In many cities, living along the waterfront is a big draw. But for our nation’s capital, the Potomac and Anacostia rivers that border D.C. were, in many places, more of an eyesore than an attraction — until now. The Wharf, a $2.5 billion revitalization project that opened its first phase in October 2017, is the largest of its kind to ever take place in the District of Columbia.
The 24-acre site features a mile-long waterfront promenade, four new public piers, three hotels and numerous residential and corporate towers, as well as dozens of restaurants, shops and even entertainment venues. The full experience won’t be complete until 2022, but if you can stand a few cranes and construction sites, much of the venue is open now.
We’ve had a chance to explore the new attraction and bring you some of the best ways to experience it.
While The Wharf isn’t a shopping hub in the way that City Center is with its selection of luxury brands, or even a pedestrian mall à la Georgetown, it still boasts a well-edited selection of boutique shops and local businesses that warrant an afternoon’s exploration.
We love that many of the shops — including the new outpost of independent institution Politics and Prose bookstore, D.C.-based chocolatier Harper Macaw and boutique A Beautiful Closet — are owned and operated by locals.
You can also browse contemporary women’s fashion at d/eleven, which stocks brands like Frame Denim and Pamela Love, peruse work from area artists at Martha Spak Gallery or pick up a bottle of your favorite craft wine or spirit at Cordial.
Chefs and restaurateurs have had a battle royal to see who would become king and queen of The Wharf’s many dining destinations and, so far, no clear winner has emerged — which is a blessing for diners looking for variety.
We’re encouraged to see a combination of national brands and locally recognized names try innovative new concepts, like Del Mar, a Spanish eatery from Fabio Trabocchi, who has previously only brought Italian eateries to the area.
A new location of Hank’s Oyster Bar, from popular D.C. chef/owner Jamie Leeds, is already drawing crowds, as well as Top Chef alum Mike Isabella’s French restaurant Requin, which formerly had a successful pop-up in Northern Virginia.
Also eagerly anticipated is Kith and Kin in the brand-new InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf from Kwame Onwuachi, the chef best known for attempting an ambitious tasting menu concept in D.C. last year. Here, he tries again with a blend of African, Caribbean and Creole dishes.
National names like Shake Shack (now open) and Milk Bar (opening this winter) will naturally have diners lining up, as will local favorites like Dolcezza (gelato) and Taylor Gourmet (sandwiches).
What To Do
The Wharf has planned a full schedule of events. This holiday season saw Christmas caroling, ice skating and the first annual Nog Fest, a celebration of the seasonal drink in the Wine & Beer Garden with wintery craft cocktails from top area mixologists.
To combat the cold-weather blues, the new social spot has a regular lineup of quirky activities, such as Curling & Cocktails on Monday nights, or Broomball & Brews each Tuesday evening.
You can bet, rain or shine, there’s always something going on.
In warmer weather, explore D.C.’s Municipal Fish Market (a traditional outdoor seafood shop that received a fresh update to match its newly cool neighborhood), rent a kayak, go paddleboarding or just relax on a sunset cruise.
For music lovers, The Wharf is a paradise with venues like the 6,000-seat Anthem that will host everyone from Little Big Town (March 3) and Lorde (April 8) to Kygo (May 8) in the next few months.
You can also enjoy up-close performances at Pearl Street Warehouse or Union Stage from local acts.
A floating barge, anchored just off the main pier, is also a regular spot for outdoor performances.
Sleep It Off
If you want to make a weekend of it, InterContinental Washington D.C. – The Wharf is a wise pick for a contemporary experience equally suited to business and pleasure. The 278-room hotel boasts incredible views of the city skyline and waterfront.
Also within walking distance is the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C. In addition to a recently completed a $20 million renovation, this elegant hotel also boasts the incredibly Zen Four-Star spa.
The Wharf isn’t accessible by Metro, but you can take a shuttle bus from either the Waterfront Metro on the green line or the L’Enfant Metro on the blue, orange, silver, yellow and green lines. Bike parking is also available.
Parking, like any city destination, is at a premium — there are only 1,500 spaces available, but another thousand will open as construction clears. For the moment, the easiest way to get around is to Uber or Lyft your way there.
A new water taxi even connects the neighborhood with its waterfront counterparts. Nearby Georgetown, Yards Park (where the city’s Washington Nationals baseball team plays), Old Town Alexandria and National Harbor are all accessible by water.