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Beat the Heat: 10 places to enjoy the water in D.C.

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Feel like getting pruned in the remaining summer months? Well, you’re in luck because Washington, D.C., has rivers, streams, a Tidal Basin, splash zones, and pools.

Water is everywhere. It is often referred to as the essence of life. The average adult is 60 percent water, the human brain is around 75 percent water, and the earth’s surface is 71 percent water. H2O has always been there, helping and nourishing us since the birth of civilization and the invention of the wheel.

Water activities not only improve cardio, but they relieve stress and enhance mental wellbeing. Historically, human beings have flocked towards the wetness. D.C. provides further evidence of this. The nation’s capital is a metropolis lush and teeming with history bordering the illustrious Potomac River and smaller, but equally interesting, Anacostia River.

Here, at Curbed DC, we have listed 10 places to help you get started on your aquatic adventures. Dive in!

Note: The map points have been ordered geographically, from the most north to the most south.

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1. Petworth Spray Park

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801 Taylor St NW
Washington, DC 20011

Spray Parks (also called splash zones and splash pads) have become a popular way to escape the summer heat. Since there is no standing water, the parks don’t need lifeguards and only require limited supervision. Splash zones also serve as a healthy replacement to the removing of fire hydrant caps, a common tradition during summer months.

This splash pad has a large area for children to enjoy the water. It offers ground-level jets, dumping buckets, and continuous spray-down water sprayers, shaped as semicircles coming out of the ground for running under and through. There are benches set up around the spray pool and areas where parents can sit back and soak in the sun. There is not much shade, however, so bring sunscreen.

Petworth Spray Park also sits adjacent to a playground, giving kids a terrestrial opportunity for added fun. The park is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.   

Photo via Shutterstock/AnnaElizabeth photography

2. Banneker Pool

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2500 Georgia Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

Sometimes, in the heat of the summer, it is necessary to take a dip. If you're looking to swim laps (harnessing your inner Michael Phelps), play Marco Polo, or do a cannonball off of a diving board, Banneker Pool is the place for you.

It is both spacious and family-friendly. It has a nice lounge area for sunbathing and clean locker rooms as well as other amenities, such as food and drinks. The pool is free for D.C. residents. One just has to show some form of identification.

If you are a non-D.C. resident, the rates range from $4 for children and seniors to $7 for adults. Banneker Pool is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays (closed on Thursdays) and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

Banneker Recreation Center.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Smallbones

3. Fletchers Cove Boathouse

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4940 Canal Rd NW
Washington, DC 20007

Fletcher’s Cove is an angler’s paradise and a welcomed refuge from the commotion of the city. It is located on the Potomac River, between the Chain and Key bridges and within the C&O Canal National Park. Here, you will see fishermen perched atop rocks and wading through the Potomac River gently as to not disturb potential catches.

In the springtime, Fletcher’s Cove is heavily frequented by fishing enthusiasts. They are eager to catch the seasonally abundant shad along with some white perch and striped bass that can be found milling about. The runs are very plentiful.

During the summer, the heat makes the fish pretty sluggish, but if you’re looking to do some fishing on the Potomac River, this is still an ideal place. One can also visit the nearby Fletcher’s Boathouse for aquatic vehicle rentals. Here, the customer can rent four-person paddleboats for $16 an hour, or the patron can pay $30 up front to have the boat the entire day. They also offer kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards at Fletcher’s.

The hours are from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.  

A post shared by Omar Fabian (@omarfabian) on

4. Francis Swimming Pool

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2435 N St NW
Washington, DC 20002

Francis Swimming Pool is located in Northwest D.C. between Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom. This is a nice place to visit if you like to have multiple swimming options. They have three separate pools ranging in depth.

The first pool is primarily for children, though adult sunbathers often lay on the shore of the baby pool half submerged. The other two pools (medium depth and deep depth) are used mostly by adults and adolescents. There are lap lanes in the deeper pools as well as a spacious lounge area for tanning and relaxing purposes.

The pool is free for D.C. residents with identification, $4 for seniors and children, and $7 for adults.

The Francis Swimming Pool is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday (except for Tuesdays when it is closed for maintenance). On the weekends, the pool is open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Photo via Cade Buchanan

5. Key Bridge Boathouse

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3500 Water St NW
Washington, DC 20007

Next to the Key Bridge overpass, one will find the Key Bridge boathouse. The boathouse sits on the peaceful shore of the Potomac River. It is just a short distance from the Georgetown Waterfront with its hustling and bustling eaters and drinkers in salmon-colored shorts. Here, the customer will be able to rent kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards.

These water mobiles provide fresh and original views of the waterfront, Theodore Roosevelt Island, the C&O Canal along with many of the city’s most eye-catching monuments. If one seeks more novelty on the Potomac River, the boathouse offers a cherry blossom tour, standup paddleboards, yoga/fitness classes, and tours in the morning, evening, and night. (The tours are done primarily by kayak).

The boathouse opens at 9 a.m. during the week and 8 a.m. on weekends. They close at 7 p.m. unless you are doing the moonlit kayak tour.

Key Bridge.
Photo via Shutterstock/Andrei Medvedev

6. Boomerang Boat Tours

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3100 K St NW
Washington, DC 20007

If you have a desire to see the incredible sights of D.C., but prefer to do it while pretending you're Jack Sparrow, Boomerang Boat Tour's Pirate Ships are a dream come true. The 54-foot pirate ships set out from Georgetown's Waterfront day and night five days a week.

They are equipped with 12 water cannons, pirate flags, a crow's nest that sits atop a mast, and a fully functioning, fully stocked bar. As welcomed guests, the traditionally garbed swashbuckling crew will allow you to travel from starboard to portside freely. Here, a landlubber can truly soak in the majestic views of D.C. And many say D.C.'s monuments are a treasure in and of themselves, especially under the moonlight.

The cruise lasts two hours, plenty of time to plunder beverages with salty sea dwellers, and the ships can fit 90 people so bring your friends. If pirate ships are not your bag, that's ok. Boomerang Boat Tours also offers party yachts and a party boat that delivers fun Potomac River cruises 10 months of the year.

7. Thompson Boat Center

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2900 Virginia Ave NW
Washington, DC 20037

Located within the Georgetown Waterfront is the Thompson Boat Center. It is often less crowded than the Key Bridge Boathouse and offers a wider variety of river transportation. They offer kayaking, canoeing, standup paddleboarding, fitness classes, and workshops.

Where they stand out is in their offering of sweep boats (like the ones used in the Olympics for competitive rowing) and hydro biking, which is the paddling of a bicycle flanked by two pontoons on either side.

They also offer classes in sweep boat rowing, which is mostly fitness- and technique-based with groups, and workshops on sculling, which is one-person paddling.

The Thompson Boat Center is open to rowers at 6 a.m. and to every other rental starting at 8 a.m.    

A post shared by Boating In DC (@boatingindc) on

8. Tidal Basin Paddle Boats

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1501 Maine Ave SW
Washington, DC 20024

The Tidal Basin is immensely popular among tourists and residents alike. People walk about the Basin to experience scenic views and take in the uniquely Washingtonian atmosphere. Coincidentally, it is also a great place to take a date or a loved one on a romantic or platonic voyage in the water.

Being in the Basin provides the traveler with picturesque views of the Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Washington Monument, and the MLK Memorial. One can enjoy these historic architectural tributes as their reflections shimmer brilliantly off the surface of the Basin’s waters.

If that is not intriguing enough, you can experience all of this while traveling around in a giant swan. Wading the waters in a swan boat with bike pedals is not your cup of tea? The Tidal Basin also rents out normal pedal boats for two to four people. Customers can rent these boats from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

Besides being a popular tourist attraction, the partially man-made Basin is also known to have some decent fishing. It is not wholly uncommon to catch the elusive snakehead fish here.

A post shared by Boating In DC (@boatingindc) on

9. Ballpark Boathouse

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Potomac Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003

The Anacostia River may not be as large as the Potomac (8.5 miles versus 405 miles), but it still has a plethora of options for water adventures. This often breathtaking river showcases splendid views from the water that the Potomac does not.

If one heads down to the Ballpark Boathouse, he or she can rent a kayak/canoe then venture out onto the river. If you’re a D.C. baseball fan, you can take in the sights and sounds of the nearby Nationals Stadium. Enjoy some peanuts and crackerjacks while bobbing within the confines of your canoe. Maybe you’ll even catch a foul ball.

Paddle beside the U.S. Capitol, Navy Yard, USS Barry, and Fort McNair for sights of impressive ships and monuments. You can even bring a rod and reel because the Anacostia is another of D.C.’s prime fishing locations. Tired from all this paddling? Dock your vessel at the nearby Yards Park, which always seems to have its own activities going on.

Ballpark Boathouse opens at noon during the week and 9 a.m. on weekends. All rented vessels are to be returned at 7 p.m.

A post shared by Boating In DC (@boatingindc) on

10. National Harbor

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National Harbor
Fort Washington, MD 20745

Oxon Hill, Maryland's National Harbor is a gem of an attraction. It's located just south of Washington, D.C. The waterfront development is eye-catching with its pristine restaurants, shops, and innumerable outdoor activities.

The looming, brightly colored Capital Wheel perches happily above the Potomac on the foot of an outstretched wooden boardwalk. The ferris wheel's gondolas propel passengers 180 feet into the sky. This gives them bird’s eye views of the Potomac, Capital Dome, and the ant-like cars traversing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

If you have a bit of vertigo and don't like heights, you can also choose to ride the water taxis. They offer comfortable cruises showcasing views of historic Mount Vernon and the National Mall. If one prefers a smaller vessel, don't hesitate to rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. Make sure to make it back in time to catch a movie or preseason football game on the 18-by-32-foot Jumbotron. It sits by the National Harbor’s coastline overlooking the Potomac, which is a great place to find yourself as the sun sets.

A post shared by Boating In DC (@boatingindc) on

1. Petworth Spray Park

801 Taylor St NW, Washington, DC 20011
Photo via Shutterstock/AnnaElizabeth photography

Spray Parks (also called splash zones and splash pads) have become a popular way to escape the summer heat. Since there is no standing water, the parks don’t need lifeguards and only require limited supervision. Splash zones also serve as a healthy replacement to the removing of fire hydrant caps, a common tradition during summer months.

This splash pad has a large area for children to enjoy the water. It offers ground-level jets, dumping buckets, and continuous spray-down water sprayers, shaped as semicircles coming out of the ground for running under and through. There are benches set up around the spray pool and areas where parents can sit back and soak in the sun. There is not much shade, however, so bring sunscreen.

Petworth Spray Park also sits adjacent to a playground, giving kids a terrestrial opportunity for added fun. The park is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.   

801 Taylor St NW
Washington, DC 20011

2. Banneker Pool

2500 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
Banneker Recreation Center.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Smallbones

Sometimes, in the heat of the summer, it is necessary to take a dip. If you're looking to swim laps (harnessing your inner Michael Phelps), play Marco Polo, or do a cannonball off of a diving board, Banneker Pool is the place for you.

It is both spacious and family-friendly. It has a nice lounge area for sunbathing and clean locker rooms as well as other amenities, such as food and drinks. The pool is free for D.C. residents. One just has to show some form of identification.

If you are a non-D.C. resident, the rates range from $4 for children and seniors to $7 for adults. Banneker Pool is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays (closed on Thursdays) and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

2500 Georgia Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

3. Fletchers Cove Boathouse

4940 Canal Rd NW, Washington, DC 20007

Fletcher’s Cove is an angler’s paradise and a welcomed refuge from the commotion of the city. It is located on the Potomac River, between the Chain and Key bridges and within the C&O Canal National Park. Here, you will see fishermen perched atop rocks and wading through the Potomac River gently as to not disturb potential catches.

In the springtime, Fletcher’s Cove is heavily frequented by fishing enthusiasts. They are eager to catch the seasonally abundant shad along with some white perch and striped bass that can be found milling about. The runs are very plentiful.

During the summer, the heat makes the fish pretty sluggish, but if you’re looking to do some fishing on the Potomac River, this is still an ideal place. One can also visit the nearby Fletcher’s Boathouse for aquatic vehicle rentals. Here, the customer can rent four-person paddleboats for $16 an hour, or the patron can pay $30 up front to have the boat the entire day. They also offer kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards at Fletcher’s.

The hours are from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.  

4940 Canal Rd NW
Washington, DC 20007

4. Francis Swimming Pool

2435 N St NW, Washington, DC 20002
Photo via Cade Buchanan

Francis Swimming Pool is located in Northwest D.C. between Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom. This is a nice place to visit if you like to have multiple swimming options. They have three separate pools ranging in depth.

The first pool is primarily for children, though adult sunbathers often lay on the shore of the baby pool half submerged. The other two pools (medium depth and deep depth) are used mostly by adults and adolescents. There are lap lanes in the deeper pools as well as a spacious lounge area for tanning and relaxing purposes.

The pool is free for D.C. residents with identification, $4 for seniors and children, and $7 for adults.

The Francis Swimming Pool is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday (except for Tuesdays when it is closed for maintenance). On the weekends, the pool is open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

2435 N St NW
Washington, DC 20002

5. Key Bridge Boathouse

3500 Water St NW, Washington, DC 20007
Key Bridge.
Photo via Shutterstock/Andrei Medvedev

Next to the Key Bridge overpass, one will find the Key Bridge boathouse. The boathouse sits on the peaceful shore of the Potomac River. It is just a short distance from the Georgetown Waterfront with its hustling and bustling eaters and drinkers in salmon-colored shorts. Here, the customer will be able to rent kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards.

These water mobiles provide fresh and original views of the waterfront, Theodore Roosevelt Island, the C&O Canal along with many of the city’s most eye-catching monuments. If one seeks more novelty on the Potomac River, the boathouse offers a cherry blossom tour, standup paddleboards, yoga/fitness classes, and tours in the morning, evening, and night. (The tours are done primarily by kayak).

The boathouse opens at 9 a.m. during the week and 8 a.m. on weekends. They close at 7 p.m. unless you are doing the moonlit kayak tour.

3500 Water St NW
Washington, DC 20007

6. Boomerang Boat Tours

3100 K St NW, Washington, DC 20007

If you have a desire to see the incredible sights of D.C., but prefer to do it while pretending you're Jack Sparrow, Boomerang Boat Tour's Pirate Ships are a dream come true. The 54-foot pirate ships set out from Georgetown's Waterfront day and night five days a week.

They are equipped with 12 water cannons, pirate flags, a crow's nest that sits atop a mast, and a fully functioning, fully stocked bar. As welcomed guests, the traditionally garbed swashbuckling crew will allow you to travel from starboard to portside freely. Here, a landlubber can truly soak in the majestic views of D.C. And many say D.C.'s monuments are a treasure in and of themselves, especially under the moonlight.

The cruise lasts two hours, plenty of time to plunder beverages with salty sea dwellers, and the ships can fit 90 people so bring your friends. If pirate ships are not your bag, that's ok. Boomerang Boat Tours also offers party yachts and a party boat that delivers fun Potomac River cruises 10 months of the year.

3100 K St NW
Washington, DC 20007

7. Thompson Boat Center

2900 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037

Located within the Georgetown Waterfront is the Thompson Boat Center. It is often less crowded than the Key Bridge Boathouse and offers a wider variety of river transportation. They offer kayaking, canoeing, standup paddleboarding, fitness classes, and workshops.

Where they stand out is in their offering of sweep boats (like the ones used in the Olympics for competitive rowing) and hydro biking, which is the paddling of a bicycle flanked by two pontoons on either side.

They also offer classes in sweep boat rowing, which is mostly fitness- and technique-based with groups, and workshops on sculling, which is one-person paddling.

The Thompson Boat Center is open to rowers at 6 a.m. and to every other rental starting at 8 a.m.    

2900 Virginia Ave NW
Washington, DC 20037

8. Tidal Basin Paddle Boats

1501 Maine Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024

The Tidal Basin is immensely popular among tourists and residents alike. People walk about the Basin to experience scenic views and take in the uniquely Washingtonian atmosphere. Coincidentally, it is also a great place to take a date or a loved one on a romantic or platonic voyage in the water.

Being in the Basin provides the traveler with picturesque views of the Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Washington Monument, and the MLK Memorial. One can enjoy these historic architectural tributes as their reflections shimmer brilliantly off the surface of the Basin’s waters.

If that is not intriguing enough, you can experience all of this while traveling around in a giant swan. Wading the waters in a swan boat with bike pedals is not your cup of tea? The Tidal Basin also rents out normal pedal boats for two to four people. Customers can rent these boats from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

Besides being a popular tourist attraction, the partially man-made Basin is also known to have some decent fishing. It is not wholly uncommon to catch the elusive snakehead fish here.

1501 Maine Ave SW
Washington, DC 20024

9. Ballpark Boathouse

Potomac Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003

The Anacostia River may not be as large as the Potomac (8.5 miles versus 405 miles), but it still has a plethora of options for water adventures. This often breathtaking river showcases splendid views from the water that the Potomac does not.

If one heads down to the Ballpark Boathouse, he or she can rent a kayak/canoe then venture out onto the river. If you’re a D.C. baseball fan, you can take in the sights and sounds of the nearby Nationals Stadium. Enjoy some peanuts and crackerjacks while bobbing within the confines of your canoe. Maybe you’ll even catch a foul ball.

Paddle beside the U.S. Capitol, Navy Yard, USS Barry, and Fort McNair for sights of impressive ships and monuments. You can even bring a rod and reel because the Anacostia is another of D.C.’s prime fishing locations. Tired from all this paddling? Dock your vessel at the nearby Yards Park, which always seems to have its own activities going on.

Ballpark Boathouse opens at noon during the week and 9 a.m. on weekends. All rented vessels are to be returned at 7 p.m.

Potomac Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003

10. National Harbor

National Harbor, Fort Washington, MD 20745

Oxon Hill, Maryland's National Harbor is a gem of an attraction. It's located just south of Washington, D.C. The waterfront development is eye-catching with its pristine restaurants, shops, and innumerable outdoor activities.

The looming, brightly colored Capital Wheel perches happily above the Potomac on the foot of an outstretched wooden boardwalk. The ferris wheel's gondolas propel passengers 180 feet into the sky. This gives them bird’s eye views of the Potomac, Capital Dome, and the ant-like cars traversing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

If you have a bit of vertigo and don't like heights, you can also choose to ride the water taxis. They offer comfortable cruises showcasing views of historic Mount Vernon and the National Mall. If one prefers a smaller vessel, don't hesitate to rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard. Make sure to make it back in time to catch a movie or preseason football game on the 18-by-32-foot Jumbotron. It sits by the National Harbor’s coastline overlooking the Potomac, which is a great place to find yourself as the sun sets.

National Harbor
Fort Washington, MD 20745