The Best of Washington, DC's Waterfront Dining

Locals and visitors alike who enjoy delicious food and refreshing libations outdoors in the warmth of the sun’s rays, at sunset, or under the dazzling night sky beat the heat by visiting many of the D.C. area waterfront restaurants and bars.

The best al fresco dining in the area is along the waterfront with remarkable views of the Potomac River with the beautiful backdrop of the national monuments. Diners can enjoy a cool breeze and calming sound of the water, providing an escape from the city. Here are some of the city’s top restaurants with waterfront views.


Bond 45 at the National Harbor

Some of the best views of DC landmarks and the Potomac River are from The Washington Harbour (3000 K St., NW) along the Georgetown waterfront. While the waterfront sustained some damage from a severe flood in April, many of the restaurants have their patios open and are bustling once again. In the summertime, happy hour along the Georgetown waterfront is a place to see and be seen and where DC’s glitterati hang out on summer nights. Sequoia’s three-tier outdoor terrace offers stunning views of the waterfront and the flotilla of boats and kayaks passing by along with panoramic views of the Kennedy Center, the Watergate, Memorial and Key Bridges. If you prefer to stay out of the humidity, the rear facade of two-level restaurant is nearly all glass, allowing diners to enjoy the view of the river without suffering from the heat or the crowds. Enjoy modern American cuisine, a formidable wine list, and renowned River Bar. Don’t miss out on the fresh oysters! Be aware, all of Sequoia’s reservations are for inside only, while dining on the patio is seated on a first come first serve basis.

Next door, offering fresh seafood, Tony and Joe’s is great for people watching, especially on warm summer evenings. Located right on the Potomac River, their 200-seat patio offers incredible views of the Kennedy Center, the Key Bridge and Roosevelt Island. Try one of their enormous sandwiches served with a mound of crispy golden fries, seasoned with Old Bay, and tangy coleslaw. Often slightly less crowded and offering a more comfy atmosphere, the spacious outdoor patio at Nick’s Riverside Grill (3050 K St., NW) spills onto Washington Harbour’s boardwalk and is a great place to people watch and enjoy a cool drink. Be sure to arrive early! A spot under one of their bright-blue umbrellas to watch the sun go down is a coveted seat.


Sea Catch Restaurant (photo courtesy of RB Properties, Inc.)

Also in Washington Harbour, although not technically waterfront, Sea Catch Restaurant (1054 31st St., NW) offers visitors a charming patio overlooking the beautiful C&O Canal. Take advantage of their complimentary valet parking and their fresh seafood simply prepared in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. If you’re looking for a something a little more exotic, check out Bangkok Joe’s, a “dumpling bar and café” serving up authentic “Thai street food”. They have great happy hour specials, offering half priced cocktails.Favorites include the Peking Duck Roll and the refreshing ginger iced tea, a pungent take on the Arnold Palmer. The patio is pet-friendly, so feel free to bring along your furry friend. The Washington Harbour is a great option for waterfront dining; there is a something for everyone.

On the opposite side of the city, the historic Southwest Waterfront, along Washington, DC’s largest waterfront expanse, is being revitalized. The Wharf located at 7th and Water Street, SW is a work in progress; however, one thing that will never change is the fish wharf and market (1100 Maine Ave. SW), one of the few surviving open air seafood markets on the east coast. In operation since 1805, it is the oldest continuously operating fish market in the United States. This place is like the red-light district of raw seafood. You’ll find everything from rare fish to Maryland Blue Crabs. If you don’t want to cook it up yourself, also located on the Southwest Waterfront, Phillips Seafood Restaurant (900 Water St., SW) is the only all-you-can-eat seafood buffet in the District. Enjoy their expansive buffet features over 30 fresh seafood selections daily, as well as regional specialties, made-to-order stations and non-seafood options. In addition, there is a traditional a la carte menu, available featuring their famous jumbo lump crab cakes.


The outdoor deck at Cantina Marina

Almost next door to Phillips is Cantina Marina (600 Water St., SW), a place that you’d expect to find in Miami, a fun waterside bar with draft beers in plastic cups and Jimmy Buffett playing on the speakers. It’s a place to go and have a margarita and watch the sun move over the water. Enjoy authentic Cajun dishes, such as, the gumbo, catfish, and po’ boys or try the Baja-California-style tacos. Their Crab balls, which are a cross between croquettes and crab cakes are a must have. Besides delicious seafood, you can enjoy mouth-watering barbecue at the Southwest Waterfront. King Ribs Bar-B-Q, a local institution of the community for over 40 years, Bufus Buchanan offers arguably the best BBQ ribs in the city. His amazing ribs, chicken and steaks have a loyal following among longtime residents, and his location along the waterfront also makes it a great spot to enjoy a summer evening. Stop by on Thursday evenings from 5-8 p.m. and enjoy live Jazz (see schedule), or on Friday evening from 6-8 p.m. where the 7th Landing hosts a variety of live music.


Sunset at McCloones Pier House deck. Photo by Dottie Cooper.

Just outside of DC, the National Harbor, rising from the banks of the Potomac River in Prince George’s County, MD, is a 350-acre mecca for shopping, dining, and more with five hotels (including the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center), over 30 restaurants, shops, and fully functioning marina. There is no metro, but enjoy Water Taxi service to and from Old Town Alexandria, Mount Vernon, and Georgetown. What a fun way to travel! The National Harbor offers a wide array of restaurants ranging from elegant waterfront dining to family-friendly and casual eating establishments. At McLoone’s Pier House (141 National Plz), where counting down to sunset is cause for celebration. A very lively happy hour spot with live music daily starting at 7 p.m., you can watch the sun set over the flotilla of sails and masts, while sipping on your specialty cocktail and enjoying bowls of their peel-and-eat shrimp. Dine al fresco on their patio with a breathtaking sunset view while enjoying a fresh zesty salad or pasta, savory crab dip, fresh sushi, mouth-watering burger, or steak - you’ll have a hard time choosing!

Known for its fresh seafood, McCormick and Schmick’s (145 National Plz), offers stunning views of the river and features more than 30 varieties of fresh fish and seafood delivered daily from local and international waters. Cool off inside at Bond 45 (149 Waterfront St.), a New York-born Italian steakhouse with its dim lighting and dark, clubby interior while enjoying a Prohibition cocktail served in an antique teacup. Or if you’re lucky, snag a table on their outdoor patio overlooking the water and enjoy picturesque sunset over the river while enjoying a fresh crab cake or dry-aged steak. Don’t miss their antipasto bar with house-made cheeses or desserts buffet. Enjoy upscale, modern and authentic Mexican cuisine at Rosa Mexicano (153 Waterfront St.) while enjoying a pomegranate margarita and bowl of made-to-order guacamole on the outdoor patio overlooking the water.

Just outside of the District, the historic Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia offers striking views of the riverfront. Visitors can metro to the King Street Metro on the yellow line and ride the free King Street trolley down to the waterfront. The free trolley operates along the one-and-a-half mile route seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 10:15 p.m Head down to The Chart House (1 Cameron St.), located on the historic Potomac River at the foot of King Street, the area’s only waterfront dining location boasts panoramic views of the river, as well as, other DC landmarks. With nightly entertainment, enjoy a relaxing evening with while watching the sunset on the water. Situated on Daingerfield Island, adjacent to the Washington Marina, enjoy watching the boats set sail on the Potomac at Indigo Landing, (1 Marina Dr.) Their 100-seat outdoor deck and location along the water is the perfect setting for a night out. Find refuge from your long day of museum hopping in the bustling city and enjoy the tranquility of the naturalistic setting while viewing the monuments from your relaxing chair. Instead of waiting in line, you can enjoy the views of DC over your favorite cocktail, specialty drink, or a glass of fine wine from our international wine list.

Also in Virginia, visit Madigan’s Waterfront (201 Mill St. Occoquan, VA), located right on the Occoquan River. Their expansive partially covered deck and tiki bar is especially attractive on summer evenings, where you can enjoy live entertainment, drinks and fresh seafood, and watch for Ospreys flying down the Occoquan River.

By Lisa D. Shapiro, Dining Editor