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4th of July on the National Mall

For this year's Fourth of July, we decided to go into Washington, D.C. to watch the parade and then stay for the fireworks. How we filled up all the time in between those two events was what really made the difference.
View of the fireworks from the National Mall
What made it so successful is that we had a plan and executed it. Knowing that the parade started at 11:45 and ran from 7th to 14th, we decided that I'd take the kids to the Archives metro stop around 11 am, then we'd walk a couple of blocks to the parade route. It was there that I spent 45 minutes watching the police officers trying in vain to keep the unceasing waves of new spectators from pouring out into the street. The rule of thumb is that if you're on the curb, you're good to go. Since the parade starts at 7th, we thought it best to stay on the north side of the street for an easy escape & rendezvous, as another part of our plan involved Kacey and her dad staying on the metro for a few more stops so that they could stop by a friend's house to drop off our cooler and keep our picnic dinner refrigerated, after which they'd join up with us before the parade ended.

Fourth of July Parade
We took the metro into town because it was the easiest way to get four adults, two kids, and one double-wide stroller into the District. Especially on big events, always make sure your metro card has enough money loaded on it to cover the whole day, because you don't want get stuck having to stand in line with all the other people who forgot to plan ahead. Also, and this should be obvious, Don't drive! You won't find parking, and even if you do, you'll get stuck in traffic trying to get home.

Here are a few pictures of the parade:

A dragon isn't something I would expect in a 4th of July parade...
...However, I totally expected this eagle.
Unlike many of the folks around us, we stayed through the whole parade. There are usually food trucks scattered around the Mall, so we got burritos for lunch from one that was nearby. We, like many other folks, sat in the shade on the National Gallery lawn to picnic. The Archives have a huge fountain if you prefer that sort of thing. As part of the evening fireworks show, there is a concert in front of the Capitol and the music is piped throughout the National Mall. We strolled down to where the concert gates were located, but it wasn't really feasible for us to get in there right when the gates opened in the early afternoon and then stay until the fireworks show begins at 9:10 pm.

Kacey and I took our nearly two-year-old daughter back to our friend's house to nap, but she didn't. While we were trying to rest, our nearly five-year-old daughter was with her grandparents touring the American History Museum and absolutely loving the dresses. In the meantime, Kacey and I brought our younger one and our cooler back to the Mall for dinner.

We all met up again on the National Mall and had another picnic dinner there. Lots of folks had a similar plan, so it was a good thing that we packed a bed sheet to use as a blanket/ground cover that allowed us to maintain our little area without much encroachment. The Mall gradually filled up as the evening progressed, so much so that it would have been difficult to walk through after 8pm. While we were waiting, there was a couple demonstrating some sort of gymnastic routine nearby to pass the time.
It's so crowded people are finding creative ways to make space.
Fourth of July Fireworks
As the sun began to set, we pulled out the hearing protection for the kids. The fireworks really aren't that loud (depending on where you are sitting), but if the kids think it's too loud/scary, they won't enjoy it. I will say that I think our kids enjoyed the headgear as much as the fireworks.
Got a light?
Right around 9:10 pm, we could hear some of the music coming from speakers somewhere in the distance. It was enough to be able to distinguish various songs by John Williams and Sousa.

Face it, the kids are going to be tired.
Perhaps the most important thing about doing the Fourth of July on the Mall is that EVERYONE tries to use the Smithsonian metro station to leave. There was a horde of people 30 feet deep above ground, waiting for their chance to get on the packed stairs, to slowly push through the turnstile (or refill their cards if they were foolish enough not to plan ahead), and gradually shuffle through a sea of humanity to wait on the crowded platform only to have to squeeze into a crowded metro car. So, to avoid that pain, here's what we did instead...

We waited on the National Mall for the crowds to dissipate before packing up. We chatted with a few other like-minded folks waiting out the madness. Then we walked up a couple of blocks to our friend's house. If we didn't have that house, we would have walked to the next metro stop "upstream" from where we wanted to go in order to board an uncrowded train headed in our desired direction and already have a seat when the train pulled into one of the overcrowded metro stations. Since we hung out with our friend until around midnight, we didn't get home until around 1 am...but the metro ran until 3 am so there was no rush (and it had really cleared out by that time).

So, to recap what you need for a good 4th of July at the National Mall:

  • Take the Metro in to DC and use a stop other than Smithsonian. 
  • At the beginning of your trip, make sure you have enough money loaded on your metro card to make it all the way home without having to stop and reload the card.
  • Bring sunscreen, water bottles, a blanket/bed sheet, and a cooler for your food. 
  • There are also lots of food vendors and some museums have cafeterias, so bring cash, too.
  • Find shade as often as you can if you're going to be outside all day.
  • Many museums and galleries in DC are always free to the public, and they have bathrooms & air conditioning.
  • Expect the Air & Space Museum to be packed by everyone else aware of the previous tip.
  • Bring hearing protection for the kids if they're fairly young.
  • Don't be in a rush to leave right after the fireworks. If you do, expect all the metro cars to be extremely crowded.

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