The National Harbor - What It Is & What To Do 

Location: 
National Harbor
United States
US

Many college students, Towson included, often find themselves wondering what to do on the weekends. They’ve spent countless hours shopping at the mall, blown through countless paychecks at Chipotle and OTB, and have probably visited the Inner Harbor more times than they could count. But what if I told you about a hidden gem located right outside of the Nation’s Capital? 

National Harbor is built upon the Potomac River in Prince George’s County. The waterfront metropolis is home to everything from dining options to shopping and many other means of entertainment. 

Below you will find a list of the top places to check out in the region (from my personal experience) grouped accordingly. 

(Image Credit: washington.org)

TO EAT (Dining) -  The bustling region is home to nearly every type of food that you can imagine.

Breakfast & Coffee -

  • The Cocoa Bean - Gaylord National Resort 
    • The Cocoa Bean is located inside Gaylord National Resort. Serving Starbucks coffee as well as other café-style options, the coffee shop proves to be very convenient for guests staying in and people passing by the resort.

 

A warm beverage from The Cocoa Bean (Image Credit: businessyab.com) 

  • Starbucks Coffee - Waterfront District
    • If you are busy walking the streets of National Harbor shopping and do not have time to go into The Cocoa Bean, you can make a pit stop at the full-service Starbucks Coffee located in the Waterfront District of the region.

Lunch -

  • Cadillac Ranch - Waterfront District

    • This American-style franchise is home to food for every member of your party to enjoy, as well as a mechanical bull for guests to take a spin on. 

  • Rosa Mexicano - Waterfront District 

    • A personal favorite, Rosa Mexicano is another franchise, with one of its nearby locations being located right in the Chinatown District of DC. This restaurant is home to many options for those looking for quality Mexican food and guests have the ability to overlook not just the Potomac River and Capital Wheel, but also the neighboring cities of Washington, DC and Alexandria, VA. 

Chipotle's guac could never! (Image Credit: rosamexicano.com)

Dinner -

  • Granite City Food & Brewery - Waterfront District

    • Located in the Waterfront District, Granite City is home to delicious American fare. 

  • Grace’s Mandarin - Waterfront District 

    • This option may be on the more pricey side, but is 10/10 worth it. Enjoy classic Asian fare, including sushi, right near the Potomac River. ​

No photo description available.

Exterior of Grace's Mandarin Restaurant (Image Credit: Facebook)

  • McCormick & Schmick’s - Waterfront District 

    • Another restaurant on the more pricey-side but totally worth it is McCormick & Schmick’s. This American eatery is home to everything ranging from steaks to seafood options. 

  • McLoone’s Pier House - Waterfront District 

    • Another eatery being home to seafood options (I mean you are in MD afterall,) is McLoone’s Pier House. You can also watch the sunset from this restaurant, as well as see the Potomac River. Fun Fact, all of the other McLoone’s locations were located in New Jersey until this one opened up. 

Snacks

  • The Walrus Oyster and Ale House - Waterfront District

    • This eatery is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. Nothing on the menu is prepared ahead of time, making for a truly delicious meal. For a quick, but different snack option, try one of their mouthwatering oysters, (which they are known for after all!) 

TO BUY (Shopping) - 

  • Tanger Outlets -

    • What seems to be the main shopping destination in the area is a very short drive from the Waterfront District, where most of the region’s amenities are located, (to the point where you could almost walk there.) The Tanger Outlets are home to many stores, as well as places to grab a bite to eat. 

  • ALEX AND ANI - Waterfront District

    • A personal favorite, the franchise ALEX AND ANI has a location within the Waterfront District of National Harbor. Grab a bracelet to remember your time spent at the harbor. 

  • AMERICA! - Waterfront District

    • With another location located inside Union Station, America! is one of the more distinctive stores that you will come across within this region. What sets America! apart from other retailers is its content. Within the small store, you can find all sorts of Washington DC-related merchandise, ranging from Official White House ornaments to apparel from the nearby athletic teams to politics-inspired commodities and much, much more. Consider stopping by during your time in National Harbor to commemorate your trip. (Fun Fact: the official National Harbor website coin’s this retailer as “the most popular souvenir & shopping destination for today’s visitors/tourists.”)

  • Key Provisions - Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center 

    • Located inside Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, this shopping destination is great if you were to need any last-minute essentials during your trip, but sells DC-related merchandise as well.

  • Peeps & Company - Waterfront District

    • An entire store devoted to marshmallows. Yes, you read that correctly. In addition to satisfying your sweet touch with candy from the brands Peeps, Mike and Ikes, Hot Tamales and Peanut Chews, you can also purchase clothing and other-related items from these companies. (Fun Fact: this was the first Peeps & Company location to ever exist and if you are lucky and go at the right time you might even get to sample candy for free!) 

The famous Peeps car outside Peeps & Company (Image CreditTripAdvisor)

Interior of Peeps & Company (Image Credit: Color Kinetics)

  • Pepper Palace - Waterfront District 

    • A one-of-a-kind destination, Pepper Palace is an interactive shopping experience. Shoppers can sample all of the items made by the store for free prior to making a purchase. This includes everything from hot sauces to salsas and BBQ sauce (as well as much, much more!)

  • Stars and Stripes - Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center

    • Stars and Stripes is a small store located within Gaylord National. They pride themselves in selling items typical of finding near DC, ranging from the time frame of the Revolutionary War to present-day. 

TO DO (Entertainment) - 

  • The Capital Wheel 

    • The Capital Wheel is a ferris wheel that reaches 180 feet into the sky. This is an exciting experience, which I have personally engaged in, as it allows guests to sightsee in a more interactive way. 

The Capital Wheel (Image Credit: Skyler Spinelli)

  • Art Collection 

    • As you are walking around the harbor, you can take a look at the many different pieces of art. National Harbor even offers a way for you to take yourself on your own little excursion through the pieces by means of audio. #Selfie?

Marilyn Monroe & Rosie the Riveter are part of the Art Collection in National Harbor #GIRLPOWER (Image Credit: Skyler Spinelli) 

  • Gaylord National
    • As seen earlier, Gaylord National is a resort/convention center located right in the heart of National Harbor. While very well-known for its participation in Christmas on the Potomac, the resort also participates in other seasonal events throughout the calendar year, Gaylord National is home to many stores and eateries, alongside a spacious fitness center and arcade area. Even if you are taking a day trip out to National Harbor, you can still come inside the resort to grab a bite to eat, go shopping at one of their in-house shops, or experience interactive shows during the holiday season, as well as their 19-story atrium. 

Interior of Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center (Image CreditTrekaroo)

  • MGM Casino & MGM Conservatory

    • For guests over the age of 21, there is MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino. According to the National Harbor website, MGM’s casino is one of the biggest just short of Vegas! The resort portion of MGM is home to numerous pieces of artwork, eateries, and stores, including SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker. They are also very big on hosting concerts, having had people such as Bruno Mars come to perform there.

Signage advertising MGM National Harbor (Image Credit: Skyler Spinelli)

  • Water Taxi
    • With stops at both Gaylord National and National Harbor, you can quickly get to Alexandria, Virginia. Alexandria is home to many shopping and eating options as well, such as The Chart House, a more fanciful affair. It also has a very close proximity to the Nation’s Capital, where there is much, much more to do as well.
  • Marina & Piers

    • Take a stroll down the National Harbor Marina, which is recognized as the “premier marina and pier in the Chesapeake Bay region,” according to National Harbor’s website. 

  • & Much, Much More!