Montgomery County Ag Fair Credit: Photo by Ken Visser/Montgomery County Fairgrounds

Come summer, it feels like there’s more time to stop and admire the peonies. Or splish-splash in a water wonderland. Or catch a drip of ice cream just before it runs down the cone. Fall will be bringing its own joys soon enough, but until then, let’s celebrate the summer in all its sunny glory.

1. Get artsy alfresco

May 5, June 2, July 7, Aug. 4  

The mood is pretty much permanently set to whimsical at Glen Echo Park, given its amusement park history, art deco buildings and neon signs. But on the first Friday of the month from May through August, it’s even more inspiring. That’s when the monthly Art Walk in the Park takes place, returning in May after a pandemic hiatus. You can stroll through the park and visit open art galleries and studios, where you’ll see artists demonstrating their crafts, or do a hands-on project yourself. It’s all set to the strains of the Washington Conservatory of Music, which presents a concert during each Art Walk.

2. See the rockets’ red glare

 July 1 and 4

Catch Independence Day fireworks at your choice of locations around the county. Montgomery County Recreation hosts two events: Midtown Sparkles on July 1 at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington and Germantown Glory on July 4 at South Germantown Recreational Park in Boyds. Several municipalities also hold their own fireworks shows, including Rockville and Poolesville. Gaithersburg also blasts off early on July 1 with the annual SummerFest party at Bohrer Park.


3. See pig races, enjoy funnel cakes and cotton candy, and take a spin on the Ferris wheel or Tilt-a-Whirl (but, for your stomach’s sake, maybe not in that order)

Aug. 11-19

There’s only one place you can do that, of course: the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. The nine-day event, now in its 74th year, has all the attractions you’d expect at a county fair—think farm animals, demolition derbies, carnival rides and games—and even some you wouldn’t (toilet decorating contest, anyone?).


4. Live the lake life—for a few hours, at least


At Little Seneca Lake in Black Hill Park, you can rent a kayak or canoe and explore the Black Hill Water Trail, a self-guided tour of the three creeks—Little Seneca, Cabin Branch and Ten Mile—that come together to form the 505-acre lake in Boyds. Learn about the history and wildlife of the area along the way, and be ready to paddle; the full trail takes three to five hours to complete. There are also rowboats, peddle boats and stand-up paddleboards to rent for those who want a more leisurely experience on the water.


5. Live out your Alice in Wonderland dreams at McCrillis Gardens

May 6-7, June 3-4

With its shady paths, lush trees and shrubs and colorful azaleas, rhododendrons and other blooms, the 5-acre property could be the setting for a mad tea party or a secret garden. Get a tour of the gardens followed by an English-style afternoon tea—not the mad kind—in the great room at McCrillis House with tea and dainty bites, including scones, tea sandwiches and desserts.


6. Try your luck at bingo


The hosts are fierce and the seltzers are hard at Drag Queen Bingo Night, a monthly event at Denizens Brewing Co. in Silver Spring. Emcee Emerald Star is joined by a rotating cast of co-hosts on the fourth Wednesday of every month. When the weather is nice, the game moves outside to the beer garden’s expansive covered tent, a perfect spot for sipping a refreshing strawberry cucumber hard seltzer or a signature seasonal brew while trying your luck at winning some bingo prizes, such as Denizens gift certificates or, sometimes, tickets to sporting events.


7. Make it a daycation at Rio Lakefront


OK, so there’s no beach, but there’s a lake with a boardwalk and lots to do. You can race the lake’s resident ducks and geese in a rental paddleboat, ride the carousel and stop by the playground. Time it right and you could catch a live performance on the boardwalk stage. And, of course, there are plenty of dining options for refreshing and refueling. Bonus: no Bay Bridge traffic!


8. Jump and jive at Glen Echo Park’s Spanish Ballroom

 May 13, May 27, June 10, June 24, Aug. 26

The historic dance facility, built in the early 1930s, is noteworthy for its architecture, which incorporates elements of Spanish mission and art deco styles. Swing dances with live bands are held on select Saturdays in the Spanish Ballroom, where some of the country’s biggest swing bands performed during the World War II era. Come early for a free lesson.


9. Take yourself out to the ballgame


Shirley Povich Field, the 750-seat baseball stadium in Cabin John Regional Park, is home to the Bethesda Big Train baseball team, part of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. Top college players from around the country join the league each summer; some eventually go on to the pros. You can root, root, root for the home team (or not, if you’re partial to league rivals such as the Gaithersburg Giants, the Olney Cropdusters or the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts). There isn’t a bad seat in the house, so fans can get close to the action—don’t forget your mitt for when the fouls fly into the stands.


10. Engage in utter ice cream hedonism


Not much has changed at Jimmie Cone, the Damascus ice cream stand, since it started dishing out soft serve in 1962. Splurge on the indulgent Hot Fudge Cake Boat (cream-filled chocolate cake covered with ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream and cherries on top) or keep it old school with a classic vanilla soft serve cone (we never forget the sprinkles, known as—yep—jimmies here). Chocolate and vanilla are guaranteed every day, while orange, strawberry and black raspberry rotate on a weekly basis.


Credit: Photo courtesy Montgomery Parks, M-NCPPC

11. Get down and dirty in the mud

June 17

MudFest, an all-ages event, is a celebration of International Mud Day (yes, it’s a real thing—the official date is June 29). Jump, slip and slide, cook mud pies and create mud art as the Rickman Area of Woodstock Equestrian Special Park in Beallsville becomes one giant mud wallow. Music and food trucks round out the party. Washing and changing stations will be available on-site.


12. Take your dog out on a date


Let’s face it: Your pup deserves some playtime and a cold treat. And frankly, so do you! May we suggest Bark Social’s Tuesday Trivia night? The menu at the North Bethesda dog park/bar features pupsicles and puppy ice cream for your four-legged friend. For humans, favorites include frosé and frozen mango margaritas. Round up your brainiest pals, because the top three teams win a $50, $30 and $10 bar tab for the night.


13. Put a new spin on the old dinner-and-a-movie routine

July 28, Aug. 4, Aug. 11

Grab a meal at your favorite downtown Bethesda eatery, then head to Woodmont Triangle at the corner of Norfolk and Auburn avenues for Bethesda Outdoor Movies. You can catch a free flick on the big inflatable screen; come early if you hope to snag a lawn chair, or bring your own. The show starts at 9 p.m.


14. Instead of dancing in the street, Salsa in the Park

May 19

Don’t know a cross-body lead from a New York walk? No problem! Step one: Drop in for a free lesson with a professional dance instructor on May 17 in Germantown Town Center Urban Park. Step two: Tell all your friends to join you for a great night out back in the park on the 19th for the official Salsa in the Park event with live Latin music. Step three: Meet up at the park and bust your new moves. Local vendors will have food and drinks for sale, so you can refuel, then hit the dance floor again.

15. Paddle the Potomac under the full moon


Meet your guide at Riley’s Lock in Poolesville for an introduction to your gear and a cookout-style dinner. Then launch into the water at Seneca Creek for some basic instruction before heading onto the Potomac River for a nocturnal tour with Calleva river school’s Moonlight River Experience. The full moon falls on June 3, but if you miss that one, the tour is offered on the date of each full moon through September.

16. Say hello to Split Rocker


Imagine being on a walk through a beautiful meadow of wildflowers when you spot a giant plant creature half-smiling down at you from its hilltop perch. It’s a surreal experience. And it can be yours at Glenstone museum when its meadow is in bloom and the 24,000 annuals covering the 37-foot-tall Jeff Koons sculpture Split-Rocker are blossoming. The museum grounds and its buildings are as spectacular as the art itself. Tickets must be reserved.

17. Load up the car with lawn chairs, a picnic and boogie shoes

June 6, 13, 20, 27

Food and drinks are usually banned from Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, but the rules change on Tuesday nights during the Summer Twilight Concert Series. The Natty Beaux, a big band/swing group, kicks off the series on June 6, followed by a different band and musical genre each week. Picnics are welcome—only on concert evenings—so bring your own or put together a meal from the on-site food trucks.

18. Celebrate the Bard at Brookside Gardens

July 9

A magical storm is at the center of The Tempest, the show selected for this summer’s Shakespeare in the Garden performance, but here’s hoping for clear skies—last year’s show was canceled due to bad weather. As long as the forecast cooperates, plan on bringing friends and family, your picnic baskets, chairs and blankets, for an enchanting performance set against Brookside’s beautiful grounds. They are such stuff as dreams are made on.

19. Frolic among acres of peonies


The big pink flowers usually burst into bloom at the historic Schwartz Peony Garden at Seneca Creek State Park sometime in May and remain in their full glory throughout June. Gaithersburg real estate broker Edwin P. Schwartz started the peony garden between 1915 and 1924 at his mansion, which is now Gaithersburg City Hall. By the 1940s, the Schwartzes were prominent peony dealers and they moved their garden to 5 acres in what is now the state park. While you’re there, stroll through open fields, hike wooded trails, or visit several historic sites and structures.

20. Groove to music under the stars


Strathmore’s outdoor summer concerts return in July and continue through August. The weekly Wednesday Live from the Lawn series spans musical genres with a lineup that includes folk groups, blues singers and world music bands, just to name a few. The performances are all family-friendly, but little ones are the target audience of the Cool Concerts for Kids, special performances on select Thursdays by Grammy-nominated family music artists, including “kindie rock” king Dan Zanes. Concerts take place at the Gudelsky Gazebo on Strathmore’s expansive lawn, and picnics are welcome.

21. Get picky at an orchard 


Berry season gets serious in June at Butler’s Orchard in Germantown. You can pick your own strawberries, blueberries and black raspberries this month, as well as tart cherries, English peas and sugar snap peas. Stop by the farm park and visit the goats, sheep and other farm animals. There are also giant slides and playground equipment.

Credit: Photo courtesy Montgomery Parks, M-NCPPC

22. Go camping at your own speed


If the idea of camping appeals to you, but the hassle of lugging gear and pitching a tent doesn’t, Little Bennett Campground in Clarksburg is the place for you. Options include camper-ready sites (just show up and a tent, camping chairs, propane stove and lantern are all set up, waiting for you), yurts with beds that sleep up to six happy campers, and cabins equipped with kitchens and bathrooms. There are also regular tent sites for DIY types. Just don’t forget the ingredients for s’mores.

23. Cool off in the water, no floaties required


That’s because there’s no pool at SplashPark—just fountains, sprinklers, sprayers, water slides, a 280-jet water maze, buckets that drop water and other fun ways to get wet. SplashPark is part of the South Germantown Recreational Park, where you’ll also find a jumping pillow—sort of like a bounce house without the sides and roof—and an 18-hole miniature golf course.

24. Go for a hike-and-sip

Spend a morning hiking Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson. Several trails of varying difficulty lead to the summit at 1,282 feet and a panoramic view of the farmland below. Afterward, head to nearby Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, located near the base of the mountain. The winery, which opens daily at noon, hosts live music and food trucks each weekend. Treat yourself to a glass of the seasonal red sangria. With all that hiking, you’ve earned it. 

Stephanie Siegel Burke is a freelance writer and editor specializing in local news, arts, culture and events. She lives in Bethesda with her husband, two children and one dog.

This story appears in the May/June issue of Bethesda Magazine.

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