pool in Shaw is popular for a reason: The ramp entrance makes it easy for parents with little ones and swimmers with disabilities to access the water. While there’s no deep end, there is a deep middle. Opens Memorial Day weekend. Free for DC residents; $7 nonresidents.

Rockville Swim Center.

Best in Maryland: Rockville Swim & Fitness Center

This complex has a 50-meter lap pool with two diving boards; a separate beach-­entry pool with a water slide and water basketball; and a kiddie pool and spray-ground. Rec pools open Memorial Day weekend; lap pool to open early May. $7 for Rockville residents; $8 nonresidents.

Best in Virginia: Ocean Dunes

Upton Hill Regional Park in Arlington is home to not just a water park—with slides, waterfalls, and a dumping bucket—but also a lap pool, a splash pool, and a kiddie pool. Opens Memorial Day weekend. Admission starts at $8.50.

We Have Splashy (and Free) Water Parks

Great Waves Waterpark. Photographs courtesy of Water Park.

Along with all the swell public pools in our region, a number of local jurisdictions have impressive water parks for those looking to make more of a splash. A great choice for little kids is Our Special Harbor Spray Park in Alexandria, a free Chesapeake Bay–themed complex (think crabs, a boat, and a sea serpent named Chessie) with gentler sprays and bubbles. Families with older kids will find a lot to like at Great Waves Waterpark in Alexandria—part of larger Cameron Run Regional Park. The main attraction is a giant wave pool, but there are also five water slides (two are “speed slides”), splash areas for younger kids, non-water activities such as mini-golf and batting cages, and even four shaded tiki-hut-style cabanas to rent ($50 weekdays, $65 weekends). Another favorite is SplashDown Waterpark in Manassas, Northern Virginia’s largest such park, with a lazy river, a lily-pad walk, and, among the slides, one that’s four stories tall.

There Are Fun New Ways to Get Out on the Water

Sip and Sail’s Cru Class. Photograph by Damon Bowe Photography.

Wine Sails

Veteran sommelier Troy Knapp recently launched this oenophile’s dream at Southwest DC’s Wharf: Cru Classé, a 47-foot French sailing yacht, available for private groups of up to six people. Champagne and Provençal rosé evoke the French Riviera, whether you’re casting off—charters start at $400 a person—or throwing a more wallet-friendly “dock and sip” soiree ($50 a person). Either way, you can add to l’apéritif hour with seafood plateaus and charcuterie boards.

Floating Tiki Bar

Attention, aquaholics: Potomac Tiki Club, a new Georgetown party boat, is for you. Sea Suite, which launched the first “paddle pubs” on the Potomac a few years ago, has created a floating, motor-powered tiki bar for up to 18 guests that comes with both a captain and a bartender. Groups can book 90-minute happy hours—at any hour—for a cruise with wines, canned cocktails, and Kona Brewing Co. beers. Drinks are priced individually, but food is BYOS (bring your own snacks). Trips start at $45 a person.

Vintage Yacht Charters

Channel the heyday of parties on the former presidential yacht Sequoia, aboard one of two luxury vintage motorboats: Patriot, a 72-foot vessel custom-built in the ’60s for pharmacy tycoon Charles Walgreen Jr., and the smaller Downeast yacht Independence. Both can be booked for charters (for up to 12) that leave from the Wharf—you can opt for sunset cruises, floating brunches, and other themes—or dockside events for up to 30 people with catering from Pineapple & Pearls alum Bin Lu. As you can guess, cruises ain’t cheap—bookings start at $2,000 for four hours.

Picnic Boats

Electric-powered, 18-foot Scandinavian “picnic boats” cruise at a maximum speed of five miles an hour out of the Wharf, and they’re perfect for novice captains over 21 with a valid driver’s license. Boats—available for up to three hours—hold eight passengers and come with amenities such as electric coolers, Bluetooth speakers, and biminis for shade. Bookings start at $150.

You Can’t Beat Weeknight Baseball at Nationals Park

Photograph By Evy Mages

Baseball pairs well with nights when it’s too hot to rush. Amble to the ballpark from Metro—maybe even stop for a cocktail on the way? (Local broadcasting legend and Nats superfan Kelly Collis swears by the bar at nearby Shilling Canning Company and the rooftop deck at Smoke & Mirrors.) Order your arepas and IPAs via the MLB Ballpark app and forget about standing in lines. Enjoy that perfect view of the Capitol after the sun goes down. Perhaps the dew point will drop a bit, too. After a weeknight game, the streets get quiet quickly the farther you get from the park. Feeling like you own the place isn’t included in your ticket price, but maybe it should be.

We Can Do Yoga in Beautiful Outdoor Spaces

Double-vaxxed and boosted might have you running from festival to bar this summer, making up for lost time. But if there’s one big lesson to come out of the pandemic, it’s this: Slow down. No, that doesn’t mean retreating back to your couch. But it could mean some meditative yoga in beautiful outdoor spaces. Lucky for us, the area has plenty of options. Practice your downward dog with Bhakti Yoga DC on Sundays at the quaint park on the corner of Seventh and K streets, Northwest. Or say “namaste” on the Magnolia Terrace of historic Carlyle House in Alexandria. The 18th-century mansion hosts yoga for just $10 a class on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. You can also find some Zen near the water, with District Flow. The studio offers classes at the Wharf’s District Pier on Tuesdays and Thursdays and at the Wharf’s Recreation Pier on Sundays. Because space is limited for many of these classes, be sure to reserve a spot ahead of time and always check whether you’ll need to bring your own mat.

There Are Lots of Free Outdoor Movies

If You Want to Catch Dinner First

Northeast DC’s Union Market has arguably the best food for a movie setting. Grab carryout in the food hall, then set up outside with your picnic, or eat and watch from your car as part of the “drive-in” option. Pro tip: The abundance of bathrooms makes it a great spot for those with little ones.

If You Want Peak DC Vibes

The Library of Congress has the most breathtaking view of the Capitol at dusk and plenty of space for large groups.

If You Want to Bring Your Dog

Alethia Tanner Park, one of DC’s newest parks, is located along the Metropolitan Branch Trail and has one of the city’s largest dog parks—so you can take in a flick with your best friend.

If You Want to Catch a Sunset

At the Wharf in Southwest DC, you can enjoy sunset on the waterfront while watching a film.*

*An earlier version of this post said reservations were required for this film series, but seats are first-come, first-served.

Even Our Campgrounds Have History

Two great places to camp in the region, Catoctin Mountain Park and Prince William Forest Park, were World War II–era training camps for the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s precursor. Westmoreland State Park, another favorite, sits on an ancient seabed and is an excellent place to hunt for prehistoric sharks’ teeth. The hiker/biker campgrounds on the C&O Canal trail overlook the site of a decades-long (and unsuccessful) scheme to connect Washington to the Ohio River before the railroads got there first. Almost every place you pitch your tent in the area holds a fascinating history alongside its fire rings—and if you’re really lucky, someone in your party will pretend to care when you tell them about it.

Our Sundays Have Rhythm

It’s a decades-long cultural phenomenon at Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park. Every Sunday afternoon, the park pulses as people gather in a drum circle and beat to their hearts’ content. Since the 1960s, drummers of all kinds have gathered there, with one origin story saying it started on the day of Malcolm X’s assassination. Today, the circle is a celebration of justice and peace—just not the quiet kind—and it welcomes people, new and old, of all backgrounds. Bring a drum or just sit back and enjoy the musicians, dancers, Hula-Hoopers, and artists.

You Can Take a Mini-Vacation When You Drop Your Kids Off at Camp

Camp is a summer ritual for many kids in Washington. And, parents: You don’t have to get back on the highway immediately after you install your heirs in a cabin under the supervision of a 15-year-old in a tie-dyed shirt. Instead, you could burn a vacation day and take that evening to explore a nearby town. Get a hotel room and go swimming without anyone jumping on your back (unless that’s what you’re into). Have a meal that’s actually warm or reacquaint yourself with the feeling of finishing a sentence. Bonus: You might not have to fight any traffic on your way home the next day.

A mural on DC’s H Street. Photograph courtesy of MuralsDC.

It’s a Great Time to Take a Mural Tour

DC has become a city of murals. More than 150 are located across the District, and new ones seem to pop up on the sides of buildings every day. Take advantage of the nice weather and slower work-days and go on a two-and-a-half-hour guided walking mural tour through NoMa and Union Market with art curator Jason Bowers. Or take a self-guided walk through the U Street corridor, where you can see Aniekan Udofia’s famous piece, “The Torch,” and the city’s tallest mural, “The Wailin’ Mailman.” If you have more time and really want to explore, check out the 51 works that Murals­DC commissioned in all eight wards to celebrate the District’s historic congressional vote on statehood in June 2020.

Volunteering Opportunities Here Are Year-Round

Lazy summer days are great, but for those in search of a bit of post-brunch bonding with friends or a family activity while the kids are out of school, DC has lots of opportunities to do good in the outdoors. The city’s many grassroots groups offer chances to get involved in protecting our parks and waterways. At monthly events throughout summer, for example, community members can join Ward 8 Woods Conservancy at historic Fort Stanton Park to help clear litter and weed out invasive species, sign up with the Potomac Riverkeeper Network to take plastics out of the river by National Harbor, or help grow eco-friendly, affordable produce for underserved communities with Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture in Alexandria.

Icons by Connie Zheng.
This article appears in the June 2022 issue of Washingtonian.