Written by Susan Wade
April 2018

Winds of change bring a renaissance to the Washington DC riverfront

As the Boomerang pirate tour boat cruises past the Lincoln Memorial filling the air with lively music and contagious laughter, you almost expect Old Abe to vacate his big marble chair and walk down to the banks of the Potomac River to join the festivities. For nearly a century, Lincoln has sat in stony silence watching the shoreline evolve from grassy parkland to a waterfront bustling with activity.

The swashbuckling party ship is part of changes happening downstream from his monument, where massive cranes are lifting heavy loads of glass and steel to erect residential and commercial buildings along the Washington DC riverfront. With the Washington Monument and Capitol Dome towering in the background, restaurants, arts venues and retail shops have opened their doors to welcome crowds of excited visitors. And local neighborhoods are thriving from the budding developments’ influx of culture, commerce and cuisine.

Within walking distance of the National Mall and Smithsonian museums, construction on the first of two phases at The Wharf is complete, creating a vibrant community along the Potomac River. To put this mile-long destination into perspective, take the elevator in Hilton’s Canopy Hotel to the 10th floor and step out on Whiskey Charlie’s rooftop lounge. While sipping craft cocktails, you get a panoramic view of the docks at the Wharf and the Capital Yacht Club and the new public piers jutting out into the Washington Channel, Hains Point and northern Virginia’s skyscrapers. This bird’s eye view gives you the lay of the land, so you can easily navigate The Wharf ’s many amenities.

If you want to catch a show, entertainment venues await — from a concert hall featuring national acts to pubs with smaller stages for acoustic guitar and the area’s beloved regional theater. Dozens of restaurants accommodate foodie wishes from fresh local seafood to sizzling steaks. Pick a hot bestseller at DC’s favorite indie bookstore, Politics & Prose, or browse around the strip’s boutiques and specialty stores including Anchor, a marine store that will deliver beer and wine to your boat.

Amid the shiny new buildings is a must-see historic gem that’s essential to DC’s seafood cravings. America’s oldest open-air market, Maine Avenue Fish Market, has provided bounty from the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways since 1805. Ten floating barges carry ice-packed displays of briny oysters, just-caught fish and crabs with claws still snapping. Restaurant chefs arrive early to snag fresh deliveries for their patrons. Watermen will wrap up your selections to prepare at home or steam them on site for a casual treat.

Getting around the Washington area from the Wharf is easy with water taxis that run direct routes to Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor. The Jitney’s ferry service shuttles visitors across the channel to Haines Point for leisurely fun at the golf course, tennis court, swimming pool and running paths. You can also use the bike share program to peddle around the waterfront or rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from the recreational pier at the Wharf.

A quick jaunt east of The Wharf is another new development that is revitalizing communities along the Anacostia River. Commanding 10 square city blocks between the Nationals baseball stadium and U.S. Navy Museum is the new and improved Navy Yards. It’s got a laid-back festive vibe, so you’re more likely to encounter hipsters in T-shirts holding a dog leash than politicians in button-downs carrying a briefcase.

Urban designers for the Capitol Riverfront Neighborhood Development loaded the space with retail shops, waterfront residences, office buildings and green spaces. Neighbors gather in dog parks, attend outdoor concerts or push strollers along the lovely Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, a 20-mile recreational pathway with terrific riverside views and access to the marina. A trapeze school fulfills fantasies of joining the circus by offering classes in trapeze, trampoline, acrobatics, juggling and other death-defying feats.

Plenty of eateries sport outdoor patios that encourage guests to sample a variety of cuisines while relishing a cool breeze off the water. The diverse culinary scene ranges from fine dining establishments like Whaley’s, Osteria Morini and Chloe to places with more informal ambience, including Salt Line and Agua 301. The Yards is also earning the reputation as a libation location thanks to newcomers Blue Jacket Arsenal Brewery, Gordon Biersch, District Winery (DC’s first winery!) and Bardo Brewing, an outdoor beer garden that’s open in the summer. And if you need to pick up provisions, Harris Teeter grocery store is within walking distance from the marina.

MUSIC & ARTS VENUES

  • The Anthem (901 Wharf St., SW) This 6,000-seat, state-of-the-art concert hall premieres bands and performing artists from around the globe.
  • Pearl Street Warehouse (33 Pearl St., SW) Enjoy an intimate evening with music from all genres such as jazz, blues, rock and folk, with American cuisine and craft cocktails served on the side.
  • Arena Stage (1101 Sixth St., SW) Across the street from The Wharf, DC’s foremost regional theater presents new and revived productions by America’s top playwrights.
  • Union Stage (740 Water St., SW) The brand-new 7,500-square-foot, 450 capacity music venue set against the backdrop of the Southwest waterfront has a full docket of events lined up for 2018. The onsite Tap Room at the venue is slated to open this season.

EVENTS

  • Cherry Blossom Festival – Each year, DC celebrates the gift of cherry blossom trees that symbolize the enduring friendship between the people of the United States and Japan. Take part in daily events from parades and digital art exhibits to live performances (March 20-April 15, 2018).
  • 2018 Major League Baseball All-Star Game – For the first time in its franchise history, the Washington Nationals will host the 89th Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Nationals Park this summer (July 17, 2018).

WHERE TO DOCK

  • The Wharf Gangplank Marina (202-554-5000) This marina is located in the protected Washington Channel with newly upgraded floating docks and piers and proximity to some of the capital’s iconic sightseeing.
  • Market Docks (202-897-3868) Located at the Wharf, Market Docks is geared to transient visitors with slips for vessels up to 60 feet and 340 of side tie dockage with 50-amp power.
  • The District Pier (202-897-3868) A fixed pier with 450 feet of side tie dockage, located at The Wharf, with 200-amp, 3-phase electric.
  • The Yards Marina (202-484-0309) Located between Nationals Park and Washington Navy Yard, the marina can accommodate vessels up to 120 feet, giving boaters access to fine dining, retailers and provisioning in DC’s trendy new neighborhood.

WHERE TO DINE

AT THE WHARF

  • Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi (791 Wharf St., NW) Experience Spanish coastal dining in a sophisticated upscale setting with tapas, paella, grilled fish and more.
  • Hank’s Oyster Bar (701 Wharf St., SW) Sample the region’s finest oysters and seafood in an upbeat casual atmosphere.

AT THE YARDS

  • Osteria Morini (301 Water St., SE) Executive Chef Ben Pflaumer serves up fresh northern Italian cuisine on the waterfront with outdoor seating.
  • Salt Line Oyster Bar (79 Potomac Ave., SE) Enjoy a laid-back waterfront vibe while nibbling on local catch from the Bay, steaks, sandwiches and salads.