Fireworks are an essential part of the American Independence Day tradition. And Washington, DC puts on one of the country’s best shows — lighting up the sky above the Washington Monument. So tourists descend upon the capital for our 4th of July fireworks.
Many travelers head straight for the National Mall. But as a native Washingtonian, I’m here to tell you: that’s not your only option. In this post, I’ll lay out a few alternatives to the Mall and the pros and cons of each spot — so you can pick the perfect place to watch the 4th of July fireworks.
Option 1: Meridian Hill Park
Meridian Hill Park is a large green space that cascades down the side of a hill in Northwest DC. The upper level provides sweeping views of downtown. Unfortunately, they’re somewhat obstructed by garish apartment buildings. Nevertheless, this can be a great place to watch the Independence Day fireworks in DC.
- You can make a day of it. The upper level of the park is perfect for a picnic.
- The atmosphere is festive, but it’s not outrageously crowded.
- Easy access to facilities like water fountains and bathrooms.
- Because of where people stand, if you’re short, it may be hard to see.
- The park is a 15-minute walk from a metro stop, and a bit further from any restaurants or bars.
- You’ll need to get there at least an hour before the fireworks start to claim your spot.
If that all sounds good to you: Take the metro to Columbia Heights and walk a few blocks southwest (the park starts at Euclid Street, between 15th and 16th Sts. NW).
Option 2: Cardozo High School parking lot
The parking lot of this high school in Columbia Heights offers my favorite view of DC. You can see the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, and everything in between. It’s a low-key option for watching the 4th of July Fireworks.
- You’re guaranteed a good view of the fireworks — no obstructions.
- It’s still pretty unknown beyond locals who live in the neighborhood, so not crowded.
- It’s close to a string of good bars (on 11th St.), so you can have a drink afterwards. Meridian Pint would be my pick.
- It’s a high school parking lot, so the festivities are very muted.
- There is nowhere to picnic or hang out before the fireworks start.
Does that sound like your scene? If so, take the metro to Columbia Heights and walk a few blocks southeast. The parking lot is on your left at 13th and Euclid St. NW. If you start walking down a very steep hill, you’ve gone too far.
Option 3: The Adams Morgan tennis courts
If you just want to watch the July 4th fireworks and don’t want to make a whole day of it, the tennis courts on 18th St. in Adams Morgan might make a good option.
- Some of the best views of the 4th of July fireworks in DC.
- Completely un-crowded — you’ll share the sidewalk with only a handful of people passing by.
- There is great nightlife at your fingertips when the show is over.
- You’ll have to stand on the sidewalk. There isn’t anywhere to sit or hang out while you wait for the show to start.
- It’s not very metro-accessible.
- Adams Morgan can get a little seedy late at night — only a problem if you go out after the fireworks.
If this quieter fireworks show appeals to you, take the metro to Dupont Circle. Walk north on 18th St. until you start to go up the hill — the tennis courts will be on your right.
Option 4: The National Mall
This post about 4th of July fireworks in DC wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning the Mall experience. It’s not for everyone, but it can be quite fun if you’re not phased by crowds.
- You’ll get the best views by far.
- You can picnic and enjoy the other attractions on the Mall all day while you wait for the fireworks to start.
- It’s easily metro-accessible.
- It’s very crowded. You’ll need to arrive by mid-afternoon for a good seat — many people stake out their spots before 10 am.
- Leaving the Mall after the fireworks end is a slow, time-consuming, packed nightmare.
- There is very little shade on the Mall.
If the views are most important to you, take the metro to Smithsonian, Federal Triangle, or L’Enfant Plaza. Be sure to review the National Park Service’s list of prohibited items — they’re pretty strict about it. And bring plenty of water.
Option 5: Kayak on the river
If the views from the Mall weren’t good enough for you, you do have one more option — get out on the Potomac River. There are a number of ways you can do this (rent a boat, take a cruise, etc.). But to me, the most exciting is the kayaking option offered by Georgetown’s DC Boathouse.
- Totally unique way to see the fireworks.
- You won’t have to contend with throngs of tourists to get incredible views.
- Even when there are no Fourth of July fireworks, kayaking on the Potomac is fun.
- At $80 a head, it’s expensive.
- It’s not the easiest corner of DC to get to/from.
- The water get surprisingly crowded with boats.
If you want a little bit of adventure with your 4th of July fireworks, make a reservation through DC Boathouse’s website. The dock is located under the Key Bridge — a 15-minute walk across the river from Rosslyn metro.
DC 4th of July Fireworks Practicalities
If you’re traveling to Washington, DC for the 4th of July fireworks, do yourself a favor: don’t drive. If you must drive to reach DC, find a garage to park your car and leave it for the weekend. The reason? DC in general, and the National Mall in particular, suffer from severe parking shortages and strict parking laws. You don’t want to get a $200 ticket just for a couple hours at the fireworks!
Instead of driving, try using DC’s public transportation to get to the 4th of July fireworks. The metro is pretty straightforward for visitors. Locals complain about it being unreliable, and it is if you commute on it every day, but for travelers it’s your best option for getting around the city. You pay depending on the distance you ride. Be prepared for trains to get very crowded before and after the fireworks, especially on the Mall.
At all of the places covered in this post, alcohol rules range from ‘you could probably get away with it if you’re careful’ to ‘don’t even think about it.’ Expect enforcement of the no-booze rule on the Mall. The rules are intermittently enforced at Meridian Hill Park — I’d be discreet, but if you have coffee cups to pour into and never show a bottle, you’re probably fine. On the sidewalks, it’s a matter of if you get caught.
Wherever you go to watch the 4th of July fireworks in DC, bring plenty of water. DC gets miserably humid in July, with heat indexes frequently surpassing 100 degrees. If you’re picnicking or sitting out in the sun all day, remember to pack sunscreen as well.
Enjoy the show!
Have you watched the 4th of July fireworks in Washington, DC? Do you have a favorite place to watch from? Leave a comment!
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