D.C.'s Surprisingly Beachy Waterfront Is the City's Best New Eating Neighborhood
Yes, Washington D.C. has a waterfront, and it feels more like Cape Cod than Capital City.
As America’s epicenter of partisan politics and power lunches, Washington D.C. may have a decidedly stuffy rep—but a vacation there doesn’t have to feel that way. Thanks to the Yards on the Anacostia River, and District Wharf, the recently unveiled, multi-billion dollar Potomac riverfront development project, you can forgo monuments and museums (no offense, history) to enjoy a more easy-going visit.
Spend a weekend this summer sipping locally-made rosé (the first wine made in the city since Prohibition), listening to live music on a floating barge, and tasting small-batch ice cream and steamed-to-order Maryland crabs. It’s all just minutes from downtown D.C., but feels remarkably like the perfect place for your restorative coastal vacation.
Here's where to eat, stay, drink, and eat some more.
Make for The Wharf first, the mile-long swath of shops, restaurants, and entertainment that debuted last fall, and check into the InterContinental. Situated right on the Potomac, many of its rooms and suites have sweeping riverfront views, and all guests have access to the rooftop pool and cocktail bar. On street level, the hotel is home to a rosé garden, opening soon to the public and pouring craft cocktails and local beer, so plan to make it for happy hour, if you can, and start your weekend with a glass of pink wine, soaking up views of the boats dotting the water.
For dinner, take a short stroll over to Mi Vida—the celebrated new Mexican restaurant from chef and restaurateur Roberto Santibañez of New York City’s Fonda—for tender enchiladas, gooey queso fundido served with hand-pressed tortillas, and a bowl of hand-crushed guacamole with housemade chips that you won’t want to share. Order a frozen margarita, made with mango and ginger, and opt to dine al fresco at a table just feet from the river.
On the way back to the hotel, brave the line at Dolcezza for a cup of made-daily gelato. The mini-chain does not mess around when it comes to sourcing, relying on local farms and in-season ingredients to make its small, handmade batches. Choose one of the blink-and-you’ll-miss flavors like Avocado Honey Lime and Strawberry—the latter hotly anticipated for its brief run, only available for five weeks each year.
Before heading back to the hotel, make one more stop. Cordial carries refrigerated craft beers, locally-distilled booze, and a carefully curated selection of wine to fit any taste and budget. Ask the helpful staff for recommendations, and take a bottle back to your room for a memento of the trip, or for a nightcap.
Rise early on Saturday morning and start your day where you ended it the night before. One of nine outposts in the city (not including farmers markets), the Wharf Dolcezza is the only one to serve breakfast, and it’s pretty special. Grab a coffee and a made-to-order egg and cheese on a buttery biscuit with a side of crispy little tater tots and sriracha mayo, and find a spot to devour it all outside. After breakfast, take a cruise on the Potomac Riverboat Company water taxi, which shuttles passengers from the Wharf to Georgetown, the National Harbor, and Old Town Alexandria. Buy a round-trip ticket and get a seat at the top for windblown views of the coastline.
After disembarking, hop over to The Yards, just one stop away on the Metro. (Sadly, you’ll have to briefly drop the illusion of a coastal holiday since you can’t get there by water at the moment.) Once there, head for Bluejacket Brewery. Tours run on Saturdays at 3 p.m., but if you miss one, you can still take in the vast, 5,600 square feet of space—a historic building that was once part of the Navy Yards ship and munitions manufacturing complex—and sample some of the twenty house brewed ales and lagers on tap everyday, like the bright and refreshing gose brewed with kumquats. Afterward, unwind at nearby Whaley's, the sustainable seafood hall and raw bar. Sit under a pink-striped umbrella in their Rosé Garden and go big with a dramatic seafood tower, or just order a half-dozen freshly-shucked oysters, paired with a frosé. (This is vacation, so live.) Either way, the Anacostia River views are transportive.
Continue tasting your way through the city’s craft beverage scene at District Winery. The boutique urban winery began in Brooklyn and is the first of its kind in D.C., making wine in the city for the first time since Prohibition. Join the 1 p.m. tour for $35 (tasting included), or find a seat on the patio and order the flight, which highlights a rotating selection of made-in-Brooklyn wines. Yes, Brooklyn. Since wine can take a year or more to make and the winery opened in late summer 2017, their first made-in-DC wine just debuted—a crisp and dry rosé. (The Capital loves its rosé.) Look out for more DC-made wines in the coming years.
For an afternoon treat, don’t even think about skipping D.C. favorite Ice Cream Jubilee, with small-batch ice cream in heavenly scoops like Thai Iced Tea and Strawberry Tres Leches. Started by former Department of Homeland Security lawyer Victoria Lai, the shop also specializes in boozy flavors (try the Banana Bourbon Caramel) and a dense, delicious chocolate chip cookie that’s reminiscent of the famous one at Levain bakery in New York City. Before departing the Anacostia Riverfront, hit up Steadfast Supply to browse over 60 indie brands from D.C. and beyond. Pick up a few bottles of Shrub District drinking vinegars like the strawberry dill to zhuzh up your next cocktail, or a DeNada knit scarf by local artist and textile designer Virginia Arrisueño, who runs the shop.
Return to the Wharf for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Kith and Kin, helmed by chef Kwame Onwuachi, and feast on vibrant Afro-Caribbean cuisine surrounded by sleek, floor-to-ceiling windows that show off the riverfront. Dishes like the goat roti—the traditional Trinidadian wrap served with handmade bread and green curry poured tableside—and the crispy and aromatic whole fried red snapper are inspired by the chef’s family, and from his childhood spent in the Bronx and Nigeria. While stints at New York City’s Per Se and Eleven Madison Park are also evident in the beautiful crudité—veggies like jerk broccoli and avocado chili mousse arranged like an artist’s palette—and the grand finale: a trio of “habanero peppers” over elderflower granita. The peppers are blended with fruit and transformed into a mousse before they’re reshaped, painted with glossy gelatin, and presented atop the icy granita—a total treat to end the meal.
After dinner, seek out live music in one of the Wharf’s three venues, including the rollicking Pearl Street Warehouse, where nightly shows range from rock and bluegrass to country and soul acts. (Closed Mondays.) There are also plans in the works to add a fourth music venue: a floating stage on the river.
If you happen to have access to your own watercraft, you can launch it from the Wharf’s Recreation Pier for free, but those who came to the Capital sans sea vessels can rent one at the Wharf Boathouse. Spend the morning coasting around the river in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard.
For lunch, take a short walk to the Municipal Fish Market and the northern tip of the Wharf. The oldest continuously operating outdoor fish market in the country, the developers recently upgraded the fishmongers’ infrastructure and garbage situation. The trash cans—the bane of everyone’s nostrils in the humid summer months—are now refrigerated. Walk around the little collection of seafood stalls, all with their fresh catches on display, and choose from live Maryland blue crabs or heaping piles of jumbo shrimp, which the mongers will steam to order and sprinkle with Old Bay seasoning.
Pack up your fresh catch and take it to East Potomac Park via the adorable Wharf Jitney — the totally free and surprisingly zippy service that shuttles passengers back and forth across the Washington Channel throughout the day. After a boat ride that lasts mere seconds (it takes longer to hop on and disembark than the actual journey) you can find a patch of grass for a picnic lunch, and then hit golf balls at the driving range before returning to the Wharf. If you forget the fish, take comfort in $4 hot dogs and pitchers of cold craft beer, and look out for the foxes that call the greens home.
Take the jitney back to the mainland, breathing in that waterfront air for one last minute before departing the city. Weirdly, this whole time, you’ve been in one of the largest cities on the East Coast.