In 2012, I made this guide for the first MAGFest at the Gaylord Hotel / National Harbor area, then updated it for MAG XI, XII, and now XIII. Hopefully people continue to find this useful.
As always, if anyone wants me to add onto this, just post here and I'll update. If anyone wants to make some lunch/dinner plans, I'm game. See you guys at MAG!
The Gaylord Resort is still quite gorgeous. The Atrium, Hotel, and Convention Center are all interconnected. In the Atrium there are several shops and restaurants, though most are either high-end (Old Hickory, Moon Bay), have bad food (National Pasttime), or are just the coffee shop (Java Coast). You're usually better off walking a few blocks west for food/supplies.
The area was planned, so nothing is more than 2-5 blocks away, and there are maps everywhere if you get lost. There are plenty of shops/restaurants -- more info on that below. The only unfortunate thing is that it's geared towards tourists staying at the convention center, so most of the options are a little overpriced. I'll try to give some suggestions below for budget-conscious folks as best I can.
As for the hotel, budget like an hour for checking in, and budget at least two hours for checking out and leaving the parking garage (seriously, 2013 was a mess). Also, make sure you're in the right line -- you'll be pissed if you spent an hour in what you thought was the check-in line only to find you were getting tickets for Shrek on Ice.
If you have a hotel reservation, stick with parking at the hotel (for Gaylord, it's very crowded on check-out day so plan to take like an hour to exit the garage). Otherwise, there may be a MAGFest rate at the Gaylord Hotel for $14/day -- contact MAG or the Gaylord about that though 'cause I have no other info on it.
If you're driving in each day, the non-hotel garages are all $11/day. If you're there under a day, it's $2/hr (first hour is $3) and there's a flat $11 rate if you come in after 8pm (so if you leave thereafter, it's another $11 to come back the same night). Don't bother with the meters, by the way, unless you like feeding meters every 2 hours.
If you're not driving, the best way to get to the area is by (1) taking the Green Line to the Branch Ave metro station (link), and (2) taking the NH1 bus to the National Harbor (schedule PDF). If you're coming back, you can take the same way, but the buses stop running before 11pm. You should look into connecting with other MAGFest-goers to see if you can catch a ride, or take a cab to a more convenient metro (check schedules to make sure the trains are still running).
The airport shuttle from DCA to Gaylord costs $19, by the way.
There're a bunch of restaurants in the area, and a few inside the Gaylord Atrium. I checked out a lot of the ones that looked good (and that I think might be more appealing to MAGFest-goers).
The short lists:
Recommended (starting with the best):
- Nando's Peri-Peri
- Elevation Burger
- Rosa Mexicano
On the cheap (starting with the cheapest):
- Potbelly Sandwich Works
- Nando's Peri-Peri
Breakfast options (starting with the morningest):
- Harbor Coffee (formerly Mayorga)
- Potomac Gourmet Market (for ready-made soups/sandwiches)
Dessert options (starting with the sweetest):
- SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier
- Ben & Jerry's
The change log:
Really quick... here are the restaurants and stores that are gone as of 2015:
- Baja Fresh
- Nature's Table
- Ketchup (replaced with Walrus Oyster and Grille)
- ChiDog O's (replaced with Crab Cake Cafe)
- Cake Love
Here are the restaurants and stores that are new as of 2015:
- Crab Cake Cafe (in place of ChiDog O's)
- Walrus Oyster and Grille (in place of Ketchup)
- Redstone (in place of empty lot)
And the places that just changed names:
- Harbor Coffee (was formerly Mayorga)
You'll notice a distinct pattern of cheaper places being replaced by pricier places. ...yeah, not thrilled about that.
The long list:
I have this divided into 3 sections: (1) places for breakfast/lunch/dinner, (2) places just for coffee/dessert, (3) places most people here would probably want to avoid. I have the pros/cons for the places I've been to, and fewer details for either places I haven't been to, or some of the places that don't need much detail (like Subway or McDonald's).
(1) For breakfast/lunch/dinner:
PROS: Everything! It's inexpensive ($8-$12, generally, no tipping needed). The food is delicious. The chicken is legendary. The vegetarian options are good. Even when it's crowded, you get a seat quicker than most other places.
CONS: It can get a little crowded and noisy at night, sometimes. Yet they still manage to be faster at seating you than other places.
(Most people who know me know I'm a huge Nando's fan and advocate. I usually go to a Nando's once a week on average. It's just that good.)
PROS: The burgers are good, it's cheap ($5-$10), and the vegetarian & vegan burgers are both good
CONS: The burgers alone are kind of small -- get a side dish, a milkshake, or something on the side; there's also not much sitting room inside
(Good option for lunch. Take my advice and get a side dish with your order though.)
PROS: Absolutely fantastic food (and you really should get the guacamole if you're going to come here). You will be very full after eating here, so you may as well go in the early afternoon and eat a full three course meal and skip dinner -- it's worth it, if you ask me.
CONS: It's not cheap. It can also get crowded, especially at night, and it may take quite a while to get a table without a reservation.
(This place is my favorite for high-quality Mexican food. Also the portions are generous; after eating lunch here I end up skipping dinner... By the way, I'm up for a group lunch or dinner here one day, if anyone else is.)
Fiorella Pizzeria E Caffe
PROS: Moderately priced and pretty decent Italian/Pizza place (even for someone like me who isn't big on Italian food). They're also very good with seating large groups (when they have room, of course, so calling ahead wouldn't hurt).
CONS: Desserts are a little subpar, in my opinion. Also OCR word has it that there's a surcharge for sharing pizzas, though I don't know if they still do that (it's worth asking before ordering one).
(Good option if you're in the mood for Italian, and don't mind walking down to the harbor area.)
Harrington's Pub & Kitchen
PROS: Overall, I think the food is a bit above-average compared to most Irish pubs. Entrees are a little pricey but the sandwiches are good and moderately priced (like $12-$16 usually).
CONS: Aside from some of the entrees being pricey, not many cons. They sometimes have live music, but the place is large enough to where you can sit pretty far away if you're not interested.
(Okay option if you prefer pub food.)
PROS: This is a grocery store, but they have some to-go soup and pre-packaged sandwiches, generally for under $7 for a quick lunch. Fresh fruits/veg, also.
CONS: It's just a grocery store, not a restaurant, but it's a good option for a quick meal.
(If you're getting groceries here it's not very cheap, but the ready-made lunch options are actually less expensive than most other places in the area for lunch.)
Crab Cake Cafe
PROS: Well, it has Maryland Crab Cakes. Those are always good.
CONS: If I wanted to spend $14 on a sandwich, I'd just go to one of the other sit-down restaurants. (The prices aren't listed in the window, but the vegetarian sandwich is $11 and the crab cakes are all $13-14.)
Potbelly Sandwich Works
Inexpensive but filling sandwiches. And I've always liked their milkshakes.
...it's McDonald's. But, this is all the way out in the gas station near the National Harbor entrance, so you probably won't feel like walking all the way out there in winter.
(Haven't been here.) Open late and sandwiches look moderately priced, but everything else looks pricey.
(Haven't been here.) Open late and sandwiches look moderately priced, but everything else looks pricey and the Yelp reviews aren't great. They do have a mechanical bull, though.
(Haven't been here.) Sandwiches are moderately priced, entrees are expensive though. It gets very crowded on weekends. Yelp reviews aren't great, but it could be worth a try?
(Haven't been here.) Sandwiches are moderately priced, and entrees are expensive. I can't comment as to the quality of the place since it's rather new.
National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill (in the hotel)
The food is overpriced and really not that good, but it's one place to be if you need to catch any of the playoffs. If by some miracle they're showing cricket matches here, though, then give me a call.
Nature's Table (GONE)
Baja Fresh (GONE)
ChiDog O's (GONE)
(2) For coffee/dessert
SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier (new!)
(This place replaced Godiva in 2013) As a chocolate lover, SPAGnVOLA is one of my favorite chocolatiers, second only to Lindt. The hot chocolate, gelato, and pretty much everything else here is delicious (mind you, some of the treats like bonbons/truffles are pricey, but the coffee, gelato, and hot chocolate are all reasonable).
Java Coast (in the hotel)
It's good to go for a quick coffee fix. It's in the hotel, so the location is convenient, and the prices are about the same as any other coffee shop. But the coffee is average; Mayorga is a bit better.
Harbor Coffee (formerly Mayorga)
Good coffee, and the same price as any other place. It's about 2-3 blocks from the hotel, as opposed to in the hotel -- that's the only down-side.
Delicious frozen yogurt with toppings. They're also open late (allegedly until 1am on Saturdays, though I haven't checked personally).
The Peeps Store
It's Peeps. Where else are you gonna find an entire store devoted to these marshmallow chicks? They have other merchandise too.
Ben & Jerry's
...It's Ice Cream, y'know.
Nature's Table (GONE)
Cake Love (GONE)
(3) Probably should avoid
McCormick & Schmick's
The food is actually very good, but it's very expensive. I don't think many folks came here to drop that kind of cash.
McLoone's Pier House
Like McCormick, the food here is also very good, yet very expensive.
The food is overpriced and comes in small portions, the decorations are gaudy, and the waitresses dress like a cross between P. F. Chang's and Hooters.
For a Thai restaurant, the food is a bit below-average yet the prices are above-average. There was also just one vegetarian option the last time I saw. I'd pass.
Old Hickory Steakhouse (in the hotel), Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine (in the hotel), Pienza Italian Market (in the hotel), Bond 45, Sauciety
(Haven't been to any of these places) I can't speak to the quality of any of these places -- some of them even look quite good -- but the prices are very high and I don't think anyone came to drop that kind of money here.
Not many folks going to MAG are planning on shopping, but there are a few things around that you might want to be aware of.
There's a CVS right across from Nando's Peri-Peri, if you need to grab anything you couldn't pack on your way in.
There's an urgent care clinic just up from CVS (from the hotel, turn right around the corner of the CVS). Just keep this in mind in case you catch MAGFlu and need to check in.
This is a small upscale grocery store. Fruits/veg, packaged food, soup and sandwiches, that kind of thing, you can stock up on here. The price is slightly above-average, but not bad unless you plan on doing a month's worth of shopping here. I prefer just having the soups/sandwiches if I need a quick lunch from here (you can get an ok lunch for under $7 from here).
This is not a place for buying food. It's just a cookware place (like Dean & Deluca or Sur La Table).
And this is a tea store I really don't like. The tea is of really poor quality yet they charge a ton for it.
Baja Fresh, Freshii, and Nature's Table are gone, but this hideous thing is still here...
Edited by Kizyr, 20 January 2015 - 06:38 AM.
updated for MAGFest XIII (2015)