You could learn a lot of history by studying Alexandria from afar – but what a shame to miss this extraordinary Virginia city, one that George Washington called home, up close. Come follow in his footsteps and shop at the Market Square farmers market where he traded goods; dine at Gadsby’s Tavern (www.alexandriava.gov/GadsbysTavern) where all five first U. S. presidents ate; and visit Christ Church (www.historicchristchurch.org), where he worshiped.
Washington owned a townhome in Alexandria’s Old Town area but his estate, Mount Vernon (www.mountvernon.org), is just 8 miles south. Today you can drive, bike or boat there.
Alexandria sits on the Potomac River across from the District of Columbia. It has been an important seaport since Colonial times and today is a vibrant place where you can gather, dine, see the national monuments across the river, catch a river cruise, or taxi from Old Town to the National Mall in Washington. Though drenched in history and beautiful historic architecture, modern Alexandria spills out onto the streets with an upbeat vibe.
The city is a shopping magnet with all sorts of unique, creative shops. Roam up and down King Street, the core of Old Town, via the step-on/off trolley. Feel free to bring Fido along because this is a canine-friendly environment, with water and treats set out around town.
Chef Cathal Armstrong’s restaurants, including Restaurant Eve (www.restauranteve.com) – the Obamas’ celebrated their anniversary there – have helped to bring recognition to Alexandria as a dining destination. Favorite spots include Columbia Firehouse (www.columbiafirehouse.com), BRABO Tasting Room (www.brabotastingroom.com), Cheesetique (www.cheesetique.com), Bastille (www.bastillerestaurant.com) and Society Fair (www.societyfair.net).
A few must-sees are the Torpedo Factory Art Center (www.torpedofactory.org); the “skinniest house in America,” the Spite House (at www.oldtownhome.com, type “Spite” into the search window); the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, where George and Martha Washington got their prescriptions filled (www.alexandriava.gov/Apothecary); and the Carlyle House (at www.nvrpa.org, open “NOVA Parks”) – part of the true story behind “Mercy Street,” a PBS drama based on a Union army hospital during the Civil War. It is slated to debut in 2016.
Upcoming events in Alexandria, Va.
July 10-19: Alexandria Live Music Week. Ten days of live music at more than 30 restaurants and venues – jazz to bluegrass, folk rock, country and more – at such places as the legendary Birchmere music hall, Blackwall Hitch (opening soon on the waterfront), Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub, the Fish Market, 219 Restaurant and the Old Town Farmers Market. Admission varies. Details: www.livemusicweek.com.
July 11: Alexandria/USA Birthday Celebration, Oronoco Bay Park. Celebrate America’s 239th birthday and Alexandria’s 266th along the Potomac waterfront at Oronoco Bay Park, 100 Madison St., and enjoy an evening of live music by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, patriotic birthday cake, food vendors and a fireworks display. Free. Details: www.visitalexandriava.com (type “Oronoco” in the search box).
Sept. 19-20: King Street Art Festival, King Street. This popular festival transforms King Street – from Washington Street all the way to the Potomac waterfront – into a gallery with art from more than 300 artists from the U.S. and abroad. Purchase original artwork, participate in hands-on art activities at the Torpedo Factory Art Center and enjoy a scoop of ice cream at The Art League’s annual Ice Cream Bowl Fundraiser. Free. Details: www.visitalexandriava.com/artfest.
Sept. 26: Alexandria Historic Homes Tour, Old Town Alexandria. At the 74th annual tour, the public can step inside gorgeous homes and gardens in Old Town Alexandria, all within walking distance of one another. Tickets: $35/advance, $35/day of. Details: www.thetwig.org/homes-tour.