Local’s Guide to DC in Summer

Washington DC in the summer is swelteringly hot, dangerously crowded and well, not really our best face. DC is much more pleasant during our breezy spring and sunny golden autumn, but most people still choose to come on their summer vacation.

If you must come during the summer, be prepared for 95 degree afternoons, hoards of slow-moving bus tourists and this summer at least, a biblical plague. Even so, you can have an a really enjoyable trip to DC, as long as you bring some sunscreen, plan ahead and follow my expert local tips, gleaned from showing dozens and dozens of visiting friends and family around the area over the years.

Museums During the Day, Monuments at Night

Did I mention it gets hot here in the Summer? Not just hot, but extremely humid, DC remember, was built on a swamp. That’s why I suggest you spend your swampy afternoons inside enjoying the modern marvel of AC. The Smithsonian has over a dozen museums to keep you occupied (my personal favorites are the Natural History and the Air and Space Museum) in addition to the National Archives, the Newseum, the Spy Museum and a more.

For the many monuments on the Mall, I suggest waiting until early evening or later to explore. The sun doesn’t set until after 8 pm in the summer, and it will be marginally cooler and less crowded later in the day. Alternately you could go early in the morning before most tourists arrive. The Lincoln Memorial looks way better without thousands of people crawling all over it.

Don’t just hang out at the Mall

Look, I love the National Mall, in fact I’m getting married on the National Mall (!!). DC is not just the Mall. Many tourists never seem to make it more than two or three blocks away from this downtown area, which is a shame, because if you want to really experience the city, you need to explore the areas where locals might actually sometimes go. It’s like going to New York and assuming all of the city is like Times Square.

I’ll be writing a separate article all about where else in the city to go, but just to give you a short list: neighborhoods like Shaw, Georgetown and Capitol Hill are all worth a visit, as well as further flung sights like the National Arboretum, the Zoo and the National Cathedral.

Eat Local

Again, I wrote an entire article just on this subject because I really believe that local food is one of the highlights of the DC area. Of course you would never know this from the dismal food options available to tourists near the Mall. Don’t be those miserable families at the giant McDonalds in the Air and Space museum, you are better than that!

If you do find yourself stuck at the tourists sites downtown and starving, your best bet is to flag down a food truck, or wander north towards Penn Quarter, where there are a variety of tasty, but not-cheap, restaurants.

Learn How to Use the Metro

Washingtonians don’t hate tourists- most of the people who live here are from somewhere else originally anyways. They do get really annoyed though, both by disrespectful visitors, and by the hordes of confused people who clog the metro during rush hour.

The metro is a really east system for getting around the city once you learn how to use it. Here are my tips:

  • Buy a $5 smart-trip card if you’re going to be using the metro more than 4 times during your stay. There is a $1 surcharge every time you use a paper card so you can save quite a bit of money this way.
  • Avoid the metro during rush hour- it gets very crowded and it can be confusing if you don’t know where you’re going.
  • On the escalators always walk left, stand right, unless you want to get bellowed at by a cranky man in a suit.

Take advantage of Summer DC activities

Despite the tourists, DC as a town is definitely more relaxed during the summer. Many people are out of town, Congress is usually not in session and strict dress codes get relaxed. There’s also a lot of fun events that go on in the summer that anyone, even visitors can take advantage of. There are movie screenings on the mall, jazz concerts in the sculpture garden and long happy hours all over the city.

Finally, if you have time consider catching a baseball game. Our newish team, The Nationals are actually really great this year and man are we proud! You can show up at the box office, buy a cheap seat ticket and hang out at the Red Porch bar with a beer and watch the game. Personally it’s my favorite summer activity in town.

So wear sunscreen, bring a water bottle and enjoy this awesome (if awesomely humid) city!

8 thoughts on “Local’s Guide to DC in Summer”

  1. Never been to Washington DC but going to NYC this summer we got great deal with Tour America would like to go like to check it out this time.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. I try my best to hide in my fortress of solitude until the temperature has dropped to reasonable levels. Sadly, somehow summer travel tends to occur more frequently than I would like. In Taiwan the only thing I could do is soak a t-shirt in the sink and wear it around town for a few hours, and do it again. Visiting air conditioned places would have been great, if there were enough of them…

  3. Awesome advice! I especially love going to the monuments at night. When I tell other people about it, they find it strange. But, really, it’s the best time. There’s nothing like experiencing the nice summer night’s breeze at the Washington Monument! After hitting up a few bars on Capitol Hill, a nice walk to the Mall is pretty enjoyable, too.

    Also, good point about getting outside of downtown. The Georgetown neighborhood is definitely one of my favorites!

  4. Perfect! I’m heading to DC in just a few weeks. Always love it when the blogs I read are relevant for my upcoming travels.

    I have a question though, the Ford Theater, is it worth it? Some reviews said its not very interesting and you get stuck there for a while (that only less than half the time is actually “seeing” stuff) .

    Also beyond the Ford Theater, The Capitol, The Archives, and the Holocaust museum, is there anything else where advanced reservations are needed/recommended?

    1. I stayed in DC not to long ago and went to the Ford Theater. I thought it was worth it. The performance is neat, and you get to learn a lot in the museum they have below the theater. Plus, at the end you go across the street to the house where Lincoln died. Also, the house has been well preserved. I don’t think we spent any time at all waiting around, actually. The waiting around before the show period is when you are in the museum reading and looking at different exhibits, which I don’t consider to be waiting around at all–neither did my husband, the history buff.

      So, I guess it depends on whether you are interested in the museum aspect of it or not, but it is always neat to say you were in the room where Lincoln died.

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