One could learn a lot of history by studying Alexandria, Va., from afar, but what a shame to miss this extraordinary city – one that George Washington called home – up close. Come follow in his footsteps and shop at the Market Square Farmer’s Market where he traded goods, dine at Gadsby’s Tavern where all five of the first U.S. presidents ate, and visit Christ Church where he worshiped.
Washington owned a town home in Old Town Alexandria, but his estate, Mount Vernon, is just eight miles south. Today, visitors can drive, bike or boat there.
Alexandria sits on the Potomac River across from Washington, D.C. It has been an important seaport since Colonial times, through the Civil War and beyond. Today it is a vibrant place where visitors 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, a modern Alexandria is housed inside and spills onto the streets with an upbeat vibe.
The city is a shopping mecca with all sorts of unique, creative shops. Roam up and down King Street, the core of Old Town, via the step-on/step-off trolley. Feel free to bring Fido along because this is a most canine-friendly environment with water and treats set out about town.
Chef Cathal Armstrong’s restaurants, including Restaurant Eve (the Obamas celebrated their anniversary there), have helped to bring recognition to Alexandria as a dining destination. Some favorite spots include Columbia Firehouse, BRABO Tasting Room, Cheesetique, Bastille and Society Fair.
A few must-sees are the Torpedo Factory Art Center; the skinniest house in America, the Spite House; the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, where George and Martha Washington had their prescriptions filled; and the Carlyle House, part of the true story behind “Mercy Street,” an upcoming PBS drama based on a Union army hospital during the Civil War.
▪ Alexandria Live Music Week, Venues throughout Alexandria, continues through Sunday: This summer, music fans can take part in the first-ever Alexandria Live Music Week, with 10 days of live music at more than 30 restaurants and venues hosting musical performances. Live Music Week features acts ranging from jazz to bluegrass, folk rock, country and more at venues including the legendary Birchmere music hall; Blackwall Hitch, opening soon on the waterfront; plus Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub; the Fish Market; 219 Restaurant; and the Old Town Farmers Market. Admission varies by venue. For more information, visit www.LiveMusicWeek.com.
▪ King Street Art Festival, King Street, from Washington to Union Streets, Alexandria, Sept. 19-20: At this popular art festival, King Street from Washington Street all the way to the Potomac waterfront is transformed into a gallery filled with art from more than 300 artists from the United States and abroad. Visitors can 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. For more information, visit www.visitalexandriava.com/artfest.
▪ Alexandria Historic Homes Tour, Old Town Alexandria, Sept. 26: For the 74th annual Historic Alexandria Homes Tour, the public can step inside and get a glimpse of gorgeous homes and gardens in Old Town Alexandria, all within walking distance of one another. Proceeds will go to Inova Alexandria Hospital. Advance tickets, $35; day-of tickets, $40. For more information, visit www.thetwig.org/homes-tour.