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MAGFest - Guide to the National Harbor (updated for MAG XV/2017)


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Since 2012, I've been updating this guide for the Gaylord Hotel and National Harbor area for MAGFest attendees. We're back for 2017! Just dress warmly this time, because it's gonna be freezing this weekend and ice levels suck.

As always, if anyone has suggestions on stuff to add, just post and I'll amend. If anyone wants to make plans, then I'm game (I'll be on Discord).



The Gaylord Resort is gorgeous. The Atrium, Hotel, and Convention Center are all connected, and most overflow hotels are <2 blocks away. In The Atrium there are several shops and restaurants, though most are high-end or have bad food, so you're usually better off walking a few blocks for food/supplies.

The area was planned, so most things are 2-5 blocks away and there are maps everywhere. There are plenty of shops/restaurants (details below), and while most are expensive, there are some affordable options. I'll give suggestions for different budgets/tastes below. (Also in 2016 the MGM Grand was built in the area. Fortunately that's like a mile up from the Gaylord so you shouldn't run into any congestion from there.)


For the Gaylord Hotel, budget an hour to check in (they're fast but can still get swamped), and an hour to check out and get out of the parking garage (seriously it can be a mess). Main up-side for the Gaylord is that you're right at the con and don't have to don a coat to head back to your room. Main down-side is that it's more expensive and doesn't have any free amenities.

For the overflow hotels: checking in and out is faster, but it can still take half an hour or so to get out of the garages. Main up-side for the overflows is that they're often cheaper and many (like Residence Inn) even have free breakfast! Main down-side is that you can't just pop back to your room as easily from the con.


For those driving in who have a hotel, use their parking -- that will normally be your cheapest option.

For those driving in each day, the public garages are all $16/day. (Be careful! They charge a flat rate if you come in after 8pm regardless of how long you're there, whether it's 5 minutes or 5 hours.) Don't bother with street parking as meters are only good for 2 hours and have 24-hour enforcement.

For those not driving, there're really three options: (1) take a cab, Uber, or Lyft from whatever station/airport you're coming in from, (2) take the airport shuttle from DCA to the Gaylord for $19, or (3) take the Metro Green Line to Branch Ave (link) and then the NH1 bus to National Harbor (schedule) -- unfortunately the buses stop running before 11PM, and Metro trains stop running by 12AM (even on weekends).


I have specific restaurant lists below, but here's a brief rundown:

  • For breakfast, there aren't a lot of good inexpensive options. Check if your hotel offers free breakfast though (Residence Inn and some of the other hotels do, but Gaylord does not); otherwise, you're better off buying some cereal, granola bars, fruit, etc..
  • For lunch/dinner, most restaurants are crowded at peak hours (Nando's, Elevation Burger, and Rosa Mexicano especially). Try off-peak hours and check which restaurants are open late.
  • For the budget-conscious, there are some inexpensive options I've highlighted. Better still is also to bring in your own food (like breakfast) or buy at some of the stores around (like Potomac Gourmet or CVS).
  • Drink lots of water. Even if it's cold, you need water.


It's pretty good hunting here. There're 34 Pokestops, 2 gyms, and plenty of Pokemon besides the usual Pidgey/Rattata trash. You can catch a bagload pretty easily walking through the streets, in the Gaylord, or along the waterfront. Unless you're Team Instinct, then you can get rekt.


There're plenty of restaurants in the area. I've checked out nearly all of the ones over the years that might be more appealing to MAGFest-goers.


Recommended (starting with the best):
- Nando's Peri-Peri
- Elevation Burger
- Fiorella
- Granite City Food & Brewery
- Rosa Mexicano
- Succotash

On the cheap (starting with the cheapest):
- Subway
- Potbelly Sandwich Works
- Chipotle
- Nando's Peri-Peri
- Potomac Gourmet Market (for ready-made soups/sandwiches)

Breakfast options (starting with the morningest):
- Harbor Coffee
- Potomac Gourmet Market (for ready-made soups/sandwiches)
- Subway

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


Here are some of the places that have disappeared in the last 2 years:
- Harrington's Pub & Kitchen
- Baja Fresh
- Freshii
- Nature's Table

Here are some of the places that are new in the last 2 years:
- Chipotle (replaced empty lot)
- Franks & Shakes (replaced Nature's Table)
- The Irish Whisper (replaced half of Harrington's)
- Brother Jimmy's BBQ (replaced the other half of Harrington's)
- Granite City Food & Brewery (replaced construction)
- Succotash (replaced Baja Fresh and Freshii)
- Redstone American Grill (replaced empty lot)


I've divided this into 3 sections: (1) breakfast/lunch/dinner places, (2) coffee/snack/dessert places, and (3) places to cross off the list. They're roughly in order of best-to-middling, though I try to balance quality with cost. Also, where I can, I've marked the cost (from $=$10/person to $$$$=$40/person) and my own subjective assessment (from 1/4 to 4/4).

(1) For breakfast/lunch/dinner:

Nando's Peri-Peri ($, 5/4)
Everything! Inexpensive ($8-$12, no tipping needed). Food is delicious. Chicken is legendary. Vegetarian options are good. Even when it's crowded, you get a seat quicker than most other places.
CONS: It gets 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.)

Fiorella Pizzeria E Caffe ($$, 3/4)
Moderately priced and decent Italian/Pizza place (even for someone like me who isn't big on Italian food). They're also good with seating large groups (when they have room, so calling ahead wouldn't hurt).
CONS: Desserts are a little subpar, really that's about it.
(Good option if you're in the mood for Italian, and don't mind walking down to the harbor area.)

Elevation Burger ($, 3/4)
Cheap and good burgers ($5-$10), and the vegetarian & vegan burgers are both good.
CONS: Gets extremely crowded at peak hours. Also, the burgers alone are small -- get a side dish, a milkshake, or something on the side. There's also not much sitting room inside.
(Good option for lunch if it's not too crowded. Take my advice and get fries or a shake with your order though.)

Granite City Food & Brewery ($$, 3/4)
Relatively inexpensive ($15-20), good food, and plenty of seating for larger groups. This is also open pretty late ('til 11pm Thursday, 'til 12am Friday-Saturday).
CONS: Not much, actually. Crowds are typically not that bad either.
(Typical American fare. Main thing that sets it apart also is how late it's open and that it has plenty of seating room.)

Potomac Gourmet ($, 2/4)
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.
(This is the best place if you're in a hurry. If you're getting groceries here it's not cheap, but the ready-made lunch options are actually less expensive than most other places here.)

Succotash ($$$, 4/4)
Great southern restaurant (Louisiana-to-South Carolina area) and very generous portions, especially with the side dishes.
CONS: Rather expensive ($20-30). The main reason it's this high on the list is because the portions are generous enough to make this a decent value.
(I rate this highly because of my fondness for Southern food, and the portion size. The fries, succotash, and anything fried is good, but skip the watermelon and peanuts.)

Rosa Mexicano ($$$, 4/4)
Fantastic food (and 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, eat a full three course meal, and skip dinner -- it's worth it.
CONS: It's not cheap. It can also get crowded, especially at night, and it may take up to 2 hours 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... However, the price and long wait rule it out for most people.)

Crab Cake Cafe ($$, 2/4)
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.)
(Only good if you really want some crab cakes. Otherwise, no reason to go.)

Thai Pavilion ($$, 2/4)
It's the only Thai restaurant in the area, and it (now) has a decent vegetarian menu. Price is rather decent also.
CONS: Honestly it's a little below-average for a Thai restaurant.
(Good if you're craving Thai food, but otherwise I'd pass.)

Potbelly Sandwich Works ($)
Inexpensive but filling sandwiches. And I've always liked their milkshakes. They're also usually good about handling the lunch rush.
CONS: The line will go out the door at lunch, and there won't be any place inside to sit unless you're lucky. Though, they get through the line at a pretty fast pace.

Subway ($)
...it's Subway.
CONS: ...it's Subway.

Chipotle ($) [NEW!]
...it's Chipotle.
CONS: ...it's Chipotle.

McDonald's ($)
...it's McDonald's. 
CONS: ...it's McDonald's, and all the way out in the gas station a half mile from the convention.

Franks & Shakes ($) [NEW!]
(Haven't been here.) Practically fast food, and to be honest there're better options around for fast food (Chipotle, Subway) and shakes (Potbelly, Elevation Burger).

The Irish Whisper ($$) [NEW!]
(Haven't been here.) This place appears to have replaced Harrington's (which was another Irish pub). However it's predominantly drinks and pub fare.

Brother Jimmy's BBQ ($$) [NEW!]
(Haven't been here.) Uh... guys, I may be southern but I also don't eat pork, so I have no idea how to evaluate good BBQ. Someone check this out and let me know. Although the reviews aren't very promising.

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?

(2) For coffee/dessert

SPAGnVOLA Chocolatier (¢¢, 5/4)
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).

Harbor Coffee (¢, 3/4)
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.

The Coffee Bean (in the hotel) (¢, 2/4)
It's passable for a quick coffee fix since it's in the hotel, but that's it. Harbor Coffee is a better option if you're willing to walk.

Pinkberry (¢, 3/4)
Delicious frozen yogurt with toppings. They also claim to be open late (allegedly until 12am on Saturdays).

The Peeps Store (¢, n/a)
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 (¢, 2/4)
...It's Ice Cream. It's not Nice Cream, but it's still ok.

(3) Probably should avoid

Redstone ($$$, 2/4)
Some of the food options (anything with buffalo sauce or roasted) is actually decent, and it has a great view of the harbor plus good service. Unfortunately, it's way too expensive given that the quality of the food is not that high, and you can get much better food for less at places like Granite City, Succotash, or Fiorella.

National Pastime Sports Bar & Grill (in the hotel) ($$, 0/4)
The only reason to go is to watch the playoff games. However the food is overpriced and really, really not that good.

McCormick & Schmick's ($$$$, 4/4)
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 ($$$$, 4/4)
Like McCormick, the food here is also very good, yet very expensive.

Grace's Mandarin ($$$$, -1/4)
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.

Old Hickory Steakhouse (in the hotel)
Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine (in the hotel)
Pienza Italian Market (in the hotel)
Bond 45

(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.


Below is a specific strategy guide for some players who are looking for a challenge, whether out of necessity or... well, usually necessity.


Fortunately the DC area is pretty friendly to vegetarians, so you have plenty of good options among most of the places I listed above. I'll list out the best places for vegetarians and strats at each.

  • Nando's Peri-Peri: Many vegetarian options -- the halloumi cheese wrap, roasted vegetable wrap, veggie burger, and all of the sides, are good. You're not missing out by just going vegetarian here.
  • Elevation Burger: Their vegetarian and vegan burgers are pretty good, and if you're fine with dairy then you can still get their shakes.
  • Rosa Mexicano: They have a specific vegetarian menu. When you sit down, ask for that -- it'll give you more options than you may see on the normal menu.
  • Succotash: There are fewer vegetarian options here, but still enough, and they clearly label which items are vegetarian or vegan on the lunch and dinner menus. Remember their side dish portions are pretty huge.
  • Fiorella: There are several vegetarian options as long as you're fine with cheese.
  • Chipotle: Still has your beans/rice/cheese options as always.
  • Subway: Well, if you're running out of options, you can always get the veggie sandwich at Subway. I'm always suspicious of their veggie patties though.


The DC area is also relatively friendly to vegans, though understandably your options will be more limited than vegetarians. But! You'll still have plenty of options here.

  • Nando's Peri-Peri: The only good vegan options are the roasted vegetable wrap (ask for it without cheese) and butternut squash salad, plus most of the sides. Mind you, those are all still really good, so you're not missing out by joining us for a Nando's run.
  • Elevation Burger: Their vegan burger is good. However, make sure you are specific that you don't want any cheese on it (I've actually had this problem at other Elevation Burgers).
  • Rosa Mexicano: Similar as the vegetarian mode, ask for a vegetarian menu when you sit down -- you'll have way more options. Many (though not all) of the items on there can also be made without cheese upon request.
  • Succotash: There aren't many vegan main dishes, but most of the side dishes (which have generous portions) are vegan. The menu clearly specifies what is vegetarian or vegan, too.
  • Fiorella: There are fewer options here -- mostly just pasta and sauce, or some custom orders without cheese, but I haven't tried either so I can't vouch for quality there.
  • Chipotle: ...when in doubt, there's Chipotle.
  • Subway: ...and when all else fails, there's still Subway.


So you want to get through spending as little on food as possible? Well, that involves a little bit of a different strategy. The short version is that you should make a grocery run before you get to MAGFest, and just store what you need in the mini-fridge for breakfast and lunch, and eat out for dinner. Prioritize fruits, ditch the junk food, and drink plenty of water.

So here are some specifics:

  • Breakfast: If you're in an overflow hotel, see if they have free breakfast and eat your fill their -- maybe even enough to pass on lunch (your choice). Otherwise, pack some cereal, milk, and disposable bowls/spoons; OR some granola bars (...not the kind that are no better than candy); OR some fruit like bananas and apples. Don't skip breakfast -- you just end up hungrier and more tired.
  • Lunch: A bit more of a challenge, but you can tide yourself over with other things you've packed or stocked up on beforehand. Fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, etc.), peanut butter crackers, granola bars, yogurt, etc., can help you last until dinner. And drink lots of water.
  • Dinner: Unless you plan on bringing like a portable hotplate (...honestly this is a bad idea unless you have a lot of room, like in the suites, and even then really know what you're doing), allow yourself to eat out for dinner. The best low-cost options are Nando's, Potbelly, Subway, Chipotle, and Potomac Gourmet.
  • Other: Drink lots of water. Yes I know I keep repeating this, but it keeps you from getting too hungry, and makes it less likely you'll get sick. Also, if you run low on anything, CVS and Potomac Gourmet should have what you need to restock.


...um... ...I'm not good at this one... OA would give better advice 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.

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).

Bubble Bounce
This is not a restaurant. It is an indoor playground where you can drop off your kids. For some reason the National Harbor guide lists it under their restaurants on some maps. Don't be fooled unless you want an uncomfortable conversation.

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
Baja Fresh, Freshii, and Nature's Table are gone, but this thing is still here...

Edited by Kizyr
updated for MAGFest XV (2017)
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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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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)

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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... 8-O)

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

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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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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).

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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
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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.

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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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Ok, I've added some more info to the top post to answer a few questions (to the best of my ability).

First, the questions that haven't been asked that I'm realizing now:

- The Gaylord Hotel can get super crowded at times with a lot of people checking in and out. The last few days have had a lot of activity, so you may want to budget a lot of time to be on the safe side for checking in and out.

- There are several restaurants inside the Gaylord Atrium (same building as the convention center), but most of them are kind of pricey. I can't vouch for the quality as I haven't tried any of them out.

- If you eat at Rosa Mexicano for lunch, you can probably skip dinner.

I've updated the first post with more info just on the hotel.

What are good breakfast options Kaiser?

Also wow there's a place called Cakelove.

I usually eat breakfast at home, but there are a few places in the area that seem good for it. Among them:

- Nature's Table

- Freshii

- Potomac Gourmet Market (they have ready-made soups/sandwiches)

- Subway also has breakfast

- A few restaurants inside the Gaylord Atrium may also serve breakfast

I've added a bit on the first post to list breakfast options.

I read to "good gelato" and stopped, happy. :P

Thanks for the writeup, and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone soon!

And on that note, I've added a bit to the first post to list dessert options. To recap that, there's:

- Nature's Table (gelato)

- Ben & Jerry's

- CakeLove

- The Peeps Store

- Elevation Burger (milkshakes)

- Other places inside the hotel

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

Arrow and Vinnie clarified this. I'll expand on it a bid.

If you have a hotel reservation, you're fine just leaving your car in whatever hotel's garage for all 3-4 days. There's also a MAGFest rate of $11/day at the Gaylord, but you'd have to check with MAG on that, I'm afraid.

I have no idea if there are any penalties for leaving a car in one of the non-hotel garages overnight.

Anyway, I made these revisions to the first post. Can't wait 'til Thursday! KF

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Ok, sorry for the double-post, but I wanted to point out this guy:


(Link to "The Awakening")

This is the statue that's at the National Harbor on the beach. I dunno about you folks, but it looks kind of... ridiculous. Given that, anyone want to try to take the most ridiculous photo with this guy? Y'know, someone falling into his mouth, that kind of thing.

I'm lousy with ideas. Maybe y'all can come up with something. KF

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