Summer in DC – Fun Things to Do on a Budget

summer in dc fun things to do on a budget

It's FINALLY HERE! You guys, it's summer, my favorite season of the year! It's the season of my birthday, it's finally warm enough to go swimming, and there's tons going on during the summer in DC.

I've lived in DC for three summers now (and admittedly, I'm usually gone for at least one month of summer). Luckily, there's still plenty of time for fun in DC after my travels and I am so excited to tell you about it! As a local, there's way more to DC than just your regular Smithsonian, monument, and Georgetown. Don't get me wrong, these are great things, but there's so much more! Here are some things, I recommend as a local.

1. Brunch - brunch your heart out! - can be cheap!

Brunch is seriously the thing to do and there is nothing better than a good brunch in the summer here in DC. DC is known for brunch and a trip to DC is not complete without a delicious meal! Click here to check out my favorite local spots you can eat at on a budget.


2. Check out a rooftop pool - free

So, most rooftop pools offer memberships and/or day fees that are at least $20 a day if not more in DC. You can't go on any day and expect to get in for free. However, many also offer FREE events! Embassy Row Hotel does "hooky Fridays" where entry is free to their rooftop pool! It can get crowded, but being on the rooftop and getting in for free is worth it.  I will say that when I went, it was not crowded at all. They also do a silent disco later in the same evening which just adds to the fun (the disco's not free though, sadly!).

3. Cruise or paddle along the Potomac - $15 - $40

Georgetown, the Tidal Basin, and Waterfront all have options for getting out on the water! While Georgetown is known for its kayaking and paddle boarding, don't be afraid to step out into another neighborhood where you can enjoy the water without the giant Georgetown crowd. I've done a cruise along the Potomac and paddle boats.

4. Check out one of many neighborhood festivals - Free

One of the best ways to get to know DC is to hang out with the locals. Throughout the summer, there are lots of different festivals throughout DC and summer is when all the neighborhoods have their own parties going on. One of the best things about DC is how each neighborhood is unique and does it's own thing. Get to know the real DC and head over to a festival or block party this summer. One of the biggest and most fun is the H Street Festival which is a mile long. The whole street opens up, bars have spots all the way out to the streets, and local artists and vendors take over. It's huge and goes all the way late into the night. Here's City Paper's list of neighborhood festivals.

5. Go to a Nationals game - $15 - $60

What says summer more than baseball?! To add to your fun, go to The Yards next to the stadium before the game to listen to music, have a few beers, and play some corn hole. Perfect afternoon!

6. Check out a free show on the Millennium Stage at Kennedy Center  - Free

Kennedy Center is gorgeous and going to a performance there is definitely something incredible, but it can be so expensive! But, did you know there are free performances literally every night there? It's amazing! Go for a free show. Here is a list of the upcoming free shows. They happen every night!

7. Bike around the city - $7

Yes I said this is the perfect thing to do in spring too. Why? Because biking around DC using capital bike share is cheap and awesome. Bike through the neighborhoods is another way to get to know DC. Get an iced coffee, take a bike lane, and stop along the way when you come to one of the many adorable parks around the mall or city. The bike share is only $7 for a half hour (you can return and get a new one throughout the day within 30 minutes). Essentially, you can ride a bike all day for just $7! Pretty sweet deal if you ask me!

8. View an outdoor movie at one of the many spots around the city - Free

Being outside is tons of fun in the summer and DC can get so hot. This is another good way to get outside without ending up sweating like crazy! There are so many spots to catch a movie outside in the summer after the sun goes down. They're perfect because you get to take in a beautiful setting in the city, bring your own picnic, and watch a movie you know you'll love. My favorite spot is the Congressional Cemetery where you can watch a classic scary movie in the cemetery after dark once a month. Last time I went, we saw the Birds a classic by Alfred Hitchcock. Here's a list of all the spots around DC with free outdoor movie showings this summer!

9. Go to a food or drink festival - $20 - $60

There's a lot of these happening in the summer. One of the biggest is the BBQ, Beer, and Bourbon Fest. I am personally looking into getting tickets into the Taco and Tequila fest because what is better than tacos! We'll see where I get to go this summer. Festivals can get expensive, but they can also be pretty affordable if you buy tickets early.

10. See the Capital in fireworks on the 4th of July.

I will be honest, I haven't spent a single Fourth of July in DC because I always have that month off for work and have traveled to another country for the past year. It's kind of crazy! But, I couldn't make a summer in DC list and not recommend the nation's capital for Independence Day. To be honest, many of my friends and I avoid downtown DC for the 4th, but I know that it's a good one because so many people travel here for it! Just be prepared for crowds and lots of people!

11. Go to the drive in at Union Market - free to $10

This might be my favorite thing for summer. First of all, Union Market is one of my favorite places in all of DC for food. With all the different carts and local vendors, there is something for everyone there to eat. EVERYTHING is delicious!!! Then you add a drive in movie in the parking lot and I'm hooked! It's just $10 a car and you can reserve your spot online on their website. You can grab food then watch the movie from your car or you can bring your own chair or blanket and watch for free. See their schedule here.

12. Go to an event at a museum - Free  to $20

There's always something going on somewhere at a Smithsonian during the summer after hours. From Jazz in the Garden on Fridays, to special events at the Hirshhorn, an event is a unique and cheap way to explore a museum. They're free all the way up to about $20 depending on the museum or event. I've been to many and one of my favorites was not at a Smithsonian, but at the Spy Museum. We had a blast on a scavenger hunt, got a special gift, and a cocktail to top it all off!


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  • How cool! I’ve never been there yet! I had no idea it was possible to do all of this on a budget! Great tips!

  • I do love a good Brunch. So excited for the summer too. Thanks for the tips

  • Emily Marshall

    DC is my favourite city in America. I just love the culture there, and it is so green and clean compared to New York or other big cities!

  • Suze

    I’m yet to visit DC but your post has given me lots of ideas of what to see when I do. Paddle boarding in the centre of the city must be so much fun. The rooftop pools sound great too!

  • What a great list of things to do! Living in NJ it’s only a short drive to DC. Will have to check it out soon! Enjoy your summer!