On the National Mall, not far from the Washington Monument, volunteers poke the dirt with thousands of tiny American flags, planting them inches from each other to spell the words, "Freedom from Oil."

Further down the Mall, turban-wearing musicians intone Sikh hymns while across the gravel path a Bengali immigrant discusses Asian identity with a crowd of the curious at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

And at the easternmost end of the Mall, more Capitol police than usual patrol the grounds in black uniforms, with dogs, motorcycles and cars as tourists amble by, sun hats and cameras acting as instant identifiers.

It's July 4th weekend in Washington, and the city is living the American life it prepares to celebrate -- Mall-goers embrace freedom to protest, the cultural melting pot, and travel secure from terror.

For some, the celebration will mean getting outside the Beltway for a long weekend. For others, it means touring every sight the capital has to offer before staking out a spot on the Mall to catch the fireworks.

That's the case for the 67 members of the Peninsula High School band from Gig Harbor, Wash. They're seeing the nation's capital with fresh eyes.

"Some of these kids have never been on an airplane before," said their tour guide, Charlie Iwanaga. "For them [D.C.]'s a kind of surreal experience."

The band is here to play in the Independence Day parade on Sunday.

First rides on the Metro, monument and museum visits are all in store for the group's weekend.

Drum major Eric Spring is taking lots of pictures.

"I'm already up to 100, and it's been half a day," the 18-year-old said.

Dana and Christine Roach, and their 10-year-old twins Brett and Caroline, are also seeing D.C. for the first time. Residents of Orange County, Calif., they're on a "history trip" in anticipation of what the twins will learn in school next year.

"What's the best city on the East Coast to spend the Fourth of July in?" Christine Roach said. "D.C."

But while some locals with join the tourists and flock to the Mall on Sunday, other D.C.-area residents are fleeing it.

AAA predicts more than 817,000 Washington-area residents will take to the roads to travel elsewhere for the holiday weekend.

District resident Bruce Davis will be heading to Vermont for the weekend.

"There's way too many tourists here for the Fourth of July," he said.

Not even fireworks on the Mall can tempt him.

"I did it once, and that was enough for me," he said. "It's like going to Times Square for New Year's Eve. Once you've done it you don't need to do it again."