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.
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.
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.
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.