Today’s post was a fun one to put together because Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, is one of my favorite local spots. Located just down the Potomac River from Washington, DC, Old Town is a historic port city that reminds me a lot of Annapolis, Savannah, and Charleston, only with more brick than the latter two. With a beautiful waterfront, delicious restaurants, plenty of shopping, and lots history to explore, Old Town is the perfect place to spend an afternoon or weekend. Even though its cobblestone streets and brick sidewalks are often crowded, it’s a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of DC, and would be the perfect spot for a vacation or a staycation.
I’ve pulled together all the pictures of Old Town in this post from many visits, and as you’ll see, it’s one of my favorite places to shoot outfit photos! I’ve been visiting Old Town since elementary school and when I moved to Arlington after school in 2013, made it a point to visit often since it was only about 20 minutes from my apartment. My family loves doing special, celebratory dinners down by the water and Old Town Alexandria is also one of my favorite places to meet up with friends from college for a drink or brunch.
Like my Georgetown post, I’ll be sure to add new recommendations as I explore Old Town more—and if you’re local and I’ve forgotten any of your favorite places, let me know in the comments below and I’ll add them in!
HOW TO GET THERE /
Old Town Alexandria is very accessible via Metro—simply hop off at the King Street-Old Town stop on the Blue or Yellow line. Once you’re at the King Street-Old Town Station, you can easily hop on and off the free trolley to explore the historic district.
It’s also very easy to drive to—if you’re coming from DC or the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, hop on the George Washington Parkway (my favorite road to drive in the area!) and you’ll hit Old Town soon after you pass DCA. When I drive to Old Town, I usually look for street parking—some of it is free with a two-hour limit and some you pay for with the ParkMobile app—right around the intersection of King Street and Pitt Street. Old Town Alexandria is laid out in a grid, with King Street being the main thoroughfare/most famous street. As such, if you need to circle the block a few times, it’s pretty easy to find your way around!
If for some reason you can’t find street parking, there are several well-marked garages close to the action. I usually park at the Colonial Parking garage on Fayette Alley between North Lee Street and North Union Street. You’ll pay at least $10-15 to park here, so it’s definitely not the cheapest, but a good backup plan.
I’ve personally never taken it, but if you’re looking for a more unique form of transportation, definitely check out the water taxi that runs from Georgetown to Old Town Alexandria, that will now also take you to National Harbor, where the DC ferris wheel and new MGM casino are.
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK /
There are so many good places to eat and drink down in Old Town! It’s a very family-friendly place and the going-out crowd definitely skews a little bit older—think late 20s/early 30s as opposed to the young 20s set Clarendon or 14th Street attracts. It’s got a very chill vibe, and it’s always fun to take a pre- or post-dinner stroll by the water.
- Virtue Feed & Grain—my favorite restaurant in Old Town, Virtue Feed & Grain is one of those restaurants that has something for everyone—but it’s all delicious. I love coming here for brunch because they make a mean mimosa, and if you’re a burger person, you’ll love theirs.
- Il Porto—this is an old-school Italian restaurant that my family loves. They’ve got all your favorite classics and Italian comfort foods, and they do them well. The service in here is great and the atmosphere is very cozy.
- Hanks Oyster Bar—this DC-area chain has an outpost in Old Town, and what better place to get some seafood than right near the water. I love their Old Bay French fries and am a big fan of their Maryland-style crab cakes.
- Daniel O’Connell’s—a classic Irish pub located right on King Street, this is a fun going out spot since they often have live music on the weekend. They also have a range of bar fare that’s pretty good and have a popular weekend brunch.
- Chart House—though it’s a national chain, the Chart House in Alexandria makes the list since it’s located right on the water and has sweeping views of the Potomac River. They’re known for their steaks and seafood. This would be the perfect spot for a special occasion dinner—birthday, anniversary, celebrating a milestone.
- Blackwall Hitch—located right next to Chart House on the waterfront, this is a huge nautical-themed restaurant with multiple bars and fire pits, weather permitting. The Crow’s Nest area is my favorite—it’s got the cutest sign over the bar and really makes me feel like I’m a million miles away from DC. Since it’s such a huge place, the service can be hit or miss, but I’d definitely recommend it regardless.
- Vola’s Dockside Grill—Vola’s is one of my favorite spots as its waterfront patio is just so relaxing—talk about great people/boat watching!. Named after Vola Lawson, who was a beloved Civil Rights Activist that bettered the Alexandria community, this place is a must-eat for any meal. Definitely don’t skip their brunch cocktails, either!
- Union Street Public House—this place is an institution in Old Town and its taproom is one of my favorite places to grab a drink. My Aunt and Uncle used to hang out here in the 80s when they were dating! If you’re eating, don’t skip the gumbo, crab cakes, chorizo meatballs, and pimento cheese!
- The Fish Market—if you find yourself free on a Monday night, definitely check out The Fish Market’s low country boil for $15—it comes with hush puppies! Otherwise, The Fish Market is a great place to get Chesapeake Bay seafood right near the waterfront in a cool setting—it’s in a warehouse that’s over 200 years old!
- Captain Gregory’s—this place is a ten/fifteen minute walk away from the heart of Old Town, but I included it because it’s right on the border and such a cool concept. It’s a secret restaurant hidden behind a donut shop. They serve up small plates and hand crafted cocktails in a space that’s got a speakeasy vibe.
- Chadwick’s—a place that’s been in Old Town for seemingly forever, Chadwick’s is a classic, casual bar and restaurant that serves up American food. This is the type of place everyone can find something and the drinks are cheap! The bar is open late, so definitely pop in if you’re in need of a night cap.
- Magnolia’s on King—if seafood isn’t your thing and you’re in the mood for Southern fare, definitely check out Magnolia’s on King. If you’ve eaten at High Cotton in Charleston, this place reminds me of a cozier version of that establishment. Definitely check out their Nashville hot chicken and the shrimp and grits! They’ve also have a great happy hour in their palm lounge Tuesday through Friday.
- Brabo—Brabo is broken into two parts—the brasserie, which has a stunning bar and serves up cocktails and classic French fare for dinner and brunch, and the tasting room, which is more casual Parisian fare offered at all three meals. Either way, you can’t go wrong!
- The Majestic—the best way to describe The Majestic is gourmet American comfort food meets old school diner. The restaurant has been around since the 1930s, and the decor really creates an art-deco ambiance that starts with the neon sign out front. The food is on the pricier side for classic American fare, but it’s worth it—definitely get the fried brussels sprouts!
- Sonoma Cellar—y’all know I never turn down a good wine bar and Sonoma Cellar is perfect for all of you who are with me on this! They have an amazing selection of California wines, and in addition to selling wine by the glass and the bottle, offer tastings for as low as $10! They also offer a wide selection of California-inspired food—think lots of avocados and greens.
WHERE TO SHOP /
In addition to an outpost of every chain store you could ever want, Old Town has some amazing boutiques that I love popping into. Current Boutique is a great consignment shop located right on King Street. They have a few outposts in the area, but the King Street one is my favorite—it’s always super organized and they have some amazing, gently-used pieces.
If you’re looking for preppy/nautical clothing, definitely stop into The Lucky Knot. (They also have outposts in Annapolis and Baltimore so you may be familiar!) They carry a range of my favorite brands—Jonathan Adler, Lilly Pulitzer, KJP, Kate Spade, Vineyard Vines—and their shop is also adorable.
Though Lou Lou is growing and has quite the presence in DC, they were founded in nearby Middleburg, Virginia and have a storefront on Kingstreet. They offer a range of women’s clothing and accessories that are designed to give you access to designer style at a fraction of the price. This is also a great spot to pick up a birthday gift for a friend!
If you’re a beauty junkie, definitely check out Bellacara. They have an amazing selection of skincare products, with makeup and haircare as well. The staff here is super helpful taking you through the store and helping you find the right product for you needs without being too sales-y.
And, if you go to one shop when you’re in the area, definitely make it Red Barn Mercantile. It is the cutest home decor shop that has the best selection of furniture, accent pieces, and gifts. There are so many unique items in here that you can always find something to take home with you. The owner of Red Barn Mercantile also opened Penny Post, which is an amazing paper goods shop located just a few storefronts away. Y’all know how much I love paper, and Penny Post has some of the best selection.
WHAT TO DO /
If you go to Old Town, one thing you have to do is eat ice cream. On King Street, Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Co. is an institution and one of my favorite places to get a gone. In addition to dozens of flavors of traditional ice cream, they also offer soft serve. If you go at a popular time, there could be a 20-minute or so line, but I promise it’s worth the wait. If you don’t want to wait, The Creamery is literally right across the street. While I think they have great ice cream, too, their selection isn’t as large and the ambiance of the shop isn’t as fun—but hey, ice cream is ice cream!
Like other historical cities, Old Town Alexandria is presumably very haunted—and as such, it’s very fun to take a ghost tour while in town! I’d recommend the Ghost & Graveyard Tour offered by Alexandria Colonial Tours. Though they take a hiatus during the coldest winter months, tours leave most nights at both 7:30pm and 9:00pm. If you’re looking for a ghost tour that involves alcohol—good news, there’s a Frights and Pints Tour that takes you to some of the most haunted buildings and pubs in the area.
If you’re looking for a history tour of Old Town, you can take a self-guided Free Tours by Foot, which is something I’ve done in both Charleston and New Orleans. If you’re looking for a guided historical walking tour, I’d recommend stopping by the Visitor’s Center right on King Street and have them point you in the right direction since I’ve never done one in town. The Visitor’s Center is worth a stop regardless—it’s in a historic building and they have lots of helpful maps and brochures/discounts for local attractions.
My favorite thing to do in Old Town is to walk the waterfront. If you’re standing next to Chart House facing the Potomac River, take a left and follow the path. You’ll see some docks that are open to the public with large gazebos at the end. These offer a great view of National Harbor and really put you right on the water. Down on the waterfront, there are always street performers and troubadours—it reminds me so much of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls!
En Route to the waterfront, definitely stop into the Torpedo Factory Art Center. A former munitions plant, the Torpedo Factory was opened in 1974 with space for 82 artists to have an open studio. Open to the public, you can stroll in and see what artists are working on, buy art for your collection, and explore the history of the building. This is such a neat place that is so unique to Old Town.
Located right on King Street is Alexandria City Hall and Market Square, which features a stunning fountain in front of the large brick building. I’d definitely walk by, but I don’t think you need to dedicate significant time to this area, unless the Old Town Farmers’ Market is going on! It’s hosted every Saturday from 7am to noon, and in addition to an array of fresh produce, vendors offer an array of breakfast sandwiches and pastries.
One of my other favorite pastimes in Old Town is simply walking around and enjoying all the beautiful historic homes. Start with a street that leads you off King Street and you won’t be disappointed! There are so many beautiful homes—brick and colorful alike!—it would take you days to see them all.
Lastly, it’s not located in central Old Town, but if you’re in the area, I can’t recommend a trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon enough. The house and the grounds are so beautifully kept and a true national treasure. My favorite spot on the estate is the back patio of the house since it overlooks the Potomac River. If you’re looking for a more unique Mount Vernon experience, definitely check out their fall wine festival and sunset tour or their spring wine festival and sunset tour. Essentially, a ton of local wineries set up a tasting booth in a tent right next to the main estate and you can taste as many wines as desired with the cost of admission. The house is also open for tours, and they usually open up the basement wine cellar for you to check out, something that isn’t on the normal tour! You can even meet Martha and George at the event ;].
As you can tell, Old Town has a special place in my heart—and is definitely somewhere I’d consider moving one day! If you need any specific Old Town Alexandria advice, feel free to drop me a note in the comment below or email me at email@example.com. Regardless of where you live, add it to your bucket list stat—and if you’re local and haven’t gotten to Old Town yet, definitely consider checking it out this weekend!