Best Music

1. An American Songbook: Stephanie Blythe, the leading mezzo-soprano of the Metropolitan Opera, presents a recital of works by American composers, accompanied by pianist Warren Jones.

Where: Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, 2700 F St. NW

When: 7:30 Friday

Info: $45; 800-444-1324;

2. Joe Jackson and the Bigger Band: The pianist performs selections from his upcoming album, "The Duke," a tribute to jazz composer Duke Ellington.

Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Info: Sold out; tickets may be available from online resellers; 301-581-5100;

3. Don McLean: The singer-songwriter on his 40th Anniversary Tour, with Chatham Street.

Where: The Birchmere Music Hall

When: 7:30 Saturday

Info: $49.50; 703-549-7500;

4. U.S. Army Blues: The Army's premier jazz ensemble plays big-band music, inviting the audience to dance and swing.

Where: Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW

When: 6 p.m. Friday

Info: Free; 800-444-1324;

Best Galleries

1. Charlotte Dumas: Anima: Dumas' animal portraits have earned her a global following. Her first U.S. solo show is devoted to her somber, stirring portraits of U.S. Army burial horses in service at Arlington National Cemetery.

Where: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW

When: Through Oct. 28

Info: $10, seniors and students $8; kids ages 12 and under and active-duty military personnel free; 202-639-1700;

2. William Christenberry: Assembled Memory: This selection of work from one of our most gifted abstract expressionists spans 50 years and variety of media: drawings, photos, sculptures and three-dimensional objects.

Where: Hemphill, 1515 14th St. NW

When: Through Oct. 27

Info: Free; 202-234-5601;

3. From the National Geographic Image Collection: Photographs of Social Life in Washington, DC 1900-1960: "Hollywood for ugly people"? Don't believe it. This collection of photos of the Federal City's social climbers and power brokers reveals the glamour and mystery of bygone eras.

Where: Carroll Square Gallery, 975 F St. NW

When: Through Nov. 30

Info: Free; 202-234-5601;

4. Timeless: Artworks by Kevin Frank and Jonathan Ralston: These new paintings by Frank and Ralston incorporate elements of classicism and realism to fuse an appealing balance of old and new.

Where: Susan Calloway Fine Arts, 1643 Wisconsin Ave. NW

When: Friday through Oct. 13

Info: Free; 202-965-4601;

5. 1812: A Nation Emerges: This exhibit tells the story in objects of how the War of 1812 -- an armed conflict between the United States and Great Britain that we recall as a victory, though it was really more of a draw -- solidified our young nation's sense of identity. A Nation Emerges is part history lesson, part art exhibit, wholly compelling.

Where: National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW

When: Through Jan. 27

Info: Free; 202-633-8300;

Best Family

1. Making Cider: You'll enjoy some different varieties of apples, make apple cider and plant an apple tree by the log cabin. Families, ages 5 to adult. Register children and adults. Info: 703-228-3403.

Where: Gulf Branch Nature Center, 3608 Military Road, Arlington

When: 4 to 5 p.m. Friday

Info: $5; registration required; 703-228-4747; program No. 612852-I

2. Take Action for the Ocean: Ocean Conservancy 2012 International Clean-Up: For a better Earth, don't be trashy! Learn about a major environmental challenge facing Rock Creek Park and the oceans of the world, and then "sweep the creek" with Rock Creek Conservancy staff members. Become a Citizen Scientist and record trash data for the Ocean Conservancy. Bags and gloves provided. Ages 7 to adult.

Where: Peirce Mill, Tilden Street and Beach Drive (see website for directions)

When: 10 a.m. Saturday

Info: Free; 202-895-6070;

3. Gemstone Club -- Sapphire: Budding geologists and gem lovers are invited to join for a year's worth of fun and collecting at the Gemstone Club. Attend one or all of the sessions. You will learn about birthstones for each month. There will be polished gems and uncut crystals to examine, and you'll find out about the geology, mining, legends and literature of each gem. All participants will take home a beautiful gemstone in a protective display box. Ages 7 to 11. Info: 703-228-3403.

Where: Gulf Branch Nature Center, 3608 Military Road, Arlington

When: 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday

Info: $10; registration required; 703-228-4747; program No. 612822-B

4. Masters of Migration: Lots of birds do it, whales and dolphins do it, caribou and many fish do it ... even a few insects do it. What do they all do? Migrate! Find out what animals move out when fall moves in, where they go and how they get there as you explore migration with a story, a talk and a walk. Families with kids 6 and up. For information, call 703-228-6535.

Where: Long Branch Nature Center, 625 S. Carlin Springs Road, Arlington

When: 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday

Info: $5; registration required; 703-228-4747; program No. 612952-G

5. Dentzel Carousel: Ride the attraction, dating back to 1921, at Glen Echo Park before it closes for the year.

Where: Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo

When: Noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 30.

Info: $$1.25 per ride; 301-634-2222;

Best Brainfood

1. "Photo Op": UrbanArias presents Conrad Cummings and James Siena's a 60-minute opera about the absurdity of modern presidential politics. Two singers deliver stump speeches, walk rope lines, debate and utter sound bites set to Cummings' hard-hitting but harmonious score.

Where: Black Box, Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Info: $22; 703-875-1100;

2. Taking Steps: In this riotous farce, six Brits evade a ghost, capture an intruder, sidestep spouses and unwittingly bed-hop on three levels of a former brothel. Presented by Constellation Theatre.

Where: Source, 1835 14th St. NW

When: Through Oct. 7

Info: $20 to $45; 202-204-7741;

3. Arpas de America (Latin American Harp Festival): Teatro de la Luna presents harpists from Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay.

Where: Rosslyn Spectrum Theater, 1611 N. Kent St., LL Level, Arlington

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Info: $30, seniors and students $25, children 7 to 13 $10; 703-548-3092;

4. Investigating Where We Live: This four-week summer program at the National Building Museum is for teens from the Washington area. Participants use digital cameras, creative writing, interviews and their own observations to explore, document and interpret the built environment in D.C. neighborhoods. This year's exhibit explores Anacostia, a historically rich and developing neighborhood east of the Anacostia River.

Where: National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW

When: 12 sessions, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; through May 27, 2013

Info: Free; 202-272-2448;

5. "Throwing Stones at the Moon: Narratives From Colombians Displaced by Violence": The oral histories gathered by Max Schoening and Sibylla Brodzinsky, both Colombia-based writers and human rights workers, focus on the widespread displacement civilians have suffered during the last five decades of Colombia's unrest.

Where: Politics and Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Info: Free; 202-364-1919;

Best Gatherings

1. A Song for the Horse Nation: Through an array of 122 historic objects, artwork, photographs, songs and personal accounts, this exhibit presents the epic story of the horse's influence on Native American tribes, beginning with the return of horses to the Western Hemisphere by Christopher Columbus to the present day. The exhibition traces how horses changed the lives of Native people: from the way they traveled, hunted and waged war to how they celebrated generosity, exhibited bravery and conducted ceremonies.

Where: National Museum of the American Indian, Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW

When: Through Jan. 7

Info: Free; 202-633-1000;

2. Garden Cafe Catalonia: Jose Andres designed the cafe menu offered in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art's Joan Miro exhibit.

Where: Garden Cafe, National Gallery of Art, 700 Constitution Ave. NW

When: Through Saturday

Info: Food $15 to $24; 202-737-4215;

3. 25 x 25: Artists' Books from the NMWA Collection: The exhibition celebrates the generosity of donors who helped the National Museum of Women in the Arts build a foremost collection of artists' books -- among them many books from artists who have given their works.

Where: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW

When: Through Sunday

Info: $10, seniors 65-plus and students $8, youth and members free; 202-783-5000;

4. Rasta Thomas: The bad boys of dance return with "Rock the Ballet."

Where: Montgomery College, Robert Parilla Performing Arts Center, 51 Mannakee St., Rockville

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Info: $30, seniors and students $28; 240-567-5301;

5. Irish Book Day: Solas Nua is doing it again, giving away books by Irish authors, celebrating Irish literature halfway through to the biggest celebration of them all: St. Patrick's Day.

Where: Metro stations throughout D.C.

When: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday

Info: Free; 202-315-1317;

Best Outdoors

1. Charles County Fair: Entertainment, games, special events and activities for all ages, as well as four stages filled with shows and music, adds up to fun for the whole family.

Where: Charles County Fairgrounds, 8440 Fairground Road, La Plata

When: Through Sunday

Info: $5, kids 10 and under free, four-day passes $12; 301-932-1234;

2. Prelude to Freedom: The 150th Anniversary of the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry: The sesquicentennial anniversary of the Battle of Harpers Ferry is commemorated with living-history demonstrations, special hikes, ranger-led activities, bus tours and family programs.

Where: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, 171 Shoreline Drive, Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

When: Through Sunday

Info: Vehicles $10, people on foot $5; 304-535-6029;

3. Anne Arundel County Fair: Live music, agricultural exhibits, rides, food vendors and much more are promised to attendees.

Where: Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, 1450 General's Highway, Crownsville

When: Through Sunday

Info: $6, kids ages 8 to 15 $4, kids 7 and under free; 410-923-3400;

4. Astronomy Quest: Travel to the darker skies of the Shenandoah mountains to celebrate astronomy! You'll join other space cadets as astronomy enthusiasts and experts share their knowledge and telescopes with the public. This is a great chance to see the universe. For adults.

Where: Vans leave from Lubber Run Center, 300 N. Park Drive, Arlington

When: 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday

Info: $15; registration required; 703-228-4747; program No. 612842-B

5. Maryland Horse and Pony Show: The 68th annual event features the nationally ranked hunter/jumper and state final competitions, exhibits, and trophy and award ceremony.

Where: Prince George's County Equestrian Center, 14900 Pennsylvania Ave., Upper Marlboro

When: Through Sunday

Info: Free; 443-417-7976;

Best Theater

1. "Hamlet": Direct from the London-based Shakespeare's Globe comes this spare, piercing production of one of Shakespeare's best-loved poetic and philosophical tragedies.

Where: Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE

When: Through Sept. 22

Info: $60 to $85; 202-544-7077;

2. "Body Awareness": Annie Baker's poignant comedy examines an unconventional family trying to stay afloat through several days of an arts-oriented seminar on self-awareness at a college in Vermont.

Where: Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW

When: Through Sept. 23

Info: $30 to $60; 202-494-8497;

3. "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity": Set in the larger-than-life world of professional wrestling. Macedonio "Mace" Guerra plays the fall guy for mega-successful THE Wrestling League, losing again and again to the impossibly charismatic champ, Chad Deity. When Mace discovers a young Indian-American Brooklyn kid whose charisma rivals that of Chad's, Mace decides to get him a job in the company.

Where: Woolly Mammoth Theater, 641 D St. NW

When: Through Sept. 30

Info: $55 to $67.50; 202-393-3939;

4. "The Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo": The satiric tale follows a quick-witted tiger, two homesick American Marines and a troubled Iraqi gardener who roam the streets of war-torn Baghdad in search of meaning and redemption.

Where: The Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda

When: Through Sept. 30

Info: $26 to $63; 240-644-1100;

5. "J.B.": Performed in a circus ring, this theatrical updating of the biblical story of Job begins when two vendors in a circus take on the roles of Satan and God to examine the meaning of life by observing the travails of J.B., a banker whose life falls apart in chunks.

Where: American Century Theater, Gunston Theater II, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington

When: Friday through Oct. 6

Info: $32 to $40; 703-998-4555;