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Free Things to Do: Fall in Washington, DC
As the leaves change color this fall, it’s time to explore some of DC’s best free attractions, events and things to do.
Autumn in Washington, DC is full of free things to do, from festivals and scenic foliage to celebrating Halloween and observing Veterans Day. The city features plenty of experiences perfect for the season. Discover all of the ways you can have a memorable autumn adventure in the District without putting a dent in your wallet. Also, be sure to check out our #DCTogether page for the latest COVID-19 updates for the city.
Tucked away in Northeast DC, just two miles from the U.S. Capitol, the National Arboretum is an oasis in the city, no matter the time of year. But the stark contrast of the sandstone Corinthian Columns that once supported the U.S. Capitol and the vibrant leaves on surrounding trees make fall one of the most beautiful times to visit the living tree and plant museum. Make sure to check out the Arboretum's safety protocols before going.
The National Gallery of Art's West Building is open with safety guidelines in place. You can explore all of the wondrous art on the ground floor from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. each day. Timed passes are required and please make sure to wear a mask. The museum's Sculpture Garden is also open, ideal for an afternoon stroll during the fall season.
The National Mall is particularly scenic during the fall season. Seeing the Washington Monument rise majestically to the sky, surrounded by the stately U.S. Capitol Building at one end and the dignified Lincoln Memorial at the other, it’s hard not to think of America’s history. Explore the swath of land nicknamed “America’s front yard” and you’ll find inspiration and some of the most beautiful architecture in the world.
Winding from DC into Virginia, the George Washington Memorial Parkway is designed for recreational driving, with numerous scenic overlooks lining the way. Each one is clearly marked, so you and yours can pull over to take in jaw-dropping fall scenery, from foliage along the Potomac River to DC’s incredible skyline. Other free activities on the parkway include biking or running along the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail or setting up a socially distanced picnic complete with a crisp autumn breeze.
Many of DC’s monuments and memorials honor servicemen and women. Pay a visit to the majestic National World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million men and women who served overseas. There's also the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which features the well-known Memorial Wall, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Please make sure to wear a mask and maintain social distance when exploring the memorials.
Four of DC's Smithsonian museums recently reopened their doors: the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. The National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History will join them on Friday, Sept. 25. All have new safety protocols in place and are offering reduced hours and all will require a free timed-entry pass to enter, except for the Renwick Gallery, which can accommodate safe crowd management and social distancing for the amount of visitors allowed at one time. Visit Smithsonian's website for even more detailed info on hours, passes and safety.
A draw for fitness buffs and movie nerds alike, the 75 super-steep stone stairs at the corner of 36th and Prospect Streets in historic Georgetown gained their big moment of fame as the spot where Father Karras tumbled to his demise in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. The staircase even snagged a historical designation in 2015.
In honor of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote in the U.S., The President Woodrow Wilson House is hosting a free outdoor exhibition entitled, Suffrage Outside. Timed entry will be utilized to ensure social distancing. Suffrage Outside uses towering images to tell the story of the final chapters in the women’s suffrage struggle, a mode of visual storytelling to showcase how progress was made outside of the home and outside of the mainstream.
Round up the family for a safe museum experience this fall. The National Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is open during normal operating hours, but tickets must be reserved before going and masks are required for your free entry. Some artifacts will not be on view due to some planned construction. Food trucks will be available to you and your family if you get hungry outside of the Center. Please review the museum's COVID-19 message before planning your trip.
Usually confined to one evening, this virtual edition of Art All Night will stretch from Sept. 13-26. The virtual activation will feature online events for several hours on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as themed livestreams during the week. Expect a wide range of artists to participate in numerous forms of expression, including the culinary arts and fashion and design.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' grand expansion, The REACH, hosts this outdoor pop-up wine garden and cafe from Thursday through Sunday. The Hilton Brothers and Chef Erik Bruner-Yang have collaborated on this winery-inspired setting, which offers charcuterie boards and light snacks, as well as beer, wine, adult seltzers and other beverages. Check out the full menu. Note that guests are required to maintain social distance and wear a mask when not sitting down. No more than 10 guests are allowed inside the Pavilion for ordering and payment. You can read more about the safety protocols before attending this free event.
Although many indoor options for recreation remain closed, DC’s outdoor offerings are still very much in play. Check out the array of parks, gardens and outdoor spaces and plan for a socially distanced stroll or bike ride – or even bring along some delicious to-go food for a picnic. There’s the 2,000-plus acres of Rock Creek Park, the Capitol Columns at the scenic U.S. National Arboretum and so much more.
The newest addition to DC's incredible lineup of monuments and memorials, this Frank Gehry-designed site was erected in honor of the nation’s 34th president and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. Located in a new four-acre park adjacent to the National Mall, the memorial takes you through the life of Eisenhower via three bronze sculptures and bas relief images and inscription panels that offer lines from some of his most famous addresses. The site also features a stainless steel woven tapestry that depicts Pointe du Hoc cliffs on the Normandy coastline in peacetime.