Family Fun in Washington DC’s National Harbor

You’re probably familiar with Washington DC’s cherry blossoms, museums, and monuments, but what about its National Harbor area?  Located about 20 minutes south of the city, on the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland, National Harbor is a tourist area filled with hotels, shops, restaurants, and attractions.  We’ve previously stayed at the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, and thought the area was an ideal base to explore (or even escape) the city.  Since our visit, National Harbor has expanded even more, and added the Capital Wheel, MGM National Harbor, and more.  We recently visited the Gaylord National Resort again, and found there were plenty of family fun activities in National Harbor to occupy us for a day.  Continue reading for photos of our day in National Harbor.

National Harbor

Terrazzo mural by Steven Weitzman depicting the Chesapeake Bay area at National Harbor

Our oldest daughter (Maggie) has gone off to college at American University in Washington DC, and we decided to visit her during our youngest daughter’s (Evie’s) Feb Break week.  It was a great excuse to get out of town, relax, stay in a nice hotel (with someone else cooking and cleaning), and check in to see how our college-girl was settling in for her first year.  Of course Maggie’s college spring break didn’t correspond with Evie’s Feb Break, so we were on our own while Maggie was in classes.

American Way

Evie and I let Mom sleep in and enjoy the Gaylord National room, and we took off to explore National Harbor.  We went window shopping, as well as actual shopping, along American Way.  However, in addition to the traditional shops, American Way is filled with public art including sculptures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass depicted below.

National Harbor

Evie and I goofed around taking silly photos and selfies with the icons along American Way.

National Harbor

Local Motors

Next stop was a guided tour of Local Motors.  I’m taking my daughter to a car dealership showroom? Wow, that’s fun dad, thanks… OK, OK, slow your roll…  Take a look at the statue of Henry Ford below, that car over his shoulder is not K.I.T.T. (kids, you may need to look it up), but it’s still futuristic.  That’s a 3D Printed Car from Local Motors.

National Harbor

Local Motors is a technology company, specializing in transportation, that creates everything from 3D-printed cars to self-driving vehicles.  Local Motors is also heavily involved in promoting STEM and STEAM, and does outreach with schools to get young people interested in technology, creation, and maker-spaces.

National Harbor - Local Motors

My teenage, tech-loving daughter absolutely ate up the tour, and peppered our guide with interest and questions.  As a sophomore in high school, she’s considering her future path, and has been getting more and more interested in this type of technology.  Tours of the Local Motors facilities are open to the public, and I highly recommend them to students interested in STEM and STEAM fields.

National Harbor - Local Motors

Of course the 3D printed cars are the attention grabbers, but that’s not all that Local Motors creates.  Their space is filled with 3D printed gizmos, gadgets, and knick-knacks created by makers from Local Motors workshops.

National Harbor - Local Motors

Dining, Restaurants, and Nightlife

After shopping, goofing around, and geeking-out at Local Motors, we were hungry, so we gathered Mom from the Gaylord National, and headed out for an early dinner.  There’s over 30 places to eat in National Harbor, and we opted for Brother Jimmy’s BBQ.  A Carolina barbeque institution for over 25 years, Brother Jimmy has been branching out across the east coast.  I first put some “South in My Mouth” in NYC, and the Brother Jimmy’s in National Harbor did not disappoint.

Brother Jimmy's BBQ - National Harbor

Known for down-home, slow cooked barbeque, we loaded up on comfort food such as fried chicken, Carolina pulled pork, mac & cheese, and burgers.  With our bellies full, we needed some time to digest, and our next activity fit the bill.

Brother Jimmy's BBQ - National Harbor

Capital Wheel

During our last visit to the Gaylord National, The Capital Wheel was still under construction.  The 180 foot wheel now stands as a focal point of the Harbor with a brilliant light display that serves as a beacon and landmark.  We arrived for our ride just in time for the final remains of the day.

National Harbor - Capital Wheel

We enjoyed our sky-high spin in a music filled gondola.  The views weren’t quite what the Capital Wheel boasts due to the darkness.  They say you can see the Washington Monument, National Cathedral, and more during the day, but at night we were limited to the lights of the Gaylord National, MGM, and National Harbor itself.

National Harbor - Capital Wheel

That’s OK, we certainly enjoyed our ride, and it allowed us to relax and digest all that BBQ.

National Harbor - Capital Wheel

Muse Paintbar

After a spin on the Capital Wheel, we ended our evening at Muse Paintbar.  A restaurant/bar with painting instruction, that guided our family through the creative process to produce our own masterpieces.

National Harbor - Muse PaintbarNational Harbor - Muse Paintbar

It happened to be “free drink” night, and the price of admission included canvas, painting supplies, and a free glass of wine, beer, or other beverage from the bar.  However, just because it’s a bar, don’t think it’s not family friendly.  There were plenty of nonalcoholic options available, and our family had our own table to work together.

National Harbor - Muse Paintbar

I can’t say enough about the instructors at Muse Paintbar.  Extremely talented artists in their own right, but also helpful, patient, and talented teachers that led our group of novice artists to producing a completed painting in a single evening.  Our instructor Karin had so much positive energy, and the entire Muse staff created a fun, safe environment for our family to try our hand at this new activity, painting.

National Harbor - Muse Paintbar

Muse Paintbar was a fantastic experience, a real surprise, and three hours well-spent for an evening of truly unique family fun.  The only downside… the Ben & Jerry’s next door was closed by the time we finished our work.  So to make up for it, our daughter ordered a hot fudge brownie sundae at Muse – pretty decadent to sit and paint while eating dessert.

National Harbor - Muse Paintbar

We easily filled our day at National Harbor with family fun from shopping and photos on American Way, to science and technology at Local Motors, a whirl on the Capital Wheel, and side-by-side creativity at Muse Paintbar.  To be completely honest there was plenty more we could have done at this entertainment destination.  Of course, National Harbor embraces its waterfront location in Washington DC, and the Potomac Riverboat Company offers scenic cruises to Old Town Alexandria, Mount Vernon, and the Washington DC monuments.

Potomac Riverboat Company at Gaylord National

You’ll also find a carousel, the world’s first PEEPS and Company store, a Tanger Outlet mall, and the newly opened MGM National Harbor brings a little bit of Las Vegas to the DC area.  So, when you’re feeling like you need to scream after dealing with the crowds and traffic of Washington DC, you might just consider escaping the city and heading to National Harbor for the day.

National Harbor

DISCLOSURE: Dave Parfitt and family were hosted by National Harbor and received complimentary passes to Capital Wheel and Muse Paintbar.  However, all opinions expressed are those of the author.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on InstagramTwitter and “like” our Facebook page, too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I’m a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.