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Plan your summer with this guide to D.C.’s festivals and events

We’ve picked something to do every weekend from now through Labor Day

(Angela Hsieh for The Washington Post)
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Over the last two summers, we’ve learned to not plan too far ahead.

“Will this concert series actually happen?”

“Will that festival get canceled at the last minute?”

“Should I bother putting together a costume for the anime con?”

This year, however, feels different. We’re confidently looking forward to all the mileposts of summer — enjoying movies and listening to music outdoors, delighting in pop-up festivals and theater, cheering for parades and demolition derbies — even if they’re happening months from now. Tickets are on sale, and dates are on the calendar (as long as it doesn’t rain, of course).

To help with planning, we’ve picked something to do every weekend through Labor Day. Some are limited-time activities, and others are available beyond the weekends listed. Most of the events are outdoors, too, so you can enjoy the fresh air while you stay busy all summer long.

WEEK OF: June 3

Watch movies among the tombs at Congressional Cemetery

Neighborhood parks throughout the D.C. area are awash in outdoor movie screenings during the summer months. It can be hard to tell the difference between the various series, especially when so many seem to be showing a combination of “Space Jam” and “The Princess Bride” and “Encanto” this year. What elevates outdoor movies is the setting: watching the Library of Congress screen entries from the National Film Registry on its lawn, or seeing inspirational films at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. For atmosphere, though, it’s tough to beat the monthly Cinematery at Congressional Cemetery in Southeast, where attendees picnic among the rows of headstones while watching “E.T.” (June 3), “Galaxy Quest” (July 1) and other space-themed films on a large screen. BYOB is permitted, and the mood becomes more atmospheric as shadows get longer. Just remember to buy tickets early, as events sell out well in advance. Movies begin at sunset, and gates open an hour before. Recommended donation of $10 per adult and $5 per child.

WEEK OF: June 10

Celebrate Pride in all its forms

The Capital Pride Parade and Festival are, naturally, going to be two of the biggest in-person gatherings of the summer: The parade (June 11 at 3 p.m.) is taking a new route that will “acknowledge the evolution of the LGBTQ+ neighborhoods” in D.C., starting at 14th and T streets NW and moving through Shaw, Logan Circle and Dupont before ending near 21st and P streets. The festival and concert (June 12 at noon) fill Pennsylvania Avenue with three performance stages of music, dancing, and kings and queens; hundreds of booths and vendors; interactive sports zones; family activities; and an outdoor food court and beer gardens. The main event is headlined by Joe Jonas’s band DNCE, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” winners Willow Pill and Symone, and a DJ dance party.

But Pride is about much more than the “official” events and dance parties over one weekend: The Library of Congress’s after-hours Pride Night hosts a discussion about “Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington” (June 9). The Embassy of Argentina is organizing a month of weekly “Queer Tango” dance classes and milongas at Dupont Underground (June 7-28). The Smithsonian’s Futures exhibition hosts a conversation wondering what Pride will look like in 2050 (June 10). There’s a Bike Party Pride Ride, a parade through Annapolis, a family day at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a French embassy-sponsored film screening on the Mall, fireworks at the Wharf and much more.

WEEK OF: June 17

Salute freedom on Juneteenth

The biggest event taking place June 19 is Pharrell Williams’s Something in the Water festival, but D.C. and the surrounding region have long celebrated Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day in June 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned they were free, two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 and will be officially observed on Monday, June 20, but events are taking place across multiple days.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture begins its in-person Juneteenth programming June 11 with a discussion about the Freedom Colonies, the African American communities created in Texas after 1865. Events include a conversation with Nicole A. Taylor, the author of the Juneteenth cookbook “Watermelon and Red Birds,” on June 13; a panel discussion about Juneteenth’s legacy of social justice and democracy on June 15; and a Community Day on June 20 with storytelling, crafts, living history demonstrations, and live music from Alphonso Horne and the Gotham Kings. Registration is required for all events, which will also be live-streamed.

Among other events that have been announced: The African American Civil War Memorial Museum holds a wreath-laying ceremony at 11 a.m. June 20 followed by a living history program on the plaza at the Spirit of Freedom statue. Montgomery County’s 25th annual Juneteenth Celebration is at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown on June 18 — a free day of movies, music and dance performances, hands-on family activities, food trucks and talks. Prince George’s County’s annual Juneteenth is held at Watkins Regional Park on June 18. Union Stage is hosting a Freedom Day Music Festival on June 19, with a lineup that includes Black Alley and Nia Dinero. Classical Movements, which puts on the “Secret Garden” outdoor concert series in Alexandria, is hosting “Steps Toward Freedom,” a Juneteenth concert with the Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts, on June 16.

WEEK OF: June 24

Learn about a different culture, or how communities are trying to save the world

It has been a rough couple of years for the Smithsonian’s decades-old Folklife Festival. In 2019, organizers cut the festival from 10 days to two, citing the government shutdown and funding delays, and decided to postpone programs focused on the cultures of Benin and Brazil until 2020. Then both the 2020 and 2021 festivals were held virtually. This year, the festival reverts to its “normal” schedule of activities from June 22 to 27 and again from June 30 to July 4. The two topics — the United Arab Emirates and the Smithsonian’s sustainability-focused Earth Optimism project — were both part of the 2020 virtual “Beyond the Mall” festival, but now will allow visitors to experience hands-on activities, craft demonstrations, talks with experts, poetry readings and concerts. Learn about conservation efforts from the Chesapeake Bay to the savannas of Kenya, or try weaving a sculpture with date palms.

WEEK OF: July 1

Watch the fireworks from a rooftop deck — or just enjoy the rooftop deck

July Fourth may be one of the biggest days on the nightlife calendar — especially for bars with rooftop decks and sightlines to the Washington Monument — but it’s unlikely most bars have begun thinking about their Independence Day parties yet. Many bars don’t announce their firework viewing plans until the latter half of June.

In previous years, U Street has been a hot spot for events, with free rooftop parties at the Brixton, the Hawthorne and other bars drawing crowds hours before the first fireworks are launched. The Wharf has become another prime viewing location, with ticketed parties at Tiki TNT, Officina and other rooftops with views of the monument selling out in advance.

Newer rooftops worth checking out include Ladybird, atop the Banneker Hotel at Scott Circle, which has unobstructed views down 16th Street NW, and CloudM, at the CitizenM hotel in Southwest, where the Washington Monument looms over neighboring office buildings.

These hotel rooftop bars offer excellent — and very different — views of D.C.

WEEK OF: July 8

Ooh and ahh over beautiful flowers at a picturesque park

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the only national park dedicated to aquatic plants, can be a destination year-round, but it has its spotlight moment in July. That’s the peak season for brightly colored lotuses and water lilies, which are celebrated at the multi-week Lotus and Water Lily Festival throughout the park. Visitors wander dirt paths to look at gorgeous flowers in more than 40 human-made ponds, as well as turtles, dragonflies and butterflies. (Pro tip: Lotus petals open in the morning and close in the afternoon, so stop by before work or get up early on a weekend to enjoy the blossoms in their full glory.) From July 8 through the end of the month, the gardens stay open until 8 p.m. on Saturdays, instead of the usual 4 p.m. closing. Activities include live music, canoe tours, yoga and smartphone photography classes. See the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens website for the full calendar and event registration.

From 2021: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are in bloom. How to make the most of this hidden gem.

WEEK OF: July 15

Explore a Shakespearean “Playhouse” before enjoying “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

In summers past, the National Building Museum has transformed its vast Great Hall into a verdant green “Lawn” with hammocks and croquet; a maze with 18-foot-high walls; and “The Beach,” a wildly popular adult ball pit. This year’s immersive Summer Block Party installation transports visitors to somewhere completely different: a Shakespearean theater. By day, from July 1 through Sept. 5, “The Playhouse” will be used for sword-fighting demonstrations, costume displays, and tours “showing the art and mystery of stagecraft,” while the museum holds scavenger hunts and challenges visitors to design their own Globe Theatre. At night, from July 12 to Aug. 28, the Folger Theatre will take to the same stage for productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (Note you’ll need separate tickets to tour the Playhouse and to watch the play.)

WEEK OF: July 22

Experience demolition derbies, carnival rides and a Pig Scramble

Some people try to paint the D.C. area as out of touch with the rest of America, but we love a demolition derby, livestock show, pie-eating contest or carnival midway as much as anywhere else. Late summer is county fair season: Prince William, Montgomery and Howard hold theirs in August, alongside Fairfax’s 4-H Fair and Carnival, while Prince George’s, Calvert, Charles and Frederick wait until September. Get an early start on the fun at the Loudoun County Fair, a traditional 4-H fair in Leesburg from July 26 to 30. Entertainment includes livestock shows and tours, competitions ranging from canning to needlepoint, a rodeo, a demolition derby, live music, carnival rides and the Pig Scramble, a pig-catching competition in which the winner has the choice of taking home $20 or the pig. And for fair fans who don’t have a car, the Arlington County Fair, held in mid-August, is Metro-accessible.

WEEK OF: July 29

Dress up for anime, K-pop and video games

For fans of anime, manga, cosplay and video games, there’s no bigger weekend than Otakon, an annual celebration of Asian art and pop culture at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center from July 29 to 31. The 28-year-old event, run as a nonprofit “for fans, by fans,” drew more than 28,000 attendees pre-pandemic. It’s known for elaborate and incredibly detailed costumes inspired by anime and manga characters — the schedule includes both costume contests and live-action role play, or LARPing — but the weekend is packed full of events. Attend a formal ball or masquerade, play free arcade or VR games, browse original artwork in the Artist Alley, watch dance groups perform, try hands-on crafting or participate in a Pokémon battle. Panels and workshops feature big names and die-hard fans. Special guests include voice actor Steve Blum, who has lent his talents to “Cowboy Bebop,” “Star Wars: Rebels” and more than 400 video games, and Friday night’s concert features K-pop band PIXY, making its North American debut.

Otakon isn’t the only cosplay convention in town this summer: Blerdcon, held July 8 to 10 at Hyatt Regency Crystal City, centers on Black and POC nerd culture, with gaming, costume contests, anime screenings, comedy shows and late-night parties.

WEEK OF: Aug. 5

Get your groove on at a Civil War-era fort

More than 160 years ago, Fort Dupont and Fort Reno were among the defensive fortifications protecting Washington from Confederate attacks. And for half a century, they’ve served as D.C.’s premier spaces for summer concerts. Fort Dupont, known for its ice arena and bike trails, began offering Saturday night concerts in 1972, and over the years, crowds of thousands have welcomed Gil Scott-Heron, Roy Ayers, Jill Scott, the Stylistics, William DeVaughn, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, among other jazz and R&B notables. More recent years have seen classic hip-hop and go-go in the mix, as seen during last year’s virtual concerts. This year’s 50th anniversary program, which is targeting a July 23 start for five or six weekly concerts, will feature “artists whose music recalls the early days of the Fort Dupont concerts and contemporary performers,” according to the National Park Service, which oversees the shows.

On the other side of the city, the Fort Reno concert series, established four years before Fort Dupont’s, is gearing up for another summer in Tenleytown. Fort Reno has long been known as a place for punk and alternative shows — it hit its apex in the 1990s and 2000s when headliners Fugazi, Q and Not U, and the Dismemberment Plan drew crowds of thousands — but the lineup has diversified, with local musicians playing blues and hip-hop onstage, and there’s still a great atmosphere, with families, friends and group house roommates picnicking before rocking out to Hammered Hulls or Branch Manager. Fort Reno’s 2022 series includes eight concerts, beginning July 18, and will be similar to previous seasons, with shows taking place on Monday and Thursday evenings. The lineup hadn’t been finalized as of press time but will be posted on fortreno.com when ready. (Also, it’s worth following Fort Reno’s Instagram account, @fortrenoconcerts, for updates, including weather-related schedule changes.)

WEEK OF: Aug. 12

Take a well-deserved beach day — and maybe bring your dog, too

Lying on the sand with a good book in hand or taking a refreshing dip in the water doesn’t mean driving as far as Rehoboth or Ocean City. Beaches on the Chesapeake Bay or Potomac River may not have the large waves or amenities that you’ll find on the Atlantic Coast, but they’ll also save gas money, time and stress. Some beaches have entry fees and are open only certain days, so check their websites before you pack up the car.

Sandy Point, in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, is the best-known beach on this side of the bay, but it’s popular and fills quickly. Instead, try Fort Smallwood, located near the northern tip of Anne Arundel County, where small beaches face the bay, separated by narrow jetties, and there’s room to spread blankets on the sand. The water is calm, warm and shallow — perfect for wading and floats. Mayo Beach Park, in Edgewater, has four crescent-shaped beaches, with rock jetties that keep the waves gentle. Heading south, options include Aquia Landing in Stafford County, which has a wide, sandy beach and calm water, and Flag Ponds Nature Park and the nearby Calvert Cliffs State Park in Calvert County, where kids can hunt for fossilized shark teeth when not taking a dip. Note that not all beaches are open this summer: Chesapeake Beach has closed Brownie’s Beach to nonresidents “until further notice,” and Beverly Triton Nature Park in Anne Arundel County is under construction this summer and has no parking.

Don’t want to go swimming alone? Fort Smallwood has a dog beach where canines can splash alongside their owners, and Aquia Landing’s beach is open to dogs as well as people. At Quiet Waters Park, just south of Annapolis, dogs can wade in the South River, though their owners must stay on shore.

WEEK OF: Aug. 19

Feast on steamed crabs

Blue crab lovers know that late summer and fall are the best time to enjoy Maryland’s official state crustacean, once the crabs have grown and molted a few times and started bulking up before hibernation. At the same time, you don’t have to wait until October to get pickin’. The Point, located at a marina in Arnold, north of Annapolis, has quickly become a favorite for its waterfront setting and quality seafood. Captain Billy’s in Newburg offers sunset views over the Potomac as well as steamed crabs and hush puppies. Just outside Baltimore, Schultz’s specializes in crab cakes as well as steamed crabs and was named an American classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2017. Grabbing crabs to enjoy at home? Try Captain White’s, which relocated from the Wharf to Oxon Hill, or Ernie’s, a takeout spot in Brentwood.

Blue crab population in Chesapeake Bay hits record low

WEEK OF: Aug. 26

Listen to music on the waterfront during D.C. JazzFest

In 2020 and 2021, the organizers of D.C. JazzFest postponed the festival from its traditional dates around Father’s Day until late August, in hopes that conditions would improve enough for an in-person event. The festival went virtual in 2020 and returned in a truncated format in 2021. This year, JazzFest is still shorter than in past years, with a schedule of more than 20 concerts over five days, but it’s keeping the late-summer slot on the waterfront at the Wharf. More importantly, the bulk of performances, which take place over two days on stages next to the Washington Channel, will be free for anyone who wants to watch, with reservations required. Audience members can also pay to upgrade to dedicated seats or closer standing areas. The DC JazzPrix, a competition for up-and-coming artists, will return indoors at Union Stage. The full schedule, including set times, will be available the week of the festival.

WEEK OF: Sept. 2

Embrace your inner bookworm at the National Book Festival

After two years of virtual readings and author talks, the National Book Festival returns in person at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center over Labor Day weekend. “Books Bring Us Together” is the theme of the free Sept. 3 event, and while the participating authors won’t be announced until July — keep an eye on loc.gov/bookfest for updates — more than 200,000 book lovers attended pre-pandemic festivals to hear from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Amy Tan, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Roxane Gay, Dave Eggers and other authors. Whether your tastes run to history, fiction or “Big Nate,” there’s sure to be someone on the bill you want to see, and maybe get an autograph.

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