Washington, D.C./Waterfront

The Waterfront, lies just south of the National Mall, but despite its attractions and location, has remained overlooked by most visitors to the city. Don't make this mistake; walk down to the Fish Wharf and have some seafood! The neighborhood is often referred to as the "Southwest," as it is part of that rare SW quadrant of the city—the vast majority of the city's southwest quadrant (modern day Arlington and Alexandria) retroceded to Virginia in the early nineteenth century to avoid the criminalization of the slave trade.


Typical Southwest Waterfront scene—charming D.C. row houses, construction, and government brutalist monstrosity

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 right next to the Capitol. The neighborhood is one of the city's oldest, dating back to the eighteenth century, but early in its history 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. Needless to say, the stench brought down the price of real estate, and the neighborhood was attractive only for poorer Washingtonians looking for cheap housing. (In the late 1800s 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 western 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 twentieth 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 more or less 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 Fish Wharf and the churches around which the old communities were based.

In just the past decade, the Waterfront has moved into a new era, as the construction of the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium set off a spectacular real estate boom and a wave of new construction. Condos and apartment buildings have sprung up throughout the western section of the neighborhood and around the new ballpark, and new restaurants, clubs, and bars have followed. The Washington Channel, which separates the parkland on Hains Point from the rest of the Waterfront, is home to the 200-year-old open air seafood market, the Fish Wharf, as well as several large marinas, endless rows of boats, and some big seafood restaurants of questionable tourist-trappiness. To the south and east are major military facilities at Fort McNair, home to the prestigious National Defense University, and Navy Yard, the ceremonial headquarters of the U.S. Navy.

Get in

Boathouse on the Washington Channel

By metro

The main Metro stop in the area is the L'Enfant Plaza station on the Blue, Orange, Silver, Green, and Yellow lines. If going to the Fish Wharf, the Smithsonian station (Blue/Orange/Silver lines) is about a block closer. Further along the green line is the Waterfront station, and then the Navy Yard station, which is right by Nationals Park and, of course, the Navy Yard itself.

By bus

The D.C. Circulator's Union Station-Navy Yard "Navy" line runs down from Union Station, 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 (so you can sneak out by bus to reach the Metro Red Line and avoid the huge crowds).

Metrobus routes #70 and #71 also come down along 7th St (and run north along 7th St/Georgia Ave NW through the Mall, East End, Shaw, and all the way up to Silver Spring), stopping at L'Enfant Plaza station before winding around the Waterfront station, and then looping around the neighborhood streets directly south.

By car

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.

As with the rest of downtown D.C., parking can be scarce. For parking near the Maine Ave Fish Market, there are some metered spaces at the south end of Water St SW. As long as there isn't a Nationals game, parking is a little easier further east, and you can usually find nearby on-street parking for Arena Stage productions.

Waterfront street map


There are a couple big attractions here, but yet, since the Southwest Waterfront doesn't register on many visitors' itineraries, they're delightfully uncrowded and even unknown. Even locals will be surprised and impressed to hear about the Titanic Memorial or the Naval Museum.


The Thomas Law House

Little architecture survived the urban renewal, but those buildings that did are some of the better examples of early Washingtonian architecture in the city.


Nationals Park


The Waterfront is D.C.'s main harbor, and the launch point for all its main Potomac riverboat cruises.


Necessities aren't hard to find, but the neighborhood here is still in its infancy—don't expect to find any terribly interesting shopping.


Fish Wharf

With the big exception of the Wharf, the Southwest Waterfront is pretty barren in terms of good eats. The channel-side restaurants just south of the Wharf look pretty from the outside, and yes, they do have lovely views, but the food is overpriced and unimpressive, and so are the ambiance and service. The dining options to the north around the big government buildings are mostly limited to bureaucrat-filled pricey cafeterias. Around Nationals Park during lunch hours it pays to look for food stand vendors—the Korean lady at M and 2nd St SE makes some mean bulgogi.

Fish Wharf

The Fish Wharf, aka the Wharf, aka the Maine Avenue Fish Market, 1100 Maine Ave SW, ☎ +1 202 484-2722. 8AM-9PM daily. The Wharf is a real D.C. cultural tradition, that's survived the neighborhood's upheavals for over two centuries, and the big open-air seafood market is a tourist attraction in its own right. 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. This is, of course, the Mid-Atlantic, so it's time to find some 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.





Neon at the Cantina Marina

Bars are still few in the area, as the business district empties after work, and the residential district is still relatively small. If you are looking for a tipple, especially if coming off the Mall, the hotel bars are often the best bet. Pre-game drinks are pretty much limited to The Bullpen by the stadium, but Justin's Cafe (see above) is a good, if crowded, option not too far away.


The Waterfront area can be a little boring by way of nightlife and dining, but it is extremely close to both the airport and the Mall, and it benefits from the corresponding views. And of course, if you're by the Metro, you're not far from the rest of the city.



The Women's Titanic Memorial


There are four Starbucks in the business district (north of I-395, south of the Mall), all of which have free Wi-Fi, as does Lot 38 Espresso Bar. Otherwise, head to the library for free public terminals and Wi-Fi:

Go next

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

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, January 19, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.