My Favorite Things to Do in Old Town Alexandria
We moved to Old Town in 2002 and have seen the city change…a lot! Over the years I’ve spoken with tons of people who come to town and only see the Waterfront or King Street. Sorry, but if that’s all you did, you missed it! Here’s a local's perspective on the town and my list of favorite things to do.
Obviously, I have to mention, you should take one of my photography tours. If you’d rather do it on your own, here are some ideas.
The original Colonial America Alexandria is the first 3 blocks inland from the Potomac River. Most of the original warehouses that were down by the river, along Union St, are long gone. What remains are the large houses that start on Fairfax and run inland. Wander Fairfax and Royal Streets to see the original 1750s homes. Alexandria expanded in phases, and was at its economic peak in the 1780 – 1820s (ish). The early 1800s homes are generally larger and more elaborate. Many of those can be found south of King and a few blocks further inland (Fairfax to St Asaph). The exception is the “Lee Compound” which is near Oronoco and Washington Streets. Christ Church should be on your photography "must do" list, particularly around sunset.
Favorite little museums in Alexandria:
- Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary, and I won’t reveal the secret on the 2nd floor;
- Carlyle House, being promoted now because of Mercy Street on PBS;
- Friendship Firehouse, one of the oldest private fire-fighting companies;
- Gadsby’s Tavern where Jefferson held his inaugural diner;
- Lee-Fendall House, particularly when it is decorated for the holidays.
Favorite water trip:
It is great fun to take the boat to Georgetown or National Harbor. The Georgetown boat includes a better view of the major sites (e.g. Lincoln and Jefferson memorials), but it’s fun to pass under the 495 bridge on the way to National Harbor. Surprisingly, it takes almost the same amount of time to get to either (approx 45 minutes) even though National Harbor is much closer. If you're going to Georgetown, try to get on the Miss Mallory, the 2nd story deck is perfect on a hot summer night.
I realize I am going to get skewered by the shops in Old Town for this, but I go across the river to Tanger Outlet for a lot of my clothes. There are some great boutique shops in town though. This blog isn't long enough to cover all the shops!
Old Town has an excellent farmer's market every Saturday from 7 - 12. It's been held at the same location for some 250+ years, on the square where George Washington used to train his militia.
I have to give it up for Todd Thrasher – all of his bars are excellent: Restaurant Eve, super upscale; Society Fair, super casual; and PX, a jewel box speakeasy where reservations are a must! Local tip, buy Thrasher’s pre-made mixers at Society Fair.
Favorite outdoor (and dog-friendly) dinning:
All of these restaurants have patios that removed from King Street, are a little quieter and have excellent food. Also, barring a change in ownership. all of these are dog-friendly: Bastille (French), Hunting Creek (Steak), Virtue Feed and Grain (modern American Tavern).
Favorite romantic dinner:
Our favorites for a special night out are: Restaurant Eve, Vermillion, Magnolia’s on King, and Brabo’s. Vermillion is a favorite of the Obamas. The White House won’t let the restaurant advertise it, but they’ve been known to enjoy a quite dinner there, with people at the adjoining table probably pretty startled to find themselves next to POTUS and FLOTUS (DC tip, keep your hands visible and move slowly to avoid a close encounter with the Secret Service!).
Favorite casual ethnic restaurant:
Favorite small-plates & wine bar restaurant:
Grape & Bean. They also have outdoor seating and are pet friendly on the patio. Actually, most Alexandria restaurants are dog-friendly outside.
Hanks Oyster Bar. We prefer to sit at the bar. It's a prettier room, and in the summer the AC works better in the "front" (aka left side) of the restaurant. Dollar oysters start at 10 PM.
Favorite southern restaurant:
Although I am a fan of the W Chain and a life-long member of Hilton Club, in Old Town, I do have to give it up for the Kimpton chain: Monaco, Lorien and Morrison House. Monaco has a much more central location, but the Lorien is prettier inside, in a quiet and sophisticated way. The Morrison House just refinished their remodel and I haven't been in one of the new rooms yet, but they did add a great new bar. Even if some the local are still mourning the old piano bar.
I'm going to buck the trend on this one...my favorite new(ish) little spa is Malee Thai Massage. It is a no-frills massage place. If you want lux, go to Sugar House. If you want an excellent massage at a fair price, go to Malee. Or, if you need rehab-level massage, go to Rudy Munoz.
Jones Point Lighthouse park under the 495 bridge. Yes, I realize it sounds odd to put a park under a freeway, but the location along the river and history make this one a winner. Make sure you make it all the way to the Lighthouse and read all of the signs along the way.