Want to know the top things to do at The Wharf in Washington, DC? I’ve got you covered below. But first – a little background.
I’ve lived in Washington, DC for over 15 years. Until recently, it always felt transient. A temporary resting stop on your way to something else.
But over the years, DC has changed. The restaurant scene is booming. Concert venues attract the top acts. Outdoor spaces draw crowds. Washington, DC used to be a place that you passed through. Now it’s a destination.
And the place that finally made that feel true to me? The Wharf.
After years of redevelopment, Washington, DC’s Southwest waterfront has transformed into a beautiful waterfront boardwalk with incredible restaurants, rooftop terraces, concert venues, and outdoor spaces. And there’s something magical to me about the gently swaying boats that line the docks along the boardwalk.
But you need to check it out for your self. Use my guide below to help plan your time at The Wharf. I know you’ll love it!
1. Dine at a spectacular restaurant
I have to start with The Wharf’s restaurant scene. There are over 30 places to eat at The Wharf.
From burgers to filet mignon, doughnuts to falafel, there’s something for everyone.
Here are some of my favorites:
- I love the brunch corned beef & hash at Kirwan’s Irish Pub.
- Hank’s Oyster Bar is my favorite for…well, oysters.
- I head to La Vie or Del Mar for the classy ambiance.
- I enjoy Tiki TNT for the lack of classy ambiance (but a whole lot of fun).
Insider Tip: Some of the restaurants on The Wharf are very popular, so plan ahead and get a reservation before you go.
2. Take in the view from a rooftop terrace
My next favorite thing to do at The Wharf? Take in the view from a rooftop terrace.
There are no shortage of rooftop terraces at The Wharf. And they all provide a spectacular view of the Washington Channel and East Potomac Park (the island on the other side of the waterway).
Many of these rooftop terraces have outdoor heaters and firepits. With Washington, DC’s (usually) mild winter, that means you can take advantage of these rooftops year-round.
My favorites are Whiskey Charlie and Officina. Whiskey Charlie will give you an unobstructed view of the river. The relaxed, low-frills vibe makes you feel comfortable, even when you’re looking at what feels like a million-dollar view. Officina’s river view is partially obstructed, but you won’t notice as you relax in the comfy sofas next to a fire pit.
3. Go to a concert
The Wharf has four (four!) concert venues. You can have an awesome dinner, check out the rooftop view, and then head to a concert, all in one night!
If you’re looking for more established acts, then the Anthem is the place to go. I’ve been lucky enough to see Old Dominion and Pentatonix at the Anthem. You’ll need advance tickets for concerts at the Anthem.
Insider Tip: Cell phone coverage isn’t great inside the Anthem, so make a plan on where to meet people before you split up to get food and drinks inside the venue.
And don’t forget the outdoor concert venues! Throughout the year, you can catch free outdoor performances at several of The Wharf’s piers. Your best bet is Transit Pier (next to Cantina Bambina). Transit Pier has a large, open-air stage with free concerts in the summer.
4. Visit the fish market
Long before The Wharf was even a dream, the Maine Avenue Fish Market was drawing a crowd to the Southwest waterfront area of DC.
Happily, the open-air fish market remains at the far northwest end of The Wharf. It is apparently the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the United States.
Come for fresh and cooked blue crab, fish, oysters, clams, shrimp, and more. My absolute favorite is the king crab legs from Salt Water Seafood. Get them steamed while you wait. They are pricey but so worth the splurge.
5. Take the water taxi
I love boat rides. Ferries, cruises, speed boats, paddle boats – I love them all.
The Wharf’s water taxi service fulfills my love of boat rides. Hop on the water taxi at The Wharf’s Transit Pier and go to Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, or National Harbor.
It’s a cool way to expand your visit to The Wharf and visit other areas in the DC area.
Cost is $12 one-way and $20 round trip on the weekends and $10 one-way and $18 round trip on weekdays. Skip the line and purchase tickets in advance here.
6. Jump on the water jitney
If you’re looking for a shorter boat ride (that’s free!) check out the water jitney.
The water jitney will take you to East Potomac Park, which is the island directly across from The Wharf on the Washington Channel.
Two of the best things at East Potomac Park? It’s public picnic areas and the spectacular cherry blossom blooms in the spring.
Utilize the public picnic areas by first getting a to-go lunch at one of The Wharf restaurants. Then hop on the water jitney and take your lunch over to East Potomac Park to eat on a nice day. The grassy areas, benches, and picnic tables make it easy to sit and enjoy the boats passing by.
In the spring, East Potomac Park has some of the prettiest cherry blossoms in the area. The Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin will have crazy crowds to see the blossoms, but you won’t experience as many crowds at East Potomac Park. Find out more about Washington, DC’s cherry blossoms here.
Insider Tip: If you walk south along Ohio Drive Southwest to the other side of East Potomac Park, you can see the planes landing and taking off at National Airport. It’s a little bit of a hike (about a 30 minute walk), but you’ll likely find a dockless scooter or bike nearby to cut down the time it takes to get there. It’s well worth the effort.
The water jitney leaves from The Wharf’s Recreation Pier seven days a week during daylight hours.
7. Take advantage of the outdoor spaces
Another cool thing about The Wharf? All the fun outdoor spaces.
At the far south end of The Wharf, you’ll find picturesque rope swings and benches at Recreation Pier.
At Market Pier at the far north end of The Wharf, the lounging chairs are perfect for eating the freshly cooked seafood from the nearby Fish Market.
The Adirondack chairs near District Pier surround a fire pit for warming up on chilly nights. Plus, you can buy smores to roast in the fire during winter months. Yum…
And all the way along The Wharf, you’ll find casual benches lining the water. These are perfect spots for watching the sunset.
Take advantage of these outdoor spaces to sit and chat, eat some to-go food, or just take in the waterfront activity.
8. Get your workout on
On the far south end of The Wharf, you’ll find Recreation Pier.
The “boathouse” (really just a floating pier) is open from April to mid-October. From the boathouse, kayaks and standup paddleboards await you – from rentals to classes to monument tours.
It’s a fun way to experience The Wharf from the water, while also getting in some exercise.
You can reserve your rental, class, or tour here.
Insider Tip: Kayaking and standup paddleboarding are great ways to see the cherry blossom blooms on nearby East Potomac Island. Make sure you reserve your vessel of choice far in advance of peak bloom (usually late March/early April), since everything cherry blossom-related sells out far in advance.
9. Play all the games
The Wharf has fun games and activities for everyone to play year-round. Work in a game or activity in between bites to eat at the restaurants or people watching along the waterway. Here are just a few options:
- Gigantic Connect 4 (you’ll find me here)
- Splash park near Recreation Pier in the warm months
- Ice skating on Transit Pier in the winter
- Swings on Recreation Pier (mentioned above with outdoor spaces but worthy of another mention)
With these games and activities, who needs to go home?? Make a day of it at The Wharf.
10. Attend the special events
The Wharf throws some seriously awesome special events. The Wharf is incredible even on a regular day. Throw in a special event? That’s the stuff great memories are made of.
The first Saturday of December, head to The Wharf for the holiday boat parade, where boats blazing with Christmas lights float down the Washington Channel. Add in live music, a wine & beer garden, and an insane fireworks display. You’ll be missing out if you skip this event. One of my favorite events of the year.
Other special (and ridiculously fun) events include:
- Hungry human hippos on ice (think of the game and replace the hippos with humans – so fun)
- Mardi Gras (complete with a mini parade, dance party, and a fireworks celebration)
- Running of the Chihuahuas (the name says it all)
- Shark week kick-off (includes a great white mechanical shark and a monster shark water slide)
- Wienerfest (a combination of Oktoberfest and wiener dog racing – which begs the question, how do the chihuahuas feel about this?)