Sticky. Sweltering. Swampy. Ah, yes, the height of the D.C. summer season is here. Where can sweet relief from the humidity be found? Sure, you could migrate with throngs to Dewey Beach, lounge with the hipsters at Capitol Skyline Hotel or join the sneakered tourists pedaling paddleboats in the Tidal Basin.
But staying cool doesn’t have to be so predictable. We’ve pooled together a handful of aquatic excursions that aren’t your usual cool-off options. Whether it’s watching a gangster-themed water ballet or joining a mob of kayakers paddling into the D.C. sunset, there are plenty of refreshing excursions worth diving into.
Enjoy a movable feast
When it comes to describing his menu, Frank Frager doesn’t mince words. “We have hard-shell crabs, corn on the cob, hush puppies, french fries, coleslaw and dessert,” he rattles off easily. Yet the most impressive thing he serves up isn’t even on the menu: views of Washington’s historic scenery.
For 15 years, Capitol River Cruises has been hosting three-hour charter crab boat tours along the Potomac. Parties as small as 10 and as large as 42 sit atop a covered, open-air steel boat bedecked with tables.
Armed with mallets and crackers, guests can open bushels of Chesapeake blue crabs and sip a Corona or glass of wine as the vessel glides past monuments. Frager encourages customers to bring an iPod or CDs so they can enjoy the tunes of their choice while taking in the sights. Even so, the view is lost on some crab-loving customers.
“We’ve had people that haven’t looked up for three hours,” Frager says with a laugh. “All they do is eat.”
Capitol River Cruises Crab Boat. Every day through the end of October. Departures available at Washington Harbor (3000 K St. NW) and the Gangplank Marina (600 Water St. SW). 301-460-7447. capitolrivercruises.com/crabboat.html. $80-$100 per person.
Put on your spray skirt
Paul Simkin gets a little lofty when asked about the twilight kayak tours at Jack’s Boathouse. “We consider this to be an oasis from the stuffiness of city life,” the co-owner says. “When someone’s wearing a life vest, you can’t tell if they’re a congressman, a lawyer, a lobbyist or someone who works at a restaurant. On the water, everyone is exactly the same.”
On Friday and Sunday summer evenings, would-be paddlers can head to Jack’s for a 90-minute guided excursion that takes them on a loop around the Teddy Roosevelt and Three Sisters islands. Although the adventure kicks off at 7 p.m., guests can arrive early and lounge on Adirondack chairs or use the grill on-site to fire up goodies brought from home.
On the water, you’ll join 50 to 100 others leisurely paddling kayaks or canoes past views of the Washington Monument and statuesque blue herons. While the sun melts away, Reagan-bound planes soar overhead and befuddled fishermen stand on the Potomac’s shores gawking at the multicolored mass of boats. It’s a serene and relaxing scene.
“There’s a camaraderie on the water which is different than you see on land,” says Simkin.
Jack’s Boathouse Twilight Tours. Fridays and Sundays at 7 p.m. through September. 3500 K St. NW. 202-337-9642. www.jacksboathouse.
Chill with the canine
You’re not the only one melting: Just look at your poor panting Maltese or drooling Great Dane. Fairfax’s Lake Accotink can offer Fido a sweaty reprieve on one of its summer Canine Cruises. Passengers and their pooches soak in shoreline sites — soaring eagles and sun-seeking turtles — on a 30-minute pontoon boat ride around Lake Accotink.
A park tradition for more than a decade, “it’s a chance for the dog to have the undivided attention of their owner,” says park supervisor Julie Tahan. (And, no, a dog hasn’t leapt in the water to date, says Tahan. Leashes are required.)
A park employee steers the boat and offers up tidbits about the lake’s history, but the ride won’t consist of a constant barrage of look-over-heres and did-you-know-whats. There will be quiet moments, too, when both pet and owner can bask in the tranquility of the setting sun.
“Some dogs just sleep,” Tahan says.
Lake Accotink Canine Cruises. Sunday and Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. 7500 Accotink Park Rd., Springfield. Reservations required, 703-569-0285. Fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/accotink/events.htm. $6 per person, no charge for dogs.
Witness water as art
Gangsters and mobsters. Bathing suits and choreography. The seemingly wayward worlds collide the weekends of July 23 and 30, when the nonprofit community art project Fluid Movement takes over two Baltimore pools.
“This year we’ve decided to do ‘Mobtown Murder Mystery,’ ” says co-producer Valarie Perez-Schere of the annual water performance, now in its 10th year. Past performances have included “Jason & the Argonauts” and “Cleopatra.” The 45-minute show draws 400-some onlookers who sit around the chlorine confines while amateur performers advance a campy plot with well-timed sculling and cascading dives.
It’s less an Olympic-style synchronized swimming exhibition and more a wacky costumed menagerie of volunteers — of all ages, shapes and sizes — who have rehearsed their twirls and formations for the six weeks leading up to the big splash. Groups of 20 swimmers typically perform one scene at a time, but the grand finale crams the entire aquatic cast of 80 in the water simultaneously.
“Trying to do water ballet with 80 other people at the same time is nuts,” Perez-Schere says. By show’s end, expect to find a sheen of glitter atop the pool.
Mobtown Murder Mystery. July 23 at 3 and 5 p.m. and July 24 at 5 and 7 p.m. at Druid Hill Park Pool, 800 Wyman Park Dr., Baltimore. July 30 at 6 p.m. (benefit show) and July 31 at 5 and 7 p.m. at Patterson Park Pool, 148 S. Linwood Ave., Baltimore. fluidmovement.org. $10, $20 for the benefit.
On July 23, there’s more to take in at the National Harbor waterfront than the jungle gym that’s become of J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s “The Awakening.” Walk over to the pier just to the right of the mammoth artifice, and you’ll witness soaring flips and fancy aquatic tricks taking place on the Potomac — and you can watch free of charge.
Now in its second year, the Red Bull National Wake lets bystanders watch professional wakeboarders such as Brian Grubb, Parks Bonifay, JD Webb and Adam Errington take to the waters, where they’ll soar off ramps and attempt 180-degree spins on rails positioned along the water.
Before the pros’ splash-worthy feats, wakeboarders from area clubs will compete in an amateur contest at 11 a.m. The top five finishers will get to mix it up with the big boys later at 4 p.m. And, no, wakeboarding wannabes can’t just enter on a whim.
Red Bull National Wake. July 23 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. National Harbor, 150 National Plaza, Fort Washington. www.redbullusa.com. Free.
Fawn over falling waters
Shenandoah Park spokeswoman Karen Beck-Herzog has a pretty good reason why Washingtonians should drive the 21 / 2 hours to the 196,000-acre national park.
“It’s about 20 degrees cooler on top of a mountain than it is in Washington, D.C.,” she says. Further respite from the heat can be found in the plethora of waterfalls in Shenandoah’s leafy umbrage.
For families or those looking for a moderate hike, she suggests going to Dark Hollow, a 70-foot falls that has a round-trip 1.4-mile hike, as well as the 83-foot-tall South River falls, which offers spectacular views with a 2.6-mile round-trip trek.
For the more intrepid, there’s White Oak Canon — a series of falls that takes 7.3 miles to complete — and Overall Run — at 93 feet, it’s the tallest falls in the park and takes 6.4 miles round trip.
Beck-Herzog recommends that visitors call ahead to make sure the falls haven’t evaporated with the summer heat and that they pick up a copy of the small paperback “Hikes to Waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park” at the visitors’ center or online (Snpbooks.org, $2).
Shenandoah National Park, 3655 U.S. Highway 211 E., Luray.
yourvisit/waterfalls.htm. $15 per noncommercial vehicle (valid for a week) or $8 per person. Free for age 15 and younger.
Coronado is a freelance writer.