When Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, it’s unlikely that Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and proclaimer of the holiday, pictured barbecues and clogged highways leading to beckoning beaches. Now considered the kickoff to an always welcome summer season, Memorial Day’s original meaning – honoring and memorializing fallen soldiers – can sometimes get lost among the sweet holiday sales, hot dog runs and grill lighting. In the D.C. area, there are many ways to both pay homage and have fun. Here are 18 events to pick from. And don’t forget the sunscreen.
National Memorial Day Parade
Hosted by the American Veterans Center, this event honors past and present members of the military and fallen heroes from the American Revolution through Iraq and Afghanistan. Now in its 15th year, the parade is the country’s largest Memorial Day event, according to the website, and brings hundreds of thousands of spectators to the National Mall. Actors Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna will be there, plus Kiefer Sutherland, Justin Moore and others will give musical performances. Don’t want to fight the crowds? The parade will be live streamed on YouTube and Military.com.
When: May 27, 2 p.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Constitution Ave. from 7th-17th Sts., NW
National Harbor Salute the Sunset Concert
See the Airmen of Note, the premier jazz ensemble of the U.S. Air Force, play its version of big band and contemporary jazz. Combine patriotism with a typical Memorial Day meal by grabbing some North Carolina-style barbecue at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (177 Fleet St., National Harbor).
When: May 27, 7 p.m.-8 p.m.
Where: 165 Waterfront St. (National Harbor, MD)
Great Country Farms’ Strawberry Jubilee Fest
Enjoy the venue’s always-available attractions such as slides and a huge jumping pillow. When you’re ready to take a break, head to the strawberry patch to pick your own summertime staple. To celebrate berry season, the farm will also have live music, wagon rides and appearances by the Strawberry Princess. Bonus: The onsite Roosteraunt will serve Donut Strawberry Shortcake, chocolate-dipped strawberries and hand-dipped ice cream.
Cost: $10/child, $12/adult on weekends; $2 less per ticket on weekdays
When: May 25-27, June 1-2, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: 18780 Foggy Bottom Rd. (Bluemont, VA)
31st Annual Hometown Holidays at Rockville Town Center
Enjoy all sorts of musicians, such as a ’90s cover band, Irish rock and progressive bluegrass. Kid-friendly shows include Reptiles Alive! and Kidsinger Jim. On Memorial Day, the city-supported, all-volunteer band will perform a musical tribute to America at 9 a.m., and the Memorial Day Ceremony will start 30 minutes later with a wreath laying and 21-gun salute. The 75th Annual Memorial Day Parade will start at 10:30 a.m.
Cost: Free, but food is for sale
When: May 25 and 26, noon-8 p.m.; May 27, 9-10:30 a.m.
Where: 30 Maryland Ave. (Rockville, MD)
This family-friendly annual event celebrates the adorable town of Vienna with food, retail and artisan vendors; rides; games; and tons of entertainment. Kid-focused groups such as Rocknoceros, Bee Bee Clown and Noland the Magician will perform. Adults will enjoy myriad musical genres, including big band jazz, rock and Latin rock. Additionally, there will be 24 carnival rides for ages 2 through adult.
Cost: Free admission but games, rides and food have costs
When: May 25 and 26, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; May 27, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Where: 245 Maple Ave. W. (Vienna, VA)
National Memorial Day Concert
This PBS event is celebrating its 30th anniversary with performances by Patti LaBelle, Gavin DeGraw and Alison Krauss, plus appearances by Ret. Gen. Colin Powell, Sam Elliot, Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise. Military performers include the U.S Army Herald Trumpets, U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters and the Soldiers’ Chorus. Because this year marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the event will honor those who died in service, and it will also share the story of two infantrymen who became close friends while serving in Vietnam and meet each year at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
When: May 26, 8 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Where: U.S. Capitol West Lawn
Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake
Little ones will love getting transformed into pirates with face paint and costumes before setting sail in search of sunken treasure. Entire parties get 20 percent off ticket prices all weekend with a military ID. While you’re in Annapolis, check out the U.S. Naval Academy and the city’s historic district, home to 18th-century brick houses.
Cost: $22, $12/child ages 2 and under
When: See website
Where: 311 Third St. (Annapolis, MD)
Amuse Yourself at an Amusement Park
You don’t have to go to Orlando, to find a bevy of amusement parks. Head to Six Flags America in Bowie (13710 Central Ave.) to ride the coasters or slip-slide through Hurricane Harbor water park. Or check out Kings Dominion (16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, Va.) with rides for thrill-seekers or littles. And of course, it, too, has a water park. Busch Gardens Williamsburg (1 Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg) is a little farther south of Kings Dominion and offers – wait for it – rides and a water park, plus animal attractions. It’s also a stone’s throw from Colonial Williamsburg for a quick dose of American history. One more: Adventure Park USA (11113 Baldwin Road, Monrovia, Md.), which has a Western theme but alas no water park.
Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally
A sight to behold and be-hear, Rolling Thunder will gather for its final ride in honor of prisoners of war and servicemen and -women missing in action. The event began in 1988 as an annual protest to bring attention to POWs and MIAs but evolved into a patriotic rally. It starts at the north Pentagon parking lot and runs through the National Mall to West Potomac Park. A speakers program will take place at the Lincoln Memorial at 1:30 p.m.
When: May 26, noon
Where: North Pentagon parking lot, National Mall and West Potomac Park
National Memorial Day Choral Festival
Take budding musicians to see this show, which features choirs from across the country singing in honor of veterans. The event started in 2008 as a joint venture by the American Veterans Center and Music Celebrations International to bring attention back to the original meaning of the holiday.
Cost: Request tickets online
When: May 26, 3 p.m.
Where: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
War Memorials along the National Mall
There are plenty of powerful memorials to help children understand the meaning of Memorial Day. Do a walking tour of them with stops at the National World War II, iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial and nearby Korean War Veterans Memorial. Lighten the mood afterward by stopping at any of the many food or ice cream trucks dotting the area.
When: Any day
Where: World War II Memorial, 1750 Independence Ave., SW
Take Them out to a Ball Game
Buy them some peanuts or Nationals swag when the home team takes on the Miami Marlins. Spend the afternoon doing the great American pastime and cheer for your favorite former leader during the fourth-inning Presidents’ Race. Active-duty military personnel and veterans with military ID or proof of service get two free tickets to the game, while they last.
When: May 27, 1:05 p.m.
Where: Nationals Park, 1500 S. Capitol St., SE
While most of D.C. heads to the beach for fun in the sun, go underground to check out the largest caverns in Eastern America. Guided tours along a paved, well-lit walkway take you past natural structures such as the Stalacpipe Organ, which is played every hour by an automated system, and a shallow reflection pool that reflects a mirror image of the stalactites above it.
Cost: $28/adult, $15/child ages 6-12, $25/senior ages 62 and up
When: Daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Where: 101 Cave Hill Rd. (Luray, VA)
Mount Vernon Memorial Day Cruise
Take to the Potomac for a round-trip cruise to George Washington’s home. Admission to the famous residence is included, and you get three hours to tour the first president’s estate. Join a guided tour of the home, walk through the gardens, visit the animals that live there and pay your respects at Washington’s burial site. During the cruise, a staff member will point out historic and modern landmarks.
Cost: $45.95/child, $50.95/adult
When: May 27, 8:15 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: 580 Water St., SW
Public Pool Openings
Let’s not forget that Memorial Day Weekend is the official start of summer, so many outdoor public pools unlock their gates. Popular spots include the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole (1400 Lake Fairfax Drive, Reston), which has several waterslides and a 725-foot lazy river; SplashDown Waterpark (7500 Ben Lamond Park Drive, Manassas), which has an obstacle course and a zero-depth children’s area. To find an outdoor pool within the District, click here.
Falls Church 38th Annual Memorial Day Parade and Festival
Start things off on the right foot with the Don Beyer Volvo 3K Fun Run (no registration required) or get moving to the music on the main stage. Children’s rides will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., a veterans ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. and the parade heads out at 2 p.m.
Cost: Free, but rides, food and drink are for sale
When: May 27, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Park Avenue at Little Falls Street, Falls Church
Ringing in Hope: A Salute to Our Troops at One Loudoun
Sign up for the 5K, 10K or 1K Family Run/Walk and don your red, white and blue as you put one foot in front of the other to raise money for Boulder Crest Retreat, a wellness center in Loudoun County for veterans and their families healing from combat-related stress. There will be face painting, a costume contest, music and food at the finish line.
Cost: $15-$50, free/child 3 and under
When: May 27, 8 a.m.-10 a.m.
Where: One Loudoun, 20626 Easthampton Plaza (Ashburn, VA)
The trackless train that joined the park’s already numerous options for fun in July 2018 is reopening on Memorial Day from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Tickets to ride are $3 per person. The carousel will be open until 5. Equipment at this Fairfax County park is known for its accessibility to kids of all physical abilities. Wheelchair accessible swings, ramps and other considerations promise a sensory-rich, fun experience for all children.
Cost: Free, but rides have costs
When: Daily, 7 a.m.-dusk
Where: 6317 Georgetown Pike (McLean, VA)