I have done several travel articles for Instinct Magazine and a myriad of other publications. My recent trip to National Harbor, Maryland might just be my favorite that I have done so far, as this hidden gem in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area is one that many of our gay brethren need to visit as soon as possible.
This was my second time heading to the DMV in three months. I first went to Alexandria, Virginia in January and was impressed by the mom and pop feel of the entire town, not to mention its wonderful foodie scene and overall ambiance. National Harbor, which is 20 minutes outside Union Station in DC (same for Alexandria) evokes a similar type of experience with vast and wonderful differences that I’m still dreaming about to this day.
My jaws dropped the minute I arrived in National Harbor due to just how spectacular the gorgeous water views were from where I was staying. The area itself is a pleasant mixture of big city meets suburbs as there’s a hustle and bustle to it, but you don’t feel overwhelmed while walking through its beautiful streets (no shade to my hometown of NYC).
I’ll take you all through everything I did from start to finish. I began my time there at the AC Hotel National Harbor, which is located smack dab in the middle of the vivacious city. I’m familiar with the AC brand and knew what I was expecting the minute I checked in. Essentially, it’s professionalism, décor and a relaxed stay all beautifully balled up in one.
Before you go out, head to their AC Lounge on the second floor for a drink or two with your friends. There’s also this hot as hell bartender who gave me Adam Levine vibes that will serve you some tasty cocktails. So, you have some yummy eye candy to devour during your time at the hip and trendy bar. AC Kitchen, located steps away from AC Lounge, provides a mouthwatering European-inspired breakfast with delicious croissants (flown in from France) and an assortment of other goodies.
I love food. Food is an essential part to life, especially when you are traveling to a city you haven’t been to yet. The first foodie stop we made was at the Old Hickory Steakhouse, located inside the Gaylord National Resort (more on my experience there later). This is one of three full-service restaurants available on that particular property. Old Hickory is modeled after an 18th century Georgian row home and named after the 7th President of the United States – Andrew Jackson. Here you can dine on all the classic steakhouse options and can also utilize their Maitre d’Fromage with a wonderful cheese tasting. The stinkier the better in this situation.
I spent some of my next day perusing the area that is National Harbor. There’s so much to do in this part of town when it comes to dining and shopping. National Harbor happens to be home to one of only two PEEPS stores in the country! OMG! I had no idea that PEEPS had a brick and mortar location, I just assumed you bought them at your local convenience store. It’s a colorful explosion the minute you walk inside, which I happened to love as it brought me back to my childhood in the most wonderful of ways.
My next hotel stay was at the Gaylord National Resort, mentioned earlier. It’s still located in the general National Harbor vicinity and is much larger in size compared to AC (but I’m not a size queen in this situation). Gaylord is massive but needs to be as it hosts a variety of conventions on a year-round basis. If your business is traveling to the DMV area and need a place to host your massive flock of people, then this would be the place to do so as they will no doubt be able to happily accommodate you.
Food time yet again! Grace’s Mandarin, located across the street from Gaylord, perfects Asian cuisine to a tee. The space is elegance personified and the options they provide you with really showcase some amazing Asian flavors. They served me with some of the best of the best like their uniquely assembled sushi rolls, yummy pad thai and so much more.
Something that Gaylord has on their premise is a wonderful spa named Relâche. I come from the world of having a “treat yourself” kind of mentality, and a spa day one of those things that are included in that. Relâche, located steps from the lobby of Gaylord, is an all-encompassing type of facility that will leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed the minute you leave. They have a variety of services available at your disposal, including the Musclease Deep Tissue Massage that was performed on me by a very studly dude.
A place you must, and I put this lightly, must visit is MGM National Harbor, which is a quick Uber/Lyft ride away from Gaylord. MGM goes beyond the gambling aspect that most casinos are known for. It’s a place where you and your pals can shop til you drop, eat as much as possible, and more.
The location, which is still fairly brand new, offers a bevy of shopping options including a store by New York City icon Sarah Jessica Parker. There’s also a fabulous outside area of MGM that is perfect for this time of year as they host many events where you can party the night away amid a breathtaking view.
MGM also forgoes the traditional buffet type of experience you would have at a casino and utilizes a spacious food hall instead. Food halls have become super trendy in NYC and I’m glad to see that exist in the DMV area as well. If you want something a little fancier, try places with known names like the Voltaggio Brother’s Steakhouse and FISH by José Andrés.
Back to Gaylord. They have their own breakfast spot like AC called Pienza Marketplace, which is located on the atrium level of their location. This al fresco restaurant features a buffet-style menu of fresh, locally-sourced breakfast favorites and includes a “Make Your Own Omelet” station. Yum,
A unique place that I visited in National Harbor was at Local Motors, which is a car lovers dream. It’s a multidimensional sales and demonstration facility that houses a bunch of amazingly designed cars. A fun experience they provided me with was a ride on their Olli – the world’s first co-created, self-driving, electric shuttle.
It’s shopping time! Every vacation deserves a trip to the mall, and Tanger Outlets is the perfect place to do this. Tanger has multiple locations across the country, and the one in National Harbor is just as beautiful and fun (if not more) than all the others. Shop to your hearts content at all the finest retail locations at a fraction of the price while grabbing some food and drink at mall-faves like Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.
Probably the most memorable part of my time in National Harbor was when I took a ride on the Capital Wheel, which is a Ferris Wheel located right in the water of this beautiful area. This isn’t your typical carnival ride experience, it’s so much more. You hop inside, blast the air conditioning and play whatever music you want while getting an incredible view of the city from very high up. The Capital Wheel’s Flight Deck, located next to the Capital Wheel, is a great spot to chill at for a drink or two before going on board.
We then dined at Succotash, which is helmed by Top Chef alum and James Beard Award nominee Edward Lee. Edward expertly combines his Korean roots and southern cooking at its best, with options like shrimp and grits, cornbread and more that go beyond the traditional way of cooking them for a damn good foodie experience. Also, the waitstaff is hot. Not that it matters, but once again… eye candy helps any sort of experience.
The nightlife aspect of National Harbor is impressive too. The streets are lined up with all types of people who come there for a great night. One place that I really enjoyed was Bobby McKey’s Dueling Piano Bar, which featured live singing throughout the evening. Sip on some tasty cocktails while you lip sync for your life to all types of songs done by some impressive vocalists.
Overall my trip to National Harbor was memorable in many ways. It was a great escape from the big city into something so much more enchanting and beautiful and I really look forward to the day that I get to go back for more of what they have to offer. If you are looking for a unique place to visit this spring and summer, then National Harbor is the place to be.
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