A few summers ago, when we were visiting friends in Portland, Oregon, I remember marveling at all of the interactive public fountains in the city. Right downtown, amid the buildings and retail shops and busy streets were places that welcomed folks to play in surging sprays, ebbing and flowing pools, and cascades of water. And many of them boasted architectural elements that were just as impressive as the water features were fun.
At the time, we didn’t have anything like that here in DC. Sure there were a few spray parks in the suburbs, but nothing in the District that was integrated into the urban environment around it, providing a recreational oasis in the middle of the bustling city. I had major fountain envy.
That eventually dissipated with the opening of Yards Park in 2010 and Georgetown Waterfront Park last year. Both have their own awesome interactive fountains that have become popular spots for water play in DC.
And now we can add another fantastic one to the list: Canal Park, which is open for its first summer. The recreational space in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood (just a block or so away from Yards Park, actually) has two fountains for the public to enjoy. A 135-foot long, 20-foot wide fountain with a gentle, shallow cascade flowing down its scrim surface is a perfect place for really little ones to play. Then there’s the fountain with jets embedded into the concrete over about a 40-foot diameter area that splash water several feet in the air. We’d waded in the tame one before, but the kids finally enjoyed a little more exciting play this past weekend and had an absolute blast racing through the sprays.
The best part about Canal Park, however, is that the options for recreation don’t stop with the water features. The park’s developers thought the design through well, because space is not wasted with the changing seasons. Where there’s the big spray fountain during the warm months, is the ice skating rink in late fall and winter. The fountain water jets are within the rink’s meandering paths.
There are also green, grassy spaces where children are invited to play and big, twisting metal sculptures adorning them. And the Il Parco restaurant on premises next to the fountain/ice rink has a nice menu, plus indoor and outdoor seating. (Good Guys and Subway are also right across the street, and food trucks park nearby during lunchtime if you want to grab something fast and inexpensive.) [2021 Update: The restaurant is Wiseguys Pizza, which is still a great option and still with outdoor and indoor seating.]
Even more, Canal Park hosts regular free programs and events in the summer, including the Kids in Canal entertainment on Wednesdays at 10:30am, Thursday Night Movie Series, the Capitol Riverfront Farmers Market on Sundays from 10am – 2pm, and even Up Top Acres Rooftop Yoga on Mondays from 6-7pm . *Some of this information had been updated since the orginal post. [2021 Update: Much of this has changed, though the park still hosts programs and events.]
And if all that’s not enough, you can just sit, chill out, and watch the urban bustle around you.
Canal Park is located at 202 M Street SE. It’s easily accessible via Metro; the Navy Yard station on the Orange/Blue line is just a couple of blocks away. There is also street parking nearby, but keep in mind that spots fill up quickly on game days at Nats Park. Admission to the park and fountains is free; ice skating is $8/adults, $7/children, $3/rentals.