After eleven years of planning and work, the first half of the 3 million-square-foot mega-development project along the waterfront in Southwest D.C. finally opened in October. District Wharf, the mile-long stretch along the Potomac River with restaurants, retailers, residences and businesses, is reestablishing Washington, D.C. as a waterfront city and destination. It is the largest waterfront development in the country.

Featuring a mile-long European-inspired cobblestone promenade, four public piers, two public parks, a boardwalk, 24 restaurants, three hotels, 15 retail shops, a 6,000-person indoor concert venue, two office buildings, 861 residences, a fish market, ice skating rink, new slips and clubhouse for the Capital Yacht Club, District Wharf is a game changer for D.C., and will be where locals and visitors go for water activities, fine dining, shopping, live music, cultural events and festivals.

Located just south of the National Mall, The Wharf offers easy access to D.C.'s top attractions. Shuttle buses run to and from the Waterfront and L'Enfant Plaza metro stations, water taxis connect it with Georgetown, the Yards, National Harbor and Old Town Alexandria, and jitneys will connect it with East Potomac Park, a peninsula across the Washington Channel. Underground parking currently accommodates 1,500 vehicles, but will eventually accommodate 2,500.

The $2.5 billion development project draws its inspiration from some of the most notable waterfronts in the world and will make D.C. a destination for more than just its museums and memorials. The second phase of development, projected to be complete in 2021, will feature another 1.15 million square feet of retail, office, hotel and residential space, and a yacht club with 500 boat slips.

It took four acts of Congress, seven D.C. Council votes and more than 800 meetings with Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and other community groups before the project could break ground. The federal government also had to vote to authorize the property's sale to a private developer.

The city invested $198 million in the project's infrastructure, covering everything from sewers and roads to the 60-foot-wide cobblestone promenade, which can be closed off for events like the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The public investment comes as city leaders seek to reinvigorate the economy in an area that has lagged behind the boom seen in areas such as 14th Street and Shaw.

PN Hoffman, an innovative developer of urban communities across the Washington Metropolitan Area, along with Madison Marquette, an international, D.C.-based investor, developer and operator of mixed-use real estate, make up The Wharf's development partnership. Hoffman-Madison, along with 22 world-renowned architecture firms, sustainability experts and development and real estate visionaries were involved in the planning.

The Hoffman-Madison team committed themselves to creating an environmentally-sustainable community. They built a cistern system that saves 11 million gallons of water a year by collecting rainwater and using it to cool the residential towers and irrigate floating wetlands, providing a habitat for marine species which clean the water of pollutants. They designed a co-generation plant, solar panels and energy-efficient lighting, and all the buildings are designed to achieve LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a globally-recognized symbol of sustainability achievement) - many even have green roofs. They also preserved existing, mature oaks and planted more than 300 new trees.

The development exudes European charm and feels less monolithic with a network of small roadways and tiny interior streets, sidewalk cafes and green spaces. Notable establishments now open and worth a visit include Politics and Prose, a well-known independent bookstore with a new 2,300-square-foot shop at The Wharf, and Harper Macaw Chocolate Factory, which offers tours that show how chocolate is made.

The Wharf's largest music venue, the $60 million Anthem - $3 million of which was spent on soundproofing alone - can hold up to 6,000 concertgoers. The ceiling in the Anthem's lobby is a glass-bottomed pool, which is part of The Channel, the most-buzzed about residence built over the Anthem.

A restaurant worth mentioning is the three-story Officina by Nicholas Stefanelli, where each story offers something different. The ground floor features an artisanal market, the second floor hosts a full-scale restaurant focused on the bold flavors of southern Italy and the third floor has private dining spaces and a rooftop bar where guests can enjoy sweeping views of the Potomac.

The 400-foot District Pier is the first of its kind in D.C. and offers views of Washington's monuments and Southwest's sprawling new neighborhood from over the water. The Maine Avenue Fish Market is the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the United States, predating New York City's famous Fulton Fish Market by 17 years, and has an abundance of fresh seafood to pick up to cook at home.

The Riverwalk Trail System runs through the area, making The Wharf easily accessible by bike or by foot, and Capital Bikeshare has two stations along Maine Avenue for renting and parking bikes. Kayaks can be launched from the piers and yachts can be moored in the harbor.

District Wharf opened just in time for the holidays and will feature the following festivities:

  • Light Up The Wharf

    December 1, 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
    District Square, District Pier

    Kick off the holiday season at The Wharf with the official lighting of the Christmas tree! There will be other light installations, too, that will brighten your experience along the waterfront.

  • The District's Holiday Boat Parade

    December 2, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.
    Entire Site, including Ice Rink

    Celebrate the 26th anniversary of the parade and see the beautifully decorated boats drive by. Get into the spirit with the guaranteed first snow of the season, and decorate your own boat. Sip hot cocoa and make s'mores at the fire pit. Visit the lighted Christmas tree and enjoy other fun activities, including skating on the ice rink and sampling winter drinks at the Waterfront Wine & Beer Garden.

  • First Night of Hanukkah

    December 12, 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
    District Pier

    See the lighting of the first candle on the Menorah to celebrate the Festival of Lights at The Wharf.

  • Nog Fest

    December 16, 1 p.m.-6 p.m.
    Wharf Street, District Pier

    Enjoy a mug of your favorite seasonal drink or sample other tasty winter beverages at the Waterfront Beer & Wine Garden. There will be fun activities for all ages, along with games and prizes.

  • Christmas Caroling

    December 23, 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
    Wharf Street, District Square, District Pier

    Enjoy the sounds of the season or join in the singing of holiday songs to spread the Christmas spirit all along the waterfront.

For more information and to download the app, visit The Wharf's website at wharfdc.com.


Jennifer Poole is Assistant Editor at Washington Parent.