Life is always cooler by the water—so head over to the DMV’s favorite 405 miles of aquatic fun. Whether you want to cruise on a pirate ship, kick back and watch a comedy, dig in the sand, or ply a bevy of geese with some oats, our guide to the Potomac River will help you max out one of nature’s best gifts to local families.

Photo: Alice Crain via flickr

Enjoy an Unexpected Beach Day Trip at Aquia Landing Park
This picturesque spot on a peninsula where the Potomac River and Aquia Creek meet features a quarter mile of riverside beach where you can sunbathe and swim, fish, picnic, and kayak. Keep your eyes peeled for Blue Heron and other marsh birds—you might even spy a Bald Eagle if you’re lucky. You can also watch the parade of colorful boats passing by on their way up and down the Potomac. The park has two picnic shelters for rent along with clean restrooms and free parking. Note: while you can paddle around to your heart’s content here, there is no lifeguard on duty.

2846 Brooke Rd. (Stafford, Va)
Open: 8 a.m.-dusk

Photo: atramos via flickr

Take in a Movie on the Potomac 
Summertime means movies, so s
it back, relax, and enjoy an open-air film at the National Harbor on the Plaza’s big screen. Overlooking the Potomac River, families are encouraged to bring lawn chairs but kindly asked to leave coolers at home. Instead, pick up some ice cream cones or dinner to-go beforehand at one of the many nearby eateries. Catch a flick—including fun picks like Enchanted, The Little Mermaid, and 1978’s The Wiz!every Sunday at 6 p.m. until the end of September.

165 Waterfront St. (National Harbor)

Photo: Boomerang Pirate Ship

Walk the Plank on the Boomerang Pirate Ship
Treat your favorite buccaneers to an hour-long family cruise on the Boomerang Pirate Ship, complete with pirate music, dances, limbo, face painting, treasure, and “pirate vocabulary lessons”—not to mention a battle at sea! With snacks for sale, bathrooms on board, and an infants-welcome policy, this voyage on the Potomac is a great way to get your little land lubbers on the water.

3100 K St., NW

Photo: Fated Snowfox via flickr

Splash Around at Georgetown Waterfront Park 
arching fountains in this 10-acre park overlooking the Potomac are an old favorite, and the benches that surround it provide a perfect spot for parents to perch while the tykes frolic. At the western end of the park is a labyrinth, and just east of the fountains is a stretch of wide concrete stadium steps leading down to the water and a constant gaggle of hungry ducks and geese—bring a bag of oats and the kids will be hard pressed to leave. If you’re itching to get in the water, you’ll have to head further down the river since Thompson Boat Center is closed for the foreseeable future due to rising river levels—but they still offer bike rentals!

3303 Water St., NW (Georgetown)

Photo: Tim Brown via flickr

Get Your Legs Moving on the Tidal Basin Paddle Boats  
Pack a picnic and get
ready to give your quads a workout as you and your energetic crew paddle your way around the Tidal Basin. Wave hello to Thomas Jefferson and soak up the sun whether you choose a two- or four-passenger regular boat or a two-person swan boat made for photo ops!

1501 Maine Ave., SW
Open: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Photo: Ron Cogswell via flickr

Do a Little Bit of Everything at The Wharf 
The District’s newest waterfront development boasts 30 restaurants, two concert venues, and
a free water jitney that takes you to the gorgeous East Potomac Park—but it also caters to the pint-sized crowd by offering tons of kid-friendly entertainment. Play with a giant Scrabble board or Connect Four or check out the swings along Recreation Pier, or goof around on the colorful rocking horses and fountains at 7th Street Park. Waterfront Park offers bocce ball, and you can play a round of mini golf at Transit Pier. Satisfy your sweet tooth and roast s’mores at the fire pit near District Pier during special events!

735 Water St., SW (Waterfront)

—Katie Brown