Waterfront fun just minutes from D.C. at National Harbor

SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 8/6/2020, midnight
You’re dreaming about the day you’ll vacay in some locale far, far, away. But until then, stay closer to home.
MGM National Harbor Photo courtesy of hotel

You’re dreaming about the day you’ll vacay in some locale far, far, away. But until then, stay closer to home. Hop in your car or on Amtrak. You’ve likely been to Washington, D.C., but chances are you haven’t even heard of National Harbor. The 350-acre waterfront destination only sprang up a little over a decade ago and is home to just 2,000 year-round residents. National Harbor is a sweet spot on the Potomac in the DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia). Located in Oxon Hill, Maryland, National Harbor is a mere 15-20 minutes from D.C. and a world unto itself.

A signature of this resort town is the Capital Wheel. Ideally, plan on going around the time the sun sets for a ride 180 feet above the Potomac. The views of D.C. monuments, Old Town Alexandria and Maryland are impressive. No worries, you’ll exhale after the first couple of rotations.

Art fans will love the Art Collection at National Harbor. Text ACNH to 56512 for an art scavenger hunt and interactive guide to the masterpieces you’ll encounter around the harbor. There are statues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Louis Armstrong, Marilyn Monroe, Frederick Douglass, and others, but what’s likely to tug at your heart is the lifelike statues in uniform for the Army, Marine Corps, Navy Air Force and Coast Guard. They face the Potomac River, a National Harbor sign topped with an American flag completes the mood. Don’t want to spoil it, but a piece called The Awakening will get your attention.

Being on the harbor you know there’s plenty of fun to be had on the water. The Potomac Riverboat Company Water Taxi can get you to D.C. sites, Old Town Alexandria, Mount Vernon, Georgetown and The Wharf, D.C.’s waterfront district. Boating in D.C. offers classes, tours, rentals of kayaks, canoes and paddleboards.

If shopping is your pleasure, there are boutiques like Brookie Girl, an African American owned bath and body care products store, Alex and Ani, Build-A- Bear Workshop, and Peeps and Company, as well as Tanger Outlets and its plethora of shops.

What’s surely a pleasant surprise is the array of cuisine. There are more than 40 restaurants to get your eat-on, from fine dining to casual. How to choose? There’s no wrong choice. But there are some favorites. Grace’s Mandarin is all about the atmosphere. You’re transported, you could be in Thailand, and the views of the Potomac are memorable, and, yes, the grub is good, very good. Not only will you get a heck of a steak at the Old Hickory Steakhouse, their dirty martinis are much beloved. Bond 45 is great for lunch, and if you like southern cuisine, Succotash is southern with a Korean twist. For beer lovers there’s Granite City Brewing. If you prefer vino, pop in the Tasting Room Wine Bar & Shop. It’s a wine bar and retail shop.

Head over to Fleet Street for the entertainment district. Bobby McKey’s dueling piano bar has live music. If you’re feeling adventurous, ride the mechanical bull at Cadillac Ranch. AC Lounge in the AC Hotel is the spot for al fresco water views and signature, handcrafted cocktails. Indulge your artistic urgings at Muse Paintbar, which combines painting lessons with a restaurant and bar, with daily painting sessions. All ages are welcome. Pose Nightclub on the 18th floor of Gaylord National Hotel is the hot spot for late night fun as is Felt and Blossom in the MGM National Harbor. Any time of day you can get your gaming groove on at MGM National Harbor’s casino, which is one of the largest gaming floors outside of Las Vegas. Do find out who’s performing at their theater. There’s always top talent on the bill.