Best known for its world-class museums, historic monuments, and restaurants, Washington, D.C., is also characterized by swaths of green spaces, among those being the 10-acre Georgetown Waterfront Park in the historic Georgetown neighborhood. Run by the National Park Service (NPS), the park winds along the banks of the Potomac River from the Francis Scott Key Bridge to 31st Street NW. With mixed use pathways, scenic overlooks, rain gardens, and shady trees, the park offers panoramic views of some of the city's most notable landmarks, including the Kennedy Center and Theodore Roosevelt Island.
From the park's history and amenities to driving directions and things to do nearby, here's how to best explore the Georgetown Waterfront Park.
One of the city's oldest commercial centers, the park's current location in Georgetown was once a thriving port. By the mid-19th century, though, sediment build-up from piers made it difficult for larger ships to pass through the river to the neighborhood, and port business dried up. The area then became a notable industrial hub, dotted with local factories like the American Ice Company and The Brennan Construction Co., which provided many of the materials for the city's growing transportation infrastructure. The factories ended up shuttering by the 1960s and 1970s, and the properties were mostly converted to parking lots.
In 1978, the Committee for Washington's Riverfront Parks formed and recommended the waterfront as a potential project for the NPS, which acquired the 10 acres of land designated for the future park in 1985. Fundraising for construction took over two decades, as the original committee evolved into the Friends of Georgetown Waterfront Park (FOGWP), which partnered with private donors, the NPS, and the District of Columbia government to raise the $23 million needed to realize their vision.
Groundbreaking took place in 2006, and the first phase of the park from Wisconsin Avenue N.W. to 34th Street NW was completed in October 2008. The remaining section, which ran to Washington Harbor, opened in 2011.
What to See and Do
The Georgetown Waterfront Park is popular among runners, cyclists, and those just wanting to take a break in-between all the shopping and sightseeing. Here are the top things to do.
Walk, Run, or Roller Blade Down a Multi-Use Trail
With its paved, multi-use paths set apart from traffic, the park is ideal for running, cycling, walking, and roller blading. It boasts nearly 5 miles of designated pathways along the Potomac River, and connects into a larger, 225-mile park system that runs from Cumberland, Maryland to Mount Vernon, Virginia.
Ride a Bike
In addition to the multi-use path, the park has a dedicated bike trail that runs along the park's northern perimeter. If you want to explore further afield, the trail connects to the 13-mile Capital Crescent Trail (CTT), which runs between Georgetown and neighboring Bethesda, Maryland. Bike rentals are available from Capital Bikeshare's Georgetown and Thompson Boat Center outposts.
Row Down the Potomac River
The Potomac's waters are ideal for rowing and other water activities. While there are no docks inside the park, you can set off into the water from the nearby Thompson Boat Center or Key Bridge; canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards are available to rent at both facilities. In the spring and fall months, post up on the park's stairs, where you might bear witness to regattas and local rowing events.
Enjoy Scenic Overlooks
With four designated overlooks, the park offers some of the best views in the city. The largest outpost is opposite the park's main entrance on Wisconsin Avenue, and offers views of the Key Bridge, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and the Kennedy Center. Three smaller overlooks feature granite slabs depicting the waterfront's history, with information on the area's Indigenous people, notable bridges, and history as a commercial port.
Stop and Smell the Flowers
The park's landscaping incorporates native wildflowers, plants, and grasses such as Little Blum Stem, Arrowroot Viburnum, and Butterfly Milkweed. Ecological features like rain gardens are there to prevent flooding, erosion, and pollution.
Play in the Fountain
The park's large central fountain is popular with kids (and kids at heart) in the summer for its cooling waters. It's usually illuminated at night, providing the perfect background for an evening stroll before or after dinner at one of Georgetown's many celebrated restaurants.
How to Get There
Georgetown Waterfront Park is located in historic Georgetown at the foot of Wisconsin Avenue NW.
If you're taking the Metrorail, the closest station is Foggy Bottom-GWU (on the orange, blue, and silver lines); from there, it's a 15-minute walk to the park. You can also get off at the Rosslyn Metro station in Northern Virginia, then cross the Key Bridge (16 minutes).
By bus, the D.C. Circulator Bus from Union Station to Georgetown is free; an additional 10 Metrobus lines also serve the neighborhood.
For those driving, there are a limited number of metered parking spots adjacent to the park along K and Water Streets NW, as well as several public parking garages in Georgetown.
Things to Do Nearby
With its Federal-style architecture, high-end shops, cobblestone streets, lively taverns, and quality restaurants, Georgetown is one of the city's best neighborhoods for strolling, shopping, and eating.
Some highlights include:
- Strolling the C&O Canal Path: The historic 184-mile towpath connecting the bustling Georgetown Harbor to Cumberland, Maryland is now a quiet trail for runners, cyclists, walkers, and anyone else just wanting a serene anecdote to the neighborhood's busy streets.
- Exploring the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks: Located on 32nd Street, this 27-acre park is perched on Georgetown's highest hill. From winding paths and classical fountains to manicured lawns and an on-site greenhouse, it's particularly scenic in the spring. Don't miss the adjacent museum, which has a large collection of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art.
- Dining al fresco: The waterfront offers some of the best outdoor dining in DC. Both the Italian seafood spot Fiola Mare (a favorite of President Obama) and the regionally-focused Farmers Fishers Bakers have extensive patios with sweeping views of the Potomac.