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.
National Harbor is home to two of Maryland’s Four Diamond rated hotels, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center and MGM National Harbor. The Gaylord boasts an indoor junior-Olympic size pool and whirlpool, fitness center, arcade, nightly fountain shows, and 20,000 square-foot, Relache Spa. The MGM has not only the casino and theater, but chef-driven restaurants like Voltaggio Brothers Steak House—you know Bryan and Michael from their stint on “Top Chef.” Chef Gene Nguyen’s Saigon Street offers elevated and authentic Vietnamese cuisine. You can do a bit of shopping with stores like SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker, Swagg Boutique by Nene Leakes and Stitched. The spa is just what you need to wind down. It’s 27,000 square-feet of luxury. Pamper yourself with a Vichy Rain Body Polish, a Ginger Eucalyptus Energizer Massage, or any of the many offerings. Another feature that sets the MGM apart is the hotel’s Heritage Art collection, featuring 30 different artists. Museum quality art is everywhere. If you can’t make it to National Harbor Potomac this fall, it’s a great destination come winter. The holidays are huge here. The highlight is ICE!, a 15,000 square-foot interactive indoor space created entirely of ice by 35 artists from Harbin, China. There’s also ice tubing, ice skating, the Christmas Village and more.