The Fourth of July has always been something that has struck my interest and caused me great excitement. As a child the fourth was always incorporated with my birthday (which is the 6th) so it was generally a magical, happy time. Fireworks, parades, bbqs, pool parties – I loved it all.
When I was very young I attended the fireworks in Washington, DC. Along with my parents, Aunt, Uncle, and four cousins we traveled to the Lincoln Memorial, sat on its steps, and watched the night sky catch fire. It was beautiful and one of the firework shows I still remember clearly despite how long ago it was.
This being my first year living in the area for the fourth I had all intentions of going to see the fireworks again. However, if you live on the East Coast you know that for the first week of July we were suffering from a severe heat wave. I don’t fare well with extreme temperatures and it was causing a bit of concern. There were also choices to be made; did I want to go to the Capitol building and attend the free National Symphony Orchestra show/live recording of the television program, A Capitol Fourth or did I want to go to the roof of my office building which had a much closer view of the fireworks?
July 3rd found me at work reading one of the local papers. They had details about the following day and as I was breezing through the article I noticed something: the Capitol Fourth was going to be doing a Gene Kelly Tribute. He is my favorite performer and that little mention sealed the deal: I was going to the Capitol to see the fireworks.
July 4th was hot and temperatures hit between 110-115. My roommate and I got into DC at about 1:30 in the afternoon, arriving south of the Capitol at L’Enfent Plaza metro station. Carrying folding chairs, bags of food, umbrellas, and a water cooler filled with drinks, we slowly made our way up to the security check off point for the concert.
This was the first rough part of the day. We got there early, as I suggest tourists to do if you want to pick decent seating, but we were left waiting for the security gates to open on hot asphalt in the blazing sun. For half of the time everyone opened their chairs and umbrellas and tried to stay cool, the second half of the time was spent standing shoulder to shoulder and waiting for the line to move.
Security was helpful and tried their best to keep the lines moving. If you want to be smart, check out A Capitol Fourth’s website and see what items are not allowed in before attending the concert. Security will not let you in with the items on the list and the items will be thrown out unless you go and leave them in your car (that’s if you even bothered bringing a car into the District for the day). So bring what is allowed and be prepared for items to be checked because security and all those people on line want things to keep moving.
Another tip? Once you’re in the concert area you have a large space to choose where to sit. If you want to see the concert then it’s obvious to get a spot where you can view the stage. If you want to see the fireworks then sit to the sides of the stage or far enough back that you see the Washington Memorial. The Washington Memorial is where the fireworks are set off at, so make sure you can see them where you are sitting.
Waiting in the heat for hours was terrible. If you intend to go another ‘protip’ would be to make sure you have an umbrella (and it’s within the size restrictions) whether it’s rain or shine. Hiding under my umbrella is what likely saved me from fainting in the heat. Another tip? Bring a TON of water. There are bathroom facilities if you need them, so don’t worry about that, but otherwise food and drink are not provided so bring your own.
Being able to hear the National Symphony Orchestra perform beautiful music and then have fireworks as well made the hot, sweaty trip all worth it. I was exhausted afterwards but it was grand. As mentioned, security is great, and when the concert is over you will be in a mass of people all trying to leave the city at the same time. Expect delays on the metro and roadways. If you can, walk around for a bit before heading to the metro station – just so that it can clear out a little before you get there.
I’ve heard from a lot of locals who have all said they’ve attended a Capitol Fourth once in their lives but never again. It isn’t so much that it’s a bad experience, it certainly isn’t that, it’s simply that it’s overwhelming and very tiring. I had work the next day and I felt like I had been hit by a truck. But I appreciate the experience and I’m glad to say that I did it. However, next year? I’ll be on a boat floating along the Potomac.