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Booze, Fireworks, What Could Go Wrong?

photo uploaded to flickr by jGregor

Ahh, the Fourth of July. One of the great American holidays, when we celebrate overthrowing our British overlords, who had kept us in a state of perennial submission, what with their onerous tax on tea and refusing to let us riot. My latent sarcasm aside, it's a great holiday and appeals to my sense of rebelliousness and wanton hunger to watch things explode.

Unfortunately, my idea of a great Fourth is to blow a couple hundred bucks in South Carolina for enough fireworks to make the defenders of Ft. McHenry think twice about holding out next time, ideally accompanied with beer and small kids. Naturally, I follow strict safety rules, like "no firing bottle rockets at your sister" and "hold my beer while I light the finale". After all, I'm a responsible parent now.

Now if you find yourself in Washington, DC for the Fourth, and especially if you find yourself in a neighborhood that is, shall we say, less touristy, you'll find yourself enjoying an experience much like I described above, although perhaps with less of a strict regard for safety. Be forewarned, and rest secure that you're still in a country that if King George tries to quarter his troops in our homes, he'll find a warm welcome. However, if re-enacting Beirut circa 1984 isn't your cup of tea let me offer a few suggestions:

1. A Capitol Fourth: The annual concert on the West Front of the Capitol will be hosted this year by Jimmy Smits. It's a great free concert, this year featuring Reba McEntire, Gladys Knight, Darius Rucker, and the National Symphony Orchestra. It kicks off at 8:00 pm, but if you think you're showing up at 7:45 and finding a spot on the lawn you're woefully optimistic. The security gates open at 3:00 pm, and I'd say you might want to be there at around 5 if you're looking for a spot to have a picnic. For a truly local take on this, come the night before and watch the free rehearsal. Most of the headliners won't be there, but they'll be a lot less crowds.

2. Fireworks!: If your taste runs towards the "professional" displays, and away from burnt fingers, the annual DC Fireworks display is pretty impressive. They are set off near the World War II memorial, just to the west of the Washington Monument right around 9:15 pm. Popular vistas often go quickly, but a good rule of thumb is that if you can see the Monument clearly, you'll be able to see the fireworks. Folks will start camping out on the Mall fairly early in the day, and this year, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival will run on the Fourth for your viewing pleasure. Also, if you need to kill time, the White House Visitor's Center and the National Archives will be hosting special events that day. Be ready though: getting nearly a million people out of the city at one time can be a bit tricky. Plan on the Metro being packed and a bit of a wait. If you drove AND found a parking space, you're going to be there till dawn.

3. Parades: Everyone loves a good parade, and the National Independence Day Parade fits the bill. It runs along Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th ST NW starting at 11:45. Filled with all the pomp and circumstance the US government can round up, it's a stirring site with marching bands, military honor guards, floats, and all that good stuff. But if you want a less monumental and more authentic experience, swing on down to Barracks Row (8th ST SE, just feet away from the Eastern Market Metro Station) for the Capitol Hill Parade. Kicking off at 10:00 (give or take) by the historic Marine Barracks at 8th and I SE, the parade features and eclectic mix of neighborhood schools, organizations, and just a bunch of people out to have a good time, like the local moms who find a creative use for bridesmaid dresses "you can wear again" as the Fairy Princess Patrol. If you are like so many of my visitors who are lost in a maze of marbled columns and ask "does anyone live in Washington", come here for your answer. And while I've never been to it, I hear good things about the Takoma Park Parade as well.

4. For the Fireworks Haters: If you're looking to branch out in a new direction for your Fourth celebration, consider swinging by the National Cathedral. They will be hosting a recital of their incomparable 10,000 pipe organ at 2 pm this Sunday. Sure, it's a bit non-traditional, but you won't have to jockey for position in the sun, either. And if you stick around, the Cathedral grounds aren't a bad place to catch the fireworks (I recommend finding a spot near the Peace Cross on the grounds of St. Alban's school).

Whatever your plans for the Fourth of July in DC are, be sure to approach them with good humor and patience. Crowds and hot weather are part of the game here, so come ready to cope with both, but DC is one of the best places in the country to experience the Fourth. Enjoy, I'm off to South Carolina.

Reader Comments (1)

The 4th of July? It didn't exist for me this year. While you were stuffing yourself and watching fireworks, I was flying west across the Pacific Ocean to Melbourne, Australia. The 4th? It disappeared when I crossed the international date line. On the other hand I had 2 August 16ths.

Travel can be very weird.

September 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterLauren S. Kahn

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