How to Celebrate the Fourth of July in DC This Year

Fireworks are back.

After the last year of uncertainty and closures, DC is finally beginning to open up again—giving Washingtonians good reason to celebrate. Another reason to celebrate? The annual return of the Fourth of July, this time with its traditional fireworks show and rooftop soirees in tow.

To be clear: the pandemic is not completely over, meaning things aren’t going to look exactly like they might have in the before times. The Capitol Fourth concert, which will be hosted once again by Broadway performer and actress Vanessa Williams and aired on PBS, will not be live this year, and the annual parade on the Mall is also on hold.

Despite these shifts, the fireworks show will go on—launching at 9:09 pm from both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Mayor Muriel Bowser has also said that DC is finally ready to invite out-of-town guests to the city for the Fourth of July, signaling a major vibe shift from what we experienced last year.

So, make sure to keep your mask handy, but otherwise it seems as though it’s finally time to fire up those grills and grab your cooler out of storage in anticipation for some well-deserved cold ones with friends. Here’s what else to expect in Washington, DC this year on the Fourth of July.

George Washington's Mount Vernon
Courtesy of George Washington's Mount Vernon

Return to almost-normal events

While the main Fourth of July parade isn’t ready to return just yet, there are smaller local ones coming back to neighborhoods this year to help amp up the patriotic spirit. After last year’s hiatus, the Capitol Hill July 4th Parade is happening, starting at Eighth and I Streets at 10 am and set to head north along Barracks Row. Also back is the Palisades Parade and Picnic which is celebrating its 55th year with a show that starts at noon on Whitehaven Parkway. The parade culminates at the Palisades Recreation Center where you can grab hot dogs and watermelon. 

Over at George Washington’s former home, Mount Vernon, you can celebrate America’s independence at the annual July Fourth festivities there. Admission costs $26, and gets you in to watch daytime fireworks, see replicas of vintage hot air balloons take flight, and dance along to 18th century music. 

Just make sure, whatever you do, that you’re in position for the main event, the Fourth of July fireworks show, by the oddly specific time of 9:09 pm. President Joe Biden says he will be hosting nearly 1,000 essential workers, first responders, and military members on the South Lawn of the White House to watch, so don’t forget to lift a glass to them when the show gets started.

Enjoy a patriotic brunch

Last year we were huddled into our apartments for the Fourth, but this year bars and restaurants are reopened for business with no social distancing rules, thanks to the more than 70 percent of Washingtonians who have been fully vaccinated.

Now, tons of your favorite spots in the city are able to host events and special brunches on Independence Day, like Capitol Hill’s Fight Club where you can partake in a boozy brunch starting at 11 am. At this special event, the restaurant’s signature sandwiches meet brunch-y dishes like shrimp and grits from Beuchert’s Saloon. Bottomless mimosas are available, of course, as well as Bloody Marys.

For a patriotic breakfast option check out Immigrant Food, just a stone’s throw away from the White House. The restaurant will be serving “Welcome to America Pancakes” decked out in our national colors, with red pineapple dressing, “White House-made foam,” and blueberries.

Meanwhile, if the sound of barbecue makes your mouth water, check out American Ice Company instead, which is hosting a neighborhood cookout featuring BBQ classics like brisket, chicken, and sausages. Beer buckets will be sold courtesy of Narragansett, and if you’re really feeling the holiday spirit you can partake in one (or more) of the bar’s signature pickleback shots.

Mélange D.C. burger
Courtesy of Mélange D.C.

Get your grill on

Opting to surround yourself with close friends in the safety of your own backyard is a great option this year, too. Luckily, restaurants around town are making it even easier for you to sizzle some choice cuts and hot dogs on Independence Day with special grill kits. 

Meat lovers will rejoice at Centrolina’s grill package which includes four dry-aged angus beef patties with cheddar cheese and four housemade pork fennel sausages, each with fresh brioche buns. Sides include burger fixin’s and classic Italian dishes like mozzarella salad, and those ready to imbibe can do so with the help of cans of pilsner and bottle of rosé. 

Chef Elias Taddesse of Mélange is making it easy for you to “grill and chill” with his kits of burger patties, brioche buns, and garnishes, or with a hulking 32-ounce dry-aged bone-in ribeye. Both kits come armed with salads and two pints of the chef’s famous ice cream. 

For those looking for something a little less beefy, though, Baker’s Daughter has a grill kit just for you. Salmon filets from New Zealand play the starring role in a kit that includes salad, marinated vegetables, and a choice of two additional sides. For an extra fee, add Maine lobster tails or crab cakes to your meal. 

The Wharf fireworks
Courtesy of The Wharf

Where to watch the fireworks

Let’s admit it: all that grilling and brunching you’re doing earlier in the day is pretty much an extended pregame for the fireworks show. This year, Washingtonians are spoiled for viewing options, from scenic lawns and parks to rooftops and boats. 

Over the course of the pandemic, Victura Park at the Kennedy Center has built quite a reputation for itself as the choice location for casual outdoor drinking and dining, with its ample green space and prime Potomac views. On the Fourth the spot will be throwing its inaugural fireworks viewing party with a variety of refreshment stations, from goodies hot off the grill to frozen desserts and canned cocktails. Guests are welcome to bring blankets, but chairs and outside food are a no-go.

For those seeking a rooftop view of the display, the next question is: how bougie do you want your celebration to be? Case in point—at the Conrad Hotel, rooftop bar Summit is serving up a locally sourced feast of Chesapeake clams, fish tacos, and slow-cooked house pork barbecue, with champagne and hand crafted cocktails. Meanwhile, at The Wharf’s Tiki TNT, a viewing party starting at 8 pm on the rooftop ensures a more casual, raucous time, where you can watch the fireworks while you enjoy a welcome cocktail and dig into barbecue items like tiki dogs and kalua pork plates. 

The Wharf is also hosting a VIP fireworks viewing experience that comes with small bites, two drink tickets, a DJ playing all night, and access to the incredible views from the Dockmaster Building at the tip of District Pier. But if you want to get even closer to the water, you can find yourself floating on top of it that night by way of a fireworks cruise. Go all out with a cruise that offers three hours of a top shelf open bar with reserved tables, get dancing on a hip hop cruise, or opt for something a little more understated and classic.

Finally, for those on the search for the lowest of key fireworks viewing experiences, just head to a park with a blanket and your favorite brews. Our choice is Lady Bird Johnson Park, which provides some of the best unobstructed views of the display (from land). Located on an island in the Potomac River, the park is right across the water from the show, which translates to an extremely epic fireworks viewing.

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Austa Somvichian-Clausen covers dining and lifestyle for Thrillist and InsideHook, as well as equality and accessibility for The Hill.