Of course, the virus is still with us, and you need to mask up, whatever your vaccination status, and practice social distancing. Expect virtual events to continue alongside those in the real world for the foreseeable future. But the next few months, full of festivals, sports, and outdoor fun, promise a safe, and cautious, return to something better.
What outdoor activities are available right now?
Health experts agree that outdoor activities are safer than those indoors, which might be why there are so many ways to enjoy the fresh air. Nature centers are reopening, along with hikes and events for all ages; Montgomery County is reinstalling basketball hoops in parks, more than a year after it took them down to prevent players from gathering; and Arlington and Fairfax counties have resumed dance classes — holding them outside instead of in studios. Here’s a sampling of some other things you can do right now and in the weeks ahead.
Boating in D.C., which manages eight locations, including the Key Bridge, Fletcher’s and National Harbor boathouses, is already renting kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards at its Wharf boathouse, with others expected to open April 10. In Prince George’s County, Bladensburg Waterfront Park and Patuxent River Park began renting canoes and kayaks on April 3, and Patuxent River Park has guided kayak tours on April 22 and May 22.
April 17 is the first day of National Park Week, which means national parks, including Great Falls and Shenandoah in Virginia and Harpers Ferry in Maryland, waive all admission fees.
D.C.’s waterfront fitness classes are making a comeback: The Hustle bike classes are back on the water taxi pier at the Wharf on Saturdays and Sundays. The Fitness at the Front series, previously held in Canal Park and Yards Park, returns in May, with exercise classes offered three times per week. On Saturdays from April 17 to May 1, Brunch on the Go in Yards Park offers stretching and a run led by Pacers, followed by a champagne brunch for two at a choice of nearby restaurants.
Beginning May 1, indoor and outdoor pools in D.C. are allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity, while splash pads can operate at full capacity. The water features in Yards and Canal parks will be operational by Memorial Day.
Good news for runners and cyclists: Roads that were closed to automobile traffic at the beginning of the pandemic, including sections of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park and portions of Little Falls and Sligo Creek parkways in Montgomery County, remain closed to cars and available to bikes and pedestrians.
What’s the status of outdoor festivals, wine tastings, etc.?
As we saw with this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival, event organizers are walking a tightrope, mixing a series of virtual events with safer, in-person activities. The seven-year-old Funk Parade is adapting this hybrid approach: The main festival on May 8, with performances from area musicians, dancers and artists, will be virtual instead of filling clubs around U Street NW. The celebration also includes in-person events, including a beer tasting at Alexandria’s Aslin Beer Company on May 1, and a guided tour of U Street murals on May 5.
Beer and wine festivals look a little different, too. Caboose Brewing’s Springfest, held at Caboose Commons in Fairfax on April 17, ditches the usual lines and chaos for a setup closer to a beer dinner. Participants sit at socially distanced picnic tables and, over the course of two hours, brewers and representatives from seven different Virginia breweries, including Rocket Frog and Vasen, come around to each table for guided tastings of two of their beers — that’s samples of 14 beers in all — and a Q&A with each group. (Caboose compares this to brewery speed dating.) Guests can’t be seated with strangers, so you have to reserve a whole table, at $45 to $50 per person.
The Capitol Riverfront, which has turned Yards Park and Canal Park into destinations for summer fun in recent years, is keeping up a stream of boozy social events in coming months, including the returns of Rosé All Day and Tiki Yards, though they’ll be modified to prevent crowding. The wine-centric VineYards, taking place April 22 and 23, is a wine-pairing event that can be done in-person at restaurants around Yards Park, or as a takeout meal with videos from sommeliers and winemakers discussing the pairings. (Either way, it’s $150 for two people.)
When will the Smithsonian reopen? What about other local museums?
The big news in the Washington museum world is that there’s no news from the Smithsonian or the National Gallery of Art, which were among the most visited museums on Earth in 2019, but have yet to announce their 2021 reopening plans. “If we can open in May, that would be great,” Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III told The Post in late March. “It might be early June.”
The sculpture gardens at the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn have reopened, and while the Jazz in the Garden concert series isn’t on the cards for a second straight summer, the National Gallery’s Pavilion Cafe is open. Bring a picnic, purchase a bottle of wine or pitcher of sangria, and spread out around the fountain or on a bench while enjoying the art.
I still don’t like the idea of watching movies in theaters. Are outdoor movies happening this year?
Drive-in theaters were the surprise retro hit of 2020, offering a socially distanced alternative to the packed, popular outdoor neighborhood movie series that draw crowds in town and around the suburbs. While summer is the peak season, there are still chances to enjoy blockbusters and family favorites from the comfort of your own car. The Alexandria Drive-In, which made a splash last summer, returns to the vast parking lot of the Victory Center on Eisenhower Avenue on Fridays and Saturdays, with movies ideal for families (“Trolls”) and adults (“Deadpool”). Admission is $40 per car, with snacks sold from food trucks.
Park Up DC, which brought a 60-foot high-definition screen to an RFK Stadium parking lot with room for hundreds of cars last summer, kicks off its spring programming this weekend with comedy and a screening of the El Clásico match between Barcelona and Real Madrid. Plans for the movie series are still being finalized. The Capitol Riverfront Drive-In Movie Series, which launched in a parking lot south of Audi Field in the fall, returns April 23 for a six-week run.
Don’t have a car? Not a problem. The Bullpen beer garden, known as a pregame destination down the street from Nationals Park, occasionally welcomes crowds to watch movies on a jumbo screen from distanced picnic tables. Last month brought a Harry Potter film series; this weekend’s Flicks and Rosé includes “Bridesmaids” (April 9) and “Crazy Stupid Love” (April 10). The schedule varies, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Last summer, the Evening Star Cafe in Del Ray converted its rear parking lot into an attractive, turf-covered area dubbed “the Back Yard” to increase its outdoor dining space. A weekly movie night began in the fall: a chance to hang out and watch “Top Gun,” “Big” or “The Incredibles” on Wednesday nights. (There are a dozen tables, including four cabanas, so reservations are suggested. There is no cover charge.)
What’s happening with live music?
Once again, the area’s biggest outdoor venues are showing empty calendars as we approach summer concert season, but there are reasons for hope. The Kennedy Center “will be having outdoor and physically distant performances and activities late spring and summer,” similar to last year’s Sunset Concerts at the Reach, according to a spokesperson for the performing arts venue. Under Virginia’s Phase 3 guidelines, Wolf Trap could welcome up to 1,000 patrons. In D.C., the mayor’s latest guidelines allow restaurants and bars to offer live music at outdoor areas beginning May 1, though there are still some questions about how it will work.
Venues that hosted outdoor concerts in the summer are bringing them back. Jammin Java’s schedule is heavy on bands performing in the Vienna club’s parking lot Wednesday through Sunday, with some “indoor and distanced” shows mixed in. The State Theatre’s lineup mixes cover bands and comedy at its free shows, held Wednesday through Sunday outside the Falls Church concert hall. Near Nationals Park, the Bullpen plans to host concerts this summer for fans seated at picnic tables, including local favorites White Ford Bronco.
Of course, the music continues indoors, as well: The Birchmere, JV’s Restaurant and Rams Head On Stage have welcomed bands throughout the winter. D.C.’s Hamilton Live is taking a hybrid approach: The downtown venue recently began offering concerts for a small number of seated fans, but is also live-streaming events for those who feel more comfortable watching from home. Expect the number of indoor shows in D.C. to increase after May 1, when venues can began hosting live entertainment at 25 percent capacity, up to 500 people.
Have restaurants and bars that closed for the winter reopened?
Last fall, after nightlife entrepreneurs Eric and Ian Hilton announced they were closing a number of their bars “for the foreseeable future” — including such D.C. mainstays as the Gibson and the Brixton — some wondered whether they’d ever reopen. But as longer days have returned, so have most of the bars. American Ice Company resumed pouring picklebacks and dishing up queso-covered nachos on April 1; the video game-filled Players Club followed on April 7; and Victura Park, the massive wine garden at the Kennedy Center’s Reach, returns this weekend, with the Brixton reopening in the next week or so, according to Ian Hilton.
It has been an anxious winter for bar and restaurant owners, especially those who don’t have substantial outdoor space. Recent weeks have seen more bars emerge from months-long hibernation, including U Street dive Solly’s; Mid-Atlantic-inspired Chinatown basement Free State; and Shaw beer garden Electric Cool-Aid, one of the brightest new additions of 2020, which is serving a new menu of tropical-inspired drinks. Bloomingdale’s Boundary Stone announced it is reopening on April 15, sparking tweets of joy. Others that had survived the winter by going takeout-only, such as Ivy and Coney and Archipelago, are once again offering guests outdoor seats.
On the other hand, we have yet to hear reopening dates for staples like the Passenger or Room 11, which closed in November with the promise of reopening in the spring, “perhaps with a new look or a new name.” And let’s not forget it’s been over a year since anyone’s perused the draft list at ChurchKey or slammed a shot at the Pug.
What else is happening with outdoor dining?
Outdoor dining is much more appealing now that we’re free from plastic igloos and greenhouse-style huts. Because restaurants across the area are operating at a fraction of their indoor capacity, most jurisdictions are continuing outdoor dining programs that proved popular last summer. From Alexandria to Bethesda to Rockville, streets have been closed to make room for additional dining, though it’s worth checking before you go: Old Town Fairfax has not brought back its City Square program, and Annapolis’s Recovery Zones have changed which streets are closed on which days.
In Montgomery County, the Picnic in the Park program features nine parks, including Wheaton Regional Park and Silver Spring’s Acorn Urban Park, where visitors can scan a QR code to order meals from local restaurants, which are brought to the park’s designated “delivery zone.” One fun new option for D.C. residents: Fainting Goat’s Picnics at Logan Circle pop-up allows customers sitting in the grass beneath Gen. John Logan to order a picnic basket, sandwiches or appetizers, which is delivered by bike Wednesday through Sunday.
When are live theater and comedy coming back?
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s recent orders allow theaters to offer live entertainment starting May 1, subject to a 25 percent capacity limit, or 500 attendees, whichever is smaller. So far, GALA Hispanic Theatre — which hosted in-person performances of “El Perro del Hortelano” in the fall as part of D.C.’s entertainment pilot program — is the only major theater to announce dates for live productions. “Tía Julia y el escribidor” (“Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”), based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, runs from April 22 to May 9, followed by “Aliens, Immigrants, & Other Evildoers,” which opens May 14. Only 50 tickets are sold for each performance, putting the theater at 18 percent capacity, with patrons at every fifth seat.
Most other theaters, such as Signature, Woolly Mammoth and Arena Stage, are committed to virtual theater seasons. Arena is turning into a high-capacity vaccination site, beginning this weekend. Some smaller venues insist the show must go on: Annapolis’s Colonial Players open “Maytag Virgin” Friday, with only 30 audience members. The show runs through April 25 and is also available for streaming instead of in-person attendance. In Columbia, Toby’s Dinner Theatre is also humming, with “Shrek the Musical” through June 13. The traditional buffet, though, has been suspended.
Unlike theater, there are plenty of options for comedy. The D.C. Improv, the city’s most notable comedy club, reopens April 15 with a three-night/six-show stand by Erin Jackson, who honed her skills at D.C. open mics before moving to New York. Only 50 tickets are available for each performance. For those who don’t want to gather inside, Donnell Rawlings, Joe Clair, Red Grant and Dominique are visiting Park Up DC, the pop-up drive-in theater on the RFK Stadium grounds, for four shows Friday and Saturday.
In Virginia, the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse is back in business, hosting comedians who have been featured on “Last Comic Standing,” Comedy Central or late-night talk shows, while operating at 30 percent capacity. (Its sister D.C. venue, Drafthouse Comedy, closed permanently in December.) The Improv has been organizing shows with local talent at the Tally-Ho Theater in Leesburg since January.
When can I go watch in-person sports?
That’s going to depend on what sport you want to see, what jurisdiction the team plays in and, most crucially, how much money you’re willing to spend.
The Washington Nationals will play in front of 5,000 socially distanced fans, at least at first, with the crowd consisting primarily of season ticket holders sitting in pods of up to six people. Bowser has indicated that the city will consider raising the capacity in the future. If you just want to see baseball, and you don’t mind a drive, the Baltimore Orioles have single-game tickets available in April and May, including home stands against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
The Bowie Baysox, the Orioles’ Class AA affiliate, expect “between 25 to 30 percent capacity” at the 10,000-seat Prince George’s County Stadium for the team’s May 11 home opener, according to assistant general manager Phil Wrye. Tickets for single games go on sale April 26.
D.C. United has permission for 2,000 fans to watch games at Audi Field, beginning April 17, but, like the Nationals, that number is a fraction of the team’s season ticket holders, and no single-game tickets are on sale. Leesburg’s Segra Field, home to USL Championship club Loudoun United, is allowed to have up to 1,000 fans at matches. Of note: The NWSL’s Washington Spirit, which splits its home games between Segra and Audi fields, has not announced a regular season schedule, but the team will play two NWSL Challenge Cup matches at Audi Field. The April 27 match against NJ/NY Gotham FC (formerly Sky Blue FC) will have spectators. Any tickets not sold to the Spirit’s Full 90 Club members will go on sale April 15.
Indoor sports are a different proposition. At an April 5 news conference, Bowser said she expected a decision to be made “soon” about when fans might return to Capitals and Wizards games at Capital One Arena. The same day, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the teams and has asked to be allowed to allow 10 percent capacity, said in a statement that it does not expect fans to attend any games this year. (Both the NHL and NBA regular seasons end in May, and Capitals playoff tickets are hard enough to get when the building’s at full capacity.)