Kenilworth Aquatic Garden. Image by Mr. T in DC licensed under Creative Commons.

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.

Watergate Steps. Image by the author.

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.

Chain Bridge Flats. Image by the author.

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.

C&O Canal in Georgetown. Image by the author.

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.

Fletcher's Cove. Image by the author.

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.

Fisherman at the northern end of East Potomac Park, opposite from Hains Point. Image by Valerie licensed under Creative Commons.

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.

West Potomac Park. Image by the author.

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.

Georgetown Waterfront steps. Image by the author.

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.

Georgetown's Washington Harbor. Image by Google.

10. Thompson Boat Center

Want to rent a kayak and paddle around Georgetown? This is your place.

Thompson Boat Center. Image by the author.

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.

Roosevelt Island. Image by the author.

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.

The Wharf. Image by the author.

14. Yards Park

The futuristic pedestrian bridge, the man-made lagoon full of children playing, the cafes and restrautants, what's not to love?

Yards Park. Image by the author.

15. Diamond Teague Park

Right next to National ballpark, this public dock and conservation center is an outdoor school.

Diamond Teague Park. Image by the author.

16. Anacostia River trails (both sides)

20 miles of recreation and transportation trails line both banks of the Anacostia River.

Part of the Anacostia trail network. Image by the author.

17. Poplar Point

Directly opposite Nationals ballpark, I once spotted wild turkeys in this grassy embankment.

Poplar Point. Image by the author.

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.

GW Parkway overlook, with Fletcher's Cove across the river. Image by the author.

19. Mount Vernon Trail

This 18 mile trail between Roosevelt Island and the Mount Vernon estate is a lovely bike ride, lined with stops like the Jones Point Lighthouse, and the Navy and Marine Memorial.

Mount Vernon Trail. Image by the author.

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.

National Airport seen from Gravelly Point. Image by the author.

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.

LBJ Grove.  Image by National Park Service.

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.

Mount Vernon seen from Piscataway Park Image by F Delventhal licensed under Creative Commons.

23. Alexandria's riverfront parks

A series of leafy parks lines Alexandria's riverfront north and south of Old Town. Find the seaglass beach, Founders Park, Daingerfield Island, and more.

One of Alexandria's green waterfront parks. Image by the author.

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.

Alexandria's inner harbor. Image by the author.

25. Great Falls

A geological wonder right at our doorstep. Don't overlook the bona fide canyon, Mather Gorge, slightly downstream.

Great Falls on the Potomac. Image by the author.

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.

Reston's Lake Anne Village Center. Image by Jerrye & Roy Klotz licensed under Creative Commons.

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.

Fredericksburg Riverfront Park. Image by City of Fredericksburg.

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.

White's Ferry. Image by the author.

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.

Sycamore Island Ferry. Image by Alan Kotok licensed under Creative Commons.

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.

Gaithersburg's Washingtonian waterfront. Image by the author.

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.

Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County. Image by Blake Patterson licensed under Creative Commons.

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.

Frederick, Maryland. Image by Gray Lensman QX! licensed under Creative Commons.

35. National Harbor

Unpopular opinion: I like The Awakening better at this Prince George's County town center than I did at its old home on Hains Point.

National Harbor. Image by the author.

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.

Fort Washington. Image by the author.

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.

Bladensburg Waterfront. Image by the author.

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.

Columbia. Image by the author.

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.

North Beach, Maryland. Image by Mr. T in DC licensed under Creative Commons.

40. Annapolis

Historic Annapolis with its quaint harbor is a must-see for urbanists and water-lovers alike.

Annapolis. Image by adaenn licensed under Creative Commons.

41. Baltimore

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.

Baltimore. Image by Mr. T in DC licensed under Creative Commons.

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.

Harper's Ferry. Image by Payton Chung licensed under Creative Commons.

43. Tidal Basin

Duh. Everyone's favorite for good reason.

Tidal Basin. Image by the author.

What did I miss?