Explore Washington D.C.

10 D.C. Festivals That Are the Epitome of Summer

Spend all summer enjoying art, books, theater, film and food galore.

The nation’s political hub may seem all briefcase-toting lawyers and lobbyists, but locals also love to let down their hair. Festival season is in full swing all summer, offering a variety of warm-weather diversions. Here are our top picks for fun in the summer sun.

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival

June 15, 2-6 pm

This carnivore’s feast smokes barbecue from pulled pork and whole hogs to ribs, brisket, chicken and more. Unlimited beer and bourbon samples are included with over 40 bourbons and 60 beers to choose from. There’s also a dedicated game area, seminars, live rock, blues and bluegrass music, plus shopping opportunities and a cigar area. A portion of the proceeds go to Spirit of Hope Children’s Foundation. The waterfront at Southpointe, 806 National Harbor Blvd., National Harbor, Md.

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival
Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival (Courtesy Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival)

By the People Festival

June 15-23, times vary

This art festival extends over nine days and offers art installations, dialogues, performances and programs—all free and open to the public. On the schedule: a floating art installation by Hank Willis Thomas set to travel along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers; Kahlil Joseph’s East Coast debut, “BLK NWS,” at Union Market’s new AutoShop space; and Janet Echelman’s net sculpture “1.78” going up at the Park at CityCenterDC. This year’s theme addresses the future of equity and justice, so the art on view is sure to be thought-provoking and challenging. Multiple venues

By the People Festival
By the People Festival (©Chris Ferenzi)

AFI Docs Film Festival

June 19-23

The American Film Institute’s documentary festival showcases the best in cinéma vérité. This year spotlights 72 films from 17 countries, including six world premieres, with about half directed or produced by women. The audience can vote for the Best Feature and Best Short Awards, while the Short Film category is also eligible for a Grand Jury prize. Check online for the full schedule and a list of venues. Festival hub: District Architecture Center, 421 7th St. NW, 202.750.4584

AFI Docs Festival
AFI Docs Festival (©Robbie Bedell)

Giant National Capital Barbecue Battle

June 22-23

Taste barbecue from pitmaster legends and teams from around the country. Multiple contests run the gamut from America’s Best BBQ Sauce to the National Pork Championship. Attendees even have the opportunity to taste and vote in the Military Chef contest. All weekend long, enjoy live music from 30 bands playing everything from rock and blues to reggae and jazz. See the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile, the Johnsonville Big Taste “World’s Largest” Grill and even a hot dog eating contest. This year’s proceeds go to USO Metro and the Capital Area Food Bank. Pennsylvania Ave. between 3rd & 7th sts.

DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival

June 21-July 7

This multidisciplinary festival celebrates urban and traditional theater and arts. This year’s festival has over 150 performances by local and national artists, writers and muscians. See thought-provoking productions such as Richard Lamont Pierce’s “Sojourner,” the one-woman performance of “Tubman,” and “Chronicles of an Empty Womb”; films including “Sinners Wanted” and “Prison to Home: The Effects of Re-entry After Incarceration”; the four-day, audience-decided “One-Act Battle” series; and the adults-only, immersive genre-bending “Scandalous” experience. Multiple venues


June 28, July 19, August 2 & 23

This monthly food truck festival showcases the best of D.C.’s food truck scene. Some of the participating trucks include Korean BBQ Taco Box, DC Slices, Peruvian Brothers, Puddin’, DC Empanadas, PhoWheelers and King Street Oyster Bar. Plenty of live music, cold drinks and games round out this family-friendly event. The Bullpen, 1201 Half St. SE 

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

June 29-30

This festival is your opportunity to experience traditions and cultures from around the world. This year, the festival explores the social power of music with two concerts and plenty of family-friendly activities. The concert on June 29 is curated by the Grammy Award-nominated rapper Goldlink and spoken-word artist Ruby Ibarra. The concert on June 30 honors the life and legacy of Pete Seeger and highlights performances from the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. National Mall.

2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival
2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival (©S. Pakhrin/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Capital Fringe Festival

July 9-28

This art showcase focuses on all things “Fringe,” ranging in genre from theater, music and art to unclassifiable live performances and visual art. This year, organizers plan 94 productions across seven venues on 13 stages, all within walking distance of each other. Over 60 percent of the participating artists are local to the D.C. Metro area. In addition, Fringe presents and produces the “Fringe Curated Series,” which includes an interactive video arcade, the comedy “Shakespeare’s Worst,” two new plays by local playwrights and the monologue “A People’s History,” which has sold out in previous performances across the U.S. Multiple venues, 202.737.7230

Capital Fringe Festival
Capital Fringe Festival (Courtesy Capital Fringe Festival)

Around the World Cultural Food Festival

August 17

This foodie fest serves up delicious food from around the world and celebrates D.C.’s diversity. Festival-goers find cuisine from Colombia, Guam, India, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Morocco and many more. Folk singers and dancers as well as artisans and crafters bring even more fun. Freedom Plaza, Pennsylvania Ave. between 13th and 14th, 703.889.0202

Around the World Food Festival
Around the World Food Festival (©patraphotography)

Library of Congress Book Festival

August 31

This festival for book-lovers features discussions with popular authors and a chance for fans to meet their favorite writers. This year’s star-studded lineup includes celebrated chef José Andrés, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, fiction writers Joyce Carol Oates and Barbara Kingsolver, among others. The 2019 festival invites book lovers to “Explore America’s Changemakers” and learn how everyday citizens become trailblazers and history makers. Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Place NW, 202.249.3000

Library of Congress Book Festival
Library of Congress Book Festival (© Shawn Miller)