Is there anything better than spending time near the water on a hot summer day? A water view can cool you down, even when you aren’t splashing around.
That’s why we’ve rounded up some of our favorite spots and activities around the Washington region’s lakes, bays, rivers and more. Whether you prefer hiking along a river or sipping cocktails in front of a harbor, these destinations — some near the city, others worthy of a day trip — can help you make the best out of the warm weather.
Here’s our summer guide to eating, drinking and playing on the water.
Order the buttermilk fried chicken at Red’s Table
11150 South Lakes Dr., Reston. 571-375-7755. redstableva.com.
On first entering the South Lakes Village Center, you could easily imagine that the massive parking lot has displaced whatever body of water used to occupy this piece of Reston real estate. But in a corner of the shopping center, where Red’s Table proves seasonal cooking is not limited to big-city chefs, the family-owned restaurant abuts the placid waters of Lake Thoreau. Its views of the water notwithstanding, Red’s Table pulls off a nifty trick: It takes prosaic dishes and refines them to the point that even unadventurous diners will embrace them. The $17 buttermilk fried chicken is a prime example: In chef Adam Stein’s hands, this Southern staple takes on new life with an application of black-garlic-miso aioli, adding a level of complexity not seen since a certain colonel developed his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. The bar staff is just as sly. They devote most of their taps to Virginia beers and prepare cocktails with spirits produced nearby. There’s no word if they use Lake Thoreau water for ice. — Tim Carman
Try a crab cake sandwich at the Maine Avenue Fish Market
1100 Maine Ave. SW.
Come next year, you might not recognize the area surrounding the Maine Avenue Fish Market. A massive mixed-use development, called the Wharf, will cocoon the historic barges with shiny things, including piers, a plaza and a rum distillery by Todd Thrasher. All the more reason to visit now, while the market, one of the oldest of its kind in the country, maintains its low-key charm.
At the Wharf food stand — not to be confused with the eponymous construction site — you can order combo seafood platters or sandwiches stuffed with the likes of oysters and croaker. The crab cake variety ($8.95), served bare on a pillowy bun, is more slider than sandwich, and the rickety, standing-room-only wood dining barge doesn’t exactly encourage lounging. But there’s something wistful about looking out at the Washington Channel, amid the sour ocean funk, when you know change is arriving soon. — Emily Codik
Visit a Maryland crab house without an hours-long wait
Harris Crab House: 433 Kent Narrow Way N., Grasonville. 410-827-9500. harriscrabhouse.com.
The Point Crab House and Grill: 700 Mill Creek Rd., Arnold. 410-544-5448. thepointcrabhouse.com.
This year’s harvest of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs may be one of the biggest in decades, which is great news for those craving Old Bay-steamed crustaceans. The best-known waterside destinations, such as Cantler’s Riverside Inn, can have hours-long waits on weekends. If you’re looking for a faster crab fix, head to the Point, located at the Ferry Point Marina in Arnold, which has a large, covered deck perfect for picking through crabs or enjoying burgers, as well as live music at happy hour on Wednesday and Thursday nights. On the other side of the Bay Bridge, the Harris Crab House is known for its weekday all-you-can-eat crab specials ($45 for two hours). Sit outside on the dock, overlooking the Kent Narrows, for the full experience. — Fritz Hahn
Try the Maine lobster roll at Blackwall Hitch
5 Cameron St., Alexandria. 703-739-6090. theblackwallhitch.com.
The bartender tells me straight up that the meat in the jumbo-lump crab cake sandwich comes from waters far from the Chesapeake. For that alone, I’m grateful for his presence. As many of us know, restaurants are not the most reliable narrators when telling the story of their ingredients. They can lie with a straighter face than Lance Armstrong. But with that one admission, the barman has established instant trust, and I place myself in his hands at Blackwall Hitch in Old Town, with its cool views of the Potomac River and the Torpedo Factory Art Center. He greenlights my decision to order the Maine lobster roll (market price), which turns out to be the shellfish equivalent of a five-napkin burger. The fresh, generous pieces of poached claw meat lounge on a king-size bed of shredded lettuce, everything slathered in garlic butter and (of course) Old Bay mayonnaise, with some diced celery for crunch. This beauty couldn’t hold its composure for long, spilling sloppily out of its toasted bun, like a drunk off a bar stool. I made sure to hunt down every overdressed morsel that tried to flee the scene. — Tim Carman
Sip a grapefruit crush at the Tiki Barge
500 Harborview Dr., Baltimore. 410-246-6501. tikibargebmore.com.
If you’re looking for a drink on the water in Baltimore, skip the chain restaurants in the touristy Inner Harbor and head farther down the Patapsco River toward Fort McHenry. Enter the Harbor View Marina and walk to the end of the pier. That’s where you’ll find the Tiki Barge, a bar that’s also home to a members-only outdoor pool club. Surrounded by water on all sides, the simple elevated patio offers views of sailboats and water taxis entering the harbor, the city’s skyline and the Domino Sugar plant. Bartenders serve orange or grapefruit crushes, dark and stormys, and other simple summer drinks, while the kitchen sends out tasty fish tacos. This place can get a little rowdy — imagine multiple bachelorette parties showing up at the same time — but it’s perfect for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, especially if you can stick around for the sunset. — Fritz Hahn
Order the Baron Cameron Summer Shandy at Lake Anne Brew House
11424 Washington Plaza W., Reston. 571-758-2739. lakeannebrewhouse.com.
Fresh beers and a waterfront location are a winning combination anywhere, but they’re an especially strong draw for the Lake Anne Brew House. The tiny nanobrewery is clearly tapping into a public need: After selling almost 3,000 pints during its grand opening weekend in mid-April, the Brew House had to close for 10 days to make more beer. (Hopefully production will be more consistent going forward.)
To make the most of your visit, grab a sampler ($2.50 for each five-ounce glass) and settle at a table on the shady patio overlooking Lake Anne’s dock and concrete basin. The selection is predictable for a young brewpub. The brown ale and the IPA are the best, and there’s also a stout, a kölsch and a red ale. The drink to order on a hot day is the Baron Cameron Summer Shandy, a blend of the Lake Anne Skinny Dip Kölsch and blueberry kombucha from MTO Kombucha in Warrenton; the fruit provides a lovely accent rather than an overwhelming sweetness. Beers are reasonably priced, too: $2.50 for each five-ounce sample glass, or $7 per pint. The Brew House doesn’t have a kitchen, but guests can bring takeout from nearby restaurants, or call to have pizza and sandwiches delivered. — Fritz Hahn
Try a Painkiller at Cantina Marina
600 Water St. SW. 202-554-8396. cantinamarina.com.
The deck at Cantina Marina offers a splendid view of the Washington Channel — and of the construction cranes that tower over the Wharf development site next door. The owners apparently will be renovating this dated, dockside party house in the near future — either at the current location or somewhere else along the waterfront — so who knows what’s in store? For the next year or so, however, you can revel in the sexy-pirate-cum-Caribbean-beach-bum charms of the place, where flavored vodkas dominate the cocktail list, and your beer and a shot can be slammed boilermaker-style. The funny thing is, as I nurse a rum-based Painkiller with pineapple juice poured from a can, everyone around me is lit up and happy. Some middle-aged dudes are flirting with waitresses. At another table, a foursome is knocking back Mexican lagers and laughing like kids at recess. The good times all around me somehow make this basket ($19) of crusty, cornmeal-battered shrimp and white fish seem like gourmet grub, as if the vibe was a special sauce of its own. — Tim Carman
Visit the living oyster reef at the Annapolis Maritime Museum
723 Second St., Annapolis. 410-295-0104. amaritime.org. Open Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free.
Most Annapolis museums honor the city’s Colonial history. The Annapolis Maritime Museum, perched on the peninsula where Back Creek meets the Severn River, celebrates the area’s aquaculture industry. Housed in the former McNasby’s Seafood and Oyster Company, this low-key museum discusses the role oysters played in the Chesapeake Bay’s development, and shows off wooden boats and artifacts that were used to harvest them. The centerpiece is a living oyster reef in an 850-gallon tank, set at a height perfect for kids. From June 18 to August 20, the museum hosts a Thursday night concert series; Local groups performing from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and refreshments come from outdoor bars and food trucks. — Fritz Hahn
Take a hike at Great Falls Park
River Trail at Great Falls Park, 9200 Old Dominion Dr., McLean. 703-757-3101. Billy Goat Trail at Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, 11710 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac. 301-767-3714. nps.gov. $10 a car, $5 on foot, bike.
There are two types of hikers: Those who crave strenuous rock-scrambling trails, and those who just want to amble to a pretty view. If you’re in the first group, head to the Billy Goat Trail’s 1.7-mile Section A, a grueling journey that the National Park Service estimates to last about three hours. The rest of us can venture to the other side of the Potomac River to Great Falls Park. The breezy River Trail is about the same length as the Billy Goat Trail, and both offer cliff edges and water views. But the former suits moderate hikers who, every now and then, can gaze across the river at fellow ramblers as they clamber over stones. Feel free to wave. — Emily Codik
Catch a sailboat race at Pirate’s Cove
4817 Riverside Dr., Galesville. 410-867-2300. piratescovemd.com.
Galesville has been a welcoming harbor for sailors since the 17th century because of its location on the West River, near the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. Pirate’s Cove, which sits at the north end of the peninsula, houses a marina and small hotel, but the real attraction is its seafood restaurant, which has indoor and outdoor seating, plus a casual dock bar on the river. Visit on a Wednesday evening, and you’ll see sailboat races, which begin at 6 p.m. and end with a party at the outdoor bar. On Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, there’s steelpan music, folk-rock or blues performers, providing the perfect soundtrack for sipping an orange crush or frozen piña colada and watching the ships sail by. — Fritz Hahn
Ride a tour boat at Burke Lake Park
7315 Ox Rd., Fairfax Station. fairfaxcounty.gov/parks. Tours ($4) run every hour from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends. $10 a car for non-Fairfax residents.
Enter the wooded trails of Burke Lake Park or push out into its namesake body of water, and you’ll leave everything urban behind while still in Fairfax County. Sure, you could power yourself by canoe or rowboat around the 218-acre man-made lake. Or you could try a 30-minute ride on the park’s electric tour boat, where you’ll be treated to great views (look for the bald eagles) and fun facts (the site of the park was originally slated for what would become Dulles Airport) shared by a friendly guide. — Becky Krystal
Go fossil hunting at Flag Ponds Nature Park
1525 Flag Ponds Pkwy., Lusby. 410-586-1477. www.calvertparks.org. $4 per car for Calvert County residents, $6 nonresidents through Oct. 31.
For some kids, there’s nothing more exciting than playing archaeologist, spending hours sifting through sand to find 5-million-year-old5,000,000-year-old fossil shark teeth — or at least rocks that resemble shark teeth. Take these budding treasure hunters to Flag Ponds Nature Park, where Miocene-era fossils can be found in the bay’s surf or among the beach’s rocks and seagrass. (Buckets, shovels and other beach toys can be borrowed from the park.) The park also includes hiking trails, fishing and a visitors center, but the beach is by far the most popular attraction. Two warnings: The beach is a half-mile from the parking lot, and the park can fill up early. — Fritz Hahn