Washington may not historically be a river-oriented city—we're no London on the Thames—but there are nonetheless a ton of lovely waterfront spots all over the region, from bustling urban centers to quiet escapes. Since spring has maybe, finally, gratefully arrived, here are 43 pleasant waterfront spots in the Washington region for you to enjoy.
1. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Contrary to myth, Washington is not built on a swamp. Kenilworth, on the other hand, contains the District of Columbia's only legitimate tidal marsh. The aquatic gardens are a unique and underappreciated way to see the Anacostia River (pictured above).
2. Watergate Steps
Long before the famous Nixonian buildings were a gleam in their architect's eye, this spot just west of the Lincoln Memorial was one of DC's more happening public gathering places. The ambiance hasn't quite been the same since Ohio Drive became a highway, but it's still a nice spot to stop and enjoy the Potomac River view.
3. Chain Bridge Flats & Little Falls
In far Northwest, between the DC/Montgomery County line and the Chain Bridge to Virginia, the Potomac narrows to pass through a rocky section. It's the geologic fall line, and it's one of the most naturally beautiful spots in the region. A parking lot at the Virginia foot of the bridge and clear, flat walking paths splitting from the C&O Canal make this a surprisingly easy place to visit via car or bicycle.
4. C&O Canal
History, fun lock structures, and everything from urban to suburban to rural. This has been one of the region's top trails for decades.
5. Fletcher's Cove
This tiny miniature harbor near Foxhall Crescent has some of the river's best fishing, as well as a boat house where you can rent canoes and rowboats.
6. Hains Point & East Potomac Park
One of DC's most well-known weekend bicyling-for-fun loops, this island at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers is also popular for picnicking.
7. West Potomac Park
For a hangout with all the benefits of monumental views but without the tourist crowds, this stretch of riverfront just south of the National Mall is hard to beat.
8. Georgetown Waterfront Park
What once was a parking lot is now one of the most popular parks in the city. Stairs leading straight down to the Potomac's edge turn the river itself into a display.
9. Washington Harbor
Leafy parks are nice, but if you're yearning for a riverbank lined with people and cafes, Georgetown's Washington Harbor is one of the best bets in DC.
10. Thompson Boat Center
Want to rent a kayak and paddle around Georgetown? This is your place.
11. Kennedy Center Terrace
Porches lining multiple levels of the Kennedy Center offer expansive, free views.
12. Roosevelt Island
This woodsy river island between Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn is a quiet respite near the middle of the city. The Teddy Roosevelt Memorial at the island's center is practically a secret.
13. Southwest Waterfront
The Wharf is DC's newest neighborhood, and one of the city's prime cafe-lined esplanades. But don't stop there, Southwest Waterfront also includes the charmingly offbeat Municipal Fish Market, and the dramatic Titanic Memorial.
14. Yards Park
The futuristic pedestrian bridge, the man-made lagoon full of children playing, the cafes and restrautants, what's not to love?
15. Diamond Teague Park
Right next to National ballpark, this public dock and conservation center is an outdoor school.
16. Anacostia River trails (both sides)
20 miles of recreation and transportation trails line both banks of the Anacostia River.
17. Poplar Point
Directly opposite Nationals ballpark, I once spotted wild turkeys in this grassy embankment.
18. George Washington Parkway overlooks
A series of scenic pull-offs from the George Washington Parkway are one of the best reasons to go out Sunday driving.
19. Mount Vernon Trail
20. Gravelly Point
Watching planes take off and land from this peninsula just north of National Airport is among the Washington area's best free entertainment.
21. LBJ Grove & Virginia-side lagoons
The memorial park to Lyndon Baines and Lady Bird Johnson has a nice grove of trees and a simple stone monument to environmentalism, while the Pentagon and Roaches Run lagoons are great for birdwatching.
22. Mount Vernon and Piscataway Park
George Washington's historic Mount Vernon estate commands an impressive Potomac overlook. Directly across the river in Maryland, Piscataway Park is home to a colonial-era living history farm, and great views of Mount Vernon.
23. Alexandria's riverfront parks
24. Alexandria's harborfront
The Torpedo Factory Art Center and the rest of the boardwalk feel like a smaller, more local version of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
25. Great Falls
A geological wonder right at our doorstep. Don't overlook the bona fide canyon, Mather Gorge, slightly downstream.
26. Reston's lakefront village centers
Before Reston Town Center, village centers including at Lake Anne (pictured) and South Lakes were the hearts of Reston. Lake Anne in particular is a masterpiece of mid-century brutalism.
27. Occoquan boardwalk
Prince William County's Occoquan dates to before the Revolutionary War, but to this day there are barely 1,000 people living there. The village, and its Occoquan River boardwalk, feel completely apart from surrounding suburbia.
28. Fredericksburg Riverfront Park
If Fredericksburg were closer to DC it would be another Old Town Alexandria. Its Rappahannock Riverfront Park is simple, but the view of the Fredericksburg Train Bridge is a railfan's dream.
29. Nice Bridge beach (Dahlgren Wayside Park)
Where US-301 crosses the Potomac River on the Governor Harry Nice Memorial Bridge, there's a tiny beach on the Virginia shore. The view of the power plant across the river is less than ideal, but upstream cliffs make up for it.
30. White's Ferry
This cable-guided slab is a trippy way to cross the Potomac, roughly between Leesburg, VA and Poolesville, MD.
31. Sycamore Island Ferry
You thought White's Fery was the only one? A private non-profit club owns Sycamore Island, in the Potomac near Glen Echo. A tiny hand-pulled ferry provides access, but the club is hard to join and rides are hard to come by.
32. Gaithersburg's Washingtonian waterfront
This New Urbanist town center is built around a lakefront boardwalk, and is one of upper Montgomery County's most popular hangouts.
33. Suburban lake parks
Suburban communities around the region are blessed with tranquil lakes, often surrounded by parks. There's Burke Lake, and Lake Accotink, and Lake Barcoft, and Lake Fairfax, and Seneca Lake, and Clopper Lake, and Tridelphia Reservoir, and Rocky Gorge Reservoir, and Lakes Needwood and Frank, and Folly Branch, and so so many more that they're impossible to all list.
34. Frederick Carrol Creek Linear Park
The closest analogue our region has to the famous San Antonio River Walk, downtown Frederick's esplanade is crossed with a collection of architecturally interesting pedestrian bridges.
35. National Harbor
36. Fort Washington
Over 200 years old, this fort hoped to protect Washington from river attack. During the War of 1812, the British navy bombarded and conquered it during their campaign to burn Washington. Now it's a tranquil park filled with wildlife.
37. Bladensburg Waterfront
Another victim of the War of 1812, Bladensburg was once an Anacostia port town. Today, with a harbor silted beyond navigability, it's a quiet suburban park.
38. Columbia Town Center
Unlike its more urban-looking cousins in Reston and Gaithersburg, this Howard County lakefront town center is unapologetically suburban, with broad grassy setbacks and surface parking lots. Nonetheless it's a fascinating and beautiful place.
39. North Beach & Chesapeake Beach
Nearby and inexpensive, but with miniscule beaches and cold estuary water, these two Chesapeake Bay towns are miniature versions of beach resorts.
Historic Annapolis with its quaint harbor is a must-see for urbanists and water-lovers alike.
Regardless of whether you consider it part of the Washington area, the skyscraper-lined Inner Harbor is a sight to see. But it's hardly Baltimore's only offering. There's also Fell's Point, Fort McHenry, and more.
42. Harper's Ferry
West Virginia's easternmost tip, where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers converge, is an absolutely picturesque collection of green-covered hills, rocky cliff faces, ancient ruins, and a historic village.
43. Tidal Basin
Duh. Everyone's favorite for good reason.
What did I miss?