Southwest Waterfront is the hot new neighborhood in Washington DC, just a short Metro ride (or a free shuttle bus!) to the National Mall. The Wharf, which opened in late 2017, has great food, live theater, a gorgeous riverwalk and plenty of ways to enjoy the water. Here are the 15 top things to do in Southwest DC with family, plus a hip place to stay.

Things to do in southwest DC with family - Stroll along the Southwest Waterfront and sit for a bit by the fire.

Stroll along the Southwest Waterfront and sit for a bit by the fire. Photo credit: Kim Orlando / TravelingMom

15 Top Things to Do in Southwest DC

1. Wander The Wharf

2. Hang out by the Fire

3. Stroll Along the Southwest Waterfront Path

4. Walk in the Park

5. Bike the Southwest Waterfront

6. Take a Water Taxi to Alexandria

7. Take a Free Shuttle Bus or a Free Water Ferry

8. Taste Fresh Crawfish at the Nation’s Oldest Fish Market

9. Let a James Beard Winning Chef Make You Dinner

10. Take in the View From the Rooftop

11. Cruise the Harbor

12. Hop on the Metro

13. Catch a Special Event

14. See a Live Performance

15. Get on the Water

 If you're headed to Washington DC with kids and want to spend time outside of the tourist rush, try the new Southwest Waterfront area of DC. It's filled with green space, water activities and free transportation to the National Mall.

1. Wander The Wharf

Cities from Baltimore to New York to London have spiffed up and rebranded their waterfront neighborhoods. Now, that list includes Washington DC, with this newly redeveloped waterfront in Southwest DC. The Wharf includes luxury apartments, boutiques, entertainment and restaurants. Take the time to wander around, enjoy the view and eat some really good food.

2. Hang out by the Fire

Sadly, I didn’t have time to dawdle here. But on my next visit, I will certainly allow time to sit by this pretty fire and look at the water and marina as the sun sets.

Things to do in southwest DC with family - wander along the waterfront.

Spend some time wandering along the waterfront.Photo credit: Kim Orlando / TravelingMom

3. Stroll Along the Southwest Waterfront Path

Make time along the walk to swing on one of the bench swings facing the water. Next time, I will bring along a book and settle in for a lovely afternoon.

4. Walk in the Park

There are three parks here: 7th Street Park, Waterfront Park and Banneker Park. I spent my time in 7th Street Park. It’s made for active travelers with walking trails and–I love this–stand up desks. Next time I visit, I’ll bring my laptop for a little fresh air working break.

Things to do in Southwest DC with family - take a bike ride.

Bikes are avaialble from Canopy by Hilton, or from DC’s bikeshare program. Photo credit: Kim Orlando / Travelingmom

5. Bike the Southwest Waterfront

The Riverwalk Trail System runs alongside the Anacostia River in Southwest DC. It ultimately will be a 20-mile continuous route. The 10-12 foot wide trail accommodates runners, bikers, skaters and walkers. There are seats for resting and relaxing along the way, system maps and bike racks.  This time, I used one of the free bikes available from my hotel, Canopy by Hilton. Bikes are also available through Capital Bikeshare, DC’s public bike program. There are rental stations on Main Avenue at 9th and 7th streets.

6. Take a Water Taxi to Alexandria

There are lots of ways to get around, but kids love water taxis–almost as much as they love trains. The water taxi here is seasonal, but during the nicer weather, you can take it from The Wharf to Georgetown and to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. You can transfer at Alexandria to Gaylord and National Harbor in Maryland.

National Mall in Washington DC at night.

Washington DC at night. Photo: pixabay

7. Take a Free Shuttle Bus or a Free Water Ferry

The free neighborhood Low Emission CNG shuttle offers daily service to the National Mall and L’Enfant Plaza. The National Mall, of course, is the heart of DC–home to the Washington Monument and several Smithsonian Museums, including the incredible National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The free Water Jitney crosses the Washington Channel from Recreation Pier to East Potomac Park. That’s a man-made island with a public golf course, driving range, and miniature golf course. This is definitely what my husband, the golf nut, would have done if he had been with me on this trip. East Potomac Park also has a public swimming pool and tennis courts.

8. Taste Fresh Crawfish at the Nation’s Oldest Fish Market

This is where I learned to eat crawfish. I happened to be walking along the wharf when I noticed Captain Whites Seafood Market. When I told the woman at the counter that I had never eaten crawfish, she offered me one, along with a lesson. You stick you thumbnail in at the base of head, break it, then get a good grip one the tail before sucking the meat out of the shell. It was yummy, but I would rather have the crab legs, which the shop also sells. If I stuck with the crawfish, it would take at least a hundred to fill me up.

9. Let a James Beard Winning Chef Make You Dinner

Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi, is a two-level waterfront Spanish and seafood restaurant run by James Beard-winning chef Fabio Trabocchi and his wife, Maria.

Things to do in Southwest DC with family - taek in the view at sunset

The incredible sunset view. Photo credit: kim Orlando / TravelingMom

10. Take in the View From the Rooftop

Head to Canopy by Hilton, the newest Hilton brand, for a drink at Whiskey Charlie, Canopy’s rooftop bar. Even if you don’t drink, head up there to take in the view.  The bar and the outdoor patio overlook the old and the new. I saw an old boat being renovated into a restaurant, and the new walking paths and parks that were still under construction during my visit in the fall of 2017.

Cherry blossoms in Washington DC. Photo by Yvonne Jasinski Credit Card TravelingMom

11. Cruise the Harbor

Entertainment Cruises offers a bunch of sightseeing and dinner cruises. I would love to come back in the spring to take the special cruise to see Washington’s famed cherry blossoms from the water.

12. Hop on the Metro

No car needed.  Washington DC’s Metro is one of the best subways systems I have used. The Green Line stops at 4th and M streets in Southwest DC.

13. Catch a Special Event

The Wharf has a regular schedule of special events–when I visited, it was “broom ball and brews” or “curling and cocktails” on the ice rink in the winter. The schedule is here.

14. See a Live Performance

The Wharf is all about live performance. There’s an “acoustically advanced” concert venue called The Anthem (and, no, I don’t know what that means since I didn’t get a chance to take in a show while I was there). And, of course, there are several restaurants and bars with what I can only assume is less accoustically advanced live music. There also are street performers–Pearl Street is closed to cars every afteroon to make it easier to stroll along in search of food, drinks and music. And there’s a floating barge stage that offers performances throughout the year.

Things to do in southwest DC with family - walk along the marina.

The marina in Southwest Waterfront DC. Photo credit: Kim Orlando / TravelingMom

15. Get on the Water

It wasn’t warm enough when I visited, but I would love to bring my teens back during warmer weather to rent a kayak or stand up paddleboard and get out on the water for a day of fun in the sun.  The marina at The Wharf also offers sailing lessons.

Where to Stay in Southwest Waterfront DC

This newly redeveloped neighborhood is home to an innovative new Canopy Hotel by Hilton.  The brand debuted in Reykjavik, Iceland. The Wharf location opened in October 2017.  When I arrived, I offered my Hilton Honors rewards number and my gold status landed me a waterfront view suite–an upgrade where I, literally, could see the difference. You can read my full Canopy by Hilton review.

My room had floor to ceiling glass, to take advantage of that view. My suite included a “barn door” separating my bedroom from the dining area that also helped reduce hallway noise. I loved the local touches- my welcome chocolate made by a local chocolatier, a cocktail tasting involving a local syrup maker and the DC area map that is the wallpaper behind the television.

The hippest hotels are all pet friendly and Canopy by Hilton takes that to the max. Dogs get their own goodie bags, with locally made dog treats, along with a bed, leash and food bowl, and a map highlighting dog friendly businesses nearby.

And Canopy by Hilton has several family friendly freebies: free Wi-Fi, artisanal breakfast (think freshly baked flatbread from a wood burning oven) and a daily tasting, featuring local craft brew and local distilleries. My older son is legal now, so we can enjoy this together. Mike Anderson, the “Chief Enthusiast” at Canopy, said he changes the tastings daily, and has even brought in a local syrup company that he uses in craft cocktails.

Note: I was a guest of Hilton Canopy, which covered my room. Surprise and delight were all my own.