If you’re a D.C. resident, you may want to avoid the National Mall on Independence Day, as the biggest fireworks show tends to attract the biggest crowd of non-D.C. folks. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong living like a tourist, you may not want to live like a tourist on America’s Birthday.
Here are five places to see fireworks that aren’t the National Mall. Whether you’re a D.C. resident or visiting your friend that lives in D.C., it is possible to enjoy July 4 (and July 1) like you’re in any other part of America.
1. Cardozo High School
1200 Clifton St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Local high school fireworks are more American than fireworks near the Lincoln Memorial. There are local high schools throughout this nation. There are not local Lincoln Memorials (maybe there should be). Additionally, no other local high school fireworks display in the country also features additional glimpses of the fireworks near the Lincoln Memorial.
Pros: You can drive to these fireworks and not worry about paying for parking. You can bike to these fireworks. You can take the Metro to these fireworks (it’s slightly closer to the U Street stop, but the Columbia Heights stop is a better option if you’re picking up beer). It’s in a “real” neighborhood, not something developers created in the last five years. It’s both lawless (ample open bottles, people watching fireworks on top of construction equipment and Port-O-Potties, etc.) and lovely (ample open bottles, people watching fireworks on top of construction equipment and Port-O-Potties, etc.).
If you want to experience a party atmosphere without a cover, ticket or extensive planning, this is your best bet.
Tip: Do not plan to get beer or wine at a nearby store within an hour of these fireworks. One year, the nearby Target sold out of beer an hour before these fireworks. You’re reading that correctly: Target sold out of beer.
Nearest Metro: U Street (0.5 miles), Columbia Heights (0.6 miles)
Best place to get a beer after: The Wonderland Ballroom
Slightly up 11th Street, Wonderland is only a half-mile walk from the fireworks. Columbia Heights’ best neighborhood bar offers a ton of outdoor seating (if you crave more illegal explosions) and extremely humid indoor dance parties on the second floor (if you crave some potential human interaction explosions).
2. Red Derby
3718 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20010
This is not a recommendation for any particular fireworks display. This is a recommendation for a cornucopia of neighborhood fireworks, both sanctioned and unsanctioned. There is no better place on 14th St. NW to enjoy neighborhood fireworks than the roof of Red Derby. You’ll be able to see the explosions at the aforementioned Cardozo. You’ll be able to see the explosions at Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park. You’ll be able to see the extremely illegal fireworks set off by extremely patriotic Americans on 14th Street.
If you’re the kind of person who almost lost a hand setting off fireworks, this is for you. You’ll enjoy some well-organized displays from dusk until around 9:30 p.m. Later, you’ll witness people tempting fate and fingers setting off not-at-all-well-organized displays.
Nearest Metro: Georgia Ave-Petworth (0.5 miles)
Best place to get a beer after: Lyman’s Tavern
It’s literally next door to Derby. Spend dusk to 9:30 p.m. on Derby’s roof and walk 10 feet north to Lyman’s to enjoy the neighborhood stuff. If there’s any outdoor seating, stay outside. You’ll make friends in another neighborhood bar while breathing in sulfur. If you want to see some crazy stuff, try to face 14th. If you want to wind down, sit on the Quincy St. side.
3. Lincoln Park
East Capitol St NE and 11th St NE
Crave one of those neighborhood displays that are both annual traditions and technically unsanctioned? Want to watch explosions near the Capitol Building that have nothing to do with conspiracy theories? You’re in luck!
Nearest Metro: Eastern Market (0.5 miles)
Best place to get a beer after: Tune Inn
There are closer bars on Barracks Row, but why not embrace the best neighborhood bar in Capitol Hill? It’s a little bit of a walk, but there’s no better night to walk around D.C., if you like fireworks, than July 4.
4. Hains Point
Southern tip of East Potomac Park
For the family that wants to attempt to relive the scene in Wayne’s World where Garth asks Wayne if he finds Bugs Bunny attractive when Bugs dresses up like a woman (you know, the scene when they’re lying on the Mirthmobile outside an airport) and see stuff go boom, Hains Point is conveniently located between Washington National Airport, The Wharf, Yards Park and the National Mall. If the weather is clear enough, you’ll be able to see things explode to the north (Mall), northeast (Wharf), east (Yards Park) and planes to the west.
Ideal for the health-conscious family, Hains Point is far from any bars and perfect for bicycles. In other words, do not take Metro to Hains Point unless you’re comfortable walking five miles round-trip.
Nearest Metro: L’Enfant (2.5 miles)
Best place to get a beer after: Your cooler
Plan ahead. If you’re looking for the bar scene, you’ll be much better served at The Wharf or Yards Park.
5. Nationals Park
If you want to see some fireworks a few days before the 4th, the Nats-Marlins July 1 game features post-game “Freedom Fireworks.” This is an excellent promotion since the Nats and Fins are in a battle for last place in the NL East and tickets should be cheap.
Nearest Metro: Navy Yard-Ballpark (One block)
If you’re sitting behind home plate or on the first base line, head to The Salt Line after the game. It’s a large space with a large selection and pleasant view of the Anacostia River. If you’re sitting on the third base line or in the outfield, head to Atlas Brew Works and order some of D.C.’s best beers. If you’re a beer aficionado, head to Bluejacket post-game. They helped usher in D.C.’s modern golden age of brewing and still have some of the best ales in D.C.
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