Family in town for the holidays? Use these 3 local itineraries to entertain them

Here’s where to celebrate with festive light displays, cheerful cocktails and comfort food, from Loudoun County to the nation’s capital.

christmas tree in front of the u.s. capitol building
© steheap / stock.adobe.com

When family comes to town, it can be tough to come up with ideas or narrow down your list of places to show off in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. Here, we’ve done the hard work for you. 

Find holiday-inspired day trips to Alexandria, Loudoun County and the nation’s capital below.


Morning Wake-Up Call: Swing’s Coffee
If you’re starting the day early, you’ll want to make your first stop at Swing’s Coffee Bar in Del Ray. Sure, you can grab a latte on the corner of almost any city, but why not get one at the Alexandria-based coffee roaster that’s been in the bean business for over 100 years? If you’re more of a no-cream-no-sugar type, grab a cup of its seasonal blend, Winter Solstice. Think mulled wine, cozy sweaters and warming spices. Those holiday tasting notes and the kick of caffeine are the perfect way to wake up (with a pastry in-hand too, of course). Plus, you can buy bags of some of the freshest local coffee as last-minute (and small-business friendly) gifts. // Swing’s Coffee: 501 E. Monroe Ave., Suite 1626, Alexandria

family outside of george washington's mount vernon
Photo courtesy of George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Seasonal Tour: George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Just a stone’s throw from Alexandria is George Washington’s Mount Vernon, rich with holiday history and perfect for family photo ops. Tour the grounds in the morning, catch the restored front parlor of the mansion and be sure to visit with the live animals (including a camel!) on-site with the kids in tow. At noon, catch the holiday dinner demonstration, where attendees learn how food for Washington’s holiday celebrations was prepared and served, featuring meat pie and Martha Washington’s famous fruit cake. Having too much fun to leave? Check out even more ways to enjoy, including holiday fireworks on Friday, Dec. 20 and Saturday, Dec. 21, here. // George Washington’s Mount Vernon: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon; General admission, $20 adult, $12 youth

bowl of noodle soup with egg
Photo by Rey Lopez

Lunch: Yunnan by Potomac
This local newcomer landed on our 2019 Cheap Eats list as one of the best in the region, serving up “mixian” cuisine. If you’re lost, don’t worry—these hearty and comforting soups are reminiscent of the ever-popular ramen, but with pork and chicken broth, round rice noodles and a seven-minute tea egg, drizzled with chili-soy vinaigrette. Bowls of steaming hot soup are the perfect way to warm up and fill up for the rest of the day. // Yunnan by Potomac: 814 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria

king street alexandria with christmas lights
© Mirza77 / stock.adobe.com

Shopping: King Street
It wouldn’t be a trip to Old Town Alexandria if it didn’t include a walk down King Street. The area is filled with so many small businesses to explore, you might just lose track of time, and how many steps you’ve walked! Find custom-designed jewelry at Gold Works for a one-of-a-kind memento, grab knitting yarn and crochet supplies at Fibre Space to sew up those winter gloves or pick up those might-be-late holiday cards at Penny Post. There are also plenty of places to revamp your look and feel for the new decade. Find unique home goods at Red Barn Mercantile or antiques at The Hour, or build a beautiful new wardrobe with Bishop Boutique and Lou Lou Boutiques.

Sweet Treats: Ice Cream
Take one trip through Alexandria and you’ll be quick to notice, there’s no shortage of ice cream-scooping locations. No matter how many Christmas cookies you’ve enjoyed, there’s always room for some seasonally flavored ice cream. Newly opened Jeni’s Splended Ice Creams is serving up everything from white chocolate peppermint and darkest chocolate, to boozy eggnog and cognac with gingerbread, topped on a freshly made cinnamon waffle cone (for a limited time only). Local hot spot Nicecream is mixing up holiday-inspired flavors all season long too, with candy cane crunch, butterscotch sweet potato pie and vanilla chai. No matter where you end up, the sweet treats will be devoured in no time. // Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams: 102 S. Patrick St., Alexandria; Nicecream: 726 King St., Alexandria


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Getting into the spirit of things! ❄️ 🎄

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Festive Fun: Ice & Lights – The Winter Village at Cameron Run
There are some great outdoor holiday attractions in Northern Virginia this year, but the season’s newest is at Cameron Run, known best for being a bustling water park in the sweltering days of summer. The new attraction has transformed into a holiday-inspired village and winter wonderland, fit with a 100-photo festive light photo arc, an outdoor ice rink and several fire pits for roasting marshmallows. If it starts to get a bit chilly, take a walk past the dazzling Christmas tree and stop in the warm-up igloo. // Cameron Run: 4001 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria; $5 

vermilion scallops and radicchio
Scallops snuggle with bitter radicchio for a stunning autumnal scene at Vermillion. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Out of the seven best restaurants in Alexandria, which appeared on this year’s 50 Best Restaurants list, you have quite a bit to choose from. Take an international trip by indulging in some of the region’s best Chinese at Chef Guo (No. 9), Ethiopian at Makeda, Japanese at Nasime (No. 10), or Indian and Nepalese at Royal Nepal. Vermilion landed itself as the No. 2 best restaurant this year with its take on modern American fare, and two other options in the same genre, include Evening Star Cafe & Front Porch, as well as La Fromagerie. Where will you choose?

Final Toast: Holiday Cocktails
If you’ve spent the day without little ones, or are looking for a late-night excursion once some of the family is back home and settled in, Alexandria has several locations to choose from for some holiday libations. Grab a Tito’s Cranberry Spiced Mule (made with Tito’s vodka, cranberry shrub, dry Vermouth, orange bitters and ginger beer) at Live Oak Restaurant, or head to Blackwall Hitch for a whipped cream-covered spiked hot chocolate. Cheers to a day full of holiday memories! // Live Oak Restaurant: 1603 Commonwealth Ave., Alexandria; Blackwall Hitch: 5 Cameron St., Alexandria

Loudoun County

PJ&B breakfast sandwich at brew birds cafe
PJ&B breakfast sandwich (Photo courtesy of Brew Birds Cafe)

Morning Wake-Up Call: Brew Birds
Back in October, we got the inside scoop on Aldie’s newest (and only) breakfast-serving, coffee-grinding, beer-tapping location, where Loudoun County residents (and its visitors) could indulge in a latte, a porter or a hot breakfast sandwich. Or all three, if that fits your fancy. For kicking off your holiday tour of the locale, start your day with a fried-egg sandwich on a croissant, paired with a cup of coffee from Durham, North Carolina roasting powerhouse, Counter Culture Coffee. If you have vegans or vegetarians in your crew, they’ll be happy to find the millennial-favorite avocado toast or a breakfast burrito with pinto beans and smashed tots (with almost anything as meat- or dairy-free). The coffee bar also serves up nitro cold brew and a selection of beer from around the world. // Brew Birds: 42020 Village Center Plaza, Suite 130, Aldie

Fun for All Ages: Leesburg Animal Park Christmas Village
If you have kids along for the ride, Leesburg Animal Park’s Christmas Village is a must-see. Although the outdoor attraction at night features thousands of outdoor lights and displays, there’s still so much to see when the kids are excited to celebrate (and not-yet ready for a nap). Visitors can meet a wide array of animals who call the animal park home, and get the chance to meet a camel named Chewy. Still looking for a funny and festive holiday card? There are holiday photos with live animals available for the whole family. Also specific to the holidays, there’s a Christmas-themed arts and crafts room, bonfire and marshmallow roasting, a nativity scene with live animals and an indoor play zone. // Leesburg Animal Park Christmas Village: 19246 James Monroe Highway, Leesburg; $11 per person

The Conservatory at Goodstone outdoor area
The Conservatory at Goodstone. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Depending on the area you would like to stay in Loudoun County, or who you have along for the ride, choosing lunch should be pretty simple. Hear me out: eight local hot spots landed on our  list of the 50 best restaurants. Some of the region’s best Indian can be found at Agni in Sterling, or Japanese and Korean at Marumen. The county is also home to three modern American locations that dress to impress, including The Wine Kitchen, Tuscarora Mill and Market Table Bistro. But if the day has been spent without little ones, you also have found yourself in close proximity to some of the region’s finest dining. No. 3 on this year’s list was the newly renovated Conservatory at Goodstone, where tasting menus give you an excuse to drive into the woods, and The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, yet another gorgeous and multi-course dinner, clocked in at No. 8. Having trouble choosing? Don’t worry, you truly can’t go wrong.

Kick Back and Relax: Salamander Resort & Spa
Let’s face it, with the holiday season in full swing, entertaining evenings filling the calendar and so many gifts to buy, you need some time for self-care. Salamander Resort & Spa is the perfect place to take the group for a quiet break, and opt-in to a massage, pedicure and more. The spa is offering holiday-inspired treatments, from a chocolate and peppermint pedicure (where you get a steaming mug of hot chocolate to enjoy), to a Winter Essentials facial. The exfoliating chemical peel will rid your skin of the dryness and stress of the season, leaving you feeling rejuvenated and ready to celebrate the new year. Other services are available to appeal to everyone in your party. Plus, if your day trip is in the middle of the week, your 80- and 90-minute spa treatments could be eligible for the 25% discount, as an early gift to you. Time to say spa-ahhh. // Salamander Resort & Spa: 500 N. Pendleton St., Middleburg; $80-$185


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@bluemontvineyard is magical this time of year

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Seasonal Sips & Views: Bluemont Vineyard
For the first time, Loudoun County’s wine country is lighting up in an all-new way at Bluemont Vineyard. As the sun starts to drop behind the mountains, you’ll want to catch the awe-inspiring lights lined throughout the grape fields in Bluemont, nestled in NoVA at 1,000 feet above sea level. Not only will you get to see the Instagram-worthy views at sunset, you’ll be amazed at the thousands of holiday lights illuminating the vineyard. The scenery serves as a festive and one-of-a-kind backdrop to Northern Virginia’s wine country, and gives you an excuse to head to the tasting room. Try a smoky petit verdot, a chambourcin-driven rosé and more. Once you head out, you might even catch more holiday lights from houses along the way. // Bluemont Vineyard: 18755 Foggy Bottom Road, Bluemont

Mokomandy shrimp and grits with lemon
Mokomandy is No. 1 on 2019’s 50 Best Restaurants list and is filled with comfort food. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Dinner: Mokomandy
This Cajun and Korean mashup completed the eight best restaurants in Loudoun County, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy a dinner away from your dining room. The holidays beg for comfort food, and you’ll find it tucked into the menu with small plates, such as the stuffed cremini mushrooms with butter, caramelized onions and garlic, or in the steamed foie gras dumplings drizzled with house-made plum sauce. For that Cajun feel, order up deviled eggs or jambalaya, filled with a mashup of spices, or please your winter-hibernation diet with a 6-ounce brisket. And if the comfort food couldn’t get any better, grab a plate of the shrimp and grits, Joyce Farms Korean fried chicken or the poutine with house-made bacon, gravy and white sharp cheese curds. Need we say more? Oh right, it is the best restaurant on our 50 Best Restaurants list. We’ll leave it at that. // Mokomandy: 20789 Great Falls Plaza, Suite 176, Sterling

Final Toast: Holiday Cocktails and Sweet Sips
Maybe you skipped the winery after the spa and went straight to dinner, or you’re just looking for one last spot to enjoy the holidays before heading back home to your own decorations, lights and presents under the tree. For one final stop: head to Leesburg’s own holiday pop-up bar. Filled with Christmas decorations and hosting a slew of events (how nicely can you decorate a gingerbread house?) this local holiday spot will have you feeling warm and cozy, with or without a drink in hand. Help yourself to the build-your-own hot chocolate bar, holiday-spiced brews and late-night snacks, and deck the halls to see the “winter ski lodge” and “Mrs. Claus’ bakery”-themed rooms. // 14 Loudoun: 14 Loudoun St. SE, Leesburg

Washington, DC


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Sup #happypeople, just a friend reminder that we are here for you. #wegotyourback #giganticvibes 📸: @foodanhmymind

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Morning Wake-Up Call: Call Your Mother Deli
Washington, DC may be a large metropolitan area, but it is not New York City. There are not fantastic bagel spots on every corner. But, no need to worry about that with Call Your Mother Deli. The hot-spot anomaly in the nation’s capital that’s notorious for its long line on the sidewalk, landed on Bon Appetit’s 50-slot nominees list for America’s 10 hottest restaurants, and its chef and co-owner Daniela Moreira was recently named to Forbes30 Under 30 Food & Drink list. Plus, it’s keeping its fingers crossed for a Georgetown outpost sometime in the future. Here’s why to go though: some of the best, freshest bagels in the city come from this “Jew-ish” deli. Celebrating Hanukkah? Grab a za’atar-seasoned bagel, or a crispy plate of latkes with sour cream and seasonal jam, or a plate of pastrami fried rice … the options really are endless. Wear stretchy pants. (P.S. its delivery boxes make great gifts too). // Call Your Mother Deli: 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, Washington, DC

Seasonal Stop: Downtown Holiday Market
If you still have gifts to buy, or are looking for a few ways to shop local with some newfound holiday cash, take a walk through the Downtown Holiday Market. In the shadow of the National Portrait Gallery, white tents line Eighth and F Streets Northwest, with local vendors selling everything from hand-sewn fingerless gloves to customized cutting boards. Live music is performed throughout the day, and shoppers will love the chance to snap a photo in front of the life-sized “JOY” sign. // Downtown Holiday Market: Eighth and F Streets, Washington, DC


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A good day to play hooky + come explore. #unionmarketdc 📸: @plansornoplans

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Lunch: Union Market DC
Here’s how to get a taste of the ever-growing food scene in Washington, DC: Find it all in one place at Union Market. The space is filled with food and drink vendors (as well as a gift-friendly Salt & Sundry, perfect for any last-minute shopping needs), ranging from raw oysters to Cuban sandwiches. Grab a pair of bao buns from Bun’d Up, or a life-size dosa filled with your favorites at DC Dosa or eat dessert first with sweets from District Doughnut. Everyone in the family will find something to enjoy, from bento boxes to ice cream cones. // Union Market: 1309 Fifth St. NE, Washington, DC

Seasonal Stop: Season’s Greetings: America’s Gardens!
When family comes to town, there are always moments when out-of-state visitors find their home’s imprint on the nation’s capital. Whether it’s snapping a picture in front of their state’s pillar at the WWII Memorial, or finding mementos throughout the Smithsonian’s archives. Catch their state’s garden display, decorated for the holiday, at the United States Botanical Gardens (USBG). Aside from the re-creations of trains, fountains and more, visitors can see thousands of flowers, including a 3,000-plus showcase of poinsettias, both heirloom and newly developed. Plus, grab a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate and all funds will go directly to USBG’s educational programs in 2020. // United States Botanic Garden Conservatory: 100 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington, DC; free

christmas tree in front of the u.s. capitol building
© steheap / stock.adobe.com

Into the Evening: Find the Christmas Trees
There are so many landmarks to see in Washington, DC, why not see them when festive Christmas trees are on display too? The National Christmas Tree was lit on Dec. 5 at President’s Park, and is free for all to see in front of the White House. Be sure to take a stroll through the Pathway of Peace, where every state is represented with a Christmas tree and customized ornament by representative school. The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is yet another worth gazing upon. This year’s tree traveled all the way from Carson National Forest in New Mexico, stopped at 25 communities and traveling more than 2,000 miles. It will now be known as the 2019 “People’s Tree,” located in front of the U.S. Capitol building. Throughout the city, multiple buildings and hotels are also decorated with Christmas trees in lobbies and exterior holiday lights. // President’s Park: 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC; U.S. Capitol: First St. SE, Washington, DC; free

Hanks Oyster Bar
Photo courtesy of Hank’s Oyster Bar

Dinner: Feast of the Seven Fishes at Hank’s Oyster Bar
Thanks to Hanks, fresh seafood is pretty easy to find throughout the nation’s capital, in an easy-to-like setting that will have you wishing for those warmer days to return. Whether you have the kids along for a family meal (they’ll enjoy the goldfish crackers that come to the table when you’re seated), or catching up as just the adults, Hank’s take on the Feast of the Seven Fishes (a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner), is a combination of lobster, shrimp, scallops, calamari, octopus, clams and mussels in a stew of pasta and Tuscan white beans. Get it to share or enjoy the plate to yourself, and dive into some other specialties, like sake bloody mary oyster shooters and Old Bay french fries.

Seasonal Stop: ZooLights at the National Zoo
When the sun finally drops and the twinkling lights can be seen throughout the city (and the well-lit monuments) the National Zoo opens its gates for the late-evening hours to welcome guests with over 500,000 LED lights, live musical performances and tasty winter treats. Kids can slide their way into the tiger and lion exhibits, and everyone is welcome on the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Choo-Choo, which chugs along to give unobstructed views of the light displays. Plus, the zoo is regularly only open until 5 p.m. for the rest of the year, so enjoy the chance to explore the holiday wonderland while catching the animal exhibits after hours. // Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute: 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC; free


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Get GLOWing soon! One of our eleven #georgetownglow installations is coming to the charming Book Hill area of Georgetown. ‘Cloud Swing,’ by New Orleans’ artists @lindsayglatz and @curiousform, will be located in Book Hill Park near the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Reservoir Road beginning December 6. Cloud Swing is an interactive installation intended to evoke feelings of nostalgia and wonder. The artwork consists of two swings suspended from a glowing cloud structure, in which color and light are created as people engage and swing through the air. Cloud Swing seeks to demonstrate the importance of kinesthetic experiences in our development. It is the process of learning by using our past and the experiences behind us that ultimately propel us forward. Cloud Swing is inspired by the simple joys of play and color. Visit www.GeorgetownGLOWDC.com for more on this piece, and stay tuned to learn about our next installation. #georgetownglow #georgetown #dc #mydccool #igdc #acreativedc #lightart #art #holidays #holidaylights #artinthedistrict

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Seasonal Spot: Georgetown’s GLOW
In its sixth year, the free artwork displayed throughout the picture-perfect setting of Georgetown is lighting up the night. Sure, you can go ice skating near the water, but you can also browse through the shops and stop by the installations, including Cloud Swing (an interactive installation hoping to inspire feelings of nostalgia and wonder), every day (an illuminated poem), Filament (in partnership with Dance Place), Waiting (a light-up piece mimicking a “buffering” wheel in technology), Snow Cones (celebrating diversity and distinctness) and many more. All of the artwork is free to view and enjoy into 2020. // Various locations in Georgetown, Washington, DC; free


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One of my favorite places! So festive!!

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Final Toast: Miracle on 7th Street
There’s no better way to end the night than with a festive “Nog Shot,” right? OK, maybe you need a classier holiday cocktail, but Miracle on 7th Street has those too. If you’re celebrating with the 21-plus crowd of your family, head to Miracle on 7th Street, DC’s own holiday pop-up bar with a lengthy list of holiday-inspired cocktails that will have you sipping and enjoying the night away. The entire bar is filled with holiday decorations, including a room dedicated to the 2019 World Series Washington Nationals, and is just the place you need after a long day of sightseeing. This year’s menu includes the “Gretchen, Stop Trying to Make Fetch Happen,” for the Mean Girls lover in the crew, made from Hidalgo cream sherry, dry curacao, spiced cranberry syrup and sparkling wine, and the “Snow Angels, Ice Skating, Cookie Dough and Snuggles,” made with butter-washed Wheatley vodka, Frangelico, coffee liqueur, salt tincture and cream (in honor of Will Ferrell’s Elf). Toast to the end of the season with a “Son of a Nutcracker” (Martell Cognac, brandy de jerez, creme de cacao, creme de menthe and cream) and say hello to the new decade just around the corner. // Miracle on 7th Street: 1843 Seventh St. NW, Washington, DC

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