Dockside Grill is one of the most popular
restaurants on Alexandria's marina.
Va. — Most cities wouldn’t take kindly to having it
said they had gone to the dogs. Alexandria, however,
enthusiastically admits to it.
population of 160,000, it has an estimated 40,000 dogs,
and they have free range of the city (with their humans,
of course.) They can enjoy pup-tinis on Barks, Brews and
Bites night at Jackson 20 restaurant or “pawdicures”
at Head to Tail Grooming Spa. They can take a Canine
Cruise courtesy of Potomac Riverboat Company (April
through October.) Or they can matriculate at the Olde Town
School for Dogs, referred to as “the Princeton for
puppies, the Columbia for canines, the Harvard for
hounds” (Bo Obama is a notable graduate.)
free to bring Fido with you, however Alexandria has plenty
to offer even if you are currently dogless. It’s ranked
as one of the South’s Prettiest Cities by Southern
Living Magazine and one of America’s Best Small Cities
in the Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards.
miles from Washington, D.C., Alexandria is a history
lesson come to vibrant, exhilarating life. You’ll hear
the names Washington, Jefferson and Madison bandied about
quite a bit and see places associated with our colonial
forefathers, but you’ll also find a thriving scene of
independent restaurants and one-of-a-kind boutiques housed
in beautifully preserved historic buildings from the 1700s
to start your rambles is King Street, which begins at the
Potomac River waterfront and extends for some five miles,
although most of the 160 shops and restaurants are along a
one-mile stretch close to the river. Sidewalk cafes line
the street, making an ideal spot for people watching, or
if you want to be one of the people they are watching,
head for the Old Town Farmers Market.
Saturday morning year-round at Market Square, it has been
a staple here for 260 years, making it the country’s
oldest farmers market held continuously at the same site.
the corner from Market Square Plaza you’ll find
Gadsby’s Tavern, a favorite watering hole and dining
spot of George Washington. I went for lunch and had the
peanut soup, a Virginia specialty. However, if you go for
dinner, you can order Washington’s favorite meal —
roasted half duck accompanied by scalloped potatoes, corn
pudding and rhotekraut. Don’t feel badly if you don’t
know what the latter is. I didn’t either until I asked
the server, and discovered it’s a sweet and sour red
lunch, wander over to Fairfax Street and take the
informative tour of the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary
Museum. One of America’s earliest pharmacies, it offers
an intriguing look at the colonial period’s
pharmaceutical industry. While the apothecary has no
record of ever having George Washington as a customer, it
did prescribe medicine for his wife, Martha.
museum’s collection has some 15,000 objects ranging from
potion ingredients such as dragon’s blood, mandrake root
and lavender (Harry Potter fans will love it) to a
particularly frightening blood-letting device.
electric blue house on Queen Street usually causes
passersby to do a double take and reach for their cameras.
Just 7 feet wide, it is the skinniest historic house in
America. Known as the Spite House, it was built in the
1830s so the owner could keep loiterers out of his
adjacent alley. It might have been built for spite, but it
makes for a vivid addition to the Queen Street landscape.
vivid landscape can be seen by walking down Captain’s
Row with its cobblestone street and vibrantly painted
Federal houses built by 18th century sea captains who
docked their ships along Alexandria’s wharves.
If you are
beginning to feel you are in a time warp, walk a few
blocks and you’ll be transported four centuries into the
present. Alexandria’s bustling waterfront is lined with
outdoor cafes, pocket parks and re-purposed historic
buildings. Satisfy your hunger (both for food and views)
at such spots as Vola’s Dockside Grill and Hi-Tide
Lounge and Virtue Feed & Grain. Both offer the
freshest seafood as well as Virginia and southern
the waterfront, don’t miss the Torpedo Factory Art
Center. Located in a former World War II munitions plant,
the Art Center today houses the largest collection of
publicly accessible artists’ studios in the U.S.
Currently 82 artists working in wide-ranging mediums from
painting and ceramics to printmaking and stained glass are
happy to show visitors around.
Alexandria Marina on the waterfront is the place to catch
the Monuments Cruise to the fashionable Washington
neighborhood of Georgetown where you can get off and
explore before catching a return boat.
you’ll get a good view of the three main presidential
monuments — the towering Washington Monument, the
impressive Lincoln Memorial and my favorite, the lovely
Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin. You will also pass
the Kennedy Center for the Arts, Maia Lin’s Vietnam
Memorial Wall and Arlington National Cemetery.
latter you’ll learn that as commander in chief, every
president has the right to be buried here, but only two
are. Most know that John F. Kennedy with his eternal flame
is one, but quick, can you guess the other? Your history
teacher will be proud if you correctly said William Howard
want to save a day for a trip to nearby Mount Vernon, home
of George and Martha Washington. On your way, stop for
breakfast at Stomping Ground in the artsy Del Ray
neighborhood. Rumor has it that is was Stomping Ground’s
cheddar biscuits that were the reason Amazon execs elected
to headquarter in Alexandria.
chose wisely in his location for his beloved plantation.
The view from the Potomac of the stately Palladian-style
mansion with its row of columns is iconic, but arriving by
car will take you to the equally stately front entrance.
From here you can explore the carefully curated gardens,
an idyllic spot for sitting and reflecting on
Washington’s legacy while waiting your turn to tour the
put off by the seemingly endless line — these folks know
what they are doing. Groups move quickly through the
house, but you never feel you are rushed. Washington
himself had a hand in the design and décor, and judging
by the elegance of the rooms, he might have had a future
as a decorator had he not been called to lead the new
room on the tour, which Washington called the “New
Room” as it was the last addition, has high ceilings,
exquisite architectural ornamentation and stylish
furnishings, essential as this was where the president and
first lady entertained distinguished guests.
must have had a premonition about the public’s curiosity
when it came to the house as he put it on tour himself. In
1794, he wrote: “I have no objection to any sober or
orderly persons gratifying their curiosity in viewing the
buildings and gardens about Mount Vernon.”
tour, book a table for lunch or dinner at the on-property
Mount Vernon Inn. Sample the recipes that the Washingtons
might have enjoyed from Colonial hoecake and skillet
cornbread to Butternut Squash Soup and Pork Shanks.
close proximity to the nation’s capital and with all it
has to offer on its own, Alexandria makes for an ideal
travel destination … for you and your dog.