The Waterfront is just south of the National Mall. In addition to beautiful views of the Washington Channel, which separates the parkland on Hains Point with the land contiguous with the National Mall, this neighborhood includes great seafood, restaurants, bars, sports stadiums, entertainment options and boat excursions. Be sure to visit the 200-year-old Municipal Fish Market and the rest of the Wharf, which underwent redevelopment from 2017 to 2022.
The Southwest Waterfront was long considered an embarrassment by the U.S. government; the city's notorious slum of run-down hovels, shacks, tents, and refuse, all close to the Capitol. The neighborhood is one of the city's oldest, dating back to the 18th century. However, in 1815, the city built L'Enfant's envisioned Washington City Canal, which cut the Waterfront off from the rest of the city. Intended to boost downtown commerce, the canal instead proved most adept at catching and then pooling raw sewage from the city, which at the time lacked a sewer system. The stench brought down the price of real estate, and the neighborhood was attractive only for poorer Washingtonians looking for cheap housing. In the 1870s, the city finally got rid of this eyesore, forcing it underground.
For the first 150 or so years of the city's history, European immigrants moved into the portion of the neighborhood west of 4th St and African Americans, mostly freed black slaves, lived in the eastern portion. Both communities, while poor, were dynamic, and the area had a bustling commerce, and was home to some of the nation's most wealthy African Americans. But in the 20th century, the Waterfront became overpopulated, and its economy plummeted during the Depression. By the 1950s, city planners devised a plan for urban renewal, which entailed the wholesale demolition of the neighborhood and the eviction of its residents. Despite obvious protests from locals, the city went through with the plan. The Waterfront district was razed, sparing only a few landmarks, including the Municipal Fish Market and the churches around which the old communities were based. After Interstate 395 was constructed, the neighborhood was once again cut off from the rest of the city.
In the 21st century, the Waterfront moved into a new era as the construction of the Washington Nationals baseball stadium in 2008 set off a spectacular real estate boom and a wave of new construction, culminating in the Wharf. Condos and apartment buildings sprang up around the ballpark and the Washington Channel, and restaurants and bars followed. Along the channel is the 200-year-old open air seafood market, the Municipal Fish Market, several large marinas, endless rows of boats, and nice restaurants with great views. To the south and east are major military facilities at Fort McNair, home to the prestigious National Defense University, and the Navy Yard, the ceremonial headquarters of the U.S. Navy.
The main Metrorail stops in the area are the L'Enfant Plaza station on the Blue, Orange, Silver, Green, and Yellow lines and the Waterfront and Navy Yard stations on the Green Line. The Navy Yard station is closest to Nationals Park. The Smithsonian station (Blue/Orange/Silver lines) is also close to the neighborhood.
Southwest Shuttle is a free shuttle bus that operates between the Waterfront and the L'Enfant Plaza Metrorail Station and 7th & Independence Ave on the National Mall.
The D.C. Circulator Union Station-Navy Yard "Navy" line runs down from Union Station (Metrorail Red Line), past the Capitol, through Capitol Hill, and then down to New Jersey Ave and M St SE, near Nationals Stadium. Oct-March M-F 6AM-7PM, Apr-Sep M-F 6AM-9PM, Sa 7AM-9PM, with extended service on Nationals game days.
Metrobus routes W9, 74, P6, and V1 all operate to the Waterfront.
Coming from Virginia, take I-395 across the Potomac, and then take Exit 4 for Maine Ave. From the north, the main roads are 9th and 7th St SW, while the main east-west street is M St SW/SE. The main bridge heading over the Anacostia River is the S Capitol St bridge, which connects to the Anacostia Fwy (DC-295/I-295), which heads northeast to the Beltway near the junction with I-95N to Baltimore, or southwest to the Beltway close to Old Town Alexandria.
There is a large underground parking garage at the fish market. Prices are $11 for the first hour, $26 for 4 or more hours.
By water taxi
- 1 International Spy Museum, 700 L'Enfant Plaza SW (Metro: L'Enfant Plaza), ☏ . 9AM-5PM or 9AM-6PM daily, last admission one hour before close. Exhibits are interesting to anyone even marginally interested in espionage and Cold War history, and it also has a great exhibit tailored specifically to kids. Adults: $21.95; Seniors: $15.95; Youth (7-11): $14.95; Children aged 6 and under: Free.
- 2 Museum of the Bible, 400 4th St SW, ☏ , toll-free: . A privately-owned museum founded by David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby, that displays the history and impact of the Bible. $25 adults; $20 seniors/military/first responders/students; $15 children 7-17; free for children under 6.
- 3 , Gate: 6th M St SE, ☏ . M-F 9AM-5PM, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM. This is a great museum; however, unless you are a member of the military, you must fill out forms and be vetted prior to entering. See the website for more information. The museum displays, in chronological order, exhibits of each major point in Naval History—the Revolutionary War, battles with the Barbary Pirates, the Civil War, polar exploration, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and through the present day. There is also an interactive submarine exhibit, and a host of real big guns out in the courtyard. The gift shop is as good a place as you'll find to purchase various Navy-related souvenirs. Free.
- 4 Voice of America Radio & Television Studios (In Wilbur J. Cohen Federal Building), 330 Independence Ave SW (Tours begin in lobby of C St. entrance), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Tours: M-F Noon. The Voice of America is an international multimedia news broadcast facility operating around the clock, famous around the world, especially for broadcasts conducted throughout Nazi-occupied Europe and later the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. The tours here are another one of those undiscovered gems—you get to watch televised broadcasts going out all over the world, and you'll see that one room where all presidential handshakes with foreign heads of state are filmed. The 30-45 minute tours are conducted in English on weekdays at noon. You can also request in advance a special "kid's version" of the tour. Reservations recommended, although you usually can get on a tour without one. You will need to have your passport or state-issued ID to enter. Free.
- 5 Titanic Memorial (on Washington Channel past the west end of P St. If arriving by car, park at the south end of Water St SW). This statue of a woman with outstretched arms was installed in 1934 and is dedicated to the men that stayed on board the Titanic so that women could escape with the lifeboats. The scene in the movie with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio with outstretched arms is based on this statue.
Little architecture survived the urban renewal, but those buildings that did are some of the better examples of early Washingtonian architecture in the city.
- 7 Blind Whino / Friendship Baptist Church, 900 Delaware Ave SW. A formerly white Romanesque church now hosts art exhibits, events, and the congregation of the Friendship Baptist Church.
- 8 St. Dominic Church, 630 E St SW, ☏ . Built in 1875, this church served as the center of the European Catholic community and its working bell tower remains one of the area's principal landmarks. Visiting a mass can be rewarding if only to enjoy the impressive music ensemble and excellent acoustics.
- 9 Thomas Law House, 1252 6th St SW. A 1796 mansion that was commissioned by speculators betting on a neighborhood development that never occurred. The building is named after its first resident, who was married to Elizabeth Custis, granddaughter of Martha Washington.
- 10 Wheat Row, 1313-1321 4th St SW. In a city full of row houses, these were the first, built in 1793. The houses are in the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1 Arena Stage, 1101 6th St SW, ☏ . A highly acclaimed not-for-profit theater devoted to modern and contemporary American theater, with an emphasis on politically engaging, intense, and often edgy drama. A major renovation was completed in 2010.
- 2 Pearl Street Warehouse, 33 Pearl St SW, ☏ . A live music venue and restaurant.
- 3 Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I St SW, ☏ . Blue Monday Blues: M 6PM-9PM, Jazz Night: F 6PM-9PM; food: 6PM-8:30PM. This church hosts extremely popular and crowded weekly live music nights: Blue Monday Blues and Friday Jazz, both featuring local musicians. $5 admission.
- 4 The Anthem, 901 Wharf St SW (Walk along the Wharf), ☏ . Versatile 6000-person venue with bars, featuring rock concerts and other performances.
- 5 D.C. United Games @ Audi Field, 32-60 R St SW. March to October; most games are on weekends in the evening. After Major League Soccer was founded in 1996, D.C. United won four out of the first nine annual championships, although the team has not won the league since. The games are a lot of fun, kept raucous by the area's enormous Latino population. United opened its new Audi Field during the 2018 season. For the full experience, buy a field level ticket online from the La Barra Brava club website ($25), dress up in red and black (at least make sure not to wear the colors of the opposing team), learn the chants posted on the website, then join the group for a tailgating party before the match in lot 8. Be prepared to stay on your feet, jump up and down a lot, and sing their chants! $23-45, more for premium matches.
- 6 Nationals Park, 1500 South Capitol St SE. Nationals Park opened in 2008, and is home of the Washington Nationals baseball team, The Nats. The Nationals, though, have history beyond its 2005 revival — D.C.'s first baseball franchise from 1891-99 bore the same (interchangeably with the Washington Senators), as did its two other successors throughout the 20th century. None were very successful though. The first disbanded after nine years with a 0.366 win percentage; the second and third eventually left the city to become the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers. After the Montreal Expos moved to the city, they followed in the D.C. tradition, and performed progressively worse with each passing year. In 2010, when the team finally started turning itself around, and acquired bona fide superstars in pitcher Stephen Strasburg, followed by outfielder Bryce Harper and pitcher Max Scherzer. The stadium is big, with comfy seats, an enormous scoreboard, and great concessions by venerable D.C. food establishments such as Five Guys, Ben's Chili Bowl, Dogfish Head, and Flying Dog Brewery. $20-250.
- 7 East Potomac Golf Course, 972 Ohio Dr SW, ☏ . The point at the western end of the Waterfront District, just south of the Tidal Basin, is mostly covered by the 36 hole East Potomac Golf Course. The courses are a little crowded and boring since they are completely flat, but the views of the monuments more than make up for these deficiencies. There is also an old mini-golf course. Nine holes: $10-17, eighteen: $17-32; Mini-golf: $6-7.
- 8 Trapeze School New York (TSNY), 401 Tingey St SE, ☏ , email@example.com. Classes cater to just about anyone, all ranges of athletic ability, ages 6+, and are a great way to inject a bit of thrill into a D.C. visit. Expect to be sore afterwards! 1-hour class: $40-75.
- 9 DC Sail, 600 Water St SW, ☏ . DC Sail is the community association National Maritime Heritage Foundation, which offers sailing lessons, races, other miscellaneous events.
- 10 Entertainment Cruises, 600 Water St SW, toll-free: . The Odyssey is a formal cruise for a fancy dinner and drinks, while the Spirit of Washington is more the party boat, with live DJs, a buffet, and no dress code. Both offer daily lunch and dinner tours, and sell out far in advance in the summer, so book ahead. Lunch cruises are cheaper, but seeing the monuments and memorials from a ship is more romantic at night. Dinner: $90-120, lunch: $50-80.
- A Beautiful Closet. An assortment of clothing, jewelry, gifts, home décor, and fair trade goods from around the world geared for women. Curated by Pamela Sofola, a former staff member of the World Bank.
- Harper Macaw. Responsibly-sourced chocolate made in a factory on Bladensburg Road. Chocolate bar: $9-20.
- 1 Martha Spak Gallery, 40 District Sq SW, GalleryDirector@MarthaSpak.com. A contemporary art gallery with fine art and photography from local artists.
- 2 Politics and Prose Bookstore, 70 District Sq SW, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 10AM-10PM. A newly opened branch of D.C.'s largest and most influential independent bookstore. Features frequent talks by well-known authors.
Municipal Fish Market
- 1 Municipal Fish Market, 1100 Maine Ave SW, ☏ . 8AM-9PM daily. A real D.C. cultural tradition that has survived the neighborhood's upheavals for over two centuries. It's centered on a big parking lot surrounded by some ten huge steel barges, most of them family owned, all offering copious quantities of seafood, fresh, live, raw, cooked, or however else you want it. Chowder, grouper, snapper, catfish sandwiches, oysters, clams, mussels, squid, shrimp, jumbo shrimp, jumbo jumbo shrimp, tiger shrimp—the fishmongers will shout out their products as they try to catch your attention in the bustle. The delicacy here is the shellfish, blue crabs in particular, covered in the local spice of choice, Old Bay—a peppery mix of celery salt, bay leaf, mustard seed, black and red pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. Peak times, when the market puts out its vastest display of fish, run from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.
- 2 Atrium Cafe, 400 Virginia Ave SW, ☏ . M-F 6:30AM-4PM. There are plenty of bad sandwich shops and cafeterias in the Federal Center area, but the hard-to-find Atrium Cafe manages to be a good deli and cafeteria at the same time. The deli meats are fresh and they have plenty of good condiments. You must insist that you get the condiments you want, or this fast-moving business will give you the minimum. Cash only. $4-7.
- 3 Cafe Twelve, 409 12th St SW. This is yet another one of the many sandwich shops just south of the Mall, but Twelve stands out for its fresh, cut-to-order deli meats. A good place to grab a small sandwich.
- Masala Art, 1101 4th St SW, ☏ . Indian food. One of two locations.
- Station 4, 1101 4th St SW, ☏ , email@example.com. Modern American cuisine. 10% discount before or after a Nationals game upon showing your ticket stub.
- 21st Amendment Bar & Grill @ Holiday Inn, 550 C St SW (at the Holiday Inn), ☏ . 11AM-1AM daily. Celebrating the repeal of Prohibition, this spot attached to the Holiday Inn serves adequate food and drinks at appropriate prices. The big draw is the live jazz on W and Th nights.
- The Big Stick, 20 M St SE, ☏ . A sports bar with wood decor. Also serves sausages and snacks.
- Bluejacket / The Arsenal, 300 Tingey St SE, ☏ . A microbrewery in a former factory.
- 1 The Bullpen, 1201 Half St SE (Just outside the Navy Yard Metrorail station, near Nationals Stadium), ☏ . Only open during the baseball season. Basically a big yard for pre-game drinking. It's always lively before night games, with random live music, $6 drinks, plastic cups, and passable bar food served out of trucks. The food in the stadium itself can be better, but it's less expensive here.
- Kirwan's Irish Pub, 749 Wharf St SW, ☏ . Started by an Irish native and former Guinness employee. Irish decor and live music.
- The Lounge at Salamander Washington DC, 1330 Maryland Ave SW (inside the Salamander Washington DC Hotel), ☏ . Curated cocktails and garden patio.
- 2 Lot 38 Espresso Bar, 1001 2nd St SE, ☏ . M-F 6:30AM-6PM, Sa-Su 8AM-4PM. A rare sign of neighborhood life in the form of an actual family-run local business! It's a great coffeeshop with a big space, and serves as a really good meeting place pre-games, if the Bullpen isn't your thing. Free Wi-Fi.
- 1 Capitol Skyline Hotel, 10 Eye St SW, ☏ . The location of this hotel is arguably the least desirable of the Waterfront District, but it is the closest to the Nationals stadium. On the upside, it wears its funky 1960s look with a playful stylishness. It also has a huge outdoor pool and deck, with poolside bar. $140-200.
- 2 , 140 L St SE (A block from the Navy Yard Metrorail Station), ☏ . $120-300.
- 3 Holiday Inn Capitol, 550 C St SW, ☏ . Just one block from the National Air and Space Museum, this hotel has notably more stylish decor than you would expect from a Holiday Inn, as well as one of the best bars in the immediate area, 21st Amendment. $100-250.
- 4 Residence Inn by Marriott Washington, DC/Capitol, 333 E St SW (A block from the Federal Center SW Metrorail Station), ☏ . $149.
- 5 Hilton Washington DC National Mall The Wharf, 480 L'Enfant Plaza SW, ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 11AM. The location one block off the Mall promises some of the best views in the entire city—especially those facing the Mall (north & east). Shell out the extra money for the rooms with a "superior view." Year-round rooftop pool. $200-350, valet parking $55 (no self parking on-site).
- 6 Salamander Washington DC (formerly Mandarin Oriental(, 1330 Maryland Ave SW, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Salamander continues the small, Hong Kong-based Mandarin Oriental's renown for service, and this location is a favorite upscale choice of businessmen as well as foreign dignitaries. It has a huge spa, and a large space of outdoor gardens by the water. $240-500.
Most cafes have free Wi-Fi. Otherwise, head to the library for free public terminals and Wi-Fi:
- 1 Southwest Neighborhood Library, 900 Wesley Pl SW, ☏ . M-W 9:30AM-9PM, Th 1PM-9PM, F-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Su 1PM-5PM.
- The National Mall is just footsteps away from the Waterfront, and has one of the world's greatest collections of museums. If you're staying here, you'll be spending time there.
- Historic Uniontown, where the Navy Yard workers once lived, is just across the river in much feared Anacostia. It's a very interesting contrast with its neighbor to the north, and has several attractions worth seeking out.
|Routes through Waterfront|
|East End ← National Mall ←||W E||→ Capitol Hill → Largo|
|Greenbelt ← East End ←||N S||→ Anacostia → Suitland|
|East End ← National Mall ←||W E||→ Capitol Hill → New Carrollton|
|Petworth ← East End ←||N S||→ Arlington → Huntington|