National Harbor, a new attraction in the Washington, D.C., area, is a development along the Potomac River in Maryland, barely south of the D.C. border. The site assembles hotels, restaurants, shops, and condo living spaces around a marina with water-side walking paths. The signature visual icon of the area is a remarkable sculpture call The Awakening.
The conventional way to get to National Harbor is by car along a tangle of roadways that are somewhat circuitous and tricky to navigate because of signage issues. However, a more interesting way to arrive is by the $7 Water Taxi from Alexandria. It is possible to take the Metro from anywhere in DC to the King Street Station in Alexandria, catch the free historic trolley down King Street to the water, then board the Water Taxi for an enjoyable look at the watery expanse of the Potomac and the newly refurbished Wilson Bridge before arriving on the opposite bank at National Harbor. This advent helps a visitor comprehend the expansive waterways around Washington, D.C., both on the Potomac and on Chesapeake Bay.
Once you arrive, the remarkable art artifact to see is the large outdoor sculpture on the shoreline, called The Awakening. This is one of the more interactive sculptures you will find in America today. Kids love to crawl around on it. The Awakening is a 100-foot statue of a giant who seems to be embedded in the earth, but strains to emerge. He consists of five separate aluminum pieces buried in the ground. The giant seems panicked and wishes to escape from the earth. The left hand, head, right foot, left leg, and right arm protrude from the earth. This is the theme of the awakening, and it is a powerful metaphor, well executed.
The sculpture was created in 1980 by artist J. Seward Johnson for a sculpture exhibition and installed at Hains Point in Washington, D.C. In 2007 the sculptor sold the piece to the National Harbor people for $750,000 and it was moved here.
On a cement walkway above the sculpture, at street level, there is an intriguing mosaic inlay map of the Washington, D.C., region. Benches around the mosaic have challenging questions on them, enticing you to play a game identifying the location of the region’s historic places and people.
Aside from the sculpture and mosaic, it is interesting to walk out the piers to look at the marina and boats or to stroll along the water-side path, which is hooked into the elaborate D.C. region pathways that can make for some terrific biking outings or walks. In the marina it is possible to take canoeing, kayaking, and sailing lessons. Details at www.calleva.org.
I enjoyed lunch at the outdoor restaurant next to The Awakening. This eatery is a branch of the McCormick & Schmick’s chain, with good seafood. The Bay Scallops/Rock Shrimp Fettucine with a classic Alfredo cream sauce was tasty.
It is also interesting to explore the Gaylord Hotel, the main lodging in the area. This property has the signature Gaylord atrium interior, similar to those in Nashville and Orlando, with a huge interior space enclosing a few houses in a quasi-village. I found the atrium a welcome climate-controlled space in the hot and muggy Washington, D.C., weather scene typical of August. The huge size of the hotel makes this a popular convention space.
Later, outside, I walked through the condo and shops area, enjoying the Sunday Farmer’s Market, which had both foods and crafts on display.
National Harbor amounts to a pleasing waterside “destination” outing to consider in Washington, D.C., especially if you want relief from the urban images of the city core. For more details, see www.nationalharbor.com.
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