With cobblestone streets and red-brick buildings, Alexandria is home to a certain old-school charm.

By Zoe Denenberg
March 10, 2020
Advertisement
Credit: Photos by Coyle/Getty Images

Alexandria, Virginia, may be a quaint, convenient landing spot for D.C. commuters, but the small town has a personality all its own. The waterfront town ticks all the boxes: It’s easily walkable, full of locally owned shops and businesses, and bursting with historic charm, especially in the winter months (it’s earned the title of the perfect town for a Hallmark Christmas movie). Just 7 miles south of Washington, D.C., Alexandria combines small-town charm with big city access, making it a desirable place for families to settle. But in recent years, new attractions and a locally rooted dining scene have helped Alexandria blossom into a standalone destination. Set on the Potomac River, the town’s recently revamped waterfront has quickly become a favorite running path, its string of parks a ready playground for children. Take a stroll down Old Town’s cobblestone streets and see for yourself what makes Alexandria so magical.

Walk King Street

No matter the season, you can spend an entire day walking up and down King Street (or, in the winter months, riding on the free trolley). A remarkable number of Alexandria’s businesses remain locally owned and operated, many of them by female entrepreneurs. Pop into some of Old Town’s signature boutiques like Red Barn Mercantile (home décor), Penny Post (paper goods), The Shoe Hive (shoes!), and Threadleaf (sustainably-sourced fashion).

Credit: K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria

Visit Mount Vernon

George Washington’s estate sits just 8 miles outside Alexandria, but the scenery at Mount Vernon—with its expansive gardens and sandstone structures—bears little resemblance to the modern town. Take a tour of the first president’s mansion and linger for a moment on the back porch, which opens out to a stunning hillside view. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet one of the guides—instantly recognizable in colonial garb—who wander the property, ready to offer up fun anecdotes about Washington’s farm or distillery.

Drinking and Dining

Although neighboring Washington, D.C. gains a big reputation for its culinary scene, Alexandria holds its own with an abundance of excellent local dining options. Grab your morning coffee at Misha’s, a favorite local gathering place, or Killer E.S.P., where you can enjoy your latte with a heaping slice of pie. On Saturdays, don’t miss the Old Town Farmers’ Market in Market Square, which runs year-round and holds the title of the oldest continually operating farmer’s market in the country.

For lunch, Meggrolls fries up hyper-creative eggrolls (flavors include cheeseburger and chicken Parmesan) and Chop Shop gets funky with tacos (za’atar red onions and mango sauce grace the house-made tortillas). If you have room for more tacos, check out happy hour at Urbano 116, where chef Alam Méndez serves Mexican staples like Carnitas Tacos and Chicken Tostadas in a slick, sophisticated atmosphere.

Credit: Scott Suchman

For dinner, Vermilion is Alexandria’s fine dining king—there’s no wrong way to turn on this expertly crafted, exceptionally local menu. Virtue Feed & Grain is your destination for waterfront dining, and nearby Mia’s Italian Kitchen is a favorite spot for locals (for an ideal date night, split a substantial square-cut slice of pizza and the thick, creamy Bucatini Cacio e Pepe).

WATCH: 2020 South's Best Cities

Venture into the Big City

Just a quick metro ride away, Washington, D.C. promises a day of activity. See the monuments and stroll the capital’s stately streets. In the spring, be sure to catch D.C.’s National Cherry Blossom Festival, when the trees lining the Potomac all burst into blush-pink blooms. Close the day out with a cocktail from one of D.C.’s many rooftop bars, where you can take in the monument-studded skyline from above.

Credit: Steven Heap / EyeEm/Getty Images