Six Hours in Northwest D.C.

One of these is better at paddling than the other.

Forget 36 hours in D.C., just give me six.

Wake up on a perfectly sunny blue sky day and walk to the Georgetown Waterfront. Perhaps stop for coffee somewhere like Baked and Wired (enter and go to the counter on the right, the left side is the line for cupcakes and they’re delicious, but literally nothing is delicious enough to justify enduring a 20-minute wait on a line of confused tourists), or Grace Street Coffee (where the danger comes from too many undergrads in spandex rather than too many tourists).

Make your way to Boating In DC’s boathouse underneath the Whitehurst Freeway. Formerly Jack’s Boathouse, this place maintains the laidback vibe that inspired me to call Jack’s to ask about hosting my wedding reception there (Spoiler: we didn’t do that). Boating In DC manages seven boathouses around the DMV, but I’ve only actually rented a water-faring vessel from the Key Bridge Boat House. Their venue on the Wharf looks like a great starting point for an afternoon adventure, checking out the monuments from the water before or after a great meal at The Wharf.

At the boathouse, pick your poison. I always opt for a paddleboard, Matt usually goes with a kayak. Nearly everyone I go with expresses shock that I would dare take a paddleboard and risk falling into the – gasp! – Potomac River. To this I say two things: One, how often do you actually fall off a paddleboard (once you say this boastfully, you will most definitely fall into the river); Two, believe what you want. I, I choose to focus on good news like this Washington Post opinion piece, “The Potomac River is an American success story.” While Matt chooses to fixate on headlines like this, “Guess what’s under the Reach at the Kennedy Center? A massive sewer pipe.”

Now that you’ve picked your poison / paddle, get on the river. You can rent a drysack from the Boat House for less than $10, if you want to take your phone and valuables. It’s worth taking your phone on the river, because the views are spectacular. But if you choose not to, rent a locker or take your chances and leave stuff dockside.

On the river, take a hard left and go to the left of Roosevelt Island (the small island between Arlington and Georgetown). It’s better to fight this very slight current when you’re getting started. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy the waterfront view of the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument  on the first half of the loop. Notice the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial – this was originally intended to be the gateway to the city for visiting dignitaries who arrived by ship, and these steps were called the “Watergate” steps decades before, well, Watergate.

Just after the picture perfect view of the Lincoln Memorial and the Watergate stairs, you’ll veer right and go round the other side of Roosevelt Island. You’ll pass beneath the footbridge that takes hikers, bikers and hundreds of dogs onto the National Park Service-managed island each day. Right past that will be a Hogwarts-style view of Georgetown University. Beyond a few unpleasant trips to the ER, I have literally no connection to the college, yet this view always takes away my breath and I feel proud to pretend an allegiance – Hoya Saxa!

It’s around this bend that I wish I’d rented a canoe. You can see the Boat House, but it seems farther and farther away. Fear not, my eight-year-old niece has paddled this stretch and Cappie has swam this stretch, you will make it.

When you check your board/boat back in, take a right on K Street and walk along the waterfront park. If you did get splashed in the river and want to get doused with clean water, sprint through the fountain at Wisconsin and K Street (word to the wise: this is more socially acceptable when you have a child with you).

Hungry yet? I always am after a hot hour on the water. Start marching uphill on Wisconsin. Do not pass go at any of the solid restaurants. Walk right on my Filomena, do not get distracted by Chaia Tacos, definitely do not stop at Martin’s, keep walking, walking, up, up to Via Umbria.  

This café / store / cooking school is a little piece of Italy in Georgetown. It is unpretentiously precocious. The waitstaff there knows the difference between each bottle of wine on their shelves, but they’ll just as happily shove the bottles aside for your stroller as they will explain them to you. While they strongly recommend you choose pasta as a course for your meal, they won’t bat an eye if you just choose to eat pasta as your entrée. Or, heck, skip the pasta and go for the burger!

Except, don’t go for the burger. Not because it isn’t excellent, but because there are so many more interesting things on the menu – even in the sandwich category. I recommend the Tricolor salad and the Porchetta sandwich. But the last time I ordered that, I knew I would be able to sneak at least six bites of pasta from my nephew, so, perhaps I should have just also ordered the orechhiette.

Sit, order a bottle of wine off the shelves, open it. Relax, indulge, watch the world flow in and out of the store. Oh, that woman grocery shops exclusively at Via Umbria? Interesting. Oh, that woman is hosting a baby shower tomorrow and forgot until today. Interesting. Oh, that woman is really wishing they’d stopped at two children, so she’s ordering a third Aperol Spritz. Interesting.

Yes, I believe all I need is six hours for my perfect D.C. day. I hope there’s a scooter outside, because I’ll be ready for a nap.


Alicia Amling View All →

Recovering journalist who discovered a life outside of news leaves you time for things like getting angry, cooking and traveling. Plus, hopefully, writing. I’m a wife, dog mom and Washingtonian.

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