How To: Celebrate July Fourth in DC Without Being a Total Tourist

I live in Washington, DC.

Okay, that's a lie, and I promised I wouldn't lie here so here's the truth: I live .3 miles from the DC border. I work in DC. I went to school in DC. I spend a good chunk of my time in DC. But I live in Maryland. And I've lived here long enough to know that it's probably not the best idea to head downtown on the Fourth of July.

Usually, my family and I go see fireworks up in Rockville and watch the Capital Fourth ones on TV. But this year, my friend Hanna was visiting me, and I figured she'd rather see the Nation's Capital than the town that inspired this song.

(Does anyone else always mix up O.A.R and R.E.M because of that song? I mean both band names are three letters, which can be confusing enough as it is. Add in that one of them is actually from Rockville and the other just has a song about Rockville and I can never remember which is which. Maybe that's just me. Anyway.)

Here's what we ended up doing. I present: How to Celebrate July Fourth in Washington, DC Without Being a Total Tourist.*

Start your day late.

Tourists start their days early. Wait a little longer! Show up downtown fashionably late at around 2 or 3 to prove that you're confident, cool, and casual! Or at least try to convince yourself of this to justify hitting the snooze button for a fifth time.

Eventually, get going. And start at the place that holds the Declaration of Independence: the National Archives. Because, of course, this is an idea that nobody else will have.

Enter the Archives through the back door.

You'll find that there's no line, and you can just walk right in! Wow, what a great DC museum hack!

You'll also find that this is the entrance to the research library, not the museum. You can try to convince the security guard that yes, of course you do want to do research on a holiday, there's nothing weird or suspicious about that, but he won't believe you. Exit the building discouraged. Get on line like a normal person.

You know what? Just skip the Archives.

Stand on line for a little while before realizing that it's not moving. Find out that they have stopped letting people into the museum for a little while because it's too crowded. Decide to just hop out of the line and walk up to Constitution Avenue, blaming Nicholas Cage for the heightened security. Notice a group of people, still waiting on line, who all have the Constitution on their shirts. Wonder why they're waiting over an hour to see the document when they could just, you know, look down.

Wander around the Sculpture Garden.

Walk around the fountain in the center, but don't dip your feet in because it's not actually allowed. Feel kind of smug, because after all this is something that only two kinds of people would know--the kind of people who come here a lot, and the kind of people who actually read signs when they enter places. Count the people wearing "America: Back to Back World War Champs" tank tops. Wonder if they wear those shirts on any other day of the year. Go and look at your favorite sculpture, Roy Lichtenstein's House I, and get REALLY frustrated with it like you always do. 


Give Somebody Directions.

Somebody will ask you where the American History museum is. Point them in the correct direction. Decide that hey, maybe you should check that place out too. I mean, it does have the exact Star Spangled Banner that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem.

Get Distracted by Police Horses.

Go See the Star Spangled Banner.

The Museum of American History isn't as crowded as you think it will be--the line to see the Star Spangled Banner isn't any longer than it usually is. Have a look around the museum and see some more things, like Dorothy's ruby slippers and George Washington dressed as Zeus. As you're preparing to leave, see that the lines have gotten longer, and become proud of yourself for beating them. Go outside and realize the line is so long because it is beginning to rain.


Walk down to the Washington Monument.

Not as many people will be there now that it's drizzling. Snapchat a picture of it, so that everybody knows what a great day you're having. Then realize you're standing in the Ellipse, a big open field with no options for shelter, and the rain is beginning to pick up. Perhaps this plan wasn't really that great after all. You know there's a Starbucks a few blocks up. Decide to seek shelter there. 

Walk Right Past the Stand Where Umbrellas and Ponchos are Being Sold. Do Not Stop. 

Your mother told you to dress better for the rain, but, of course, you didn't listen. You brought a one-person umbrella to cover two people, and in trying to distribute it evenly, both of you are drenched and sidewalk between you two is dry. But don't give in to the poncho. Don't surrender. Even though you'd love to throw that blue plastic bag on and keep your clothes somewhat dry, do not allow yourself to do it. You're stronger than that.

Finally make it to Starbucks and take shelter. 

Get yourself a mocha latte to warm up. Did you ever think you'd need to "warm up" in July? Well, surprise!

When the Rain Stops, Check Out the White House.

There's a bunch of snipers on the roof, which is a little intimidating. Walk next door to the Department of the Treasury. Notice trash lining the fence, and wonder whether it's modern art or if people are just lazy. 

When it starts raining again, decide enough is enough and just head for Georgetown. 

Walk Along M Street Until You Stumble on Francis Scott Key Park

The park is at 34th and M, where Key's house used to be. Now, it's a circular colonnade with greenery growing on top and all around. 

There's information about Key's life and the story behind our national anthem. Frankly, you're surprised that more people aren't here. It's a pretty peaceful place, if you ignore the traffic coming off Key Bridge. 

The man himself.

Then you realize--you've done it! You've found the secret, tourist-free place to spend the Fourth of July in DC! Ring out your still-soaked t-shirt in victory. 

Watch the Fireworks from the Georgetown Waterfront. 

The Watergate Hotel kind of gets in the way. And it's cloudy. But whatever. When the show ends, cap off your day celebrating going to an Irish pub. Because why not?

Not photoshopped at all.

*If you were reading this in hopes of a detailed, thorough itinerary that would help you in planning your own trip to DC, I'm sorry. 

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