Much to enjoy, both old and new, in Alexandria, VA
SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 10/24/2019, 3:06 p.m.
Alexandria, Virginia was the stomping ground of the nation’s first president. George Washington lived in nearby Mount Vernon, but Alexandria was where he owned a townhouse, went to church, did business, and even sold goods at the Old Town farmers market, the oldest farmers market in the country still held in the same spot on Market Square every Saturday morning. Die-hard Washington fans will want to visit in February when there many events celebrating his birthday. Some 140 locations have ties to Washington.
But, there’s much more to Alexandria. This town of 150,000, just 5 miles from Washington, D.C., on the Potomac River waterfront, is charming with its 18th and 19th century architecture, boutiques and hyper local businesses, each more unique than the other. There are more than 200 independently owned shops and restaurants. While Alexandria overflows with memories, Old Town Alexandria, founded in 1749—a nationally designated historic district—it is very much now.
There’s always something new popping up. This year Lost Boy Cidery opened. It is the first urban craft cidery in Northern Virginia. Sample the line of heritage and modern dry craft ciders from Virginia apples and all-natural ingredients like hops, cranberries, pineapple and spices. Heritage ciders are aged in tequila, gin and Kentucky bourbon barrels: drink up. Also new is e-Bike tours from Pedego Alexandria Electric Bikes, which includes a tour of Old Town Alexandria, a tour to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, a monuments tour of D.C., a seasonal tour to the cherry blossoms in D.C., and an Old Town at Night tour—a 90-minute ride that takes you across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, offering extraordinary nighttime views of Old Town, D.C. and National Harbor.
The vibe is decidedly cool at new beer gardens, Hops N’ Shine, which serves up craft beer with more than 50 beers on tap, moonshine and good eats. At The Garden, a 100-seat outdoor restaurant, you get much more than beer. Enjoy fresh basked beignets and coffee, while you sit back and relax to the sweet sounds of jazz.
If you began your journey early morning and arrive in town just in time for lunch, fuel up at Virtue Feed & Grain. It’s hard to believe the building was once a feed house in the 1800s. Today, it’s all dolled up with modern-rustic décor and the mood is lively. Eat on the second level porch and take in views of the Potomac. After sampling the varied menu—duck poutine, wild boar chops, tuna takitos, sweet potato tacos or duck meatloaf—you might feel like a nap. But stroll the mile-long King Street, where the action is in Old Town. Weave through the art galleries (St. George Gallery is a must-see with its African antiques, jewelry, textile, furniture and pottery), cafes, and boutiques like The Hour Shop, with vintage chic barware and glassware.
Stop by the Torpedo Factory Art Center. The former munitions plant boasts the largest collection of publicly accessible working artists’ studios in the U.S. Watch more than 160 artists working many mediums: painting, jewelry making, stained glass. Chat with them, sign up for an art class. There’s also an Archaeology Museum on-site.
The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary once doled out medications to George and Martha Washington and General Robert E. Lee. The museum still has jars with their original contents. Check it out. The Gadsby Tavern Museum and Carlyle House Historic Park will round out your afternoon. You can get a Key to the City museum pass for $15 at the Alexandria Visitor Center for access to nine historic sites, and a 40% off coupon for a visit to nearby George Washington’s Mount Vernon and access to the Observation Deck atop the George Washington National Masonic Memorial.
A great spot for dinner is Vola’s Dockside Grill and Hi-Tide Lounge. Do, however, indulge yourself before heading back to your Airbnb accommodation, the Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa (the spa is reason enough to stay here, as is BRABO, the outrageous menu is as good as it gets), or boutique hotels, like the stylish Hotel Indigo, Alexandria’s first waterfront hotel. Alexandria is big on sugar, with 20 artisanal sweets and dessert spots. Don’t miss Nicecream, with its grass-fed cream and local ingredients. Forget Ben & Jerry’s; Nicecream stands out. Employees use liquid nitrogen to freeze the ice cream on the spot in front of you. With flavors like Mexican chocolate, Sweet corn and Peanut butter white chocolate, you’ll likely come back before you leave town.
If you’re in the mood to hang, hit King Street for live music at the Basin Street Lounge. Another hipster spot for those in the know is Captain Gregory’s, a secret speakeasy with to-die-for cocktails. Be warned, you might be challenged to finish two of anything on the menu.
When you’re in Alexandria, you’re so close to Washington, D.C., you have a big decision to make. Do you head to Washington, D.C. and check out all the landmarks and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture that the whole country is still talking about, or spend the day biking or boating 8 miles to George Washington’s Mount Vernon? The riverside estate includes the mansion, outbuildings, tomb, working farm and museum with interactive displays, movies and more than 700 artifacts.
Alexandria is a great mix of old and new, sophisticated, yet chill.