The Washington area has seen an impressive level of growth in the past decade. From suburban development to urban renewal, the D.C. Metro region continues to expand at a rapid pace. Nowhere is that more apparent than right along the Potomac River in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
For a long time, a large plot of land, next to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, went undeveloped. Hundreds of acres lay dormant in one of the area’s most heavily trafficked corridors.
In the late 1990s, The Peterson Companies, with major aspirations, bought 300 acres just off the Indian Head Highway exit on the Capital Beltway, and broke ground. Their goal was to create an area that rivaled burgeoning Tyson’s Corner Center, which had exploded in the early 1990s.
The initial estimated numbers were astounding. National Harbor, when completed, would be 7.5 million square feet in size, with over a million square feet of retail and dining space. There were plans for six hotels and a half million square feet of office space. Situated directly on the Potomac, the Harbor would boast three piers for boaters to pull up to and tie off.
After years of development and construction, the centerpiece of National Harbor opened in April of 2008. The Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center cost nearly a billion dollars to complete and dominates the skyline of National Harbor.
The hotel rises high above the harbor with an 18-story arched atrium, done entirely in glass. The hotel sparkles in the sunlight and reflects the blue Potomac.
The hotel and convention center are incomparable to anything in the area. The Gaylord Hotel holds over 2,000 guests and the convention center consists of nearly half a million square feet in meeting space. Those numbers make the Gaylord the largest non-gaming hotel on the entire East Coast.
Once it opened, the hotel quickly attracted conventions and tourists, and soon after, stores and restaurants sprouted up.
The shops at National Harbor are a diverse array, with options ranging from designer clothes to high-end accessories to a store that only sells items in shades of white. Those aren’t the only choices. The wide range continues with a Build-A-Bear Workshop, a Godiva Chocolatier, a Segway store, and a specialty store selling Peeps.
As impressive as the retail options are, the choices for eating on a trip to National Harbor are even more overwhelming. There are over 20 places to grab a bite to eat, with options ranging from quick and inexpensive to fancy sit-down dinners.
On the inexpensive end, the area has an Elevation Burger and will soon open a Nando’s Peri-Peri, which sells Portuguese-style grilled chicken.
For finer dining, there is Bond 45, an Italian steakhouse, and Rosa Mexicano, the second location of the poplar Penn Quarter restaurant.
After dinner, nightlife options abound, including bars Public House and Harrington’s Pub and Kitchen. National Harbor’s most popular place, though, is Bobby McKey’s, Washington D.C.’s only dueling piano bar and one of the best reasons to visit to National Harbor. All night, expert players sit at opposing pianos and try to outperform each other, ramping up and riffing on popular songs.
Indoor entertainment is only one exciting aspect of National Harbor. Every Friday, from now until September 30th, National Harbor shows movies on a large outdoor screen. Over the next three weeks, “Movies on the Potomac” will show Field of Dreams, Friday Night Lights and The Cutting Edge. On Sundays, until September 4th, National Harbor shows children’s movies with How To Train Your Dragon, Tron Legacy and Jumanji upcoming.
Sunday’s soon won’t be the only day to take your children. Opening in 2013, National Harbor will boast the National’s Children’s Museum, an interactive place to take kids to learn and play.
While that’s a few years away, there are still plenty of reasons to visit National Harbor, one of D.C.’s biggest and most impressive destinations.
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