Where We Live: Old Town Alexandria

Photo courtesy of
‘View down King Street’
courtesy of ‘CathyLovesDC’

Alexandria is an independent city in Virginia that measures 15 square miles and includes over 100,000 residents (which is much larger than the typical neighborhood that we profile in Where We Live), and includes distinct neighborhoods like Arlandia, Rosemont, North Ridge, Del Ray, and West End.  This profile will mostly focus on the civic and commercial heart of Alexandria in Old Town, but it should be noted that Alexandria is made up of charming neighborhoods outside of that area that are definitely worth a visit.

History: This is a town with a lot of history.  Here’s the short version– Alexandria was originally a Native American settlement, then a major port, then part of DC in 1789 (only to be retroceded in 1846), then a quiet southern town frequented by tourists in the early twentieth century, then a growing suburb, and finally in the 1960′s the Old Town area was reborn as a commercial center and civic heart of the city (though many original historic buildings were demolished to make room for this ‘progress’).  The long version can be found on the Lyceum’s website about Alexandria history.

Photo courtesy of
‘Alexandria, Virginia waterfront’
courtesy of ‘runneralan2004′

Neighborhood Character: Old Town Alexandria and Del Ray are highly walkable, with residential streets surrounding the main retail and commercial corridors.  King Street is the main focus of the neighborhood, with a wide variety of restaurants, boutiques, theaters, and entertainment options.  There’s a cool waterfront area, unique places like the Torpedo Factory, and what seems like more dogs and babies per capita than anywhere else in the region.  Walking around Alexandria, you can really feel the history– the residential streets look just like they did 100 years ago, and many shops have preserved their historic facades.  Jay, who has lived in Alexandria since 1995, points out a unique aspect of Alexandria: “On Washington Street, one of the main thoroughfares, there’s a statue of a Confederate soldier looking southward.  The city, however, votes progressive.”

Transportation: While it might not have the most conveniently-located Metro station, Alexandria does have a lot of transportation options.  The King Street Metro station is on the yellow and blue lines, and it gets you close enough to the waterfront heart of Old Town.  There’s a train station located right around the corner from the Metro, which serves Amtrak and VRE.  There are numerous bus lines, including a free trolley, that serve the area.  There’s even water taxi service!  And the Mount Vernon Trail runs right through Old Town, so bikers and joggers have a great way to get around too.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Ghost_Bear’

What to See: Old Town is a major tourist destination in its own right, and has so many options for shopping, dining, and entertainment.  Here are a couple favorites and can’t miss spots:

  • Take a walk!  Alexandria is so pedestrian friendly, and King Street is such a fun place for window shopping.  Head down to the Marina for people-watching, or have a picnic in Waterfront Park.
  • Grab a bike and head to the Mount Vernon Trail.  Even though it can be crowded, this trail is a great recreational link between DC and Mount Vernon, and it offers great views of the river.
  • I bet you didn’t know that Alexandria has its own water park!  Cameron Run-Great Waves Waterpark is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day and includes a wave pool and several waterslides.
  • All that walking, biking, and watersliding will definitely build up an appetite.  Lucky for you, Alexandria is full of great restaurants. Restaurant Eve is considered one of the best fine-dining establishments in the region, Momo Sushi is a local favorite, and Jay loves Asian Bistro.
  • Need a drink? Head over to Rustico, a beer lover’s paradise off Route 1.  Even though it now has a DC counterpart at Birch & Barley/Churchkey, it’s still worth a trip out to Rustico for great beers and good food.
  • And to top it all off, you absolutely MUST stop by Dairy Godmother for incredibly delicious frozen custard.  It’s in Del Ray, so it’s a bit removed from Old Town, but it’s definitely worth the visit!

What’s Nearby: Alexandria is southeast of Arlington and across the river from DC’s River East neighborhoods.

Photo courtesy of
’23:365 Old Town’
courtesy of ‘katykash’

Why We Love Alexandria: It’s a town full of history, with a quaint main street and beautiful waterfront.  But it’s also full of unique residential areas, cool local shops, and a great restaurant scene.  There’s also a growing office sector in the area, so it’s becoming more of a destination for people from all over the region.  So basically, it’s a suburb that has all the cool parts of DC (history, shopping, restaurants, businesses) combined together in a beautiful, walkable district surrounded by a variety of cool neighborhoods.

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

10 thoughts on “Where We Live: Old Town Alexandria

  1. Shannon,

    Very nicely done! As a long-time resident of Alexandria and a real estate broker who does a lot of business here, I appreciate the great job you’ve done of introducing many people to the finer parts of the City of Alexandria.

  2. My absolute favorite part of Old Town Alexandria is to go up to the Masonic Temple, climb up all the stairs, and look at the view of Old Town lit up at night. It’s beautiful, and a peaceful place to be.

    Like that photo above, you can see all the way out to the water and DC.

  3. Fab job Shannon!

    What I find a bit odd, is that no one, at least that I have seen, blogs Old Town.

    Did you come across anyone that does?

  4. Retroceded in 1846? Can we please go back to being part of DC again? So we can be married? Arlington can come along too if it wants to.

  5. +1 for the Mount Vernon Trail. Got a bike shortly after moving to Del Ray and haven’t regretted it :) Although it does get crowded closer to Old Town, it’s a bit easier a couple of miles away.

  6. Nice job on the city I’ve lived in since I was six years old (save for my college years in southern Virginia). The visual arts scene ignited by the Torpedo Factory just keeps growing here. Anyone visiting Del Ray should stop by the Del Ray Artisans gallery, which is a couple of blocks down Mt. Vernon Ave. from the Dairy Godmother.

  7. Arlandia?? Might that be ARLANDRIA??? Being Alexandria born and raised, Del Ray area, right by the rail road tracks on Nelson Ave. I love the pictures that you have posted. The area has changed so much since I was there. I left the area in 1974… LONG time ago:) Anyone out there remember when the waterway that ran outside of Arlandria would flood, and cars from the Car lot would be in that watereway? And the old VEPCO office? My Dad used to work there…. I actually went to Mt. Vernon Elementary school. Is that still there? I still have family that lives in The Masonic Temple area… AHHHH the memories!! Thank you so much :) Being just a child while living there, I didn’t really know how to appreciate the area, until I moved away.

    Thank You

  8. Pingback: Where We Live: Alexandria. – The Meandering Ones