The temperatures may have dropped, but on a recent sunny weekend afternoon, you couldn't keep Washington from its newest, most talked-about neighborhood.

Called The Wharf, and located directly next door to the city's historic fish market in the long-neglected (but no longer) southwest section of the city, there are hotels, condominiums, rental apartments, live music venues, ten acres of green space and a broad selection of shopping and dining.

Best of all, The Wharf is centered right along the Potomac River, and is fronted by a pedestrian-friendly promenade facing out to a pre-existing marina—it is not only a giant commercial project, it turns out, but also a terrific new hangout space in a very up-and-coming part of town.

The project stretches for blocks, down from the old market, where you can pop by for fresh Chesapeake oysters, or you buy, they fry shrimp—whatever you're in the mood for, really—and, if you can believe it, this absolutely massive new neighborhood is just the first phase of a mile-long grand plan that will end up costing billions of dollars. (The next phase will begin to take shape in the new year.)

Here's the thing about Washington, DC, these days—most cities would dine off of an opening like this for a decade, or more; in the nation's capital, undergoing a once-in-a-lifetime expansion that began in earnest during the first Obama administration, The Wharf is just another impressive project in a sea of many. If you haven't been to town lately, you'll be greatly surprised by everything there is to see and do that might not have been here on your last visit—if you're headed to town this winter, and you should absolutely consider it, here are just a few of the places you're going to want to go, in order to get a sense of just how much everything is changing.

Start at The Wharf

From some of the most exciting new restaurant openings in the city this year to cozy bars, to a branch of local bookstore favorite Politics & Prose, there are plenty of reasons to drop by and experience the "new" Southwest Waterfront—this winter, you've got the city's first ice rink to be constructed on a pier, operating through mid-February; there's also water taxi service to Georgetown and Alexandria, along with a little jitney service connecting The Wharf to the vast expanse of East Potomac Park, which occupies an entire island in the middle of the river.

It's a whole new day at the Navy Yard

Over in Southeast, in another part of the District all but unknown to outsiders for many years, a mini-city of sorts has been rising out of, well, pretty much nothing—as more and more people move into new residential developments, the area, geographically isolated from the rest of the city (but very much hooked into the Metro system, the neighborhood has its own station on the Green Line), things are starting to feel more lived in and interesting. The Yards Park is a particularly compelling reason to head down here; it's an expansive compliment to a rather appealing segment of the fast-growing Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which provides miles of off-road space for the District's exercise-happy residents to bike, jog and just plain walk. Cold outside? Warm up with a glass or two inside the District Winery, DC's first urban winery, or opt instead for a stiff drink (of the caffeinated kind) at Philz, a San Francisco Bay Area import that's become a favorite in these parts for potent, made-to-order drip coffee. Through January, the neighborhood hosts Light Yards, an innovative art and light show that changes each year; the switch flips on at 6 p.m. nightly.

You've probably never heard of one of the hottest strips in town

Barracks Row, centered along 8th Street SE on the far side of Capitol Hill, has always had its considerable historic charms, but in recent years, this Navy Yard-adjacent commercial strip has become one of the coolest in town, and while it's not entirely down to the presence of two of the hottest restaurants in the city (Aaron Silverman's imaginative Rose's Luxury, and its even more ambitious follow-up, Pineapple and Pearls), that certainly has helped. Eighth Street is a lovely strip to walk, nowadays, and you can easily twin it with a visit to the neighboring Eastern Market section of the city, located just across Pennsylvania Avenue. On the way, make sure you drop by Little Pearl, the new all-day café (and wine bar by night) from Silverman and his capable team, located in a historic carriage house just a block down from the Eastern Market Metro station. It's opening this week, and it's going to be huge.

Get familiar with the Union Market area, because it's not going anywhere

The origins of this wholesale market district go back almost as far as, well, the District itself—for a long time, you had to be a pretty adventurous tourist to end up here, but everything's changed now, the market's been rebranded, and there's a shiny food hall right at the heart of everything, where you should at least drop by to take advantage of Rappahannock Oyster Bar's excellent happy hour, offered Tuesdays through Fridays. But the food hall's just the start—snoop around the old market and the immediate surrounds, and you'll find all sorts of cool stuff. There's a distillery, Cotton & Reed, complete with tasting bar, there's the Angelika Pop-Up Theatre, screening art films (and a great gelato shop next door, for afters). One of the best reasons to come over here, however, has been here since the 1930's—we're talking about some of the best Italian subs on the planet, over at A. Litteri, a deli, grocery and wine shop that's one of those great D.C. treasures that too many visitors will never get to experience. Whether you come for a foot-long classic Italian sub, or just stop in to soak up the vibe on a busy weekend afternoon after a romp through the food hall, definitely drop by.

Ready to make the trip? For a look at current deals from all over the US and Canada, see our fare listings for both Washington National and Dulles.

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