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Founding Fathers and chic shoppersFounding Fathers and chic shoppers

Alexandria, VirginiaAlexandria, Virginia

Follow the footsteps of the Founding Fathers as you dine in a pub that first opened in 1770. Just outside the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C., Alexandria’s historic mansions, Potomac boat cruises, trendy boutiques, art studios, upscale restaurants, and chic accommodations await.

  • Old Town Alexandria is bookended on the west by the majestic George Washington National Masonic Memorial and on its east side by the Potomac River waterfront, where you'll find restaurants with waterfront views and the nationally renowned Torpedo Factory Art Center. In between, walk or ride the free trolley along King Street, the heart of Old Town, home to centuries-old architecture and 200+ independently owned restaurants and boutiques. Photo by W. Connett for Visit Alexandria.
  • This photo amply demonstrates how close the Alexandria waterfront is to Washington, D.C. and Reagan National Airport. Water taxis make it easy to get around without worrying about traffic or parking. How did Alexandria get its name? In 1669, 6,000 acres of land were granted to English ship captain Robert Howson. He later sold the land to John Alexander for 6,000 pounds of tobacco. By the 1740s, area residents needed a trading and shipping facility. Alexander’s heirs were persuaded to donate land for a town and seaport established in 1749 and named Alexandria. Photo by K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria.
  • Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, D.C. Photo by Glyn Lowe.
  • Take a boat cruise from Alexandria to see the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin without having to worry about parking. Paddle boats are especially popular at this time of year. Blooms usually peak during the first week of April. Photo by Henk Sijgers.
  • A water taxi can take you from Alexandria to the National Mall, the District Wharf, a Nationals baseball game, the National Harbor, and more. Photo by K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria.
  • Alexandria waterfront dining. After your boat cruise, step in to The Charthouse for a great steak. Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria.
  • Dining al fresco is a tradition along King Street. O’Connell’s is a modern Irish restaurant in an ancient Irish setting. Walk in and you could be in Dublin. Enjoy a table by the fireplace or in one of their “snugs.” They offer live music almost every day. Photo by K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria.
  • Unique boutiques along King Street range from chic couture to antique shops. Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Alexandria.
  • Gadsby's Tavern and Museum consists of two buildings, the 1785 Georgian tavern and the 1792 City Hotel. The tavern has been authentically restored to its 18th-century appearance. John Gadsby’s establishment was the center of political, business, and social life in Alexandria and in the new federal city of Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy Visit Alexandria.
  • The Carlyle House is a Georgian manor house built in 1753 by merchant and city founder John Carlyle. Five royal governors and General Braddock met here to discuss funding of the French and Indian War. Experience 18th-century life with costumed interpreters through daily tours, youth programs, special events, and exhibits. Photo by K. Summerer for Visit Alexandria.
  • Alexandria patrons from Martha Washington to Robert E. Lee relied on tonics dispensed from the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary. Opened in 1792 by young Quaker pharmacist Edward Stabler, the family business operated until 1933. From herbs to bottles, over 15,000 objects remain as part of the museum's collection. Photo courtesy ErikPatten.com.
  • The Lyceum is an 1839 Greek Revival building that now serves as the city's history museum. An ongoing exhibition tells the story of Alexandria, once one of the busiest ports in America. Put Alexandria’s past into focus through archaeological finds, old photographs, and a wide variety of historic artifacts. Photo by Erik Kvalsvik.
  • Visit George Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon, just 8 miles south of Old Town Alexandria. Activities include tours catered to kids, historical reenactments, and special culinary and other events. In addition to the Mansion, the estate includes outbuildings, Washington’s tomb, a working farm, and visitor facilities with 25 galleries and theaters. You can get there by boat, bike, or car. Photo by Lautman for Visit Alexandria.
  • The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, just off the Mount Vernon Trail near Arlington National Cemetery, is dedicated to the Marine dead of all wars and their comrades of other services who fell fighting beside them. It depicts Marines raising the U.S. flag on the island of Iwo Jima during WWII. Photo courtesy NPS.
  • For nearly 50 years, the Campagna Center has presented the Scottish Christmas Walk Parade, usually around December 1. Enjoy marching units filled with the magnificent tartans of Scottish Clans, the stirring sound of Scottish bagpipes and drums, Scottish dancers, reenactment groups, Scottie dogs, dignitaries, classic cars, Santa Claus, and much more, as they parade through Old Town Alexandria. Campagna Center programs serve more than 2,000 children, teens, and adults throughout the year. Photo by Matt Chenet for Visit Alexandria.

Maryland Airport, in Indian Head, Maryland, is 17 nautical miles south of Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. That means you’ll be flying well within the 60-nm-diameter ring around the DCA VOR that encompasses the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). Before you fly to Maryland Airport, you must have completed the FAA's SFRA special awareness training course. Carry printed proof of course completion inside your aircraft. If you have already completed the course, you are not required to re-take it, but the FAA encourages pilots operating in the area to review the material occasionally as a refresher. Study the Baltimore-Washington Terminal Area Chart before departure and bring it with you. Maryland Airport is closed to transient traffic after dark. Enterprise can leave your rental car at the airport with prior arrangement, or, grab a taxi or Uber. If you are authorized to operate within the DC FRZ (see caption below right), the closest airport to Alexandria is Potomac Airfield.

Potomac Riverboat Co. cruises are great any time of year, but if you arrive in early spring, don’t miss the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin of the Potomac! The pink trees, Jefferson Memorial, and Washington Monument look picture-perfect when viewed from the water. Numerous cruises and water taxis are available. Eight vessels connect the Washington, D.C., community by water with berths at National Harbor, Gaylord Convention Center, Georgetown, Alexandria, Mount Vernon, the National Mall, and Nationals Park for baseball games.

You’ll probably never get this view of Reagan National Airport from your airplane, so we’ll show it here. It is crucial to note that Maryland Airport lies less than 3 nm south of the DC SFRA’s inner ring, the Special Flight Rules Area Flight Restricted Zone. You may not penetrate this inner airspace without having first submitted to an FBI background check including fingerprinting, paid a fee, and made prior arrangements. Make sure you remain outside the DC SFRA’s inner ring and give it a wide berth if you’re traveling from the north. Arrivals from the south should note several MOAs and Restricted Areas south of Maryland Airport. Photo courtesy USGS.

Alexandria’s waterfront is perfect for a stroll. Enjoy street performers, music, and al fresco drinks. Mosey in to the Torpedo Factory, where more than 165 artists create and display paintings, ceramics, jewelry, stained glass, sculpture, and other arts. On the first floor, EatsPlace Cafe and Marketplace specializes in the best local food from Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. Stop in for a glass of wine or the now-famous Bronut—sort of a cross between a brownie and a doughnut—they’re delicious!

Speaking of food, you might indulge in the Old Town Food Tour: Experience more local flavors like Old Town’s famous Jelly Cake while you learn about Alexandria’s history. Or, hit three to six pubs and taverns on the Old Town Pub Crawl and get the scoop on Washington scandals, historic and otherwise. At least eight other tours ensure there’s something for every taste—cooking classes, too.

To explore the food scene on your own, check out King Street, one of America’s greatest walking streets. It’s loaded with interesting boutiques and restaurants, many of which offer lovely outdoor seating. My favorites? The Columbia Firehouse Restaurant (just off King) and Vermilion. Take the free King Street Trolley, which stops every two blocks, if you don’t want to walk.

One of Alexandria’s most surprising and inspiring museums is the National Inventors Hall of Fame, located inside the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. While honoring the individuals whose inventions have made the world a better place, its greater mission is to ensure that American ingenuity continues to thrive in the hands of coming generations. Got kids? Bring ‘em! Photo by M. Donahue for ACVA.

Follow the footsteps of George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, and James Monroe to Gadsby’s Tavern, where Thomas Jefferson celebrated his presidential inaugural. Washington elites have dined here by candlelight since 1770; why not you, too? You can also visit the museum next door. A Key to the City Museum Pass gets you in to this museum, as well as seven other historic sites, including the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, the Carlyle House, Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, The Lyceum (Alexandria’s History Museum), Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden, Alexandria Black History Museum, and Friendship Firehouse Museum—plus a 40-percent discount to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, just 8 miles south of Old Town Alexandria (see photos for details). Don’t forget you can take the water taxi to Mount Vernon from Old Town, April through October. Or, bike to Mount Vernon via the 18-mile paved, multi-use Mount Vernon Trail, which stretches from George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate to Theodore Roosevelt Island, connecting to numerous other trails along the way—you can still return by boat.

Accommodations abound, but two stand out. The Morrison House boutique hotel is Alexandria’s only AAA-four-diamond-rated property; its onsite restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The newly renovated Kimpton Lorien Hotel and Spa offers a tantalizing menu of spa treatments plus two exceptional restaurants (Brabo and Brabo Tasting Room), all in a modern, elegant setting.

One of Alexandria’s most surprising and inspiring museums is the National Inventors Hall of Fame, located inside the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office—it’s full of amazing inventions that make our lives better. A pilot friend of mine was inducted there a few years ago for his surgical devices. Visit Alexandria, the surprising mix of old and new, just outside our nation’s capital.

You’ll get 360-degree views of Alexandria, Washington, D.C., and the surrounding region from the observation deck atop the ninth floor the George Washington National Masonic Memorial, a National Historic Landmark. Erected and maintained by the Freemasons of the United States to honor George Washington, a Mason, the memorial includes an active Masonic temple, a research library, a cultural space, community and performing arts center, and a heck of a front lawn. Photo courtesy GWNMM.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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