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- 16 Top Things to Do in Southwest DC
- 1. Wander The Wharf in DC
- 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
- 16. Stay at a Hip Hotel
The Wharf in DC, also known as Southwest Waterfront, is the hot new neighborhood in Washington DC, just a short Metro ride (or a free shuttle bus!) to the National Mall. Opened in late 2017 along the Washington Channel of the Potomac River, The Wharf has great new restaurants, music venues, live theater, a gorgeous riverwalk and plenty of ways to enjoy the water. Here are the 16 top things to do at The Wharf in Southwest DC, including a hip new place to stay in this hip new neighborhood.
The writer was hosted for this trip.
16 Top Things to Do in Southwest DC
1. Wander The Wharf in DC
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 along the Potomac River 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
The sculptured firepit on Recreation Pier at the Wharf offers a cozy place for conversation (or to make your own s’mores). Sadly, I didn’t have time to dawdle by the fire this time around. But on my next visit, I will certainly allow time to for awhile by the fire, watching the water and marina as the sun sets.
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 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.
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 Canopy by Hilton Washington DC, where I stayed. Bikes are also available through Capital Bikeshare, DC’s public bike program, at rental stations on Main Avenue at 7th and 9th 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.
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 was 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 White Seafood Market. When I told the woman at the counter I had never eaten crawfish, she offered me one, along with a lesson. Here’s the scoop – you stick your thumbnail in at the base of head, break it, then get a good grip on 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 fresh seafood restaurant run by James Beard-winning chef Fabio Trabocchi and his wife, Maria. There are plenty of other restaurants at The Wharf in DC, including Hank’s Oyster Bar, Jenny’s at The Wharf for Asian cuisine, Kith and Kin for African food, and Mi Vida for Mexican. And, of course, there’s fast food at the Shake Shack or Cantina Bambina on Transit Pier, which serves to-go items like quesadillas, bagels, and frozen custard. And you’ll find authentic pub experiences at The Brighton, a British pub, and Kirwin’s on the Wharf, an Irish pub.
10. Take in the View From the Rooftop
Head to Canopy by Hilton for a drink at Whiskey Charlie, Canopy’s rooftop bar. This is the first Canopy Hilton in the US, although many more are planned to open in 2018 and 2019. Even if you don’t drink, the rooftop bar is a must-stop just 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 new restaurant, and the new walking paths and parks that were still under construction during my visit in the fall of 2017.
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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 in DC 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 hall 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 acoustically advanced live music. There also are street performers. Pearl Street is closed to cars every afternoon 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.
The marina in Southwest Waterfront DC. Photo credit: Kim Orlando
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.
16. Stay at a Hip Hotel
This newly redeveloped Southwest DC neighborhood is home to an innovative new Canopy by Hilton hotel. 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. Watch this video to see what I mean:
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, which 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.
You can read my full Canopy by Hilton review.
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.