Spring is my favorite time to be in Washington DC. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming and everyone seems to have a smile on their face. What’s not to love? It’s a special time to be in the city where tourists and locals alike flock to the famous cherry blossoms to admire their beauty.
If you’re looking for the best spots to watch and photograph the sun setting in Washington DC, you’ve come to the right place.
The National Mall can get crowded, overwhelming and confusing. I’m here to help you navigate the park so you can get your best shots quickly and efficiently.
I’ve lived in the area my whole life and been photographing the National Mall for over 8 years. I’ve pretty much been to every one of these places at least 20 times. So here’s my complete list of the best to watch the sunset in Washington DC:
But First, Here’s What You Need to Get Ready for Your Sunset Shoot
Because of the number of people that visit the National Mall every day, sunset is a little more difficult to navigate than sunrise. There are far more people, we’re talking busloads of people, so be prepared. That means if this is your first time in Washington DC, I’d highly suggest public transportation either by metro, Lyft or even an electric scooter! All are very convenient ways to get you around the Nation’s Capital.
Also with the number of people, I’d even say try to get to your sunset location earlier than you think you should. Who knows what kind of hang-ups you could possibly run into. If it were a cold winter day, I say you could get by with going 30 minutes early. On a beautiful summer day, I’d go as far as saying an hour before sunset would not be a bad idea.
And my number one most asked question, are tripods allowed? For the most part, yes, but you may run into some complications. If you’re in a densely crowded area like World War II Memorial or Lincoln Memorial, you will probably be asked to take it down immediately by Park Police. They can be a walking hazard and just get in the way of people. But if you’re in a more spread out area like the Washington Monument grounds or even the Tidal Basin, there is a little more elbow room so you could get away with it.
The United States Capitol is unique because it’s technically not a part of the National Mall. The last time I spoke to Capitol police they said tripods are allowed. Since then, other photographer friends have told me that the Capitol police asked them to take down their tripods. So I’m still pretty if-y if they are actually allowed. I tend to just bring my tripod to the Capitol and if I’m asked to put it away, I do so politely.
Now on to The Top 5 Sunset Locations in Washington DC:
The Washington Monument is Always a Good Idea
The Washington Monument is so iconically Washington DC and the tallest structure in the city. So because of that, there is no best time to photograph it. It can be seen from so many different vantage points around the city that the possibilities are endless. However, if you catch it at the right time, it can glow orange. It’s absolutely amazing if you see it.
In order to capture the glow, I’d recommend getting to your sunset location early and face east towards the Monument. I would suggest standing either in front of the World War II memorial or along the grassy area in front of the west side of the monument and maybe 30-40 minutes ahead of sunset will work. I think the closer you are to the monument the better the imagery. But the key is to be patient. The way that the sun reflects off of clouds and on to the monument to glow doesn’t happen every day but if you see it, it will make your travel images very unique.
Being from the east coast, I love our annual getaways to the west. Sort of like how birds migrate to the south for winter, I like to migrate the west and soak up the California sun and surf. Plus any excuse for a fresh acai bowl, amirite?
To be honest though, San Diego is one of my favorite places to be. I love the vibe of the city, everyone is super friendly and there’s no shortage of things to do. You have the beach life but also a fun downtown area if the city is more of your scene. It’s all of that plus a super dog friendly city. Frankie loves taking his morning walks on the beach, you basically have to drag him off the sand.
This was our second year in a row visiting around the start of the new year, but I have visited many times in the past too. This will definietly not be our last time visiting so keep checking back as I update this guide.
So if you’re heading to San Diego, here are the best places to take pictures:
One of my favorite parts about Pacific Beach was standing at the end of Crystal Pier. The pier allowed for unique, overhead shots of the wave riders and definietly provided a lot of great photo opportunities. And you can usually find the bubble man around sunset. I love watching the huge bubbles fly in the air and can’t resist trying to pop some if they float in my direction. The kids love them too!
(left) view from Crystal Pier (right) bubble from the bubble man framing a palm tree
I spent yesterday afternoon in Dumbarton Oaks photographing the wisteria there. Can I tell you that Wisteria Hysteria is a real thing? They are so beautiful in real life. I must have taken a million pics. Not really but I can not wait to look through those images. It was actually my second time there this season and I can’t get enough of that place. Ever since I visited last year with Andrew, I made a mental note that I had go in the spring. I bet fall is nice there too. Let me know if you’ve ever been in the autumn time. I wonder if there are a lot of colorful trees.
Well anyways, this image was from my first trip this season. I think my favorite part of the gardens at that time were these magnolias. They were so big and hardy (is that the right word to describe them?) that I don’t think I could hold one in one hand alone. *cat heart eye emoji* Obviously I didn’t want to touch them but I spent a significant amount of time staring up and circling these trees with my camera until I found the perfect sun flare. Love you, spring!
PS Happy Cinco de Mayo mañana. I usually don’t celebrate holidays unless it’s Thanksgiving or Mothers day or something like that, but I’ll be celebrating tomorrow. I had the best week ever! Thank you all so much for the positive feedback to Snap DC. I could not be more excited about it and I am even more excited for you to hold it in your hands! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!! And yes, celebrations always include pizza 🙂
Another one from last year. For some reason, I never thought to post it. Strange, huh? This was taken while I was at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va. There were a lot of lightning strikes over in DC and it was the perfect place to be to capture it all without getting wet 🙂 I never posted it because I always thought the original image looked like it was so far away. Never had I thought to crop it. But once I did, it totally changed the perspective. Here’s the original with no editing at all:
Can’t you see how that one little edit can make such a difference? I probably have at least 10 more of these kind of shots from this day that if I did some fancy cropping to it, it’d turned out the way I’d like. It’s funny how a gem like this could really be looked over immediately.
So here are my camera settings: F5.6 at 1/15th of a second at ISO 400. I’v heard of other photographers leaving their shutter open for a couple of seconds in order to capture lightning images like this. I’ve never had such luck. I think I just got real lucky because there was lightning going off every minute at least! I had plenty of opportunities to time it and make sure I captured something good and quick. The tricky part of lightning is that it’s so quick and it’s such a big burst of light.
Here are a few tips: – Definietly shoot on a tripod with a remote but also be very careful if your shooting with a metal tripod. – Try to shoot with a wide angle. Lightning moves and it’s better to shoot wide and then crop in if need be – Shooting at night time will give you the best results
If you have any other questions about shooting lightning, let me know. I think next time we get some good lightning in the DC area, I’ll make a video for you to go more in-depth.
One of my favorite places to go to when I want to spend a day outside. It’s crazy to think that this amazing place is only 15 miles away from Washington DC, yet there are so many people who still have not visited.
When I think about Great Falls Park, I always think about high school. That was when I was first getting into photography and my mom would take me to practice my compositions. I also remember having to write a school paper about the park with my friend Anna. We walked the trails and researched the heck out of the history but only got a “B” on that paper. It’s ok though because I also remember gossiping and laughing our way through the whole project. It was kind of a miracle that we even got it together enough to write the paper.
As an adult, Andrew and I have taken our nephews to the park to play soccer or we’d walk the trails with Frankie. When we first started dating, we walked the whole entire Billy Goat trail while getting to know each other. Another time my cousin, Lynn came to visit from North Carolina and she got her first signs of pregnancy in the park 🙂 And I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve been here and witnessed the most amazing sunrises and sunsets.
The amazing beauty of the Potomac River on a cold winter morning
Close up view
We’re not the only ones who love the park. Its not uncommon to see these beautiful blue herons fishing for dinner.
The park is so big that it is in both Maryland and Virginia. This is a small part of the Maryland side.
Although Virginia is still my favorite side
Hope you enjoyed that stroll down memory lane. I didn’t realize how much Great Falls park meant to me until I had sat down and looked through all these images. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did <3