10 Waterfront Parks & Piers Worth the Drive

Whether you are walking near, splashing through or listening to its song, there is just something about water that we can’t get enough of. Luckily the DC area is full of water adventures to satisfy the appetite of the thrill seekers, the nature lovers and the tiniest of toddler legs. As the weather warms up and begs you venture outside, we’ve got you covered with the best wharfs, piers, trails, parks and boardwalks to visit this year.

photo: iStock

Fredericksburg Riverfront Park

Opened in October of 2021, the new 4-acre Riverfront Park in Fredericksburg offers fantastic views of the Rappahannock River, an interactive splash pad, kids play area, event space and limited river access. Free public Wi-Fi is available throughout the park and parking at the Sophia Street Parking Garage is free for the first 4 hours ($1 per hour after). Future improvements such as restrooms and a connecting trail system are in the works. 

What to do nearby: After a few hours in the sunshine, head over to Caroline Street for a cool treat at the nation's oldest continuously operating soda fountain, Goolrick's Pharmacy. Try a flavored soda like Chocolate Coke, an old fashioned Egg Cream or a classic Hot Fudge Sundae. In addition to sweets they also have kid approved breakfast and lunch options. 

713 Sophia Street
Fredericksburg, VA
fredericksburgva.gov

Ego Alley - Annapolis, MD

City Dock is the historic heart of Annapolis, where it connects with the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and where you can connect with the water, too. Watch the boats parade around the turning basin of "Ego Alley," shake out your sea legs aboard the tour boat Harbor Queen or man the wheel of the graceful Schooner Woodwind. Simply relaxing at City Dock is a significant reason why people visit Annapolis.

What to do nearby: Don't forget to stop by Storm Bros. Ice Cream Factory for one of their tasty treats. For over four decades, the brothers that own the shop have become an essential part of the community. You'll find fun hand scooped flavors such as creamsicle and Blue Panda for the kids, and Bourbon Truffle for moms and dads. Known for their "neighborhood prices", this locals' favorite is sweet on your tastebuds and wallet. 

1 Dock Street
Annapolis, MD
visitannapolis.org

photo: National Harbor

National Harbor

Situated on 350 acres of waterfront space on the banks of the Potomac River is the iconic DC destination, National Harbor (it's technically located in Maryland, but just minutes from the Nation's Capital). Featuring waterside trails and tours, along with 160 stores, 40 restaurants, multiple hotels and entertainment options, there is truly something for everyone. Inspire little artists by taking the interactive guided art tour and scavenger hunt by phone (text ACNH to 56512). 

What to do nearby: Grab tickets to soar 180 feet above the Potomac River waterfront to marvel at the area's most iconic sights and hidden gems on The Capital {ferris} Wheel (if your family can stay up late, do this at night for a different look at the city!). Enjoy an Americana-themed carousel featuring whimsical creatures, a newly-built playground, toddler play area and picnic tables. Starting May 1st, every Thursday and Sunday through the summer, you can grab food from one of the delicious restaurants and meet at the Plaza screen for a free Movie on the Potomac!

165 Waterfront Street
National Harbor, MD
nationalharbor.com

photo: David C. via Yelp

Harper's Ferry

Where can you see 3 states and 2 rivers converge? Stand at The Point at Harper's Ferry National Historical Park and you'll be looking at Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia and seeing the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers meet. This strategic location birthed the Town of Harper's Ferry which is steeped in history and now protected by our National Park Service for all to enjoy. There are over 20 miles of hikes, the easiest ones along the riverside. Hike up into town to get sweeping vistas of the rivers from below. 

What to do nearby: Make time at the end of your day to relax at the kid and dog friendly Harpers Ferry Brewing, located off Adventure Center Lane in Purcellville, Virginia. You'll enjoy views of Harper's Ferry from above while partaking in local craft brews. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting at noon the Taco Truck is on site. The pizza kitchen is open during regular hours. Check their Facebook page for live music schedules!

171 Shoreline Drive
Harpers Ferry, WV
nps.gov

photo: Gabby Cullen

Ocean City, MD Boardwalk

Take a walk on the Ocean City Boardwalk to explore an iconic East Coast pedestrian thruway. The Travel Channel, USA Today and National Geographic have all praised the classic wooden boardwalk and the restaurants it leads you to. This award-winning boardwalk is home to unique hotels, fabulous restaurants, and attractions ranging from arcades to go-kart tracks. The Ocean City Boardwalk, which never closes, is three miles long and perfect for a morning bike ride or an evening stroll to take in the gorgeous ocean views and night life. Whether during the off-season or at the height of summer, there's always something going on along the boardwalk.

What to do nearby: No visit to this famous boardwalk is complete without a stop at Thrasher's French Fries. In 1929, a Georgian known as Mr. J.T. Thrasher proposed a food stand concession specializing in only one product: the noble french fry. His idea? Simply to produce the best tasting french fry ever eaten—past, present, or future. He did! And you don't want to miss it.

Ocean City, MD
oceancity.com

photo: Bella J. via Yelp

Great Falls Park

Kids of all ages love the sights and sounds of Great Falls Park, Virginia! The Potomac River picks up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks (no swimming allowed!!) through the narrow Mather Gorge. The results are impressive to say the least. Three overlooks give breath taking views of the falls and are all within a 5 to 10 minute walk of the Visitor's Center. Overlooks 2 and 3 are handicap and stroller accessible. Opposite the viewing areas are grassy fields with picnic tables perfect for a lunch and a game of soccer. The entry cost is $20 per vehicle or use your annual National Parks pass. 

What to do nearby: If your kids crave climbing after seeing all those impressive rocks at the park, head over to the Great Falls Grange playground located at 9818 Georgetown Pike (right across from the Village shopping center which houses a Starbucks, Subway, Grocery Store and a handful of other local restaurants and shops). There are separate play areas for big and little kids, covered picnic tables, athletic fields and a walking trail. 

9200 Old Dominion Drive
Great Falls, VA
nps.gov

Neabsco Creek Boardwalk

For an off-the-beaten-path option, check out this ¾-mile boardwalk that traverses Neabsco Creek, allowing hikers access to wetlands where the tall grasses and marsh filter pollution from the river and provide a rich habitat for a ton of extraordinary wildlife. The walkway is part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, which was established by Congress in 1983, designating an 800-mile trail network stretching from the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania to the Potomac River, winding through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia. The boardwalk is ADA compliant and encompasses educational sites that highlight information on native wildlife and plants.

What to do nearby: A visit to Neabsco Creek is a perfect excuse to hit up Potomac Mills Mall (one word, Ikea)! The largest outlet mall in Virginia boasts over 200 stores, 25 eateries and an AMC Theater with IMAX. Check out the Family tab on the mall's website for deals, events and family perks (don't miss the LEGO store's free monthly mini model build for kids ages 6-14). 

Neabsco Regional Park
15125 Blackburn Road
Woodbridge, VA 22191
pwcva.gov

photo: E. Olechnovich

Baltimore's Inner Harbor

You can easily spend a day or a long weekend at Baltimore's Inner Harbor enjoying the waterfront from restaurants, shops, museums or a Dragon Paddle Boat. Experience the National Aquarium, tour the U.S.S. Constellation (built in 1854 by the U.S. Navy) and indulge in all the crab cakes you can eat (Phillips Seafood has been serving up some of the best in Maryland for over 100 years). If you want to escape the elements, enjoy a few hours at the Port Discovery Children's Museum, ranked among the Nation's best and tucked into a former fish market building. 

What to do nearby: For a break from the hustle and bustle of the harbor head over to Pierce's Park off Pratt Street. Your kids will delight in a playground like no other. They can play musical instruments, slide down a gigantic metal slide and spin on the merry-go-round. If everyone's been good, treat them to an ice cream at Lucky's (they now also serve Starbucks coffee drinks for mom and dad).

400 East Pratt St.
Baltimore, MD 
baltimore.org

The Wharf

Home to the nation's longest continually operating open-air fish market, The Wharf has transformed into one of D.C.'s most exciting waterfront destinations. The accessible riverfront, including four different themed piers, makes for a ton of family fun. The Wharf is conveniently located only four blocks from the National Mall.

What to do nearby: The best spot for kids to enjoy is Wharf Kids Water Park, a splash pad with a great picnic spot nearby. You and your crew can cool off and enjoy a few hours of that D.C. summer sunshine. After you dry off, go on a treasure hunt to find all 30 historical markers and plaques (and read about The Wharf history on the District Wharf App). If you want more fun, take the free Wharf Jitney to ferry across the Washington Channel to East Potomac Park.

760 Maine Ave
SW, Washington, DC
wharfdc.com

Worth the Drive

photo: E. Olechnovich

Natural Bridge State Park

The power of water can be witnessed at Natural Bridge State Park in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Be awed by the 215 tall natural limestone bridge  carved out by the waters of the Cedar Creek as you stroll along the paved walkway that takes you under the bridge. The Cedar Creek trail keeps you following the water, where you can find spots to dip in your toes, skip rocks and look for fish. The trail is rated as moderate, and while easy to walk on, strollers are not recommended because of the steep descent into the glen. Restrooms are available at the beginning of the trail at the Visitor's Center. 

What to do nearby: Natural Bridge is also home to the Virginia Safari Park, an 80-acre drive thru adventure. After checking in and purchasing feed buckets, you'll return to your car to embark on a safari. Through your car window you will have the opportunity to feed many animals such as llamas, deer, elk, Scottish Highland cattle and ostrich. Warning the animals, and their horns and antlers, come very close to your car so a scratch or 2 might happen. You can take the safari tour as many times as your like during your visit. Also, there is a walk through Village where you can feed giraffe and see tigers and penguins. 

6477 South Lee Highway
Natural Bridge, VA
dcr.virginia.gov

 

—Elissa Olechnovich and Angelica Kajwara

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