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Old 12-29-2011, 04:40 AM
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MAGFest - Guide to the National Harbor (updated for MAG XII/2014)

12-27-2014 - THIS LIST IS NOW UPDATED FOR MAGFEST XII!

In 2012, I made this guide for the first MAGFest at the Gaylord Hotel / National Harbor area, then updated it for MAG XI, and now for MAG XII. 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 really gorgeous, especially the Atrium -- the Hotel, Atrium, and Convention Center are all interconnected. In the Atrium there are several shops and restaurants, though most are high-end and pricey. The coffee place (Java Coast) is about the only normally-priced thing there. Mostly, you're 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.

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.

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
- Nature's Table
- Elevation Burger
- Rosa Mexicano
- Fiorella
- Freshii

On the cheap (starting with the cheapest):
- Subway
- Potbelly Sandwich Works
- Baja Fresh
- Nature's Table
- Freshii
- Nando's Peri-Peri

Breakfast options (starting with the morningest):
- Nature's Table
- Freshii
- Mayorga (coffee)
- Potomac Gourmet Market (for ready-made soups/sandwiches)
- Subway

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

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.)

Nature's Table
PROS: Inexpensive (<$10), good portions for the price, and they have really good gelato here.
CONS: Very little sitting room inside. Also they never seemed to be open when their posted hours say they would be... It got very irritating last year.
(It's worth going at least for the gelato. This is a good place for breakfast, too, and if you're in a rush and don't want to do Subway.)

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.)

Freshii
PROS: Inexpensive (<$10), healthier options, lots of vegetarian choices, and the frozen yogurt is good.
CONS: Don't get the soup, it tastes like crap. Also if you really hate eating healthy then you probably want to pass on this one.
(Great option for those who prefer to eat light or healthy. This is also a good place for carry-out.)

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.)

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.)

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.)

Baja Fresh
Inexpensive but very decent tex-mex. Well, I've always liked Baja Fresh anyway.

Potbelly Sandwich Works
Inexpensive but filling sandwiches. And I've always liked their milkshakes.

Subway
...it's Subway.

McDonald's
...it's McDonald's.

ChiDog O's
(Haven't been here.) Cheap hot dog place. The Yelp reviews are pretty bad, but maybe it's worth a try? OCR word has it that the Chicago dogs are very unimpressive.

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.

Ketchup
(Haven't been here) Burgers and sandwiches are a little pricier than other places that're comparable, but that's apparently their specialty. OCR word has it that the fries are really good, and they do have a wide variety of ketchup as the name implies. Mixed reviews elsewise, 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?

National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill (in the hotel)
(Haven't been here) The food is overpriced, but it's one place to be if you need to catch any of the playoffs this weekend.

(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.

Mayorga Coffee Roasters
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.

Nature's Table
The gelato here is really, really good -- when it's open (they have a tendency not to be open at their posted hours).

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.

Cake Love
Cake and cupcakes. Moderately priced but fine for a treat.

Godiva Chocolatier (gone!)
Godiva is gone! It's been replaced with SPAGnVOLA, which is ten times better.

(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.

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

WTF, whose idea was it to move this hideous statue here?
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Last edited by Kizyr; 12-28-2013 at 01:34 AM. Reason: updated for MAGFest XII (2014)
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  #2  
Old 12-29-2011, 04:41 AM
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Any advice for Metro riders (I won't be there, but want to be next year)?
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Old 12-29-2011, 06:37 AM
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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.
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Old 12-29-2011, 09:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nonamer View Post
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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Old 12-29-2011, 11:10 AM
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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... )
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Old 12-29-2011, 02:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmr View Post
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... )
A quick search on Google Maps brought up a place called Potomac Gourmet - that work for you?
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Old 12-29-2011, 03:04 PM
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Awesome rundown of the food places, can't wait to eat some things and hang out with friends! :D
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Old 12-29-2011, 03:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nonamer View Post
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.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jmr View Post
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.

Quote:
Originally Posted by diotrans View Post
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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Old 12-29-2011, 05:05 PM
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This is really helpful, thank you!
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Old 12-29-2011, 05:11 PM
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