Hot town, summer in the city
April 13, 2014 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Looking for tips on making the best of summer in Washington, DC.

When I moved back to DC from Seattle, I knew that the summer was going to be my least favorite part of living in DC. I've always hated hot, humid weather. Now after five years in the Pacific Northwest, where it's never humid or hot, and where the evenings are always cool, I am really dreading the infamous DC summer.

However, this weekend's brief interlude of summery weather made me realize that it will be a lot better if I at least try to enjoy it, instead of just hiding in air conditioning and grumping about the heat.

So those of you who have spent summers in DC, what have you done to make it bearable, or even enjoyable? Especially looking to hear from those who are not big summer people.

I do like the beach and mountains, so those are definitely in the plans, as are evenings at bars with patios and shifting my dog's evening walk to dusk. I also have central air conditioning (for the first time in my life!) so that should help. My office dress code is casual, so I'll be able to get away with skirts/sandals/t-shirts.

Beyond that, I'm looking for three things:

1. How to avoid feeling super-gross whenever I do spend time outside (ie, sweaty, flushed, frizz-haired)

2. Fun things to do that make being in DC in the summer less horrible and more summery! fun! (one note is that I burn faster than tissue paper, so I usually prefer summery things with shade rather than right out in the open - for some reason, the beach is an exception)

3. Places for my dog to swim. So far I've taken him to Shirlington Park, which I didn't like (too polluted and the swimming area wasn't fenced/right next to a major street), and the Kent Island dog beach, which was perfect.

Oh, and I know there are a lot of street fairs/festivals in DC in the summer, but I don't really enjoy those. I do like outdoor music/movies, the aforementioned patios, swimming, hanging out in the shade.
posted by lunasol to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am a total grump about the summer here, normally, so I completely understand.

After a summer of having no A/C in my car (and a window that wouldn't roll down), I became kind of ... "chill" about the whole thing. Like, OK, it's hot and I'm sweaty but that's just how it is. Once I realized that, I liked summer a bit better.

Things that work for me: Bring a change of clothes or even just a T-shirt with me. It's a good feeling to be able to pop into a bathroom after being all sweaty and wash up a bit and put on a fresh shirt. Likewise, even just washing my face/etc. when I can helps me feel fresher (depending on if you wear makeup or not, that may not work for you). Keeping some of those pre-packaged wet-wipes in my bag can help me not feel as gross. But ultimately, it's just not caring as much.

If you like music, I'm sure you know about Fort Reno on Monday and Thursday evenings. There's often some shade to be had but it's always a fun time (and your pup would be welcome -- no place for him to swim, though). Mostly, you can just relax on a blanket or whatever on the grass. I've never been to any of the outdoor movie series around here though.

I also like hitting museums during the summer -- nicely air conditioned and a good escape from the city.

I also keep trying to encourage people to bring parasols back, but that may not quite be your style. But parasols.

Good luck. It's not terrible once you accept it. But trust me, I feel your pain.
posted by darksong at 6:58 PM on April 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

This probably isn't going to help, but my number 1 tip for surviving summer in DC is to stay the hell out of the city between Memorial Day and Labor Day. That's going to be impossible as I started a new job in DuPont Circle last month. However, on the weekends I will stay out in the 'burbs far from the tourist hordes. If you are into camping you are a short 90 minute drive from the mountains, if you leave Saturday AM early. Budget for 2.5-3 in Friday afternoon traffic. It can easily be a good 15 degrees cooler in Shenandoah National Park. Even if you don't camp it's not a day trip. There are always meetups happening in DC, I'm sure you can find plenty that align with your interests, and that are happening indoors.
posted by COD at 7:01 PM on April 13, 2014

I live in DC. Some things that work for me on your first point:

1. During my commute (which is usually on foot, occasionally on the bus) I wear the coolest clothing possible. In the summer that is usually a skirt, a tank top, and sandals. I tote a lightweight cardigan and work-appropriate footwear in my purse and change when I get to the office. When it's extremely hot, I bring an extra shirt with me and change completely when I get to the office.

2. I run my wrists under cold tap water when I get into a new building. This really helps me cool down fast.

3. I wear even less makeup than usual but accept that I will look slightly shiny and red-faced for a couple of months. I wear my hair up a lot to keep my neck cool. I carry a comb in my purse so I can tackle some of my frizz every once in a while. I carry deodorant with me for peace of mind.

4. I go for walks and other outdoor hanging-out in the evenings, when the weather is more tolerable.

5. I hydrate a lot and tote water with me whenever possible.

6. I try really hard not to gripe about the weather and avoid people who constantly complain about it. For some reason verbalizing my discomfort or hearing someone else do so makes me acutely aware of the heat.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:07 PM on April 13, 2014

If your dog is OK off-leash, there are a ton of dog swimming holes along the trails in Rock Creek Park that don't have the problem of being near busy roads. The ones I'm most familiar with are on the stretch of the Valley Trail between Military Road and the Maryland border but I suspect there are spots farther south as well. It is not officially sanctioned but there are a ton ton ton of dogs who go swimming in Rock Creek in the park, it is totally not an issue.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 7:15 PM on April 13, 2014

I don't know much about D.C., but I can offer you a couple of tips for surviving sweaty summers!

Eschew heavy foundation in favor of a light liquid formula like NYX HD foundation, or a powder foundation. Alternatively, just use dabs of concealer over problematic areas. Dust with a matte bronzer, and you're set! Keep those oil blotting sheets with you, or a powder compact, to combat shininess later in the day.

This next suggestion might be out of your budget, but consider getting your hair permanently straightened. My life in Florida (heat + humidity year round) is so much easier since I got my long hair treated with a Redken Shape Control Straightening treatment. The last time I got the treatment done was a year ago, so I do have a lot of regrowth, but it still makes it so much easier to style (or not) my hair in the mornings. I try to tell everyone I can who has "hair issues" about it, because it was seriously life-changing!
posted by sunnychef88 at 7:45 PM on April 13, 2014

Another of the Arlington dog parks has a creek running through it - specifically Glencarlyn. It's completely unfenced as opposed to the water section being unfenced the way it is at Shirlington. However it's not really near any roads other than the (theoretically) low-speed driving path through the parking lots.

Personally I don't care for it because my terrier-breed dog is too capable of getting focused on something and I don't trust anyone in a car. But it's certainly not traffic the way Four Mile Run is. But if the high bank isn't enough to make you feel comfortable at Shirlington then maybe this place will be no better for you.

The Clarendon dog park has a water feature but I wouldn't call it swimming. However it's 100% fence-contained.

DCist and Arlington Now will have info on the various outdoor movies, but the upshot is really that there's the ones in Crystal City and the Screen on the Green. You might take advantage of the well-ACed and wonderful AFI theater. It's not outdoors but it's a fairly special local resource. Ditto the Library of Congress' screenings.

When the sidewalk cafes get too crowded for you I suggest the Columbia Marina, just off the GW Parkway. Nothing there but boats you don't own and some picnic benches but it's a well-shaded place you can picnic and it's never crowded on a weeknight in my experience. Don't tell anyone. Indigo Landing can also be nice, though more well known and they expect you to actually buy their drinks instead of bringing your own six-pack.

We love Roosevelt Island so much that it's where we got engaged. Wear bug spray but it's also very well shaded and prone to some water breezes.
posted by phearlez at 8:23 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm fine with summer, but I'm still learning to cope with the humidity. Summer in DC is the perfect time to take advantage of all the free museums - they're cool, you can stay for as short or long a time as you want, and it's a pretty good way to kill the hottest part of an afternoon. (The only downside, of course, is that a whole lot of other people will have had the same idea.)

Otherwise: rooftop bars are fantastic. The Fourth of July is surprisingly great if you can find someone with a roof to watch from and avoid the crowds. Seconding Fort Reno, and concerts at Wolf Trap are fun too.
posted by eponym at 9:06 PM on April 13, 2014

Fun summer things:

Kayaking on the Potomac river to Roosevelt Island - do it early in the morning before it gets too hot. Rent kayaks here.

Meridian Hill Drum Circle every Sunday (starts around 3:30pm).

The Embassy Events series is so fun (in the evenings).

Spend a day at Great Falls National Park.

Take a day trip to Monticello and Harper's Ferry.

Walk along the C&O Canal.
posted by amaire at 9:11 PM on April 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

A product like Paula's Choice Shine Stopper or even (unflavored) Milk of Magnesia can help absorb oil when you start sweating. If you wear makeup, you can use them under your foundation.
posted by neushoorn at 10:19 PM on April 13, 2014

Getting up early and doing something active, even if it is just a walk around the neighborhood. It is so nice around 7am, and helps you start the day in the right mindset. Also, think about biking in general -- you still get sweaty, but even when it is super hot you've got a breeze so it doesn't feel quite so miserable to me.

Also, if you live in the district proper, the pools are free.
posted by susanvance at 7:28 AM on April 14, 2014

There are shaded, ravine-like parts of the W & OD trail that are several degrees cooler on the hottest days. There are other naturally cool areas along Rock Creek Park, too.

I also long for the mild, low humidity summers of my PacNW former life. One trick I've learned is to hold a cold beverage against my wrist. Aluminum cans seem to work best.
posted by Skwirl at 1:15 PM on April 14, 2014

Thanks for all the great ideas! This question seems faintly ridiculous now that freezing temperatures and snow (!!) are back, but I know this will all come in handy. And maybe I'll propose a museum or patio meetup in July!
posted by lunasol at 12:50 PM on April 16, 2014

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