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MAGFest - Guide to the National Harbor (updated for MAG XIII/2015)


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#1 Kizyr

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 05:40 AM

JAN. 20TH, 2015 - THIS LIST IS NOW UPDATED FOR MAGFEST XIII!

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!


GENERAL INFO:
————————————————————————————————
Hotel/Area
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.

Parking
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.

Transport
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.


RESTAURANTS:
————————————————————————————————
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
- Fiorella

On the cheap (starting with the cheapest):
- Subway
- 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)
- Subway

Dessert options (starting with the sweetest):
- SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier
- Pinkberry
- Ben & Jerry's

The change log:
Really quick... here are the restaurants and stores that are gone as of 2015:
- Baja Fresh
- Freshii
- 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:

Nando's Peri-Peri
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.)

Elevation Burger
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.)

Rosa Mexicano
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.)

Potomac Gourmet
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.

Subway
...it's Subway.

McDonald's
...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.

Bobby McKey's
(Haven't been here.) Open late and sandwiches look moderately priced, but everything else looks pricey.

Cadillac Ranch
(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.

Public House
(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?

Redstone (NEW!)
(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)
Freshii (GONE)
Baja Fresh (GONE)
ChiDog O's (GONE)
Ketchup (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.

Pinkberry (new!)
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.

Grace's Mandarin
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.

Thai Pavilion
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.


OTHER STORES:
————————————————————————————————
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.

CVS
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.

Urgent Care
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.

Potomac Gourmet
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).

Stonewall Kitchen
This is not a place for buying food. It's just a cookware place (like Dean & Deluca or Sur La Table).

Capital Teas
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.

The Awakening
Posted Image
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)

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#2 Nonamer

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 05:41 AM

Any advice for Metro riders (I won't be there, but want to be next year)?

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#3 Diodes

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 07:37 AM

Thanks Kizyr! This is a really good idea. I would also like to say that I've been to Ketchup. You can order a thing of fries with 5 different varieties of ketchup. There must have been something vegetarian there, probably like a veggie burger, since I ate there.

#4 Arrow

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 10:02 AM

Any advice for Metro riders (I won't be there, but want to be next year)?


That depends entirely on what you're trying to do with the Metro. Do you want to visit DC or something while you'd be here?

The closest metro stop to the harbor is Branch Ave. on the green line. The NH1 bus runs from the station to the harbor every 30 minutes from 8am to about 10pm.
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#5 jmr

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 12:10 PM

Much appreciated.
Are there any convenience / grocery stores in the immediate vicinity (reasonable walking distance) of the hotel? I'm flying down, and I've got a busy schedule in the days before, so I probably won't be able to pick up what I need before leaving. (I'm moving half way across Canada literally less than 24 hours before I fly out for MAGFest... 8-O)

#6 Bahamut

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 03:24 PM

Much appreciated.
Are there any convenience / grocery stores in the immediate vicinity (reasonable walking distance) of the hotel? I'm flying down, and I've got a busy schedule in the days before, so I probably won't be able to pick up what I need before leaving. (I'm moving half way across Canada literally less than 24 hours before I fly out for MAGFest... 8-O)


A quick search on Google Maps brought up a place called Potomac Gourmet - that work for you?
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#7 OA

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 04:04 PM

Awesome rundown of the food places, can't wait to eat some things and hang out with friends! :D
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#8 Kizyr

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 04:35 PM

Any advice for Metro riders (I won't be there, but want to be next year)?

As Arrow mentioned, the metro way to get there is by going to the Branch Ave metrorail station, and taking the NH1 metrobus to the National Harbor. However due to the schedules at MAGFest, you'll probably want to stay well past the time that the buses stop running. For the ride there, Metro'll be fine; but for the ride back, you may want to connect with some folks who are driving to get a ride from them (or just get a room if it's in your budget?).

I'll add that info up top.

Are there any convenience / grocery stores in the immediate vicinity (reasonable walking distance) of the hotel?

No worries; there are several. There's a big CVS right across from Nando's Peri-Peri. There's also Potomac Gourmet diagonally from there, which is an upscale small grocery store with prices only slightly above average.

I'll add notes on that up top, too.

Thanks Kizyr! This is a really good idea. I would also like to say that I've been to Ketchup. You can order a thing of fries with 5 different varieties of ketchup.

I kind of dismissed the place a little early, but now that you mention it I'm curious to try it out. From the looks/prices it seemed like it couldn't decide if it wanted to be a burger joint or an upscale place and ended up splitting the difference... KF
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#9 Mustin

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 06:05 PM

This is really helpful, thank you!
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#10 Cyril the Wolf

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 06:11 PM

All my excuses to NOT make an itinerary are gone.
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#11 Dyne

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Posted 29 December 2011 - 08:56 PM

Thank you Kizyr! I'm looking forward to this!!

#12 Jenner

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Posted 30 December 2011 - 04:16 PM

Just so you all know, the Cadillac Ranch has a mechanical bull I hope I do not need to tell you guys that this is awesome. I have not looked at the prices for this place, but seriously, I want to get a group together and put this bull to the test.
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#13 Bahamut

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Posted 30 December 2011 - 04:30 PM

What are good breakfast options Kaiser?

Also wow there's a place called Cakelove.
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#14 Diodes

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Posted 30 December 2011 - 09:52 PM

Also wow there's a place called Cakelove.


Cakelove is awesome! They have indiv. cupcakes and cake slices as well as whole cakes, so it's a nice place to go for dessert. They also have vegan cupcakes! But I think they're only OK. The regular cakes and cupcakes are really good (and I'm guessing that's pretty much all everyone else will care about).

#15 zircon

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Posted 31 December 2011 - 12:07 AM

So wait, to be clear, they don't have parking at the hotel - we have to find a garage nearby?
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#16 Arrow

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Posted 31 December 2011 - 12:27 AM

They DO have parking at the hotel. It's $21 a day according to my room reservation e-mail, unfortunately. Of course, compared to the overcharges you'll get for leaving your car in a nearby $11 garage for 96 hours straight, it's probably the better option.
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#17 Bahamut

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Posted 31 December 2011 - 02:05 AM

So I was looking at restaurants too, and noticed this tidbit about Fiorella Pizzeria:

"Beware of the sharing pizza tax. If you split a 18" pizza with your mate, expect to pay an additional $12 just to share the pizza. You are better off buying two 12" pizza's."

Not sure if it's true as the menu does say 18" to share but it's worth keeping in the back of your head.

There's also a Ben & Jerry's right near the Potbelly & apparently a Godiva.

The hotel also has a steakhouse but boy does it look expensive.

Edited by Bahamut, 31 December 2011 - 02:13 AM.

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#18 Diodes

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Posted 31 December 2011 - 02:38 AM

"Beware of the sharing pizza tax. If you split a 18" pizza with your mate, expect to pay an additional $12 just to share the pizza. You are better off buying two 12" pizza's."


What the hell? Who's gonna eat a 18" pizza by themself?

#19 Dyne

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Posted 31 December 2011 - 02:42 AM

They DO have parking at the hotel. It's $21 a day according to my room reservation e-mail, unfortunately. Of course, compared to the overcharges you'll get for leaving your car in a nearby $11 garage for 96 hours straight, it's probably the better option.


Wait, wait... I thought the parking was $11 a day. I hope someone might clarify this for us.

#20 Palpable

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Posted 31 December 2011 - 05:32 AM

Wait, wait... I thought the parking was $11 a day. I hope someone might clarify this for us.


The hotel has its own garage which is very expensive. The Harbor area has individual parking garages that are $11 a day. For Katsucon, we were able to park with no problem at the garage right across the street from the hotel, which was a five minute walk (if that). I'm definitely planning on leaving my car in one of the regular garages, unless there are penalties for leaving your car overnight.




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