Community Guide: Old Town Alexandria

Lawrence Miller & Co. (Photograph by Tom Lynch)

treat
Treat (Photograph by Tom Lynch)

By Rebecca Norris and Anne Elsea

Start point: the mysterious Masonic Temple looming over King Street; end point: the Potomac River. Bustling red-brick sidewalks line the streets leading to the waterfront. On your way, you’ll pass boutiques and street-side seating for select restaurants—don’t hesitate to take a peek or grab a snack. Old Town has become a cozy home to the newly married, as well as locals just visiting to catch a glimpse of early history in the suburbs of the nation’s capital.

Shopping
Discover and purchase authentic treasures throughout the Old Town Boutique District. Shops located here foster a sense of retail community, rather than fight for business.

Beautify Yourself
Looking for beautiful skin care, to-die-for hair care and exclusive cosmetic products? Head to Bellacara on King Street, and you’ll walk away a happy and pampered patron, with nothing less than a “beautiful face” (the Spanish translation for bella cara). Cirque of Alexandria offers luxury beauty services to make you feel your best. From hair removal and eyelash extensions to massages, Cirque makes comfort and luxury its top priority. 

Take a sick day from your stressful life and enjoy one of many facials or lifts from The Fountains Day Spa on South Washington Street.

Mommy and Baby
If you are shopping for your new bundle of joy, head to Appleseed Maternity and Baby Boutique on S. Columbus Street, Monday’s Child on N. Lee Street or King Street’s Pink and Brown, designed with vibrant and elegant colors and offering 100-percent organic cotton, stylish shoes and fantastic chandeliers. Pink and Brown is the stop to pick up a few memorable items for your new gift—the one just dropped off on your doorstep by a certain infamous stork. The Why Not Shop on King street has been supplying Old Town with everything for kids from books to bows and toys galore for more than four decades. 

Dress to Impress
Whether you’re shopping for that perfect date-night outfit, or just some casual looks for yourself or a good friend, the possibilities are endless in Old Town. For some cute and sexy undergarments, check out Bloomers on King Street, or N. Lee Street’s The Full Cup. For the fashion-forward NoVA woman, visit Hysteria on Fairfax Street for iconic styles paired with the undiscovered designs and trends of tomorrow. American in Paris Fashion & Couture Inc. on King Street offers fashion-forward styles in clothing and accessories by American and European designers. Want more European designs? Stop by Fashion Finch on S. West Street for shoes, jeans, jackets and more from premier Italian and other European designers. Diva Designer Consignment on S. Pitt Street offers new and almost new designer women’s clothing, shoes and accessories. Stop in Gossypia on Cameron Street for Latin American clothes and wedding dresses with flair. Periwinkle on Potomac Green Drive and Mint Condition on S. Saint Asaph Street offer consignment items less than two years old. However, if you’re into aged garments, head in to Elinor Coleman’s Vintage Mirage on S. Columbus Street for clothing and accessories spanning the fashion eras from Victorian to today. For designer shoes, visit S. Fairfax Street for a trip to Shoe Hive.

For the fellas, Dash’s of Old Town on King Street has fashionable ties, dress shirts, shoes and accessories beyond the normal department store.

Home and Design
There’s no limit to the browsing opportunities for those in search of something to spruce up their homes, or a housewarming gift for a friend.

“The Cook’s Resource,” also known as La Cuisine on Cameron Street, has served as a supply resource for both professional and home chefs for more than 35 years. Stop in to pick up the latest high-quality utensils for the next dinner party you host. Want to create your very own bar at home? Stop in to The Hour Cocktail Collection located on King Street for a wide variety of glassware, shakers, pitchers, jiggers, muddlers and stirrers. To spice up your next dinner party, check out The Spice & Tea Exchange on King Street. 

For more gift-giving, check out Red Barn Mercantile on King Street, Andrea’s Boutique on King Street, The Christmas Attic (yes, open even in summer; Christmas in July, anyone?) on S. Union Street, Little Monogram Shop on N. Columbus Street.

If your child is a bookworm looking for the next good read, stop by Hooray for Books! on King Street, Alexandria’s only independent children bookstore. The store also hosts events to get kids excited about books again and author panels to share their love of books with others. 

The Sugar Cube. Photo Courtesy of the Sugar Cube/Steven Redfearn Photography

All that Glitters
You can’t leave Old Town without adding the finishing touches to the outfit you’ve just purchased. If you’re looking to dazzle your special lady for an anniversary—or for no reason at all—S. Royal Street’s Lawrence Miller & Co. offers timeless and antique jewelry that has been restored to its original beauty. Stop in to pick up a unique little something or a one-of-a-kind jewel. Alternatively, Mystique Jewelers on The Strand Waterfront offers designer and fashion jewelry perfect for work, play and romance. A NoVA classic, LouLou’s on King Street offers a wide variety of jewelry and accessories for the fashion-forward shopper. All products are organized by color making finding the perfect pair of earrings easier than ever.

Outlet Shopping
There’s no way to miss the GAP Outlet sign on the corner of Washington and King Streets, located next to its cousin, Banana Republic. A Ross resides on Washington, too, for more brand names for less.  To find furniture and home goods for less than retail, stop by the Crate & Barrel Outlet  on Prince Street. 

Culture & Education
Old Town was once a popular port for trading during the mid-1750s. In fact, the town was a staging area for British troops in the French and Indian War. As such, it’s chock-full of early American history.

Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary
Established in 1792 and a museum since 1939, Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary is one of the oldest pharmacies in the nation, sharing the story of this business and its family’s profound effect on the community in areas such as education and the abolition of slavery. Today, the museum exists to inspire people with the values of its Quaker founder, Edward Stabler, bring to light an understanding of historic public health issues, and engage people in an appreciation of local history. 107 S. Fairfax St.; 703-746-3852

Torpedo Factory Art Center
Three floors of open studios, located in a former torpedo factory, invite the public to observe artists and purchase original artwork. Home to 82 artist studios and six galleries, the Torpedo Factory also holds the Alexandria Archaeology Museum and The Art League Studio, where adults and children can take classes and attend summer camp. 105 N. Union St.; 703-838-4565

The Lyceum
A group of gentlemen who called themselves The Alexandria Lyceum got together with the Alexandria Library Company back in 1839 to build a great hall for lectures, scientific experiments and, of course, quiet reading. Out of those efforts, the Lyceum was born. Since its creation, it has served as a Civil War hospital, a private home, an office building and even the nation’s first Bicentennial Center. The Lyceum became Alexandria’s History Museum in 1985, providing exhibitions, school programs, lectures and concerts. Today, the Lyceum Company serves the museum as a membership and fund-raising organization. 201 S. Washington St.; 703-746-4994

The Lyceum (Courtesy of Historic Alexandria)

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial
Have you always wondered about the important-looking building located at the top of King Street, just before your cruise into Old Town? That’s the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, known to locals as the Masonic Temple. Built in the 1920s with the help of over 2 million American Freemasons, this memorial temple aims to “express in durability and beauty the undying esteem of the Freemasons of the United States for him in whose memory it shall stand throughout the coming years.” Created to honor the memory, character and virtues of famous Freemason George Washington, it is open free to the public, seven days a week. It serves as a library and research center, community center, performing arts center and concert hall, banquet hall, tourist attraction and meeting site for local and visiting Masonic organizations. 101 Callahan Drive; 703-683-2007

Masonic Temple Memorial Hall (Courtesy of ACVA)
 

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
Journey back to the 18th century inside early Alexandria’s bustling political, business and social center. The Tavern was first built in 1785, followed by the construction of the City Hotel is 1792. The two buildings are named after Englishman John Gadsby, who ran them from 1796 to 1808. The tavern held theatrical and musical performances, as well as dancing assemblies and meetings of local organizations. George Washington enjoyed the tavern, along with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the Marquis de Lafayette. 134 N. Royal St.; 703-746-4242

Gadsby’s Taverna. Courtesy of acva (memorial hall); Courtesy of Nvrpa (1812 woman); courtesy of historic alexandria (woman and girl & tavern day)
 

Carlyle House
Across from Old Town’s City Hall, British merchant John Carlyle built the historic Carlyle House in 1753 for his bride, Sarah Fairfax of Belvoir. British Gen. Edward Braddock made this house his headquarters in 1755, making Carlyle and Fairfax’s mansion a center of social and political life in Alexandria. Five colonial governors were summoned to meet there to plan early campaigns of the French and Indian War. The Carlyle House is the only stone, 18th-century Palladian-style house in all of Alexandria. They offer daily tours of the house, programs for children, special events and exhibits and lectures, exploring the life of John Carlyle in pre-Revolutionary Alexandria. You can also rent this house for private events and weddings. 121 N. Fairfax St.; 703-549-2997

Friendship Firehouse Museum
The Friendship Firehouse was Alexandria’s first firehouse, established in 1774. The current building was completed in 1855 and then remodeled 16 years later. The most recent renovations were in 1992. Today, the museum boasts historic fire-fighting equipment exhibits, such as hand-drawn fire engines and leather water buckets. And don’t leave before looking for the fireman weathervane outside. 107 S. Alfred St.; 703-746-3891

Friendship Fire Museum (Courtesy of Historic Alexandria)

Recreation

Bike and Roll Alexandria located on Wales Alley offers bike rentals for locals and tourists to explore all that Old Town has to offer. One Wales Alley; 703-548-7655

Cameron Run Regional Park located off of Eisenhower Avenue is home to waterslides, a wave and lap pool, batting cages and miniature golf. It’s the perfect spot for a summer day with family or friends. 4001 Eisenhower Ave; 703-960-0767

Top Golf Alexandria on S. Van Dorn St. is the premier golf complex of the area. Offering games suitable for anyone, as well as bar favorites, this venue makes for an exciting outing. 6625 S. Van Dorn St.; 703-924-2600

Potomac Riverboat Company on Cameron Street offers sightseeing cruises, private parties, and water-taxi services on the Potomac River. Whether you hop on the boat to see the monuments of D.C. or to simply get from point A to B, it’s a fun experience for all. 205 The Strand; 703-684-0580

Annual Events

Alexandria King Street Festival of the Arts is an annual event, occurring this year on September 7th and 9th. King Street is transformed into an outdoor art gallery with original works by over 200 artists from the U.S. and abroad. The event is presented by The Art League and Torpedo Factory Art Center. 221 King St.; 703-746-3301

Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend is a two-day event hosted by The Saint Andrew’s Society of Washington, D.C., The Campagna Center and the City of Alexandria and exhibits over 100 clans dressed in their colorful tartans. 418 S. Washington St.; 703-224-2351.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a five-week celebration that commemorates the gift of 3,000 Japanese cherry trees in a gesture of goodwill from the Japanese government in Tokyo to the United States in 1912. The festival is a sight to behold and is held throughout D.C. and Alexandria.

Dining & Nightlife
Old Town is celebrated for its quaint and cute boutiques, as well as its intimate and sometimes rowdy options for dining, drinking and whatever other shenanigans you can get yourself into during a night out on the town.

Bittersweet

If you’re looking for something light, stop by Bittersweet Café, offering the best homemade sandwiches and cupcakes around town. 823 King St.; 703-549-1028

Murphy’s Irish Pub

Serving Irish-American meals at fair prices, there’s something for everyone at Murphy’s on King Street. 713 King St.; 703-548-1717

Chadwicks
Head down to the water and you’ll find Chadwicks, offering half-priced burgers on Mondays and 35-cent wings on Thursdays. 203 The Strand ; 703-836-4442

Chadwicks (Photograph by Kate Bohler)

Vermilion
If you’re looking for something a little more upscale or have the need to impress visiting family or friends, take them out to Vermilion. The Italian food will make them never want to visit an Olive Garden again. 1120 King St.; 703-684-9669

Las Tapas
Visit Las Tapas for a lazy Sunday afternoon treat—it’s the perfect spot to enjoy half a pitcher of white sangria. The sidewalk seating is appealing; bring a friend and relax with over 70 types of tapas, from a tart Spanish ceviche to a light tortilla espanola. 710 King St.; 703-836-4000

Chart House
A prime location for people-watching, a romantic dinner for two or bar-lounging with friends, this seafood hot spot offers everything under the sun—caviar, crab, scallops, salmon, salads, pasta. And the list goes on. Enjoy their crustaceous treats and more while gazing out on to the Potomac River, the pier and the boardwalk. Sit outside or in; there are plenty of window-side spots for watching the crowds stroll by. 1 Cameron St.; 703-684-5080

Eamonn’s
Authentic Irish fish and chips are served piping hot and plenty greasy, with thick-cut fries that only need a drizzle of malt vinegar. Wash it down with a Guinness, and if you’ve got any room left at all, top everything off with a fried Milky Way. 728 King St.; 703-299-8384

 

Eamonn's (Photograph by Kate Bohler)

Nina’s Dandy
Cruise the Potomac on Nina’s Dandy. For over 29 years, Dandy Restaurant Cruises has been a fine-dining dinner boat, catering to dancing patrons who enjoy our nation’s monuments, cherry blossoms, gourmet dining and views of Old Town, the Gaylord at National Harbor and Nationals Ballpark. Available for lunch or dinner, day or night, rain or shine. 00 Prince St.; 703-683-6076

After Dinner
For dessert, stop by The Scoop Grill and Homemade Ice Cream on King Street for the best frozen custard around. For traditional homemade ice cream, head across the street to Pops for a variety of flavors and toppings.

If you’re feeling sleepy, orange recyclable cups at Misha’s Coffee hold your coffee beverage of choice, while jazz melodies waft overhead. Large windows illuminate the cozy coffeehouse, Share the big wooden table to the right, or a table for two to enjoy a moment of meditation.

Old Town hosts a plethora of other King Street coffee spots, from Dunkin’ Donuts to Starbucks, La Madeleine to Cosi. Step into Grape + Bean to experience a combination cafe of wine and coffee.

 

 

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