Do not, under any circumstances drive. Take Metro but be aware, the Smithsonian station will be closed for most of the day for security reasons. It will reopen after the fireworks, but it will be a mess, so I’d plan on walking to a farther station. Other stations that are within walking distance include Federal Triangle, Metro Center, Gallery Place-Chinatown, Capitol South, L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Center SW, Archives-Navy Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. Someone told me it’s advisable to come from the Federal Triangle and even Foggy Bottom direction because crowds tend to be less heavy. I really like this map.
Metrobus will provide free shuttle service between the L’Enfant Plaza and Pentagon stations.
Free bicycle valet will be available from 2:00 p.m. until a half hour after the fireworks show. Locations are 15th Street between Independence Avenue and Jefferson Drive and the south side of the Lincoln Memorial on Daniel French Drive.
Note: The fireworks are launched from the Reflecting Pool and light up over the Washington Monument.
Okay, it’s going to be really crowded. And to make things worse, there are security checkpoints to get into the Mall. So bring your patience. After the fireworks, you might want to go grab a drink somewhere until the mobs of people clear out a bit, though be prepared for bars and restaurants to be crowded too. Just go into this situation knowing that it will probably take you a couple hours to get home one way or another.
When do people start arriving at the Mall? Earlier than you—as a presumably sane person—would ever consider. So you need to plan on being there at least several hours beforehand or else you’ll hate your life. Regardless, you will, at some point, feel like you’re being herded.
From about 8 p.m. to 9:30 the Capital Fourth Concert takes place on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It’s free, you don’t need tickets and you can start piling in at 3. This year’s performers include Josh Groban, Little Richard and Steve Martin.
Earlier in the day, there’s a parade. It starts at 11:45 and will also be crowded so, if you’re interested, you’ll need to go early. Here’s a map of the parade route.
What to bring
A blanket, mosquito repellant, sunscreen, LOTS of water, plenty of food, a camera and your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer (the port-o-potty situation is not ideal). Alcohol isn’t allowed and coolers and bags are looked through at security, so if you’re planning on bringing it anyway, you better be stealthy.
If it rains
You better pray that that doesn’t happen because if it does, everyone runs for cover in all the local museums and its jam packed. The rain date is July 5.
Insider’s Tip from Sports Editor Rachel
You can also get a great view of the fireworks from some spots in Virginia along the Potomac. While you won’t be able to hear the music, it is a great vantage point for the fireworks. More importantly, the crowd is much less intense! Parks along the GW Parkway are set up to accommodate viewers. Things may change every year, but previous spots to seek out have included the Netherlands Carillon, Lady Bird Johnson Park and Gravelly Point. The Netherlands Carillon also has an afternoon bell concert if you want to show up early. But the great thing about watching from Virginia is that you can show up later in the afternoon to get a spot. And after the fireworks, you’ll beat the DC traffic back onto the roads.