Washington, D.C., is a year-round playground

Washington, D.C., is always flush with visitors in the spring and summer, but with outstanding museums, grand monuments, a booming food community and thriving cultural scene filled with music, movies and theater, D.C. is a year-round playground. Here are some highlights to make your trip a capital visit, no matter when you decide to come.


• Every four years, Washington celebrates as the president is sworn into office on the Capitol steps. After the official ceremony, the party continues with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and a variety of balls.

• Enjoy some of the city's best restaurants at a discount during Restaurant Week, a bi-annual event in which restaurants offer discounted fixed-price lunch or dinner menus.


Celebrate the Chinese New Year with traditional firecrackers, music and colorful dragon dancers during the Chinese New Year Parade on H Street NW, between 5th and 8th Streets. The festivities take place in January or February, depending on the Chinese calendar.


• It's easy being green during the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Floats, bagpipers, marching bands and Irish dancers head down Constitution Avenue NW, between 7th and 17th Streets, on the Sunday before March 17.

• Washington's best-known annual event, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, takes place for two weeks when the more than 3,000 Japanese cherry trees that surround the Tidal Basin are in full bloom – typically late March/early April. The festival features concerts, special art exhibits, guided talks and tours, a parade and fireworks. (nationalcherryblossomfestival.org)

• During the annual Smithsonian Kite Festival, the sky around the Washington Monument is crowded with kites of all shapes, sizes and designs. The festival always takes place on a Saturday during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. (kitefestival.org)


• For two weeks in April, Filmfest D.C. presents a global cinematic treat as the annual festival showcases more than 100 works at theaters throughout the city by filmmakers from around the world. (filmfest.org)

• On the Monday after Easter – celebrated in March or April – kids take over the South Lawn for the White House Easter Egg Roll. The festivities include costumed characters, puppet shows, an egg-rolling contest and an Easter egg hunt.


• Everything's coming up roses – and daffodils, tulips and rosemary – at the Washington National Cathedral Annual Flower Mart. Beyond flowers and herbs, the free market features decorating demonstrations, food booths and children's activities. The event takes place the first Friday and Saturday in May.

• Washington honors the men and women who died while in military service during several Memorial Day celebrations. At Arlington National Cemetery, a wreath-laying ceremony is followed by military band music and a service; ceremonies are also held at the National World War II and Vietnam Veterans memorials. The National Memorial Day Parade marches from near the Capitol down Constitution Avenue to the White House. And the Sunday before Memorial Day, the National Symphony Orchestra performs a free concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol.

• Each year, the Shakespeare Theatre presents a different Shakespeare play for a two-week run at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre for free. The Shakespeare Theatre Free For All takes place at the end of May through early June.

• On Friday nights beginning in late May and running through the fall, the National Gallery of Art hosts free jazz concerts in the museum's sculpture garden from 5-8:30 p.m.


For ten days at the end of June and early July, Washington celebrates the music, crafts, food, games and life of different cultures during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Each festival highlights three or four cultures or themes – from Texas to Northern Ireland to NASA – with free events and exhibits along the National Mall. Be sure and take in the unique food tents offering a taste of the nation or region on display.


• Celebrate the Fourth of July in the nation's capital with the National Independence Day Parade, a reading of the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, a free concert by the National Symphony Orchestra on the Capitol lawn and fireworks display above the Washington Monument.

• Washington also honors French Independence Day. During the Bastille Day festivities enjoy live entertainment including a race of tray-balancing waiters and waitresses along Pennsylvania Avenue NW, beginning at 12th Street.

• At the end of July, the city celebrates experimental theater with the Capital Fringe Festival. For ten days, nearly 1,000 artists perform in theater, dance, music, puppetry and other disciplines at more than 20 venues. (capfringe.org)

• Monday nights from mid-July through mid-August, catch free movies on the National Mall. During Screen on the Green, film classics from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Superman air on a 20-by-40-foot screen between 4th and 7th Streets NW. Movies start at dusk, but people start laying out picnic blankets as early as 5 p.m.


Restaurant Week returns with special three-course, fixed-price meals that are priced to correspond with the year. During 2009, lunches cost $20.09 and dinners cost $30.09 during the week-long promotion.


• Each year, the National Symphony Orchestra heralds the end of summer with a free performance on the West Lawn of the Capitol on the Sunday before Labor Day.

• Get a preview of the Kennedy Center's fall season during their multi-week Prelude Festival. The event features performances and free events by local theatre companies including the Washington Ballet and National Symphony Orchestra.

• The Library of Congress National Book Festival brings nearly 100 authors to the National Mall for readings and author signings on a Saturday in late September. (loc.gov/bookfest)


• During the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, Washington honors the local jazz legend with more than 100 performances throughout the city.

• Lace up your own sneakers or line the course and cheer on the more than 30,000 runners who compete in the Marine Corps Marathon. The race begins and ends at the Iwo Jima statue in Arlington on the fourth Saturday in October. (marinemarathon.com)


• On Veterans Day, the nation's war dead are honored with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery followed by a memorial service.

• Put a historic spin on the holidays with Mount Vernon's Candlelight Tours. The tours run from the end of November through the beginning of December and are hosted by "Martha Washington" and other historic characters in costume. (mountvernon.org)


The Christmas Pageant of Peace begins with the National Tree Lighting. The president lights the National Christmas Tree at the north end of the Ellipse during a ceremony that includes live music and free activities. (nps.gov/whho/pageant.htm)

Kelly DiNardo is the author of USATODAY.com's Washington City Guide.